New age assassinationsGuns, Drones and Poison: The New Age of Assassination

By Paul Maddrell

Published 14 December 2020

We are living in the greatest-ever age of assassination as states, fearful of the twin threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, are using increasingly sophisticated intelligence to track and kill dangerous people and deprive other states of dangerous knowledge.

Nobody has officially claimed responsibility for deploying the satellite-controlled machine-gun with “artificial intelligence” used to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Tehran at the end of November. But you would get fairly short odds were you to bet on it being the Mossad, Israel’s aggressive – and notoriously inventive – foreign intelligence service.

Israel has been carrying out what it calls “targeted killings” ever since its foundation in 1948. In his book, Rise and Kill First, leading Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman estimates the number of targeted killings at approximately 2,700.

Israel’s intelligence agencies are renowned for the inventiveness of their assassinations. Wadi Haddad, the director of foreign operations of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was murdered in 1978 with poison in his toothpaste. Yahya Ayyash, “the Engineer” who masterminded a number of Hamas suicide bombings in Israel, was killed in 1995 by an explosive charge placed in his cellphone.

Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s chief of staff, was killed by a car bomb in Damascus in February 2008. According to Bergman, the Israelis might have killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani with Mughniyeh, but only had the United States’ agreement to killing Mughniyeh.

Of course, it’s not just Israel which disposes of its foes via extra-judicial killings. We are living in the greatest-ever age of assassination as states, fearful of the twin threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, are using increasingly sophisticated intelligence to track and kill dangerous people and deprive other states of dangerous knowledge.

New Technology
The modern era of assassination began on 9/11 when the US realized how exposed it was to mass casualties from terrorist attacks on its soil. The “war on terror” took both crude and more subtle forms, the former being the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the latter including an airborne assassination program enabled by new technology.

The drone has been a very effective assassin of terrorists. The first killings by drone took place in Yemen in 2002 – and, by the end of 2013 US drones and aircraft had killed between 719 and 929 people in Yemen alone. Meanwhile between 2004 and the end of 2013, the number of people killed by drone in Pakistan was between 2,080 and 3,428.

Special forces have been used to kill key targets such as Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011 and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria in 2019. In finally killing Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in

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