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        ArgumentWas America’s Assassination of Qassem Suleimani Justified?

        Published 6 January 2020

        David Petraeus, the former American army general who served as the commander of the Central Command and later as director of the CIA, said that the killing of Qassem Suleimani was “more consequential” than the killing of Osama bin Laden or of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The Economist writes that while few bemoaned the demise of the jihadist leaders of al-Qaeda and Islamic State, the killing of Suleimani on 3 January has sparked a debate over the legality, effectiveness, and impact of his assassination.

        David Petraeus, the former American army general who served as the commander of the Central Command and later as director of the CIA, said that the killing of Qassem Suleimani was “more consequential” than the killing of Osama bin Laden or of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The Economist writes that while few bemoaned the demise of the jihadist leaders of al-Qaeda and Islamic State, the killing of Suleimani on 3 January has sparked a debate over the legality, effectiveness, and impact of his assassination.

        The Economist notes that the campaign against international terrorism falls in the grey area between policing at home and waging war abroad, with few of the well-established laws and norms that attempt to govern them. The Pentagon’s latest rulebook, for example, lets armed forces operate as they do in conventional war zones and hit terrorist targets at will in places designated “areas of active hostilities,” including parts of Yemen, Pakistan, and Niger, and all of Somalia. The Americans have unleashed hundreds of drone strikes, air strikes and ground raids.

        The Economist adds:

        In many ways, America is following the precedent set by Israel, the state that over the past half-century has surely most actively pursued a policy of hunting down and killing foes abroad—not least when it sought to exact retribution against those responsible for the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. According to Ronen Bergman, an Israeli journalist whose history of the subject, Rise and Kill First[*], was published in 2018, Israel’s security services have carried out some 2,700 assassinations. The killing of Palestinians suspected of planning or perpetrating violence against Israelis has been relentlessly conducted also in the West Bank and Gaza, territories controlled by Israel that seek to become an independent Palestinian state.

        The Israelis were at first criticized by Western governments for violating international and humanitarian law. But after al-Qaeda’s attacks on America in September 2001, the American administrations of both George Bush and Mr. Obama, and more recently the British and French governments, followed their example in tracking down and killing enemies abroad, sometimes including their own citizens, by using drones.

        In the past decade or so, the United States and Israel have sought to apply more elastic rules, while broadly invoking the principle of “self-defense against non-State actors on the territory of another State,” arguing that due process cannot be applied when trying to prevent an imminent attack or when the capture or extradition of a suspected enemy is not feasible.

        * Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations (Random House, 2018)

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