14 Mar


On September 18th, 2023, in his speech to the Canadian House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged India for its role in the assassination of Khalistani separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Trudeau in his speech said, Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the Government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar[1]. Nijjar; a designated terrorist in India having links with Pakistani Intelligence was killed by unknown gunmen outside the Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia on June 18th.

While countries like the US, the UK and Australia expressed their concern about the incident and urged India to cooperate with Canada in the investigation; India vehemently rejected the allegation as “absurd” and retaliated equally against Canada’s decision to declare Indian diplomat as persona non grata.

Throughout history, nations have often resorted to eliminating imminent threats through various extra-judicial means, including the assassination of human targets. The Arthashastra, a treatise on statecraft attributed to the ancient Indian scholar Kautilya, vividly describes methods of assassination to eliminate enemy heads of state and other important targets. In modern times, countries such as the US, Russia, and Israel have all employed extra-judicial means to neutralise threats to their national security, including targeted assassinations. While the world may be a safer place without figures like Osama bin Laden or Imad Fayez Mughniyeh, such operations are inherently delicate, as they can lead to diplomatic crises even when successful. Moreover, the success of an operation may not always achieve the intended result and often yields only tactical gains.

This paper discusses three instances wherein a nation deployed extra-judicial means to eliminate threats, resulting in backlash for operational failures and, surprisingly, even in cases of operational success. The article explores the significance of these events as a lesson for India, especially in light of the ongoing Indo-Canadian dispute.

The Lillehammer Affair in 1973

“Munaẓẓamat Aylūl al-Aswad,” notoriously known as Black September, was a Palestinian terrorist organisation that attempted to hijack Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics. Subsequently, all Israeli athletes and five out of eight hijackers were killed in a police operation. In retaliation, Israeli Intelligence (Mossad) orchestrated an assassination campaign known as Operation Wrath of God to target the Palestinian masterminds behind the Munich Massacre.

Ali Hassan Salameh, Chief of Operations of Black September, was identified as one of the main perpetrators of the Munich Massacre and thus became the prime target for Mossad. With intelligence indicating that Salameh was in Lillehammer, Norway, Mossad dispatched 15 operatives to eliminate him. The mission was deemed so crucial that senior Mossad officer Mike Harari accompanied the team, and Mossad Director Zvi Zamir even visited them in Norway. The team successfully eliminated the target in July 1973. However, just a day later, they discovered that they had mistakenly killed an innocent Moroccan waiter named Ahmed Bouchikhi in front of his pregnant wife.

Norwegian Police arrested six Israeli operatives. Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman in his book “Rise and Kill First” wrote; … led to the discovery all across Europe of safe houses, collaborators, communications channels, and operational methods. The information also helped the Italian and French security authorities with their investigations into targeted killings that had been carried out in their countries[2].

It was a failed operation on foreign soil that led to the humiliation of the Israeli government as the Norwegian court found MOSSAD guilty of the assassination of Ahmed Bouchikhi. This entire affair drew global media coverage and impacted Israeli accountability severely.

Operation Cyrus

With Hamas suicide bombers targeting civilians in the Ben Yehuda Pedestrian Mall in September 1997, killing five and wounding 181, the then Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered Danny Yatom, Director of Mossad, to immediately proceed with a hit on Khaled Mashal, the Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau. Mossad initiated Operation Cyrus. Mashal, at that time, was living in Amman, Jordan. A total of 10 Israeli operatives, including two female operatives, entered Jordan separately. They were carrying a derivative of Fentanyl called Levofentanyl, a poison devised to be sprayed on the human target to kill. On September 25, 1997, two operatives managed to spray the poison on Mashal and escape. However, by that time, they had been seen by both Mashal and his driver and had attracted the attention of a tail named Muhammad Abu Seif, a Hamas courier of weapons and money.

The rest of the situation went wrong for Israel. Both assassins were caught during a scuffle with Abu Seif. Their Canadian passports were also proven to be forged by the Canadian embassy. Netanyahu quickly sent Yatom to Jordan to secure the release of the captured operatives, including those who were digging inside the Israeli embassy in Amman. Yatom managed to secure the release of the captured operatives with the antidote for the poison used against Mashal but at a great cost.

Ronen Bergman wrote In the end, an agreement was signed: Yassin (Sheikh Ahmed Yassin; Founder of Hamas) and a large number of other Palestinian prisoners, including some who’d been involved in the murder of Israelis, were released ….. It took Israel years to repair the damage caused to the delicate and important relationship with the Hashemite Kingdom (Jordan)”[3].

Jordan was one of only two countries in the Arab world that had diplomatic relations with Israel at the time of this operation. Israel put that at stake; however, the operation ended in a diplomatic catastrophe for Israel in front of the world. Israel not only failed to achieve the objective but ended up paying much more than the objective itself.

Operation Plasma Screen

A top Hamas operative for decades, Mahmoud Abdel Rauf al-Mabhouh was in charge of the weapons and logistics for the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. With his network stretched all over the Middle East, he was very effective in sourcing weapons like ATGMs, rockets, and missiles that helped Hamas continue fighting the Israeli state. He was targeted twice by Israel but escaped unharmed from a car bomb attack and a poison-injected drink.

In 2010, Israeli Military Intelligence AMAN came to know of al-Mabhouh’s upcoming visit to Dubai. With clearance from Prime Minister Netanyahu, MOSSAD launched its Operation Plasma Screen to physically eliminate al-Mabhouh. A hit team of a total of twenty-seven operatives entered at various times before al-Mabhouh could land in Dubai. After learning that al-Mabhouh would check in at the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel, the team gathered at the hotel. They used Suxamethonium Chloride to paralyse al-Mabhouh and subsequently cause his death. The operation concluded within twenty minutes, and the entire team left the place silently for home. As the death appeared normal, no one bothered. It was Hamas who felt something had gone wrong and called the Police in Dubai. An investigation therefore started and established everything. Dubai Police Chief Lt Gen Khalfan held a press conference, publishing a video of hotel CCTV footage showing almost the entire MOSSAD operation, identifying the operatives involved. He demanded criminal action against both Netanyahu and Meir Dagan, the Director of MOSSAD. Interpol issued arrest warrants for all twenty-seven operatives with their presumed names. Countries were furious with Israel for whom MOSSAD used the passports of their assassins, including Britain, Ireland, France, Australia, and Germany.

As Ronen Bergman noted; Meir Dagan summed up the matter as We hit an important target, he’s dead, and all the troops got homebut not all went that well as Bergman further wrote The exposure and the negative attention the Mossad got was terribly damaging on an operational level ….. Whole sections of the MOSSAD’s operations were shut down, both because so many operatives had had their cover blown and because of the need to develop new procedures and methodologies, after the old ones had been all over the media[4].

Operation Plasma Screen was a success but not without a stake on the bet. Israel faced all the humiliation and condemnation due to such bravado.


India is one of the worst suffered countries by terrorist acts for decades and it has been a popular consensus in India that targeted assassination of the terrorist leaders inside enemy territory is the only solution to deter them from implementing their inimical plan. However, India is not known to carry out targeted assassinations inside any other country against any individual involved in terrorist acts against India[5]. India’s aversion to hit back at the perpetrators either covertly or overtly continues even after the 26/11 Mumbai attack which draws much criticism from the domestic populace. But in the last couple of years or so; multiple individuals who were primarily engaged in anti-Indian terrorist activities in one way or another; were shot, poisoned, drugged and accidented to death in mysterious conditions in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Canada, Britain, Nepal, Italy[6]. The deaths of these anti-India elements in such a consecutive manner within such a short period indicate the obvious possibility. Although neither the Indian Government claimed any of these deaths as a result of its actions or any blame come to them formally from anyone until this Nijjar affair surfaced. It is noteworthy that Canada’s allegation was not refuted by its fellow FIVE EYEs allied countries including the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand that collect and share SIGINT within them[7]. Canadian newspapers too reported that Indian officials have not denied the availability of such intelligence in private either[8]. Interestingly on November 29th 2023; the US Justice Department alleged an Indian Government hand in plotting the murder of US citizen Gurpatwant Singh Pannun using elements from organized crime networks [9]. Pannun however is a designated terrorist in India[10] known for his terrorist threat and hate speech against Indian diplomats, politicians and Indian diaspora in Canada[11][12][13]. More recently Canadian Intelligence blamed India as a “Foreign Threat” in the Canadian Election;[14] an accusation that Canada has labelled against Russia and China earlier. While in the US; Senator Ben Cardin, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressed his reservation on Predator Drone Sales to India which he only withdrew after the Biden Administration assured him of compliance [15].

Now India may continue doing what it has been alleged to have done or presumably done. The answer lies in the perception of the success, the assumption of the outcome and the cost it is willing to pay for both success and the failure. India today has replaced its foreign policy of seeking moral high ground with a more assertive one and Indian agents knocking down anti-India elements beyond the Indian border suits its global ambition too. It further sends a definite message to the terrorist bosses and their operatives that they are no longer safe in their so-called safe heavens. But such endeavours are always attached with the risk of diplomatic and political fallout; like the Israelis faced during their ill-fated operations in Lillehammer, Amman or in Dubai. A careful consideration of all the factors is much needed if India genuinely wants to walk on this difficult road.

Abhishek Das

Abhishek Das, an independent researcher, specialises in geopolitics, espionage, and hybrid warfare. With a portfolio including papers for esteemed organisations like the Observer Research Foundation and the Vivekananda International Foundation, Abhishek's latest work examines the controversy surrounding targeted assassinations, particularly in light of recent allegations against India. Drawing comparisons with Israel's actions, his analysis offers valuable insights into contemporary security challenges. You can follow him on Twitter/X: @abhish_31.