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Amid the plethora of ludicrous excuses and buck-passing in the wake of the brutal military operation in which a one-ton bomb was dropped on a residential dwelling, killing 16 civilians, one question has been forgotten: Was the act of the liquidation itself, which everyone has praised to the skies, either legitimate or wise?

This is what happens during the course of the slide down the slippery slope - what was just yesterday still the subject of public debate, at least at some level, has now become self-evident. It is now taken for granted that in the war on terrorism, liquidations are both necessary and permissible; it is taken for granted that the state has the right to execute people without trial almost as often as it pleases, provided those marked for death are terrorists, or individuals whom the state defines as terrorists.

If after the first series of liquidations, which were far more target-specific, people were still asking questions about the nature of such actions, now people are talking only about the excessive use of the means, and not about the method itself. Every security official, every general in the Israel Defense Forces or agent of the Shin Bet security service and - in their wake, with appalling knee-jerk assent - every reporter and military commentator are deciding who deserves to die. Just like the Palestinian terrorist organization, "The Martyrs of Return," that at week's end published its hit list, Israel, too, has its own hit lists - our "bank of targets" as it's known in sterile officialese.

From the day the constraints were removed and the liquidations were permitted - first by public opinion, and then also by the High Court of Justice, which, in an outrageous decision, declared that it was none of the court's business to intervene in Israel's belligerent operations, thus leaving the choice between permissible and forbidden in the hands of the security chiefs, it was clear that we were dealing with a method that would produce unnecessary victims.

In the current intifada, Israel has liquidated no fewer than 84 Palestinians, according to data compiled by the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. In the course of these strikes, another 44 innocent civilians were killed, either as bystanders or because they were in the area to begin with. As everyone knows, this frightening number within a relative short period has not eradicated terrorism. In some cases, at least, the liquidations have been a spur to terrorism - such as the killings of Dr. Tabeth Tabeth, which led to the double murder of Israelis in Tul Karm, of Raed Karmi, a liquidation that shattered a lengthy period of quiet, and of Abu Ali Mustafa, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine whose liquidation was the direct cause of the assassination of minister Rehavam Ze'evi.

It is standard practice to argue that these or other terrorist attacks would have occurred in any event, or even that had it not been for the liquidations, there would have been even more terrorist attacks; but these are assumptions that can never be verified. On the other hand, if we take the outcome of the liquidations as the criterion, they have been an abject failure: They have not brought an end to the terror and have not achieved real calm.

Even without considering the harm done to the innocent, the world does not recognize a state's right to assassinate wanted individuals. International law permits only the interdiction of individuals who are actually on the way to committing a terrorist act and not those who plan the act or serve as the inspiration for its perpetrators. How many of the 84 fall into this category? Israel, which is now the master of the territories, could, after all, carry out arrests: Just as the IDF made an incursion into Gaza on Friday in order to demolish some workshops, it could also have arrested Salah Shehadeh.

The chronic weakness from which Israel suffers - its excessive use of force - that reached its climax with the use of a one-ton bomb will continue to intensify. The decision on the bombing in Gaza raises the question of what will happen to those same decision-makers when the confrontation deteriorates and escalates even further.

Those who validated liquidation as a method have now received the operation in Gaza. This was neither a tragedy nor a mistake; it was a faulty method. And only the total cessation of the liquidations will bring about the cessation of the superfluous killing and, in its wake, perhaps even a partial quelling of the flames.