Tags: Iran | Israel | targeted killings

Targeted Killings: The Legality vs. the Morality

people placing flowers at site
Iranian mourners attend the burial ceremony of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh at Imamzadeh Saleh shrine in northern Tehran, on November 30. (AFP via Getty Images)

By Tuesday, 08 December 2020 10:03 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Startling evidence that members of the former Obama administration simply inhabit a parallel universe over Iran has been revealed in their reaction to the assassination last Friday of the mastermind of the Iranian nuclear weapons programme, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.—Melanie Phillips, The warped reaction to the Fakhrizadeh assassination, December 1, 2020.

It has been over a week since the lynchpin of the Iranian nuclear project, Mohsen Fakhridazeh was killed in what appears to be an immaculately planned and flawlessly executed strike by elusive and yet to be identified assailants. Nonetheless, analysis of what took place and speculation of what might take place as a result, are still at the focus of considerable media attention.

The prime suspect …?

While no state or organization has claimed responsibility/credit for the action, and despite the fact that a good number of interested parties had reason to approve of his sudden demise, suspicion fell chiefly on the secret intelligence service of Israel, the Mossad.

Depressingly — but not unexpectedly — international condemnation was both swift and widespread.

Thus, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, issued a disapproving statement, declaring: "…an Iranian government official and, according to reports, one of his bodyguards, were killed in a series of violent attacks. This is a criminal act and runs counter to the principle of respect for human rights the EU stands for."

In similar critical vein, Britain's Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab expressed concern over "the situation in Iran and the wider region [where]we do want to see de-escalation of tensions." Although he admitted that "We're still waiting to see the full facts … of what's happened in Iran," he nevertheless stressed the need to "stick to the rule of international humanitarian law which is very clear against targeting civilians."

Significantly, as Ron Jontof-Hutter deftly points out, both Borrell and Raab seem either woefully misinformed or willfully misleading in describing Fakhrizadeh as a "civilian/official." After all, it is widely known that he was a brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, not only an elite and highly privileged arm of Iran's military, but also designated a terrorist organization by the United States in April 2019.

Hostile & Hypocritical?

But perhaps the most alarming and annoying reaction came from John Brennan, who served as the director of the CIA under the Obama administration (2013-17). In a series of tweets immediately after the attack, Brennan decried the killing of Fakhrizadeh in the strongest of terms.

Although professing not to know the identity of the assailants or whether "a foreign government" was behind "the murder of Fakhrizadeh," he nevertheless began by deeming the attack as an "act of state sponsored terrorism" and "a flagrant violation of international law," which was likely to "encourage more governments to carry out lethal attacks against foreign officials."

He went on to characterize the action as "…a criminal act & highly reckless", warning that: "It risks lethal retaliation & a new round of regional conflict."

When operating in foreign countries, secret intelligence forces are ipso facto in contravention of the law of the land in which they operate. Indeed, as part of their job description they may abduct, extort, illegally acquire classified information and yes, assassinate individuals deemed a grave threat to their homeland.

This is, of course, something that Brennan is well aware of — since he was, as the New York Times dubbed him: "the chief architect of a clandestine campaign of targeted killings," and "the principal coordinator of a 'kill list' … overseeing drone strikes by the military and the C.I.A." — see here and here.

Good for the goose, but not for the gander?

Indeed, the Brennan-orchestrated campaign spanned large swaths of the globe — including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, comprising around an estimated 14,000 strikes. Of course, unlike the targeted killing of Fakhrizadeh, which resulted in little to no collateral damage, the U.S. drone strike caused significant civilian casualties — with estimates ranging from just under a 1,000 to just over 2,000 fatalities, including hundreds of children — and leaving thousands injured.

Indeed, according to one BBC report, local residents stated that they were more afraid of the U.S. drones than they were of the terrorists, who the drones targeted — also see here. Indeed, Amnesty International designated the U.S. extrajudicial killings as unlawful — some of which might even be considered war crimes. Moreover, as for the efficacy of the drone campaign, many see the collateral damage wrought on civilians as spurring recruitment to the very terrorist groups it was designed to curtail.

Indeed, Brennan has been harshly berated by human rights organizations — much along the lines that he himself castigated the strike against Fakhrizadeh; while his integrity in accounting for the results of the drone campaign, has been gravely impugned.

For example, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism asserted that Brennan's claims regarding civilian casualties "do not appear to bear scrutiny"; while The Atlantic was even more brusque, alleging reproachfully: "Brennan has been willing to lie about those drone strikes to hide ugly realities.". It derisively designated his assertion that: "there had been zero collateral deaths from covert U.S. drone strikes in the previous year, an absurd claim that has been decisively debunked."

Martin Sherman is the founder & executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies and served for seven years in operational capacities in Israel's intelligence community. Sherman lectured for 20 years at Tel Aviv University in Political Science, International Relations and Strategic Studies. He holds several university degrees — B.Sc. (Physics and Geology), MBA (Finance) and PhD in political science/international relations. He was the first academic director of the internationally renowned Herzliya Conference and has authored two books as well as numerous articles and policy papers on a wide range of political, diplomatic and security issues. He was born in South Africa and has lived in Israel since 1971. Read Martin Sherman's Reports — More Here.

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Perhaps the most alarming and annoying reaction came from John Brennan, who served as the director of the CIA under the Obama administration.
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Tuesday, 08 December 2020 10:03 AM
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