JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel is considering resuming its contentious practice of assassinating militant leaders in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in an effort to halt intensified rocket attacks on Israel’s south, according to defense officials.
That Israel might renew a practice that brought it harsh international censure is evidence of the tight spot Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in. With Israeli elections two months away, rocket barrages from Gaza are disrupting the lives of 1 million residents of southern Israel, pressuring the government to come up with an effective response.
In the latest flare-up, Gaza militants have fired more than 100 rockets at Israel in recent days, triggering retaliatory Israeli airstrikes that have killed six people in Gaza.
Some Israelis are demanding a harsh military move, perhaps a repeat of Israel’s bruising incursion into Gaza four years ago. Others believe Israel should target Hamas leaders, a method it used to kill dozens of militants nearly a decade ago.
Advocates say targeted killings are an effective deterrent without the complications associated with a ground operation, chiefly civilian and Israeli troop casualties. Proponents argue they also prevent future attacks by removing their masterminds.
Critics say they invite retaliation by militants and encourage them to try to assassinate Israeli leaders.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday visited the southern city of Beesheba, where he told municipal officials that Israel will strike back against the Palestinian attacks.
“Whoever believes they can harm the daily lives of the residents of the south and not pay a heavy price is mistaken. I am responsible for choosing the right time to collect the highest price and so it shall be,” Netanyahu said.
Defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential discussions, said the assassination of Hamas leaders is shaping up as the preferred response to the stepped-up rocket fire.
They have the backing of two former military chiefs with experience in the matter.
AMY TEIBEL Associated Press