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A Comprehensive Analysis of Israel's Targeted Assassinations

Israel killed Hamas's military commander Ahmed Jabari in an air strike on November 14 2012 [EPA]
Israel killed Hamas's military commander Ahmed Jabari in an air strike on November 14 2012 [EPA]

Israel has a long and controversial history of conducting targeted assassinations against individuals affiliated with various groups, including Islamic Jihad, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and Fatah. These operations have taken place both within the region and worldwide, employing a wide range of methods such as car bombs, drone strikes, and even poisoned toothpaste. This article provides an in-depth analysis of Israel's targeted assassinations, discussing key examples and the implications they have had on the geopolitical landscape.

The Origins of Israel's Targeted Assassinations

The practice of targeted assassinations by Israel dates back to the 1950s, following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. One of the earliest known examples of this took place in 1956 when Egyptian army general Mustafa Hafez was killed by a bomb concealed in a book. Since then, Israel has carried out an estimated 2,700 assassination operations, although the Israeli government neither confirms nor denies the existence of a targeted assassination program.

High-Profile Assassinations: A Timeline

1950s to 1970s
  • Mustafa Hafez (1956): Egyptian army general killed by a bomb concealed in a book.

  • Wadie Haddad (1978): Founder of PFLP, responsible for multiple hijackings and planning the Japanese Red Army attack on Lod airport in 1972. A Mossad agent switched his toothpaste with an identical tube laced with a deadly toxin that slowly killed him.

  • Khalil El-Wazir (Abu Jihad) (1988): PLO's second-in-command, killed by Israeli commandos in his Tunis home.

  • Fathi Shikaki (1995): Islamic Jihad Chief, assassinated by Mossad agents on a street in Sleima, Malta.

  • Ahmed Yassin (2004): Hamas founder and spiritual leader, killed in an Israeli missile strike in Gaza.

  • Abdel Aziz Rantisi (2004): Hamas Organizational Leader, killed in an Israeli airstrike.

  • Imad Mughniyeh (2008): Hezbollah commander, killed in a joint CIA-Mossad operation in Damascus by a car bomb.

  • Mahmoud al-Mabhouh (2010): Hamas leader, assassinated in Dubai allegedly by Mossad agents.

  • Ahmed Jaabari (2012): Hamas military leader, killed in an Israeli air raid.

  • Mohammed al-Zawari (2016): Hamas drone expert, shot dead in Tunisia, with his family accusing Mossad of carrying out the killing.

  • Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan (2012): Iranian nuclear scientist, killed by a magnetic bomb attached to his car by a motorcyclist. Iran blamed Israel and the US for the attack.

  • Hassan Lakkis (2013): Hezbollah commander, shot dead outside his home near Beirut. Hezbollah accused Israel of being behind the killing.

The Methods Employed in Targeted Assassinations

Israel has been known to employ a diverse range of methods in carrying out targeted assassinations. These include the use of explosives, such as car bombs and concealed devices, as well as drone strikes and precision-guided missile attacks. In some cases, more unconventional methods have been employed, such as poisoned toothpaste or the use of undercover agents to infiltrate the target's inner circle and carry out the assassination.

The Role of Mossad in Targeted Assassinations

Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, has often been accused of carrying out high-profile assassinations involving Palestinians around the world. While Israel maintains a deliberate policy of ambiguity, neither confirming nor denying its involvement in targeted killings, numerous incidents have been attributed to Mossad operations. The agency has reportedly played a significant role in the planning and execution of these operations, often working in close coordination with other Israeli security forces.

The Legality of Targeted Assassinations

The legality of Israel's targeted assassination program has been a subject of much debate under international law. Some legal experts argue that targeted killings constitute extrajudicial executions, which are prohibited under international human rights law. However, others contend that such operations may be permissible under the laws of armed conflict, provided that they are carried out against legitimate military targets and adhere to the principles of necessity, proportionality, and distinction.

The Effectiveness of Targeted Assassinations

The effectiveness of Israel's targeted assassination program is a matter of ongoing debate. Some analysts argue that these operations have been successful in disrupting the leadership and operational capabilities of terrorist organizations, thereby reducing the threat they pose to Israeli security. Others contend that targeted killings have limited strategic value, as they often serve to galvanize support for the targeted group and can lead to the emergence of more radical and violent factions.

The Future of Israel's Targeted Assassination Program

While the use of targeted assassinations by Israel remains a controversial and divisive issue, it is likely that they will continue to feature as part of the country's counterterrorism strategy in the foreseeable future. As Israel faces ongoing threats from a range of regional actors, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad, targeted killings are likely to remain a key tool in its efforts to protect its citizens and maintain its national security.


The history of Israel's targeted assassinations is a complex and controversial subject, marked by numerous high-profile operations and ongoing debates over their legality, ethics, and effectiveness. While these killings have undoubtedly had a significant impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the broader geopolitical landscape, the future of this practice remains uncertain, as Israel continues to grapple with the challenges of protecting its national security in a volatile and unpredictable region.

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