Targeted-Killing Policy Is Backfiring on Israel

The latest confrontation between Israel and Gaza militants has proved yet again, Roni Shaked writes, that targeted killings do more harm than good.

al-monitor Palestinian fire fighters work to extinguish a fire at a building following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City March 14, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Suhaib Salem.

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Mar 16, 2012

No one in Israel was surprised by the blizzard of rocket fire [on the western Negev, in the southern part of the country] that followed the killing of [Popular Resistance Committees leader] Zuhair al-Kaisi. There is no single focused foiling or targeted prevention – as such operations are known in Israel – carried out in the Gaza Strip in the past decade that has not provoked a massive rocket barrage on Israel. This is the nature of the vicious terror circle set in motion by the targeted killing policy: targeted killing, retaliatory rocket attack, Israeli response, revenge reprisal, and so on and so forth in an endless cycle of ever escalating violence.

During the Al-Aqsa Intifada, [the second Palestinian uprising which began in September 2000 and ended roughly around 2005] targeted killing was an effective weapon. The terrorist organizations were acting at the time through small local units that had but limited capability. The targeted killing of the commander of such a terror unit, or an "engineer" devising home-made rockets, actually achieved the aim of foiling, or at least obstructing, the imminent implementation of a planned terror attack. The situation today is quite different. The organizations in the Gaza Strip, including the Popular Resistance Committees, are acting in semi-military frameworks – with a clear-cut hierarchy and command structure. Therefore, even if the head of an organization or a senior commander is hit, it does not affect the organization's operational potential. Kaisi is the fourth Popular Resistance Committees leader killed in the past six years and his successor – whoever it may be – is not expected to waste time on reorganization.

Since Israel's 2008-2009 Operation Cast Iron in Gaza, no targeted killing has even slightly harmed the local organizations' operational potential or their motivation. On the contrary, in response to each targeted killing, they launch a massive barrage of rockets on Israel, and they have an even larger arsenal of long-range standard missiles, smuggled through the Gaza tunnels, which are capable of reaching the Tel Aviv area.

So far, no Palestinian terror attacks are launched from the West Bank, and it is not thanks to Israel's General Security Agency or the IDF, nor owing to the separation barrier or security road blocks erected by Israel along and within the West Bank. Rather, it is due to the decision in principle made by the Palestinians to cease terror – for the time being – following their realization that, at present, it is not conductive to their national struggle against Israeli occupation. This is why Abu Mazen's Palestinian Authority is fighting Hamas with such determination. In Gaza, too, they are becoming aware of the ineffectiveness of terror under the current circumstances, all the more so since the Arab Spring emerged. Hamas has already publicly announced that, at this point in time, popular resistance is to be preferred. However, while Hamas has imposed on all the Gaza organizations an agreement to cease fire, it allows them the freedom of military response in the event civilians are hurt in Israeli attacks or in the case of targeted killings. It also lets them launch sporadic rocket attacks on Israel even in calmer times, looking the other way, so as not to be blamed for abandoning the "Al-Muqawama" – the armed resistance against Israel.

Israel should find a channel of communication – even if an indirect one – with the landlord in Gaza and at the moment, it is Hamas. It is only through dialogue with Hamas that some sort of long-term quiet can be achieved. Such a step would be welcome by Egypt. It does not stand to reason that the organizations acting under Hamas patronage are allowed to disrupt the normal daily routine of some million Israeli citizens, while in Gaza, life goes on as usual. The landlord in charge should thus assume responsibility. If need be, the dialogue may take the form of a direct threat on Hamas, to force it to act against extreme Islamist organizations. Otherwise, Israel will have no choice but to carry on its targeted killings – which ultimately hurt the citizens of Israel.

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