Israeli assassination techniques: terrorists in the crosshairs

I found it interesting to contrast a recent article about Israel’s targeted assassination of an Islamic Jihad terrorist commander in Gaza with its attack, a decade earlier, on another Palestinian terrorist in Dubai.

The Dubai attack was an embarrassment for Israel, because while it succeeded, it also exposed that country’s external operations to international scrutiny.  GQ magazine, which broke the story in 2011, notes:

An elite Mossad hit squad traveled to Dubai to kill a high-ranking member of Hamas. They completed the mission, but their covers were blown, and Israel was humiliated by the twenty-seven-minute video of their movements that was posted online for all the world to see.

. . .

The sequence of events described here is based largely on the exhaustive investigation conducted by the Dubai chief of police, Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim. In-depth interviews were conducted with former and current members of the Mossad and with high-ranking intelligence experts in Israel and Europe. The Mossad, in response to the long list of questions submitted formally by GQ, stated that it does not comment on its activities or those attributed to it.

There’s more at the link.

In Dubai, the assassination team gained access to the terrorist’s hotel room, and waited inside for him to return.  When he did, he was killed, and the team left the hotel and – within hours – the country.  Nevertheless, they left enough clues, and enough surveillance video of their movements, to make it clear that Israel was responsible for the killing.

In the Gaza attack, any element of confidentiality was obviously not even remotely possible.  The attack would have to be an air strike, by its very nature highly visible, and there would be only one possible source for it.  Nevertheless, the clandestine intelligence-gathering that would have to precede it was probably even more complex and sensitive than that preceding the Dubai attack.

THE TARGETED killing of al-Ata was not that different from the many others the IDF has carried out over the past decade. It was characterized by meticulous planning meant to reduce collateral damage, precise intelligence and the utilization of advanced technology, aircraft and munitions.

But it also shows the results of an amazing journey the State of Israel has taken over the past 20 years, going from dropping one-ton bombs on apartment buildings in the Gaza Strip to take out a single terrorist, to firing a missile with amazing precision onto a bed, killing just the target and his wife and not injuring their five children sleeping in the next room.

Around the world, a story like this would not make headlines. Instead, the focus would be on the damage caused to Gaza and the death toll. People would ask why al-Ata’s wife had to die with him. They wouldn’t focus on the length of the mission, how much detail and effort went into its planning and how precise it was in execution.

This journey, though, is unique to Israel. Other Western countries fighting terrorists around the world rarely invest even a fraction of the effort Israel does to minimize collateral damage.

Again, more at the link.

It’s well worth reading both articles in full.  They’re in-depth analyses of the respective attacks, with many details of fieldcraft, technology, preparations, and the actual assaults.  One comes away much better informed of the many parameters influencing such operations – and the challenges facing those who must carry them out.

That, of course, includes US service personnel and intelligence agencies.  Given current riots and unrest in this country, they may even have to be mounted domestically in due course.  That’s a scary thought.



  1. Israel pinpointed Gerald Bull decades ago, and were only suspected of the assassination by the signature silenced 22 rounds.

  2. This is why Israel is going to lose. Too many scruples.

    Sadly, the Palestinians do not interpret Israeli restraint the way the Israelis think that they should. They (perhaps rightly…) see Israeli restraint as a sign of weakness, and that the Israelis do not have the courage of their convictions. This is why the war has gone on so long.

    Had Israel gone into the West Bank and Gaza the way the Palestinians would go into Israel, then the surviving Palestinians would accept that they were defeated and bend the knee to the Israelis. Of course, that would mean slaughter and rapine on a scale that would boggle the mind, but that's the way the Palestinian primitives see it. They think they're winning when the Israelis eschew the slaughter of innocents.

    Anywhere else in the West, the Israelis would be right to do what they're doing. Dealing with Arabs and the Islamic mind? They've dangerously misjudged the people they're dealing with, and are doing nothing more than prolonging the agony. The root problem here is that the Israeli Jews picked up a bunch of really bad habits from living in the West, and do not grasp the reality of things now that they've returned to the Middle East.

    You may think I'm an asshole for pointing this out, but I've had it straight from the mouths of Palestinians, who have expressed nothing but puzzlement at Israeli behavior. Had the Israelis utterly crushed them and then sold the survivors off to the rest of the Arab world as slaves, they'd accept that they lost. However, since the Israelis keep behaving as though the Palestinians have "won", via treating them like human beings and offering up what the Palestinians see as "tribute", they cannot bring themselves to admit that they lost the war.

    You want peace between the Israelis and Palestinians? The only way it is coming is via the Israelis or the Palestinians slaughtering one another to the point where one side or the other no longer exists. Sad but true–The real issue here isn't the existence of Israel, but a total breakdown of inter-cultural communication. The Israelis think they're doing the right thing, and the Palestinians just cannot accept that they've been defeated by someone who offers up concessions and what they see as tribute. They're not going to believe they've been defeated until someone has all of them on the auction block. Why? Because that's what they would do, if they won…

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