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Monday, February 28, 2011

Disproportionate? NYT only reports half the story (David G)

From David G:

Isabel Kershner in the New York Times reports on the investigation into the killing of Salah Shehada:
Israeli Panel Finds No Crime in 2002 Assassination

Nearly nine years after an Israeli assassination of a Hamas leader in Gaza killed at least 13 civilians and led to widespread international condemnation, a government-appointed panel of inquiry concluded Sunday that the operation was flawed but that the consequences “did not stem from disregard or indifference to human lives.”

The three-member panel, headed by a retired Israeli Supreme Court justice, found that the collateral damage was “disproportionate.” But it said that its examination of the operation according to the rules of Israeli and international law “unequivocally” removed any suspicion that the Israelis responsible for the attack committed a criminal offense.

It attributed the deadly results of the operation to “incorrect assessments and mistaken judgment based on an intelligence failure in the collection and transfer of information” among the different agencies involved.
Unfortunately, Kershner only provides half of the story.

In the past Israel has over-reacted from the Shehada killing, and let other killers escape.
In Israel, a Divisive Struggle Over Targeted Killing

On Sept. 6, 2003, another pilot was on the mission, firing from the cockpit, as a voice from the command center boomed into his headphones.

"Did you hit it?" the general asked the F-16 pilot. The billowing smoke from the bomb obscured the screen in the war room. The generals couldn't see a thing.

" Whoa! " The generals shouted as coils of ash turned white to black.

Mofaz's military secretary, Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog, was phoning in reports to the defense minister.

"We did it -- a direct hit," Herzog told him.

A minute later, Herzog called again: "The results are unclear."

A minute later: "It seems people escaped alive."

Another " Whoa!" filled the war room, one of disappointment.

Dichter recalled: "We saw people running out of the house faster than Olympic runners."
For Abu Ras, the Hamas leader whose home had been bombed, "it felt like an earthquake. A big, black smoke," he said in an interview. His guests had sat down to lunch. "I was so happy to host them," Abu Ras said. "What was our crime? I'm an ordinary citizen, not a terrorist. We have no terrorists among the Palestinian people."

Haniyeh was serving rice to Yassin. Then an explosion shook the room, and Yassin looked at the ceiling. "Why all this dust? Where is it coming from?" said Yassin, who was lightly wounded in his hand along with another Hamas member and 12 neighbors.

Haniyeh laughed bitterly, "We are hit, Sheik."

But the men were gathered on the ground floor of the house. The quarter-ton bomb destroyed only the third floor. Abu Ras's wife and four children, on the second floor, survived. And the Hamas leadership was safe.
Israel does have a doctrine for fighting in civilian areas developed by Gen Amos Yadlin and Prof Asa Kasher.

(Gen. Yadlin was one of the pilots who destroyed the Iraqi reactor, though not as well known as Ilan Ramon or Yifrah Spektor. He recently served as head of Military Intelligence.)

It's been debated in the New York Review of Books.

It's been discussed at Z-Word.

Given this information it would have been appropriate for Kershner to draw on the doctrine, but I guess preparing background isn't the job of a news reporter.

There's also one really annoying line in Kershner's article:
There has been a sharp drop in such killings since the suicide bombings subsided, though the military and intelligence services still resort to this method on occasion.
Why isn't the "sharp drop" ascribed to the effectiveness of tactic? Instead of being portrayed as an effective deterrent the sentence makes it sound like it's simple revenge.