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Monday, 7 October, 2002, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
Israel's assassination strategy
results of an Israeli raid
Remains of a car hit by an Israeli rocket
The Israeli government is continuing to implement its strategy of assassinating individual Palestinians it believes are a threat to its security and its citizens.

So-called targeted killings may take place as individual attacks or during military incursions in strength into Palestinian areas.

On 7 October, following an upsurge in violence, Israeli forces moved into Khan Younis and a neighbouring refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

At least 12 Palestinians were killed and Israel said it had discovered explosives and bomb-making equipment during the incursion.

If anyone has committed or is planning to carry out terrorist attacks, he has to be hit. It is effective, precise and just

Ephraim Sneh, Israeli minister

The Israeli action again highlights the use of what Israel has called "initiated attacks" and critics have called "assassinations" as a key plank of its security policy.

The planned killing of individuals seen as posing a particular threat to Israel or of carrying out attacks against it in the past has been part of its strategy for decades.

Israeli agents are believed to have killed many of the Palestinian activists involved in the planning and execution of the 1972 murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, to have assassinated the PLO military chief in 1987 and to have killed a suspected bomb maker known as the "Engineer" in 1995.

But in November 1999, Israeli military officials made it policy to carry out "initiated attacks" against members of the Tanzim militia of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

With the launching of the latest stage of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000, the targeting of individuals became part of the Israeli response. This response may involve large military forces or small teams or individuals from Israel's security agencies.

Remains of an Israeli bus
Israel has targeted those who it believes plan bomb attacks
The intensification of the use of assassinations as a means to stop attacks by Palestinian militants started in November 2000.

Over the next year, the Palestinian Authority estimated that at least 60 people had been killed in such attacks.

Israeli statements on the use of "targeted assassination" have been contradictory.

'Precise and just'

At times, Israeli ministers and military officers have openly enunciated the policy of "initiated attacks".

In August 2001, the deputy defence minister and current transport minister, Ephraim Sneh, left little doubt about his thoughts on such actions.

"I can tell you unequivocally what the policy is," he said.

"If anyone has committed or is planning to carry out terrorist attacks, he has to be hit.

"It is effective, precise and just."

Israel's former army chief, Lieutenant-General Shaul Mofaz, also spoke of the right of Israel to defend itself against what he called "terror activity and violence".

But other senior Israeli officials have sought to deny the existence of a policy of planned killings.

Defence ministry spokesman Yarden Vatikay has said: "Israel has no policy of assassination, but will continue to arrest and attack those who pose a threat to Israeli lives."

Israeli helicopter gunship
Helicopters are often used such attacks
The policy has been criticised inside and outside Israel.

The left and peace activists in Israel have denounced it as "gangster behaviour", while the US State department has called for an end to "targeted killings".

Whether admitted or not, the policy had removed many of those thought to pose a major security threat to Israel.

Breaking up militant networks

In July 2002, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister told BBC News Online that the major leaders of the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad were either dead or in custody.

Israeli tanks roll into Jenin
Israeli military incursions into Palestinian areas have become the norm
Breaking up Palestinian militant networks is a major aim of the killings of individuals and of the major military incursions into the West Bank or Gaza.

The prime minister's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said that action to kill or detain Palestinian militant leaders had not reduced the motivation of the militants, "it just means that the ability to launch attacks, to technically assemble the explosives, is much reduced".

The attacks continued. In July an Israeli missile attack killed Hamas leader Sheikh Salah Shahada - 14 others, including nine children, died in that attack.


The methods of attack against selected individuals have varied from letter bombs and car bombs to ground attacks in Israeli troops and missile attacks from combat aircraft and helicopters.

In one operation, explosives had been placed in the headrest of a suspects' car. They were detonated killing him.

Missile or tank attacks have also been used but have frequently involved the inflicting of substantial civilian casualties.

The targeting of individuals deemed security threats or suspected of past attacks has been used for decades.

However, as the latest incidents have shown, Israel's ability to prevent Palestinian suicide attacks and security threats remains limited.

The killings of those suspected of planning or executing bombings, suicide attacks or raids against Israeli settlements has led to breaks in the violence but not an overall diminution of Israel's security problems or of the will of the Palestinians to continue the intifada.

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See also:

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