September 20, 2003 | New York Daily News

Self Defense Killings

By Richard Z. Chesnoff

Like most everything Israel does to defend itself, Jerusalem's campaign of targeted killings of terrorist leaders is under increasingly heavy fire. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan claims it violates international law, Jordanian King Abdullah warns it's going to send the Mideast into “a new cycle of violence.” Even a few Bush administration officials are quietly tsk-tsking.

But as a veteran of 38 years of Mideast reporting, I emphatically disagree. Terrorism is an abomination that hits the weakest – those who cannot defend themselves. And since no one else – least of all the Palestinian Authority – is doing anything to stop the wave of terrorist murders and suicide bombings that has taken 800 Israeli lives during the past three years, Israel has a perfect right, an obligation, to go after the murderers before they carry out new horrors.

Tracking down a terrorist and targeting him from the air is no stranger to U.S. policy. We do it, as we did just last year in Yemen, where a CIA-operated drone plane zeroed in on a car carrying one of Al Qaeda's top lieutenants and zapped him with a rocket.

Would anyone of decency object to our target-killing Osama Bin Laden if we spotted him from the air?

Yes, regrettably, Israel's campaign of targeting terrorists occasionally results in what military personnel call collateral damage – injury to innocent Palestinians. But cowardly Palestinian terrorists hide among civilian populations. And Israel's military planners insist that for every targeted killing they carry out, there are 10 or more that they have scrubbed out of fear of hitting civilians.

There are also those who claim that targeting terrorists provokes a cycle of revenge – as if Israel were responsible for terrorist bombings. What nonsense.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Yasser Arafat's Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and all the other Palestinian terrorist organizations were murdering Israelis and carrying out suicide bombings long before Israel initiated its current policy of targeted killings. Palestinian terrorist attacks on Jews began more than 75 years ago – long before the State of Israel was established, long before Israeli troops were in Gaza or the West Bank.

It is the very presence of a non-Muslim State of Israel with a Jewish majority and culture that is what these terrorists object to and are determined to destroy now or in the future. It is why the oft-heard argument that if only Israel were to pull its troops out of the occupied West Bank, tear down the security walls and grant the Palestinians full independence, everything would be hunky-dory is painfully simplistic.

Ever notice how the people who offer these arguments are the same people who still insist on calling members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades “militants” rather than terrorists?

There are even those who question the morality of trying to target Hamasleader and founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin because he's a paraplegic. I've met and interviewed the sheikh twice. Yes, he is bound to a wheelchair, but he is an evil, bloodthirsty man who urges his followers to murder Jews and all Americans because they are Jews and Americans. He is as deserving of charity as Hitler was because he allegedly had only one testicle or Bin Laden because he has bad kidneys.

Like his followers, the squeaky-voiced Yassin believes that his campaign of terror and murder will be rewarded with a one way ticket to paradise.  I'd be delighted if someone fired a rocket at him, thus providing him with an opportunity to see if he's right. I know he's going to be disappointed.

Originally published on September 21, 2003

Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior fellow of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.