Delicacies of Assassination: What the U.S. Did Right With Bin Laden

To his followers, he was an icon of resistance. To others, he was a Sheikh. But during his last hour, the notorious, grey-bearded, terrorist mastermind was in the crosshairs of an elite operation that would finally serve him justice.

For years, intelligence had worked to track the cleric, a founder and spiritual authority of the terrorist organization that had killed countless civilians. He had even narrowly escaped the bombing of the compound in which he and his leadership were gathered.

But he wasn’t so lucky that last hour when a pre-dawn, helicopter raid ended everything in a flash.

Except this wasn’t 2011.

The year was 2004. And the target was Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin 

– assassinated by an Israeli Air Force missile in the Gaza Strip.

Israel's killing of Yassin – who personally directed hundreds of bombings and murderous attacks against civilians (Israeli and foreign) – was widely condemned by the world community, the United Nations, and most Western powers. "Unjustified” and “unlawful," chided then British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Even the American representative to the U.N., John Negroponte, said the U.S. was “deeply troubled” by Israel’s actions.

But today, as those same governments applaud the assassination of Osama bin Laden (except Hamas, which condemned the killing) and assess the next steps against Al-Qaeda, perhaps they can learn from the experience of the Israelis, who first pioneered the practice of targeted killings of bin Laden’s “peers” in Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and even in branches of Al-Qaeda.

To begin with, many question and criticize the decision to bury bin Laden’s body at sea. Some claim it wasn’t sensitive enough to Islamic practice, others wish to see the body as definite proof of bin Laden’s death.

Nevertheless, with DNA testing already confirming bin Laden’s death with 99.9 percent confidence, disposing the body at sea will likely prove a wise decision in preventing bin Laden’s physical enshrining as a martyr.

Consider what happened in Gaza the day after Yassin’s assassination, during which his body was not removed or quickly disposed of by Israeli forces. The Palestinian Authority immediately declared three days of mourning, and nearly 200,000 Palestinians gathered in the streets of Gaza for the public funeral for the slain terrorist leader. Gunmen wearing Hamas headbands fired shots in the air, and throngs of weeping mourners pushed and shoved just to touch Yassin’s coffin, draped in the green and white flag of Hamas.

“Everyone here is like another Sheikh Yassin,” one Palestinian said. “Because of this, another million people will come out to take his place.”

As expected, Hamas did appoint a new leader the very next day 

– Yassin’s former “right hand,” Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who vowed revenge for the slain Hamas founder.

Yet Israel anticipated this and sent a clear follow-up message to Hamas and its partner organizations, assassinating Rantisi only a month after he had assumed his leadership role.

The very same dynamic could likely occur in the next few weeks with Al-Qaeda now that its head has been eliminated. The loss of bin Laden will no doubt strike a serious blow to the morale of many Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. However, much like with Hamas and Hezbollah which have fired tens of thousands of rockets into Israel since 2006, the death of one leader will likely not prevent continued attacks.

Over the last decade, Al-Qaeda has become more of a global network of independent cells all sharing the same ideology and resources. This was evident just last week when an Al-Qaeda cell bombed a cafe in Morocco.

The challenge in counterterrorism is sustaining pressure on terrorist organizations from both the top-down and bottom-up. And from its experience having cut the heads off of multiple “snakes,” Israel understands this perhaps more than anyone. Bin Laden’s demise should thus be viewed as a crucial means, but definitely not the end. 

Photo CreditWikimedia Commons

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Abram Shanedling

Abram Shanedling is a foreign policy and public relations professional based in Washington, D.C. He currently works at a public affairs/strategic communications firm and holds a degree in political science, journalism, and Middle Eastern studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Originally from Minneapolis, Abram has spent much time in Israel, including over half a year at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he also worked at a public diplomacy agency researching the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as terrorism and the influence of Iran in South America. Abram loves writing, reading, and Utimate Frisbee and hopes readers will ask questions and/or challenge his posts. His views are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer.

MORE FROM

London police identify Makram Ali, 51, as the man killed in the Finsbury Park mosque attack

Makram Ali, a father of six, died after a van attack on worshippers at a London mosque.

Cladding Similar to Grenfell Tower Could Be on 600 U.K. Buildings, PM's Office Says

Local authorities estimate about 600 buildings across Britain, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been fitted with the same type of flammable cladding used on Grenfell Tower.

Archbishop apologizes for Church of England's role in hiding years of "systemic" sexual abuse

Ex-bishop Peter Ball admitted in 2015 to abusing 18 young men over two decades.

'Hot Mic' podcast: Tropical Storm Cindy, Housing for Grenfell fire survivors, Uber CEO steps down

The important stories to get you caught up for Thursday.

EPA committee told that "climate change will be de-emphasized" by Trump administration

A key advisory committee has been "totally decimated" ex-members say.

O.J. Simpson's parole hearing will be held in Nevada on July 20

The former NFL player is serving a minimum 9-year sentence for armed robbery, kidnapping and other charges related to a 2007 confrontation with two sports memorabilia dealers

London police identify Makram Ali, 51, as the man killed in the Finsbury Park mosque attack

Makram Ali, a father of six, died after a van attack on worshippers at a London mosque.

Cladding Similar to Grenfell Tower Could Be on 600 U.K. Buildings, PM's Office Says

Local authorities estimate about 600 buildings across Britain, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been fitted with the same type of flammable cladding used on Grenfell Tower.

Archbishop apologizes for Church of England's role in hiding years of "systemic" sexual abuse

Ex-bishop Peter Ball admitted in 2015 to abusing 18 young men over two decades.

'Hot Mic' podcast: Tropical Storm Cindy, Housing for Grenfell fire survivors, Uber CEO steps down

The important stories to get you caught up for Thursday.

EPA committee told that "climate change will be de-emphasized" by Trump administration

A key advisory committee has been "totally decimated" ex-members say.

O.J. Simpson's parole hearing will be held in Nevada on July 20

The former NFL player is serving a minimum 9-year sentence for armed robbery, kidnapping and other charges related to a 2007 confrontation with two sports memorabilia dealers