Funny how no one seriously objects when U.S. Predators carry out similar hits on al-Qaeda operatives but the whole world is in uproar when the Israelis target members of Hamas — an organization that is morally indistinguishable from al-Qaeda. ~Max Boot

By “no one,” Boot naturally means no one in Western governments. Plenty of people object to drone strikes in Pakistan for any number of reasons. Not that anyone cares, but I have been objecting to them for years. These strikes violate Pakistani sovereignty, ignore the stated demands of Pakistani authorities, often cause some civilian casualties, deepen the distrust and alienation of the civilian population in the western regions of Pakistan (and turn more of the Pakistani public against the U.S.), and for all those reasons they tend to be strategically counterproductive. They cause much of the same diplomatic and political damage that the apparent Israeli involvement in Mabhouh’s assassination is causing now. The difference is that the damage is being done in Pakistan instead of in Europe. Pakistan’s government complains, and we ignore it. Major European and Arab governments complain, and Israel cannot simply brush it off. The diplomatic fallout has been amplified because of the passport issue, and because the hit took place on the soil of a relatively friendly, U.S.-allied Arab state.

There is nothing amusing or peculiar about any of this. Our reliance on drone strikes is an error. There are several reasons that there are not more complaints in the Western media about drone strikes in Pakistan. One simple reason is that they are not captured on camera, and there is no ready-made evidence of their effects. Second, they happen in remote regions of Pakistan, which do not hold much interest for Western audiences. Third, Al Qaeda is pretty much universally reviled in the West, so no one cares how or why their members are killed.

As atrocious and appalling as their past and present conduct is, Hamas still retains in much of the non-American West some minimal legitimacy as a major faction in Palestinian politics. Hamas and Al Qaeda may be morally indistinguishable, but politically they have very different standings in the eyes of many other states. Israel’s major regional ally Turkey has a ruling party that is somewhat sympathetic to Hamas, while it is resolutely hostile to Al Qaeda and its affiliates. These are rather obvious political distinctions that Boot ought to understand, and the Israeli government must also understand these things. It is pointless to pretend that these distinctions don’t exist and to complain that the different reactions to drone strikes and the Dubai assassination prove a double standard. Whether or not there should be a double standard, Israel’s government has to take for granted that there is one. If Israel’s patron and the global superpower can get away with something, however misguided it may be, it does not always follow that it can act with the same impunity.

Israel’s government had to know the deteriorating international position it was in. After Lebanon and Gaza, and after the numerous spats with its own allies over the last year, Netanyahu’s government could not have been unaware of the political consequences that would follow this action. As Ronen Bergman said, either Netanyahu was not consulted in making the decision, which is hard to believe, or he miscalculated in going ahead. To order the assassination under the present circumstances showed at best poor judgment, and at worst a reckless disregard for the strategic interests of Israel.

Reliable “pro-Israel” advocates cannot seem to grasp this, but almost all Western objections to this action have nothing to do with any sympathy for Mabhouh or his cause. Just as objections to drone strikes in Pakistan have nothing to do with sympathy for Al Qaeda or opposition to U.S. objectives in the region, Western protests over the manner in which Israel fights it enemies is almost always motivated by an interest in keeping Israel from making counterproductive blunders that empower its enemies and isolate it from those states that would otherwise be willing to support Israel. There is probably no better ally of genuine anti-Israel sentiment than the reflexive apologists for every mistake and crime the Israeli government commits. As the old proverb goes, “The yes-man is your enemy, but your friend will argue with you.”