22:32 GMT16 May 2021
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    Pinpointed elimination of top terrorists has been a common tool of Israel's spy agencies but its effectiveness is questionable, says the former head of the country's internal intelligence service, the Shabak. He believes that in order to decrease terror, the Jewish state needs to give Palestinians a sense of hope.

    It's been a month since Israel assassinated Baha Abu Al Atta, one of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's top commanders, sparking an exchange of fire with the Islamic group, second in size in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

    Speaking at a press conference that followed the elimination, Israel's chief of staff Aviv Kochavi warned that if the country's security is at risk, the Jewish state will not hesitate to employ a targeted killing policy.

    Ami Ayalon, the man who led Israel's internal security agency, the Shabak, from the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 until the early 2000s, says the concept is a "complicated one".

    License to kill

    The tactic of eliminating those who plan and orchestrate terror activities was first used by Israel in the 1970s, when the Israeli Mossad, another spy agency, killed members of Black September, the Palestinian military organisation responsible for the Munich Olympis massacre of 1972, where eleven Israeli athletes were brutally murdered. 

    Internally, the concept was adopted by the Shabak in the early 2000s, in the wake of the second Palestinian uprising. It was then that Israel decided to combine all its intelligence and technological capabilities, and promote intense cooperation between all the country's spy agencies to put an end to the Intifada.

    Effectiveness under question

    But Ayalon says that while the tactics can bear fruit with some organisations, others may find it useless. 

    "There are two types of [terror] organisations," explained Ayalon. 

    The first type is groups such as Al Qaeeda and Daesh that enjoy absolute power. They derive their legitimacy from their ideology and they use all means available to them to achieve their ideological goal. They couldn't care less about their people, and could even murder them if it served their cause. 

    "In this case, killing a military leader will not eliminate the idea. Rather, it will transform the organisation or create a new one. At the same time, it might also lead to a decrease in attacks or to a lower level of violence".

    Such was the case with a branch of Al Qaeeda in Iraq. When their leader Abu Musab Al Zarqawi was eliminated, the terror cell produced a new head - Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, who formed Daesh, also known as the Islamic State in Syria and Levant, one of the deadliest terror groups of the modern era. However, after Al Baghdadi himself was gone, the level of brutality decreased.

    The second type of terrorist organisation, which is more common in Israel, derives its legitimacy not from an ideology but from the street. Such was the case with Hamas in Gaza, Fatah in the West Bank and even Hezbollah in Lebanon.

    "In this case, targeting a military commander is permissible, as it comes as a protective measure. However, eliminating their spiritual leaders is simply irrelevant, as a new leader will automatically pop up".

    Apart from the fact that targeted killing doesn't solve the problem of terror, it creates another issue - civilian casualties.

    According to estimates, up until 2005 when pinpointed eliminations were at their peak, Israel had eliminated some 300 top terrorists. At the same time, it also killed around 150 civilians whose chief transgression was to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Using political solutions as a means to combat terror

    To combat Palestinian terror, Ayalon, who says he never used the targeted killing policy during his tenure, believes Israel should have a different approach.

    "To combat terror you need to give people an alternative. Military achievements are important to a certain extent but they need to be combined with diplomacy, economic reforms and the creation of a political horizon. Only then will the Palestinian street drop its support for terror and their leaders will lose legitimacy".

    Statistics, however, contradict his claim. Between 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan, and 1993, when the Jewish state signed its Oslo Accords with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, Palestinian militants claimed the lives of only 253 Israelis worldwide.

    But once the peace agreement was signed and the Palestinians were given the hope of an independent state, the attacks only intensified. 

    According to estimates of Israel's foreign ministry, more than 1,600 Israelis lost their lives between 1993 and late 2016

    Yet, Ayalon says it could have been much worse. "When I was in office, our goal was to reduce the level of violence to a level that it would enable our politicians to negotiate with the Palestinians. We succeeded in it. As a result, the support for terror among Palestinians shrank to less than 15 percent between 1996 and 2000".

    Now, however, the situation is different, believes former spy, primarily because Israeli politicians don't do their job properly. "They tend to talk but don't do much, and this policy causes us a lot of damage. When enemies understand that there is a gap between what you say and what you do, you become a paper tiger."

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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