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Israel targets the worst terrorists where they are — and takes careful aim | Opinion

The recent violent round in Gaza between Israel and the Islamic Jihad produced two interesting insights: First, radical Islam can be defeated by self-defending democracies; and second, average Muslims, when given the opportunity, prefer to support their families and carve a better future for their children rather than engage in jihadist, suicidal actions.

In fighting the terrorism of radical Islam, democracies must sometimes reluctantly resort to measures that are alien to their own DNA. Targeted killing is a case in point. Conventional wisdom presumes that terrorists and war criminals — like all criminals — should be brought to trial. That, however, is easier said than done, when arch-terrorists hide in foreign countries, surrounding themselves with the human shields of civilians, making their arrest either impossible or ending in gruesome bloodshed.

This puts democracies in a dilemma: Should they leave alone terrorists who have wrought so much destruction and death, and who undoubtedly are plotting to do it again, just because they can’t bring them to justice? Or should they — in a very narrow way — adapt their norms of warfare to the ruthless nature of the battle against terrorism?

Aharon Barak, former president of the Israeli Supreme Court gave an unequivocal answer: “Democracy must fight terrorism with one hand tied behind its back, but certainly not two.”

It is in this spirit, then, that on July 31, 11 years after the U.S. killing of al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden, the United States made his successor and accomplice to the 9/11 terror attack, Ayman al-Zawahiri, meet his creator sooner than he expected. Almost exactly at the same time, Israel had eliminated two commanders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

Not everyone applauds, though. The ACLU considers targeted killing unconstitutional and contrary to international law, “unless it is used as a last resort against a concrete, specific and imminent threat of grave harm.”

Without dwelling on a philosophical or legal debate, in this case, Israel is definitely kosher: According to the most accurate intelligence, the two Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders, Taysir al-Jabari and Khaled Mansour, were ready to launch an anti-tank missile at an Israeli bus — certainly “a concrete, specific, and imminent threat of grave harm,” which justified their killing.

At the same time, while targeting the terrorists, democracies have to go out of their way in order not to harm uninvolved civilians. In these three cases, both the United States and Israel get high grades for that. Israel, in particular, seems to be leading the free world in targeting the villains while sparing the innocent: In an urban area that is the most populated in the world, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) used intensive firepower to achieve its goals. And yet, only 49 Palestinians in Gaza were killed, 38 resulting from IDF strikes and 11 from Islamic Jihad’s own rocket misfires (for which the terror organization was quick to blame Israel). While every life matters, of the 38, 24 were confirmed terrorists and 14 were uninvolved civilians, making it 37% of the fatalities — roughly half of the ratio of the American performance in Iraq.

Side by side with this resilience in fighting Islamic terrorism and its perpetrators, democracies must offer an alternative, a carrot, in short, not only a stick. Again, easier said than done, and in the particular case of Gaza, it seems implausible that in the foreseeable future, the locals would be able to pull down the suppressive regime of Hamas and embark on a peaceful collaboration with Israel, which will improve their standard of living dramatically.

However, since March 2019, young people in Gaza dared to take to the streets, protesting Hamas’ social policies and crying “Bedna Neesh” (“We want to live” in Arabic). While Hamas responded with an iron fist, the popular message didn’t go unnoticed. So much so, that in the last clash between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas paid lip service to Palestinian solidarity while being careful not to be involved in the fighting.

Hamas seems to have learned now what Hezbollah had learned 16 years ago, following the Second Lebanon War: If you’re in charge of the lives of millions of Muslims, you may still use militant rhetoric against Israel, but, practically, you need to moderate your policies. Israel is ready to assist the people of Gaza in changing the course of their lives. The carrot is there, but in the worst case, so is the stick.

Uri Dromi was the spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments from 1992-1996.