The Compass

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Targets and Tactics, Ctd.

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni on the Dubai hit:

“Every terrorist must know that no one will support him when a soldier, and it doesn’t matter what soldier, tries to kill him, whether it is in the Gaza Strip, Afghanistan or Dubai,” Livni said. “I don’t expect the world to welcome the killing of terrorists, but I do expect the world to not criticize it.”

Livni said she did not know who was responsible for the killing of Mabhouh. She mocked the criticism Israel has taken from the international community for the assassination.

“What was disproportionate this time?” she asked. “Was there a disproportionate use of passports?"

And were every terrorist of equal value or consequence, Ms. Livni might have a valid point here. But as Larison explained a few days ago, Hamas is in fact a political reality that Israel must accept. If this assassination actually brought Israel closer to a political resolution in Palestine, then I'd say the consequences of stealing passports and carrying out a hit with total disregard for its allies were well worth it for Israel.

But what has this assassination actually accomplished? Will it deter Iranian weapons sales to Hamas? Not likely. Does it deter Hamas? Not likely. Has it created yet another martyr for Hamas to parade around the Gaza Strip? You bet.

George Friedman of STRATFOR explains:

We are not writing this as pacifists; we do not believe the killing of enemies is to be avoided. And we certainly do not believe that the morally incoherent strictures of what is called international law should guide any country in protecting itself. What we are addressing here is the effectiveness of assassination in waging covert warfare. Too frequently, it does not, in our mind, represent a successful solution to the military and political threat posed by covert organizations. It might bring an enemy to justice, and it might well disrupt an organization for a while or even render a specific organization untenable. But in the covert wars of the 20th century, the occasions when covert operations - including assassinations - achieved the political ends being pursued were rare. That does not mean they never did. It does mean that the utility of assassination as a main part of covert warfare needs to be considered carefully. Assassination is not without cost, and in war, all actions must be evaluated rigorously in terms of cost versus benefit.

In short, actions have consequences, and thus the benefits of those actions had better outweigh the consequences. I see no evidence that this murder, while no doubt gratifying, has actually gained Israel much of anything.

But then again, Washington is as much to blame for this, as we provide no serious oversight or regulation to go along with the tremendous sums of money and military aid we provide to Israel. The cost/benefit of leaving one terrorist dead in Dubai likely never factored into the calculation, because why should it? Who cares what the United Arab Emirates thinks? The UK? Whatever, they'll fall in line.

Of course, a truly global war against asymmetric enemies indifferent to borders and conventional conflict cannot be prosecuted in this fashion. If this is, as Ms. Livni argues, all one big war of good against evil, then the good guys need to talk to each other. They need to trust each other. They need to grow their own ranks. None of that was accomplished in Dubai.

A true War on Terror requires allies and principles. The United States learned this lesson the hard way in Iraq, but it's one Israel refuses to ever learn.