Argument: Targeted assassinations significantly disrupt terrorist organizations
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Gal Luft. "The Logic of Israel's Targeted Killing". Middle East Quarterly. Winter 2003 - "Most important, claim the critics, there is no compelling evidence the killings are effective in reducing the terror menace.
This is exactly where they have it wrong. True, terror persists despite the assassinations, and the policy does have shortcomings. What is less apparent is the profound cumulative effect of targeted killing on terrorist organizations. Constant elimination of their leaders leaves terrorist organizations in a state of confusion and disarray. Those next in line for succession take a long time to step into their predecessors' shoes. They know that by choosing to take the lead, they add their names to Israel's target list, where life is Hobbesian: nasty, brutish, and short."
- To Terrorize a Terrorist
To assess the real impact of targeted killing on the infrastructure of terrorist groups, one needs to understand their organizational culture, psychology, and behavior. The operational branches of organizations such as Hamas or the PIJ consist of three layers: political-military command, intermediate level, and what can be referred to as the "ground troops." The political-military command echelon—most of which is in the Gaza Strip—consists of a small group, no more than a dozen activists, responsible for funding, political and spiritual guidance, and direction of the organization's strategy. They maintain regular contact with the headquarters of terrorist groups throughout the Arab world as well as with senior leaders of the PA and chiefs of its security forces.
The intermediate level of command is a group slightly larger in size, a few dozens in each Palestinian city. Its members are involved in planning operations, and recruiting, training, arming, and dispatching terrorists. The different cells are loosely connected, and their members do not usually operate outside their area of jurisdiction. Members of this group, especially those living in Gaza, meet frequently with the senior leadership and receive daily orders and funds to finance their operations. Unlike members of the first group, intermediate-level activists are not so familiar to the public, and their killing does not evoke the same rage as does the targeting of senior leaders. For this reason, Israel has so far preferred to target as few senior leaders as possible and focus on members of the second group.
[...]the nature of Palestinian terror organizations is that they are secretive and compartmentalized. People hardly know each other. There are no headquarters, files, computers, radio equipment, or organizational memory. Removing one activist can handicap or destroy an entire cell, but removal of one cell does not necessarily bring down the entire organization.
Despite defiant Palestinian rhetoric, Palestinian activists' fear of being on Israel's target list is paralyzing, and that is exactly what Israel wants. Explained Sharon:
- The plan is to place the terrorists in varying situations every day and knock them off balance so that they will be busy protecting themselves.
While on the run, the Palestinian terrorist's energy is devoted to survival rather than to planning the next attack. The terrorist detaches himself from his close circle of friends and family and begins to live a fugitive's life. He is forced to spend each night in a different location, often sleeping in the open field. Hours each day are wasted looking for a safe haven to spend the coming night. Most difficult is the distance from his home and family. He knows that any contact with his wife or parents could cost him his life. Consequently, he is completely at the mercy of his confidants, not knowing which one of them might be an Israeli collaborator.
Booby-trapped cars and telephones increase the feeling among Palestinian militants that the long arm of the Israeli security forces reaches their most intimate surroundings. They become nervous and suspicious of collaborators who might live among them. A Palestinian journalist conveyed the atmosphere of fear and confusion in the Palestinian street after Shihada's killing:
People are now looking for wanted men. They are stopping them in the middle of the street and will now begin asking for their identification before they enter a specific residential neighborhood. … No one feels safe. … How do you know who will be Shihada number two, and where the missile will come from? … Someone must have told the Shin Bet (GSS) that Shihada was visiting his house; that someone must live among us, and now everyone is looking for collaborators.
And they should. Despite the deep animosity toward Israel, many Palestinians are still willing to face the risk of the death penalty the PA imposes on collaborators and provide valuable information to the Israelis. In a society where more than half of the families live below the poverty line, one can always find people willing to collaborate with the enemy in exchange for money or other benefits.
Assassinations of military leaders are traumatic events in the lives of their organizations, often leading to a change in organizational behavior. Commanders become extremely suspicious and cautious. They leave few traces of their whereabouts; restrict information about operational planning to small groups of secret keepers; and recruit new members more selectively. The paranoid environment in which terrorists operate reduces their effectiveness drastically. Trust is the bedrock of any human activity, including terrorism. Without it, the organization becomes disjointed; information cannot be disseminated; people do not feel part of a team; lessons are not learned properly.
Additionally, communication between the different cells breaks down. Following the killing of Musawi, Hizbullah squads began to maintain strict radio silence, preventing Israel from monitoring the organization's action. In the territories, Palestinian militants who fear Israeli eavesdropping refrain from using the telephone to communicate with each other. This leads to further confusion and misunderstandings. Such a dynamic has a cumulative, holistic, negative influence on the organization's effectiveness. The influence cannot be precisely measured or even assessed by empirical tools, but it is certainly profound."