Israeli hardliners had the pleasure this week of seeing their controversial tactic of "targeted killing" of their enemies vindicated by being imitated. For it has emerged that their close allies in the US administration have now drawn up a target list for a systematic policy of assassination against those they call terrorists.
Considering the closeness of the Israeli right and the hawks at the Pentagon, this development should come as no surprise. The US has borrowed not just their policy, but their techniques too. It was Israel that pioneered the use of the Hellfire missile for summary executions such as the US carried out last month in Yemen.
Developed as a tankbuster during the cold war, Hellfire hits its target at 950mph. On November 3, a Landcruiser with an alleged al-Qaida leader and five other men was stalked from the air by a pilotless Predator controlled by a US team in Djibouti, 150 miles away. The Hellfire it carried enabled them to kill their prey from the comfort of an office chair.
A decade earlier, another terrorist, Sheik Abbas Moussawi, leader of Lebanon's fundamentalist Hizbollah group, was stalked from the air in this way. On February 16 1992, he was vaporized by an Israeli helicopter armed with Hellfire.
In biblical times, David made do with just one missile to cut down Goliath. But since Moussawi's Mercedes was in a guarded convoy, he got five. His wife Siham and their son Hussein, aged five, were killed with him.
Israel's defense minister, Moshe Arens, rejoiced over "a message to all terrorist organizations... whoever opens an account with us, we will close the account with them".
Three years later, Israel assassinated another Hizbollah leader, Rida Yassin, in a similar way as he drove along a road east of Tyre. Two Cobra helicopter gunships fired the radar-guided missiles, again believed to be Hellfires. One reportedly exploded inside the vehicle, burning Yassin and an aide alive. The other set fire to trees and bushes, hindering rescue workers.
The US's recent technical contribution has been to marry Israel's novel use of Hellfire with unmanned drones. The Predator was conceived in 1994 as a spy plane, operated from a safe position by a member of the "joystick generation" - and three others managing cameras and communications.
Airforce chiefs then transformed it into a tankbuster. The first successful test was in Nevada on February 21 2001. Air combat command moved on to try satellite links against the harder challenge of a moving target.
Al-Qaida's attack on the twin towers soon afterwards dramatically changed it targets - to "take out" not tanks, but individuals.
In this, it seems clear the Pentagon drank at the well of Israel's experience as a "laboratory for fighting terror". This May, Douglas Feith, the Pentagon's hawkish undersecretary for policy, went to Tel Aviv to talk to Ariel Sharon and his defense minister, Binyamin Ben Eliezer. The Israeli paper Ha'aretz said they discussed "war games, intelligence sharing and other cooperation".
Feith is such an enthusiast for the Israeli right that the reactionary Zionist Organization of America describes him approvingly as "the noted pro-Israel activist".
Four weeks later, Israel's top two security chiefs went to Washington to propose a new US-Israeli office specifically to combat terrorism. Brigadier General David Tzur and Uzi Landau, minister of interior security, met Feith on June 27.
The joint office, to be based in Washington, would involve a communications link between the proposed US department of homeland defense and the Israeli government, it was explained. Visa policies, terrorist profiles and other internal security data - except classified intelligence - would be swapped by computer, fax and telephone. The topic of the US-Israeli meeting was confirmed as "homeland security". Mr Landau said: "Israel is a laboratory for fighting terror."
It was only a matter of days after those talks that defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld drafted a secret directive. It is reported he ordered Air force General Charles Holland on July 22 "to develop a plan to find and deal with members of terrorist organizations...".
"The objective is to capture terrorists for interrogation or if necessary to kill them, not simply to arrest them in a law-enforcement exercise," he wrote.
Following the Yemen attack - what the Pentagon apparently hopes was the first of many successful operations - the third of the Pentagon's trio of hawks, deputy secretary Paul Wolfowitz, told CNN the killing was regarded as "a very successful tactical operation".
That opinion seems likely to be cheered to the echo in an embattled Israel. But others will regard with profound alarm this latest systematization of murder.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002