Israel Defends Legality of Targeted Assassinations
The Israeli Defense Forces has long used targeted assassinations to eliminate alleged terrorists, as Steven Spielberg’s newest film Munich reminds us. Interestingly, the government of Israel is currently defending the legality of the practice, invoking the customary international law of war to justify its recent killing of two alleged Palestinian terrorists. The theory here is that after Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip, any assassinations in Gaza are legal attacks on Israel’s military enemies on their own territory.
I have to admit I haven’t thought much about the legality of assassinations or killings like this. The U.S. also engages in this practice, although I think the favored term is “killing” since assassinations are prohibited by Executive Order 12333 . Unlike Israel, though, the U.S. has not (to my knowledge) defended the legality of killings or assassination. I imagine, though, that when and if that time comes, the U.S. will look to Israeli courts for legal precedents.