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"… The bottom line, is that assassination is justified if it keeps us out of a war. But short of that, it’s not …"

March 2nd, 2010

Cold analysis by Bob Baer, in the WSJ/ here

“…… In America’s war on terror, there has been a conspicuous absence of classical assassination. The closest thing to it was when the CIA kidnapped an Egyptian cleric in Milan and rendered him to Egypt in 2003. Most of the CIA agents behind the rendition were identified because, like the assassins in Dubai, the agents apparently did not understand that you can’t put a large team on the ground in a modern country and not leave a digital footprint. It took a matter of days for the Italian prosecutors to trace their supposedly sterile phone to their hotels, and from there to their true-name email accounts and telephone calls to family. We might as well have let Delta Force do it with helicopters with American insignia on the side.
Israel has yet to feel the real cost of the hit in Dubai. But the longer it is covered in the press, the higher the cost.
And was Mr. Mabhouh worth it? Other than taking revenge for killing the two Israeli soldiers, he will be quickly replaced. Arms dealing is not a professional skill, and as long as Hamas’s militants are at war with Israel they will find people to buy arms and smuggle them into Gaza. In short, it’s looking more and more like Mr. Mabhouh’s assassination was a serious policy failure.
In cold prose, it sounds inhuman, but there should be a cost-benefit calculation in deciding whether to assassinate an enemy. With all of the new technology available to any government who can afford it, that cost has gone up astronomically. Plausible deniability is out the window. Obviously, if we had known with any specificity 9/11 was coming, we would have ignored the high cost and tried to assassinate Osama bin Laden. And there’s certainly an argument to be made that we should have assassinated Saddam Hussein rather than invade Iraq. The bottom line, it seems to me, is that assassination is justified if it keeps us out of a war. But short of that, it’s not. The Mabhouhs of the world are best pursued by relentless diplomatic pressure and the rule of law.”

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