International Assassination Squads

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A story surfaced
this week regarding Ariel Sharon’s creation of assassination squads
that will be sent into allied foreign countries in search of enemies
of the State of Israel. That such clandestine units operate internationally
comes as no surprise. Many governments are thought to employ them.
Indeed, the public accepts this fact as a way of life. But, officially,
Israel has not previously acknowledged the existence of such units.
The story was reported by UPI.

is embarking upon a more aggressive approach to the war on terror
that will include staging targeted killings in the United States
and other friendly countries, former Israeli intelligence officials
told United Press International.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has forbidden the practice until
now, these sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Israeli
statements were confirmed by more than a half dozen former and
currently serving U.S. foreign policy and intelligence officials
in interviews with United Press International.

But an
official at the Israeli Embassy in Washington told UPI: "That
is rubbish. It is completely untrue. Israel and the United States
have such a close and co-operative intelligence relationship,
especially in the field of counter-terrorism, that the assertion
is ludicrous."

So, the question
arises, is the story true? It is the kind of politically sensitive
story that a wire service would not run if it had not been checked.
If anything, the story may be designed to put Muslim terrorists
on notice. It gets an official disclaimer, which is enough to
let the report sink into oblivion, but then, when the assassinations
multiply, the targeted groups conclude that the story was true.
I keep thinking of George Wallace’s slogan, "Send them a

Will they
send back a message?


If the story
is true, then the West is about to experience an escalation of
terrorism. Assassinations of suspected terrorists will be blamed
on anti-terror squads. But whose? It will become more difficult
for President Bush to evade suspicion for such acts, whether he
or a subordinate arranged the assassinations or not. His “dead
or alive” statement
regarding Osama bin Laden could blow back.

The problem
with terrorist warfare and counter-terrorist warfare is the inability
of the public to know who is responsible for any event unless
someone admits it publicly, and even then no one is sure.

We see this
theme on "The West Wing." At the end of last season’s
show, the President of the United States authorized the assassination
of a Muslim nation’s chief of security, who supposedly had planned
a foiled attack on the Golden Gate Bridge. In what has become
a standard shtick for the main character, President Bartlett initially
resisted launching the death squad, all in the name of morality,
but then he capitulated to his advisors. Bartlett initially talks
ethics, but he invariably sells out to expediency before the show
is over. The viewers’ challenge is to guess what reason he will
use as his excuse.

What is interesting
in the light of the recent story about Israeli assassination squads
is that on the show, Israel has been blamed for the suspected
assassination, when in fact the U.S. did it. A Muslim terrorist
then retaliated by using a missile to shoot down an Israeli airliner.
The advisor who recommended the assassination briefly suffered
guilt from the knowledge that an Israeli friend who was on the
airliner was killed because of what he had recommended to the
President. But, on "The West Wing," guilt never lasts
for more than a part of any episode. Politics heals everything
by the next installment.


America surely
appears to be preparing for an invasion of Iraq. Any invasion
would violate UN’s 1974 protocol: an unprovoked attack for the
purpose of replacing a foreign ruler.

the duty of States not to use armed force to deprive peoples
of their right to self-determination, freedom and independence,
or to disrupt territorial Integrity, . . .

also that the territory of a State shall not be violated by
being the object, even temporarily, of military occupation or
of other measures of force taken by another State in contravention
of the Charter, and that it shall not be the object of acquisition
by another State resulting from such measures or the threat

After an
invasion, the Muslim world from that point on will regard the
United States as an aggressor against Islam. This nation has been
regarded by Muslims as the chief accomplice of the State of Israel,
but an offensive war in Iraq will change this. We will become
the front-runner in the jihad sweepstakes. Now comes the UPI story.

With the
appointment of Meir Dagan, the new director of Israel’s Mossad
secret intelligence service, Sharon is preparing "a huge
budget" increase for the spy agency as part of "a
tougher stance in fighting global jihad (or holy war),"
one Israeli official said.

Since Sharon
became Israeli prime minister, Tel Aviv has mainly limited its
practice of targeted killings to the West Bank and Gaza because
"no one wanted such operations on their territory,"
a former Israeli intelligence official said.

former Israeli government official said that under Sharon, "diplomatic
constraints have prevented the Mossad from carrying out u2018preventive
operations’ (targeted killings) on the soil of friendly countries
until now."

He said
Sharon is "reversing that policy, even if it risks complications
to Israel’s bilateral relations."

A former
Israeli military intelligence source agreed: "What Sharon
wants is a much more extensive and tough approach to global
terrorism, and this includes greater operational maneuverability."

In analyzing
this story, we readers must make guesses. The Israeli government
has not confirmed it. It is possible that a series of rumors has
led UPI reporters to a misperception. But the timing, from America’s
standpoint, could not be worse. Just as the United States is escalating
military pressure in the Middle East, Sharon has escalated pressure
inside the borders of allied nations. The war on terrorism is
the justification in both instances.

Al Qaeda is forgotten by the American public. The U.S. government’s
interpretation of events ever since bin Laden got away has been
to blame Saddam Hussein for being in some unstated way responsible
for backing Al Qaeda, despite the fact that it is public knowledge
that Pakistan’s equivalent of the CIA was the source of bin Laden’s
funding in Afghanistan. He was their boy, and they were ours.
Now the war against terrorism is spreading far beyond Afghanistan.

A congressional
staff member with deep knowledge of intelligence matters said,
"I don’t know on what basis we would be able to protest
Israel’s actions." He referred to the recent killing of
Qaed Salim Sinan al Harethi, a top al Qaida leader, in Yemen
by a remotely controlled CIA drone.

was done on the soil of a friendly ally," the staffer said.

attempts don’t always work as planned. Then the blowback process

Phil Stoddard,
former director of the Middle East Institute, cited a botched
plot to kill Ali Hassan Salemeh, the mastermind of the 1972
Munich Olympics massacre. The 1974 attempt severely embarrassed
Mossad when the Israeli hit team mistakenly assassinated a Moroccan
waiter in Lillehammer, Norway.

later a CIA asset, was killed in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1976 by
a car bomb placed by an Israeli assassination team, former U.S.
intelligence officials said.

The Mossad
will supervise the new program, according to the UPI story.

the new hard-driving director of Mossad, will implement the
new changes, former Israeli government officials said.

nicknamed "the gun," was Sharon’s adviser on counter-terrorism
during the government of Netanyahu in 1996, former Israeli government
officials say. A former military man, Dagan has also undertaken
extremely sensitive diplomatic missions for several of Israel’s
prime ministers, former Israeli government sources said.

Israel Defense Forces Lt. Col. Gal Luft, who served under Dagan,
described him as an "extremely creative individual —
creative to the point of recklessness."

the spirit of secrecy will prevail on all sides. The civilian
populations of both the United States and Israel are now the targets
of Muslim terrorists. So far, Islamic terrorists have not targeted
national leaders. The attempt on Karzai’s life last fall was an
exception, but the plot failed. It was not well-thought-out.

national leaders have left alone other national leaders during
wartime. This is because tit-for-tat retaliation is the obvious
response. Armies have slaughtered each other, but leaders have
not been assassinated. The attempt on Hitler’s life in 1944 was
made by Germans, not by a British or American spy.

But we are
now facing a new battlefield. The Muslim world has no military
means of inflicting meaningful damage on Western military forces.
While our government is officially in a sweat about nuclear weapons
or sophisticated biological weapons, the technology of biological
terrorism is becoming ever less expensive. As prices fall, technology
spreads to NGO’s (non-government organizations). When desperate,
a cadre of religiously motivated men, who see that their political
leaders are powerless to defend traditional Islam against aggression
by the West, will accept the challenge to inflict revenge. There
is a pool of eligible adult recruits that is well over 100,000,000.
They are scattered all over the Middle East and Asia.

I think anyone
who has given thought to the technology of retaliation knows that
terrorism and counter-terrorism can up the ante at will. The constant
suicide bombings inside the boundaries of Israel are a reminder
to everyone: "Nobody is safe, no matter what the police do."


The escalation
bothers me. Terrorism feeds on counter-terrorism, at least up
to a point. At some point, which the tyrannical Czar Alexander
III crossed after Alexander II was assassinated, the government
can crush a domestic terrorist movement. But, sooner or later,
a weaker, less ruthless leader ascends to the throne. Louis XVI
and Nicholas II are classic examples. Then the repressed anger
manifests itself in acts of violence.

The United
States is on the edge of a major escalation. Its target is a moral
monster, but is he a threat to the U.S.? This threat, the Administration
has not proven. If the Administration knows where the radiating
gun is, why not tell Blix?

North Korea
is proving to everyone in the Muslim world that if you’ve actually
got weapons of mass destruction, you can thumb your nose at America.
This lesson will not be lost on the terrorists. They don’t have
weapons of mass destruction . . . yet. But biological weapons
are cheap to produce. Once deployed, they can create terror in
whole populations. The chilling words, "If a terrorist is
willing to die. . . ," point to what we civilians know, but
what our political leaders dare not articulate. We cannot be protected.

To attack
a nation in lieu of attacking the terrorist underground is futile.
There are too many recruits. Martyrs increase the supply of recruits.
If the UPI story is true, we are facing an escalation of attacks
on individuals. But attacks on individuals call forth tit-for-tat

Now that
the war on terrorism is escalating on two fronts, military and
clandestine, the threat is that the response of the underground
will be to escalate. But the weapons of that underground war are
more likely to be aimed at leaders if the terrorists perceive
that any retaliation by the U.S. will be directed at leaders of
compromised Islamic client states.

When it becomes
clear to Al Qaeda that the Middle East’s Muslim states have become
operational client states of the United States, the traditional
restraints on high-level assassination will be removed. This is
my fear. If the U.S. removes Saddam Hussein and brings the Saudi
princes into line, Al Qaeda will no longer worry about retaliation
on Muslim heads of state. In fact, such retaliation will be welcomed.

The West
is not used to dealing with underground terrorists. Our leaders
are used to dealing with nation-states that can be defeated on
geographical battlefields. But the battlefields of the terrorists
are selected at their discretion.


A swift military
victory in Iraq, if coupled with assassination squads from the
West, is a formula for long-term warfare. I don’t think the West’s
voters perceive this threat. The West’s military tactics rely
on our military forces’ ability to hammer foreign troops with
high technology and then sending in occupying troops, such as
the 37,000 who are still on the Korean border. Our enemies have
only rarely been religiously motivated. They are usually identifiable
either racially or geographically.

But what
if our enemies are dispersed across many borders? What if they
are united by the lust of revenge against the West because of
the West’s perceived embodiment of two hated religions? That would
change the nature of the war.

We are about
to roll into uncharted territory. The official rule is correct:
"Things are easier to get into than out of."

20, 2003

North is the author of Mises
on Money
. Visit
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