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Israel Is Allowed to Target Hamas Terrorists; International Law Is Not a Suicide Pact

A home destroyed in Kibbutz Nir Oz in southern Israel during Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack that is featured in the film Kibbutz Nir Oz by “Uvda.” Photo: Screenshot

“Each state is expected to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon the offenses against that universal law.” William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Law of England (1765)

Israel’s targeted killing of Hamas leader Marwan Issa in mid-March raises tactical and legal questions. Though it is unclear that such tactics can diminish tangible terror threats to Israel, there is also no reason to rule out their permissibility under international law. In the final analysis, such permissibility derives from the world legal system’s continuously anarchic structure and from the corresponding right of all nation-states states to protect their citizens from willful slaughter.

There are many clarifying details. By definition, world legal authority remains a fundamentally “self-help,” or vigilante system of justice. It is amid this perpetual global anarchy that every anti-terror government must systematically assess its strategic and tactical options. The victim of this necessary act (a targeted air attack) was a key Hamas planner of the October 7, 2024, assault on Israeli civilians, a murderous terror assault that combined the mass killing of noncombatants with the orchestrated rape of Israeli civilians.

Hamas, like Hezbollah, draws tangible support from Iran. A principal risk of leaving this insidious symbiosis unchallenged would be a direct Iranian attack on Israel that escalates incrementally into unconventional belligerency. Eventually, even if Iran were to remain non-nuclear, an intra-crisis search for “escalation dominance” by Israel and Iran could produce unprecedented nuclear conflict. This sui generis result could be produced suddenly, as a “bolt-from-the-blue,” or in variously hard to decipher increments. Initially, it could “present” as an Iranian use of radiation dispersal weapons (nuclear radiation rather than nuclear explosives), or as a conventional attack on Israel’s nuclear reactor at Dimona.

Under international law, which is binding upon all sovereign states, terrorism represents a crime that should be prevented and must be punished. As was learned originally from Roman law and Jewish law (Torah), a universal rule exists. This “peremptory” rule affirms the core principle of “No crime without a punishment,” or Nullum crimen sine poena. It can be discovered, among other sources, at the London Charter of August 8, 1945. This is the founding document of the post-war Nuremberg Tribunal.

In formal jurisprudence, terrorists are known as hostes humani generis, or “common enemies of humankind.” While the world legal system allows or even encourages certain insurgencies in matters of “self-determination,” there is nothing about these matters that can ever justify deliberate attacks on civilians. In this connection, it is important to remember that an integral part of all criminal law is the underlying presence of mens rea, or “criminal intent.”

On this point, there can be no reasonable comparison of Marwan Issa’s deliberate mass murder of Israeli noncombatants, and the unintended civilian harms now being suffered in Gaza. As a matter of law, responsibility for such ongoing harms falls entirely upon the “perfidious” behavior (i.e., “human shields”) of Hamas and Iran, and not on Israeli forces acting on behalf of legitimate self-defense.

Under the law of war, even where an insurgent use of force has supportable “just cause,” it must still fight with “just means.” Accordingly, the vapid phrase “One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter,” is never more than an empty witticism.

There is more. Ordinarily, assassination, like terrorism, is a crime under international law. Under certain conditions, however, the targeted killing of terrorist leaders can represent a life-saving and heroic example of indispensable law-enforcement. In a more perfect world legal system, perhaps, there could be no defensible justification for any violent self-help expressions of international justice. But this is not yet such a world.

In our self-defense oriented world legal order, the only state alternative to launching precise targeting actions against terrorists would be to allow incessantly escalating terror-violence against the innocent. Among pertinent clarifications, this is because terror-organizations like Hamas and terror-mentoring states like Iran harbor undisguised contempt for all ordinary legal expectations of criminal extradition. The formal term for this ignored expectation is “extradite or prosecute;” or aut dedere, aut judicare.

At first glance, to accept the targeted killings of terrorist leaders as law-enforcing remediation would seem to disregard the usual obligations of “due process.” Still, international relations are not overseen by the same civil protections offered by individual national governments, and terrorist leaders like Marwan Issa undertake barbarous attacks on men, women, and children with undisguised enthusiasm.

In the future, if Hamas and related terrorist criminals are effectively held immune by civilized states, indiscriminate attacks could exploit chemical, biological, or even nuclear elements. For the moment, a nuclear option would be limited to “only” a “dirty bomb” (radiation dispersal weapons), but this could change. To be sure, in the foreseeable future, Iran could fashion and deploy an authentic “chain-reaction” nuclear explosive.

There is more. The willfully indiscriminate nature of jihadist terrorist operations (not just Hamas) is well documented. Such intentional blurring of the lines between lawful and unlawful targets is rooted in certain generic principles of “holy war.” Several years ago, an oft-repeated remark by Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, then a prominent Muslim cleric in London, explained core doctrinal linkages between Islamic terror and “holy war:”

Said the Sheikh, “We don’t make a distinction between civilians and non-civilians, innocents and non-innocents. Only between Muslims and unbelievers. And the life of an unbeliever (a Jew or Christian) has no value. It has no sanctity.”

International law is not a suicide pact, especially when an adversary remains indifferent to its unassailable claims.

As was learned yet again on October 7, 2023, jihadist attackers add gratuitously barbarous effects to their corrosive primal ideologies. At “bottom line,” these are belief systems that gleefully embrace the sacrificial slaughter of “unbelievers.” To wit, for Hamas and related terror groups, “military objectives” have “normally” included elementary schools, bomb shelters, ice-cream parlors, civilian bus stops, and elderly pedestrians. In law, these perpetrators ought never to be called “militants.” Whatever their alleged cause, they are criminals of the irredeemably worst sort.

There is a related point. Though jihadists may call themselves “martyrs,” the personal death such terrorists seem anxious to suffer is presumptively just a transient inconvenience on the path to “paradise” and immortality. As this path is “glorious,” these jihadists are not “merely” aspiring mass murderers. They are also consummate cowards.

Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and other terror groups remain dedicated to the idea that any peace agreement with Israel must represent an intolerable abomination to Islam. Facing these implacable enemies within a self-help system of international law, Israel deserves the self-defending right to target refractory terrorist leaders. Determining whether such self-help remedies are also militarily sound raises another question altogether.

In the final analysis, what is most noteworthy about the targeted killing of terrorist leaders is not its permissibility in law, but the widespread global unwillingness to endorse or even acknowledge this critical right.

In current jurisprudence, an ancient principle still holds true: Ubi cessat remedium ordinarium, ibi decurritur ad extraordinarium — “Where the ordinary remedy fails, recourse must be had to an extraordinary one.”

Under international law, every state maintains the inherent right and corollary obligation to protect its citizens from transnational criminal harms. In exceptional circumstances, this dual responsibility can extend to the targeted killing of terrorist leaders. Otherwise, on its face, world law would in fact be a suicide pact.

Targeted killings, subject to applicable legal rules of distinction, proportionality, and military necessity, could sometimes offer the least unwelcome form of national self-protection. In such cases, especially where additional terror-crimes are still in a planning stage, the legal acceptability of violent self-help measures is greater ipso facto. In our continuously anarchic system of international law, this proposition is beyond any logical doubt. The world legal system is designed to protect us all from foreseeable infringements of human rights. Ironically, however, this same decentralized system still has no independent means to meet such a primary obligation.

In the best of all possible worlds, targeted killing could expect no defensible place in law-based counter-terrorism. But we do not yet live in the best of all possible worlds, and the negative aspects of any such action ought never to be evaluated apart from alternative policy outcomes. If Israel had chosen not to target Marwan Issa so as not to injure the sensibilities of “civilized nations” (a phrase codified at article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice), it would have brought extensive injury to many innocent human beings.

Counter-terrorism should always be governed by rational and justice-oriented decision-making processes. If the expected costs of a targeted assassination appear lower than the expected costs of all other plausible self-defense options, such a self-defense operation must emerge as the patently rational choice. However odious it might first appear in vacuo, targeted killing in such circumstances could offer a beleaguered state the least injurious path to security from terrorist criminality.

Inevitably, targeted killings, even of Hamas leaders like Marwan Issa, will elicit righteous indignation from many quarters. For now, however, the philosophic promise of centralized international law remains far from being realized, and continuously beleaguered states such as Israel will need to consider multiple operational choices. In facing such bewildering choices, states would soon discover that all viable alternatives to targeted-killing also include violence, and that these alternatives could plausibly exact a much larger human toll.

Sir William Blackstone’s 18th century Commentaries, the foundation of United States jurisprudence, explain that because international law is an integral part of each individual state’s “common law,” all states are “expected to aid and enforce the law of nations.” This must be accomplished “by inflicting an adequate punishment upon the offenses against that universal law.” Derivatively, by its precisely targeted removal of Hamas terrorist leader Marwan Issa, Israel acted not in violation of the law of nations, but in its indispensable enforcement. Presently, this neglected clarification of global justice should not be undervalued or overlooked.

Louis René Beres was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many books and scholarly articles dealing with international law, nuclear strategy, nuclear war, and terrorism. In Israel, Professor Beres was Chair of Project Daniel. His twelfth and latest book is titled Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed., 2018). A version of this article was originally published by Israel National News.

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‘Looming Disaster’: Hamas Releases Video of Operatives Shooting at Israeli Community From West Bank

Palestinian fighters from the armed wing of Hamas take part in a military parade to mark the anniversary of the 2014 war with Israel, near the border in the central Gaza Strip, July 19, 2023. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Hamas has begun releasing videos of its operatives opening fire from the West Bank into Israeli villages, raising fears the Palestinian terror group will eventually try to stage a significant attack in the territory.

On Wednesday, Hamas terrorists in the West Bank city of Tulkarm opened fire into the Israeli village of Bat Hefer, which is in Israel proper. They staged the attack from the top of a hill. This is not the first time it has occurred. Last month, terrorists in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades — the armed wing of Fatah, the political party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — fired into the Israeli community as well.

NEW: Hamas terrorists in the West Bank opened fire on houses in the Israeli town of Bat Hefer at 7am as children were preparing to go to school

— Eitan Fischberger (@EFischberger) May 29, 2024

Yoav Zitun, a military correspondent for Ynet News, reported that Hamas is paying people in the West Bank between 500 and 1000 shekels who take a video of themselves shooting into Israeli communities and distribute the footage.

Seth Frantzman, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, responded to the report on X/Twitter, writing it “reminds me of the Great Return March antics of Hamas that paved the way to Oct. 7.”

For the march, Hamas mobilized more than 40,000 people to try and breach the fence between Gaza and Israel to attack its citizens. Rioters lit fires, threw stones at the Israel Defense Forces, and attempted to plant a bomb on the fence and breach it. Hamas paid people between $200 and $500 if they were injured and $3,000 if they were killed.

Terrorist attacks from the West Bank against Israeli targets have been on an upswing. Last month, terrorists shot from within the West Bank into the Israeli kibbutz Ma’ale Gilboa.

Beyond shooting attacks, a terrorist killed two Israeli soldiers in Nablus in a ramming attack this week.

The terror incidents in the West Bank began to increase more than a year ago, but they have continued to occur since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

Frantzman called the situation a “looming disaster.”

“The rising attacks in the West Bank using the masses of stolen weapons will eventually become more sophisticated and can lead to an Oct. 7-type event because Israel has ignored security in the West Bank as it did at the other borders and allowed terror groups to exponentially grow over the last years,” he wrote.

The concern has been made more acute by the fact that the Palestinian Authority, which controls the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, is increasingly weak. In certain cities, such as Jenin, terrorist groups have effectively made the PA police obsolete and now have a significant ability to operate.

This is compounded by the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to take punitive measures against the PA, which could make it more likely to collapse and create a vacuum for terrorists to assert greater control.

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Jury Finds Donald Trump Guilty on All 34 Counts at Hush Money Trial

Former US President Donald Trump appears in Manhattan Criminal Court, May 30, 2024, in New York. Photo: Seth Wenig/Pool via REUTERS

Donald Trump became the first US president to be convicted of a crime on Thursday when a New York jury found him guilty of falsifying documents to cover up a payment to silence a porn star ahead of the 2016 election.

After deliberations over two days, the 12-member jury announced it had found Trump guilty on all 34 counts he faced. Unanimity was required for any verdict.

Trump watched the jurors dispassionately as they were polled to confirm the guilty verdict.

Justice Juan Merchan set sentencing for July 11, days before the July 15 start of the Republican National Convention expected to formally nominate Trump for president.

Merchan thanked the jurors for their service. “Nobody can make you do anything you don’t want to do. The choice is yours,” Merchan said.

The verdict plunges the United States into unexplored territory ahead of the Nov. 5 presidential election, when Trump, the Republican candidate, will try to win the White House back from Democratic President Joe Biden.

Trump, 77, has denied wrongdoing and was expected to appeal.

“This was a disgrace. This was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge who is corrupt,” Trump told reporters afterwards.

“The real verdict is going to be Nov. 5 by the people,” Trump said, adding: “I am a very innocent man.”

He faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison, though others convicted of that crime often receive shorter sentences, fines, or probation. Incarceration would not prevent him from campaigning, or taking office if he were to win.

Trump will not be jailed ahead of sentencing.

Opinion polls show Trump and Biden, 81, locked in a tight race, and Reuters/Ipsos polling has found that a guilty verdict could cost Trump some support from independent and Republican voters.

A source familiar with the Trump campaign’s inner workings said the verdict was expected to prompt him to intensify deliberations on picking a woman as his vice presidential running mate.

Biden’s campaign said the verdict showed that no one was above the law, but noted that Trump still would be able to run for president.

“There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box,” the campaign said in a statement.

The jury notified the court they had reached a verdict at 4:20 pm (2020 GMT) and read out all 34 guilty counts shortly after 5 pm.

Trump‘s fellow Republicans quickly condemned the verdict. “Today is a shameful day in American history,” House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson said in a prepared statement.

The jury found Trump guilty of falsifying business documents after sitting through a five-week trial that featured explicit testimony from porn star Stormy Daniels about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in 2006 while he was married to his current wife Melania. Trump denies ever having sex with Daniels.

Trump‘s then-fixer Michael Cohen testified that Trump approved a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels in the final weeks of the 2016 election, when he faced multiple accusations of sexual misbehavior.

Cohen testified he handled the payment, and that Trump approved a plan to reimburse him through monthly payments disguised as legal work. Trump‘s lawyers hammered Cohen’s credibility, highlighting his criminal record and imprisonment and his history of lying.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche asked Merchan to throw out the guilty verdict, arguing that it was based on the unreliable testimony of Cohen. Merchan denied his request.

Trump‘s near-certain appeal of his historic conviction on criminal charges in New York is likely to focus on porn star Daniels’ salacious testimony about their alleged sexual encounter as well as the novel legal theory prosecutors used in the case, but he faces long odds, legal experts said.

Falsifying business documents is normally a misdemeanor in New York, but prosecutors in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office elevated it to a felony on grounds that Trump was concealing an illegal campaign contribution.

Trump complained that he could not get a fair trial in his heavily Democratic hometown.

The case was widely regarded as the least consequential of the four criminal prosecutions Trump faces. Jurors heard testimony of sex and lies that have been public since 2018, although the charges themselves rested on ledger accounts and other records of Cohen’s reimbursement.

It was known as the “zombie case” because Bragg brought it back to life after his predecessor opted not to bring charges.

This case was also likely to be the only one to go to trial before the election, as the others are delayed by procedural challenges.

If elected, Trump could shut down the two federal cases that accuse him of illegally trying to overturn his 2020 election loss and mishandling classified documents after leaving office in 2021. He would not have the power to stop a separate election-subversion case taking place in Georgia.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all the cases, and has portrayed his various legal troubles as an effort by Biden’s Democratic allies to hurt him politically.

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Iran’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Welcomes Anti-Israel Campus Protesters to ‘Resistance Front’

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech in Tehran, Iran. Photo: Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS

Iran’s so-called “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, applauded the anti-Israel protesters who have thrown university campuses across the US into chaos over the past several weeks, declaring them part of a new “branch of the Resistance Front” against the Jewish state.

“Dear university students in the United States of America, this message is an expression of our empathy and solidarity with you,” Khamenei wrote in an open letter published on Thursday. “As the page of history is turning, you are standing on the right side of it.”

Rehashing antisemitic conspiracies of Jewish control, he derided “the global Zionist elite” for speaking against the campus demonstrations.

“The global Zionist elite — who owns most US and European media corporations or influences them through funding and bribery — has labeled this courageous, humane resistance movement as ‘terrorism,’” Khamenei wrote. “You have now formed a branch of the Resistance Front and have begun an honorable struggle in the face of your government’s ruthless pressure — a government which openly supports the usurper and brutal Zionist regime.”

Khamenei also praised students in other countries who have launched anti-Israel demonstrations on campuses, noting the leading role that faculty have played in fostering and supporting the unrest.

“Besides you students from dozens of American universities, there have also been uprisings in others countries among academics and the general public,” he wrote. “The support and solidarity of your professors is a significant and consequential development. This can offer some measure of comfort in the face of your government’s police brutality and the pressures it is exerting on you. I too am among those who empathize with you young people, and value your perseverance.”

Khamenei’s letter came amid an outpouring of praise for the anti-Zionist students by Islamist terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

“While we support the assassination of the infidel Zionists and the beheading of them, we also appreciate and value the movement of Western demonstrators and sit-in students from Western universities, who through their sit-ins and protests expressed their rejection of the genocide taking place in Gaza,” al-Qaeda leadership wrote in a recent communique

Hamas and Hezbollah, both backed by Iran, have also cheered the protests.

“Today’s students are the leaders of the future, and their suppression today means an expensive electoral bill that the Biden administration will pay sooner or later,” Hamas official Izzat Al-Risheq said in a statement last month.

Naim Qassem, the deputy head of Hezbollah, also praised the protesters during an interview with Al-Manar TV earlier this month.

“We appreciate and value this very much. Perhaps in the future, there will be cooperation among the youth of the world — in America, France, Britain, Germany, and all the activists,” he said. “The [campus protests] are important, especially because they will have an impact on US elections. They will have an impact on the American position.”

Earlier this month, when some universities suspended students who had occupied sections of campus and refused to leave unless school officials agreed to condemn and boycott Israel, the Iran-backed Houthi militia, a terrorist organization that has repeatedly violated freedom of the seas by attacking international shipping vessels passing through the Red Sea, offered to admit the disciplined students as transfers to Sanaa University, an institution it administers.

Some anti-Zionist student groups have reciprocated the admiration.

Last week, Columbia University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) endorsed Hamas, the latest sign of its growing extremism and willingness to embrace Islamic extremism and antisemitism.

“The Palestinian resistance is the only force materially fighting back against isr*el [sic],” the group said in a series of posts shared by Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus, a social media account which exposes antisemitism on college campuses. “There is no way to eliminate the resistance without ending the occupation. When you see a video of a young palestinian [sic] boy traumatized in a hospital talking about how iof [the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF] shot his pregnant mother in cold blood in front of his own eyes, do not question how he chooses to resist years later.”

Campus Reform, a higher education watchdog which first reported Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus’ posts, noted that Columbia SJP has added an “inverted red triangle” to its social media biography, further indicating its support for Hamas. The Palestinian terrorist group has used an inverted red triangle in its propaganda videos to indicate an Israeli target about to be attacked, and anti-Israel protesters on university campuses have been using the symbol in their demonstrations.

Columbia SJP, a group that has re-formed under multiple names since being suspended by school administrators during the fall semester, was central in staging a slew of riotous demonstrations in which anti-Zionist activists verbally assaulted Jewish students with antisemitic epithets, clamorously expressed support for terrorism and Hamas, and caused thousands of dollars in damages to school property.

The anti-Zionist student movement’s support for terrorism and anti-American ideologies has been expressed before.

Footage of the protests which erupted on college campuses at the end of spring semester showed demonstrators chanting in support of Hamas and calling for the destruction of Israel. In many cases, they lambasted the US and Western civilization more broadly.

“Yes, we’re all Hamas, pig!” one protester was filmed screaming during the fracas at Columbia University, which saw some verbal skirmishes between pro-Zionist and anti-Zionist partisans. “Long live Hamas!” said others who filmed themselves dancing and praising the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas terrorist organization. “Kill another solider!”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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