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