19 Feb Dershowitz Defends Israeli Assassinations in Dubai
Alan Dershowitz has a very short but persuasive assessment of the legal issues arising out of the alleged Israeli assassinations of a Hamas leader in Dubai.
So if the Israeli Air Force had killed Mabhouh while he was in Gaza, there would be absolutely no doubt that their action would be lawful. It does not violate international law to kill a combatant, regardless of where the combatant is found, whether he is awake or asleep and whether or not he is engaged in active combat at the moment of his demise.
But Mabhouh was not killed in Gaza. He was killed in Dubai. It is against the law of Dubai for an Israeli agent to kill a combatant against Israel while he is in Dubai. So the people who engaged in the killing presumptively violated the domestic law of Dubai, unless there is a defense to such a killing based on international principles regarding enemy combatants. It is unlikely that any defense would be available to an Israeli or someone working on behalf of Israel, since Dubai does not recognize Israel’s right to kill enemy combatants on its territory.
There is an additional wrinkle here that Dershowitz doesn’t talk about, which is whether the presumptive assassins from Mossad are privileged combatants authorized to kill in an armed conflict. This is the same problem faced by CIA officers directly involved in drone assassinations in Pakistan. Still, the bottom line seems right: There is no legal defense for the assassins under Dubai law and if caught there, they would likely be convicted. If it is proved that the Israeli government ordered the killing, then the State of Israel is on the hook here for violating Dubai’s sovereignty.
So I wouldn’t look to see a legal defense offered by Israel here. There is no serious legal defense. But the moral defense seems relatively powerful, as Dershowitz goes on to explore.