The normalisation of targeted elimination

January 7, 2024

Are assassinations on foreign soil acceptable?

The normalisation of targeted elimination

Dear All,


ast year, diplomatic relations between India and Canada became severely strained after Canadian PM Justin Trudeau told the parliament that he had credible intelligence that “agents of the government of India” had carried out the killing of Sikh Canadian separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside a temple in British Columbia.

The row resulted in both countries expelling the other’s diplomats. India even suspended visa services in Canada.

Although many international analysts were baffled by Trudeau’s stance, he stuck to his guns and referenced things like the Canadian justice system, international law and so on. What was astonishing about the whole episode was not that the Canadian PM had protested but the nature of the international reaction to his protest: overall, people were not outraged by the idea of a country eliminating a professed ‘enemy of the state’ on foreign soil.

This is nothing new, of course, but whereas such assassinations were once covert and made to look accidental (hit by a car, jumped from a hotel window etc) or natural (death by poison, heart failure etc), now they are almost acceptable. During the Cold War, for example, the American Central Intelligence Agency is said to have tried to kill Cuba’s Fidel Castro at least eight times. The methods were bizarre and varied: through poisoned cigars, a diving suit contaminated with fungus, a poisoned pen, poisoned toothpaste, explosives hidden in a brightly painted seashell… The methods were covert then, but it seems that in the 21st Century assassination in another country is acceptable.

This sort of elimination of opponents or dissidents has gone on for years. Some of the most sensational include the 1940 killing of Soviet dissident Leon Trotsky at his home in Mexico; the ‘umbrella killing’ where Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was jabbed with a poisoned umbrella at a bus stop in London in 1978; the 1976 carbomb killing in Washington DC of Chilean dissident Orlando Letelier, who had been foreign minister in Salvador Allende’s socialist government; the polonium poisoning of Russian dissident Alexander Litivenko in 2006 etc.

But the days of the car bomb, letter bomb, poison methods seem long past. Now the US enjoys total impunity in its use of drones to take out ‘enemy targets.’ After the authorities denied that the US was doing this in northern Pakistan, the lie was exposed by a tribal journalist, Hayatullah. He belied the official denial by showing pieces of missiles that bore US military markings. The journalist was then abducted and killed. Later several members of his family were killed when they sought justice for Hayatullah.

During the so-called war on terror, America used drone strikes without regard for borders or ‘sovereignty’ of another country. Anybody exposing the extent of this practice was prosecuted (Julian Assange, Edward Snowden) or locked away (Bradley Manning aka Chelsea Manning), or simply eliminated.

Just four years ago, the US eliminated a powerful commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, Major General Qasem Soleimani when his car was targeted by a US drone. Nine other people were killed in the strike. Yet, the world reaction to the strike did not focus on the US aggression and assassination but rather on fears that Iran would react, that Iran might hit US targets in the region, and that Iran might spark a major international conflict.

While the UK has conducted its own dirty ops, like the 1988 Operation Flavius in which three members of the Provisional IRA were killed in Gibraltar, it is Israel who has used the assassination on foreign soil tool most consistently and most brazenly and with the most complete impunity.

For decades, Mossad has been involved in assassinating Palestinian leaders in exile. This began in 1972, following the PLO hostage-taking of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Wael Zwaiter, a well-known Palestinian intellectual, was killed in Rome. Palestinain author Ghassan Kanafani and his niece were killed in Beirut. Israel targeted many Palestinian intellectuals as well as PLO members in a number of European cities. Then, over the decades individuals linked to Islamic Jihad and Hamas became targets with a particularly bizarre incident in 1997 when the Netanyahu government attempted to assassinate Khalid Meshaal, chairman of Hamas’s political bureau in Amman.

Mossad agents used fake Canadian passports to enter Jordan and tried to kill Meshaal by injecting poison in his ear. The agents were captured and Jordan’s King Hussein threatened to publicly try and hang them unless Israel provided the antidote to the poison. After an intervention by the American president Bill Clinton, the Israelis handed over the antidote. Meshaal was saved, the agents were returned to Israel, and Israel had to release a number of political prisoners.

But this was a rare incident. Usually, eliminations by Israel have been precise and the world has allowed them to get away with it.

Thus, last week’s killing of a senior Hamas official, Saleh al-Arouri, in an explosion in Beirut, was no surprise. Israel has killed over 22,000 Palestinians in Gaza and other Palestinian areas after the Hamas attack on an illegal Israeli settlement in October. The justification remains the same as in the political assassinations of yore: that the victim is a deadly enemy and must be liquidated. The narrative is applied even to the over 11,000 children who have been killed in this genocide.

It seems that there really is no such thing as international law. Its logic seems to apply only to the oppressed and non-white peoples of the world. Israel can raze Gaza to the ground, target hundreds of journalists, medical staff, aid workers and intellectuals, bomb hospitals, schools and universities, use white phosporus bombs… No rules apply to Israel because it is fighting ‘the other.’

There are no borders in this pursuit, no ethics; no rules. The US and Israel have collaborated in this enterprise of othering the nations they wish to conquer and destroy.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la mème chose

Best wishes

Umber Khairi

The normalisation of targeted elimination