As Barack Obama continues his campaign of targeted killing — this time with a failed attempt to assassinate the American-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, in Yemen — many Israelis regard this as a vindication of their own approach to eliminating their enemies.
In Haaretz, Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel write:
As far as Jerusalem is concerned, President Barack Obama’s decision to assassinate Osama bin Laden constitutes a declared, if delayed, acknowledgment on the part of the Americans of the Israeli argument that targeted attacks on senior members of organizations are a necessary modus operandi in the struggle against terrorism. According to former director of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. (res. ) Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash, bin Laden’s assassination reflects the administration’s understanding that it is impossible to separate the leader from the operational stratum below him.
The way the operation was carried out in Pakistan also carries significant implications for the objective of deterrence – not only in terms of the meticulous collection of intelligence and the impressive performance by the forces involved, but also with regard to the decision to dispatch a ground force and not carry out a remote-controlled aerial attack. The “close-up” assassination deprived the terrorist organizations, from Hamas to Al-Qaida, of the ability to claim that the West is cowardly and afraid to endanger its people in face-to-face combat. The methods used also helped avoid the killing of noncombatants and, of course, made it possible for the administration to ascertain that bin Laden had indeed been killed, though there will always be those who claim it was an American trick. The United States, for its part, is exempt from at least one Israeli concern: No one is about to send Obama and his officers to The Hague.
In the Jerusalem Post, Yaakov Katz writes:
Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, the former head of the IDF’s Southern Command, spoke this week – for the first time publicly since the government retracted its decision to appoint him chief of staff – about the significance of assassinations in reference to bin Laden’s killing.
“Those who say that these operations don’t have an impact are mistaken,” said Galant, who personally participated in such operations as a longtime navy commando and later as head of the Southern Command. “The liquidation of terror leaders prevents terror attacks and influences the organizations.”
There are two categories of targets killed this way. The first is field operatives, people like Hezbollah’s military commander Imad Mughniyeh, reportedly killed by Israel in 2008 in Damascus, or Ali Mahmoud Mabhouh, the Hamas weapons smuggler reportedly killed by Israel in Dubai in 2010.
Their deaths are believed to have dealt critical blows to their respective organizations, to the point that over three years later, Israel still believes Hezbollah has yet to find an appropriate replacement for Mughniyeh.
Then there are symbolic figures whose assassination can have an effect on a terrorist group. This was the case in 2004 with the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the wheelchair-bound Hamas spiritual leader who was killed by an IAF missile as he left a mosque in the Gaza Strip.
Bin Laden’s death resembles Yassin’s in this respect, since while he was a leader at one point of a clear hierarchical organization, in the years since the 9/11 attacks, he has served more in the position of symbolic figurehead.