The writer is a professor of economics at Ben-Gurion University and an SPME Member
Instead of addressing the question of how Israeli soldiers should deal with terrorism, the critics of Professor Asa Kasher, whom they disparage as “the court philosopher,” charge that the answer to every question is to put an end to the occupation -despite the fact that they, too, know that the occupation will not be ending tomorrow. But what should be done until then? Should the war on terror be stopped? And once Israel evacuates all of the territories, as they demand, would we find peace at last? Can they promise us that Hamas will not gain control of the territories that are evacuated and continue its attempts to wipe out the State of Israel? Will the Israel Defense Forces be superfluous, and no longer need an ethical code?
The aim of Kasher’s commendable enterprise is to establish norms of behaviour for Israeli soldiers for as long as terror continues to harm us, be it before or after the end of the occupation. At this point, the question of the targeted assassinations and their moral justification is raised. In this context, Kasher poses two arguments: First, when a military action is scrutinized, in order to determine whether it is moral or not, not only the results of the action should be examined, but also the implications of avoiding the action. The targeted assassination of a terrorist, in the course of which ten innocent Palestinians are killed, is no less moral than a decision not to act, as a result of which the terrorist succeeds in carrying out a terrorist attack in which ten innocent Israelis are killed. The justification for a targeted assassination should be judged not only by the direct result deriving from it, but also by the indirect result, of lives saved as a result of the targeted assassination. Therefore, the test of an action in which ten innocent Palestinians were killed does not stop there; one must also weigh the number of innocent Israelis remaining alive as a result of the action.
Second, a terrorist attack is not only the result of a suicide terrorist, who may be the direct cause of it, but of an entire chain of command, which includes the commander of the action, the person who prepares the explosive belt and the driver who brings the terrorist to the bombing site. If there is moral justification for preventing the terrorist attack, it is not limited to striking at the suicide terrorist when he is 20 meters away from the objective. Rather, it applies to the entire terrorist cell, the entire chain of command. Added to this argument is the fact that striking at the suicide bomber will prevent one attack, while striking at an “archterrorist” can prevent numerous attacks.
It should be borne in mind that a decision to carry out a targeted assassination is not reached in conditions of utter certainty as to the results of the action, either in terms of the chances of liquidating the target or in terms of the chances of harming innocent persons. It may happen, for instance, that after an operation is conducted, it emerges in retrospect that there was no justification for it -for instance, that numerous innocent Palestinians were hurt because of it. It is also possible not to carry out the action and to retroactively discover that there was justification for carrying it out -for instance, because the failure to act led to a terrorist attack with numerous Israeli casualties, who are also innocent. This means that mistakes are possible, and that it is certainly possible to make a moral decision that leads to an unwanted outcome.
There is an understandable aversion to taking a stand on the ethical code of an army when as a result of that army’s actions persons on both sides are being killed or injured. One could claim that any action in which innocents are killed is immoral, without any relation to the question of how many other lives have been saved as a result of that action. Yet when the subject is the ethical code of an army, and in particular an army that is waging a prolonged war against terror, it is not possible to evade cold calculations and considerations, not when there are dead and wounded on both sides of the equation. For instance, is there moral justification for preventing a terrorist attack if there is a 70 percent probability that if it occurs, 20 Israelis will be killed, but there is a 90 percent probability of 10 innocent Palestinians being killed if it is prevented through the targeted assassination of the terrorist? As a philosopher engaged in the field of ethics, Asa Kasher bravely grapples with questions such as these, while his critics try to dodge them.