Israeli military debates assassination policy

Thursday, February 12, 2004

TEL AVIV -- A debate has been quietly simmering within the Israeli military command over the policy of assassinating Palestinian insurgency leaders.

The debate include those who argue that the assassination of leading insurgency operatives and commanders provide a deterrence in the war against Israel. They face critics who assert that the assassinations have been largely ineffective and merely arouse Palestinian and international anger.

Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, head of the military command college, said the military has always preferred a ground-based operation to kill Palestinian insurgents rather than an air strike. He said the ground strike is preferable because it is more accurate and contains less of a potential for collateral damage -- even though the chance of Israeli casualties is higher.

"There is a debate within IDF whether the operation deters," Yadlin told a lecture on Jan. 27 at Tel Aviv University. "When the operation is meant to serve as a deterrent, we are required to ensure that we do not harm innocents."

Palestinian sources said that more than 190 Palestinian insurgents have been killed in Israeli assassination missions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the last three years. They said more than 130 bystanders were also killed in these operations.

Yadlin said the military must investigate every attack in which there is collateral damage. He said a fixed-wing air strike on a Hamas target in Gaza City exposed an intelligence flaw. The intelligence spoke of warehouses behind the target, where people were actually living in huts.

The general said another lesson of the air force is that a one ton bomb creates less collateral damage, than four quarter-ton bombs.

In 2003, the air force was rocked by a series of episodes that highlighted the dispute over Israel's assassination policy. At one point, 27 officers, most of them reservists, announced that they would not participate in air missions over the Gaza Strip. In another episode, an air force officer was accused of delaying intelligence data required for an air strike of an insurgency stronghold in Gaza City.

"With an Apache [helicopter] and the F-16, you don't fight terror and strike in civilian areas," [Res.] Maj. Gen. Shai Avital, a former commander of the elite Sayeret Matcal, said. "An Apache and F-16, you use only in extreme cases. But in an initiated operation, we must rule out the air force."

But others in the military said most Israeli strikes against Palestinian insurgents are the result of time-sensitive information. They said the air force is the only service that can strike a target within an hour of being located -- something that cannot be done by ground forces.

"The advantage of sending the air force is that it is very fast concerning the intelligence received," Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's political-military unit, said. "Until a ground force is organized and sent, there is nobody left anymore to encounter. In simple terms, if you have intelligence applicable to 8:53 and the response and operation doesn't come at 8:57, it could be that at 9:02 there is nothing left to do."

Print this Article Print this Article Email this article Email this article Subscribe to this Feature Free Headline Alerts
Search Worldwide Web Search Search WorldTrib Archives

See current edition of

Return to World Front Cover