Seumas Milne writes:
… since launching its war on terror, the US has also adopted Israel’s practice, stretching back decades, of carrying out killings far from the theatre of war. First, Israel’s attacks were targeted against PLO leaders; more recently against the Islamists. But since the fiasco of the Mish’al plot [in Jordan in 1997], its assassinations have mostly been confined to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Israel made a determined attempt over the past decade to decapitate Hamas of its entire leadership.
Now that focus has again widened. Under the direction of Mossad director Meir Dagan, Israel is running a region-wide underground war against the leaders of Hezbollah and Hamas – which have both maintained an effective ceasefire for more than a year – and their Syrian and Iranian backers. Since the killing of veteran Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in 2008, Israeli-hallmarked assassinations have multiplied in Lebanon, Syria and Iran.
But coldblooded killing isn’t only a morally repugnant crime. The lesson of colonial history is that decapitation campaigns against national resistance movements don’t work. In the short term they can disrupt and demoralise, but if the movement is socially rooted, other leaders or even organisations will take their place. That was Israel’s experience when it killed the Hezbollah leader Abbas al-Musawi and his family in the early 1990s, only for him to be succeeded by the more effective and charismatic Hassan Nasrallah.
Such campaigns also tend to spread the war. Unlike the historic PLO factions, Hamas has always confined its armed attacks to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Writing in The Guardian in 2007, Mish’al confirmed the “principle that the resistance should only be fought in Palestine”. But in the aftermath of the Dubai assassination, Hamas leaders have started to hint strongly that policy could now change, and that they could respond to Israel’s attacks in “the international arena”.