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Targeted killings: Operation ‘Pillar of Defence’

By Jonathan J. Ariel - posted Thursday, 29 November 2012

One aspect of Israel’s Operation ‘Pillar of Defence’ is a false premise that Israel’s tactic of “targeted killings” is illegal or is tantamount to an “assassination.”

On Wednesday 14 November in Gaza City near the shore of the eastern Mediterranean, forty-six-year-old Ahmad al-Jabari, didn’t hear the incredibly exacting high-tech precision weapon that killed him, launched from a drone hovering overhead. It was an outstandingly accurate shot.

As the London Telegraph enthused, black and white pictures taken from a drone showed a minibus full of passengers drive right past the target’s car to a safe distance, a couple of seconds before the missile exploded. A piece of chassis is seen spinning into the air and then the targeted vehicle lights up. Lights up like fireworks celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, I suspect.


The surgical precision of the strike was brilliant, even by the demanding standards of the Israel Defence Forces.

Al- Jabari was the head of Hamas’ military and considered the most dominant figure in the Gaza Strip. Often described as the strongest man in Hamas, more so after his superiors - such as Sheikh Salah Shehadeh, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantissi - were eliminated.

Born in 1960 - and depending on whom you believe - in Shujaiyya, Gaza City, Occupied Gaza (occupied by Egypt that is) or in Hebron, in the Occupied West Bank (occupied by Jordan). From 1982 to 1995 he enjoyed Israeli hospitality at various correctional facilities for numerous terror crimes. While in jail he signed up to the Muslim Brotherhood. This was prior to the formation of Hamas. It was after his release that he met Saleh Shehadeh, a hard working Jihadist and future military leader.

Al-Jabari helped Hamas seize Gaza from Fatah, its less terrorising rival in the West Bank and he became politically and militarily very active. In 2002 an Israeli air strike killed Shehadeh and seriously injured his anointed successor, Mohamed Deif. This was a boon for al-Jabari.

In 2004, he gained control of Hamas’ military and built it into a 10,000-strong force. His troops maintained Hamas’ control over Gaza, triumphing over countless attempts by Fatah to seize power in that territory. He oversaw the planning and execution of homicide bombing attacks against hundreds of Israeli civilians from 2000 to 2005, and for that triumph he was promoted to the rank of Acting Commander of Hamas’ military in 2006.

His underlings were responsible for the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Sgt Gilad Shalit, and he was at Sgt Shalit’s side on 18 October last year when the latter was released in exchange for Israel freeing 1,000 jailed prisoners, including more than 300 convicted killers.


Almost as soon as al-Jabari was killed, many arguedthat his targeted killing was illegal.Those who claimed illegality confused Israel’s legitimate use of targeted killing in its war against Gaza with the harder to accept use of targeted killings by the United States in its global “war on terror”. From a legal standpoint, the former is incontrovertibly allowed while the other’s legality, in some quarters, requires some qualifications.

Terrorism can be viewed through one of two lenses: the Law Enforcement Paradigm (LEP) (that is, as suspected criminals) or through the Law of War Paradigm (LWP).

Under the LEP, a terrorist is protected from lethal force because there is an assumption that the preference of the state is not to use lethal force but rather to arrest him/her and then to investigate and try the person before a court of law.The presumption during peacetime is that the use of lethal force by a state is not justified unless necessary. Where “necessary” is defined as the state using “only the amount of force required to meet the threat and restore the status quo ante”.

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About the Author

Jonathan J. Ariel is an economist and financial analyst. He holds a MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. He can be contacted at

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