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The Times Take On “Assassination”

The criticism of Israel's policy of targeting the terrorist infrastructure to thwart assaults on its citizens continues to grow in leftist circles, particularly in Israel. One also finds news articles and editorials sharply condemning Israel for acting as prosecutor, jury and executioner. It seems that they are all quite willing to disable Israel from addressing the cynical strategy hit upon by Arafat and his colleagues to kill Jews without risk through the tactical use of nondescript terrorists and suicide bombers. That is, the terrorist infrastructure must remain untouched because its members, not being turned over by Arafat, were not convicted in a court of law. Happily, the government of Israel is not cowed by this sophistry.

Inadvertently, this past Sunday, The New York Times, while trying to do its part to delegitimatize the Israeli policy, actually ended up providing support for it.

On the front page of the “Week In Review” section, The Times carried an article entitled “Making Rules in the World Between War and Peace” and which carried the subheading, “Call it liquidation or assassination. But can it be justified?”

For all of its exquisite and quite elaborate legal and linguistic hairsplitting about what such words as “war,” “combatant,” “assassination,” “terrorist” and “self-defense” mean, the piece left no doubt about what its point was from the way it began:

“We are facing an implacable enemy,” the top-secret report to the president said. “There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply.”

The nation must “destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated and more effective methods than those used against us,” the report said. And citizens must come to “understand and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy.”

The year was 1954; the president was Dwight D. Eisenhower. The report was the intellectual basis for lethal American covert action, including the attempted assassination of Cuba's Fidel Castro and the Congo's Patrice Lumumba, among others. But after these secrets were revealed in Congressional hearings 25 years ago, public revulsion led to a presidential order outlawing assassination by American officials and agents.

Now, Israel is destroying its implacable enemies through a policy it calls, “liquidation”: lethal, anticipatory self-defense. The Palestinians call it “assassination,” and say about 60 of their activists have been killed since September. Are there rules in this game? Do norms of human conduct or international covenants apply? Can a state legally destroy its enemies by any means necessary?

Plainly, Israel is in active combat with people organized and bent on killing as many of its citizens as possible. Is this ongoing one-on-one confrontation the same thing as the strategic planning of the Eisenhower years designed to avoid problems in the future?

Of course not and The Times itself said as much, inadvertently to be sure, by its choice of illustration.

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