Last Friday bombing targeted at Al Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman Al Zawahiri, is just the last American effort to murder the Jihad leaders. Among those who have been murdered since September 11 are Al Qaeda’s military chiefs Mohamed Atef, Qaed Sinan Harithi and Abu Hamza Rabia. But the attack against Zawahiri was different. Even when some important militants seemed to have been killed in this attack, it failed with regard to Zawahiri. What’s worse, 18 civilians were killed. After the attack, demonstrators took to the streets of the cities and the Pakistani government presented a formal protest. Critics in the world question the right the United States has to bomb a sovereign state. With regard to this, some question if the policy of murdering people abroad can be justified, actually.
Those sad political failures seem to be relatively new for the Bush Administration; in fact, they are unprecedented. Targeted killing is an inconvenient policy that raises questions and can create additional problems. Israel has implemented it for decades and its history is a precedent for the United States. Apart from the responsible one for the attack at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Israel assassinated members of the PLO, Hamas and the Hezbollah. After the second Intifada, which began in September 2000, Isarel took an additional step and killed more than 200 people. Such policy, with the security barrier, was fruitful and reduced the number of Israeli deaths from 172 in 2002 to 40 in 2005. This fall in the amount of deaths blocks the fact that during this period Hamas’ attacks were increased. This leads people to believe this organization is less effective.
Those killings back the moral of the Israelis who, thus believe their government supports them. However, capturing the suspects is a lot better than murdering them. Apart from moral considerations, arrests allow the gathering of information that could prevent future attacks and lead to the capture of terrorists. Besides, mistakes are inevitable. Thus, the assassination attempt against Salah Shehada was a failure in 2002 for 14 civilians were killed, including nine children.
Targeted killing against Al Zawahiri must still be an option to be used by the United States. Washington must go on with its efforts to murder Al Qaeda’s leaders in those regions of the world where they can not be arrested, those isolated zones of Pakistan that undoubtedly are a perfect example of this. However, a massive campaign like that of Israel would be a mistake because the United States operates in larger areas with insufficient intelligence services. On the other hand, the United States can count on its allies to make arrests whereas Israel could only count on Arafat to arrest the terrorists.
Undoubtedly, the Pakistani government approved those attacks but it still makes mistakes that could harm cooperation. Perhaps, the best lesson the United States could learn from Israel is the need for transparency. Israel has an important public debate about controversial measures, but as long as the government does not mention those targets, opinions are understood by everybody. The result is that there’s a great consensus.

Los Angeles Times (United States)

Targeted killing, American-style”, by Daniel Byrman, Los Angeles Times, January 20, 2006.