Monday, March 22, 2004
I'm afraid I can only make quick responses to the assassination of Sheik Yassin:
1. No one should be surprised. Israel tried to get him before, and failed. It should not be a shock they tried again, and this time succeeded.
2. Therefore, initial claims by the Administration that they had no prior knowledge are either alarming or unconvincing. I vote for the latter. Israel had tried to hit this guy before, and failed. If the US objected to his being a target, and didn't say so then, we're idiots. If we objected, and Sharon went ahead with another attempt without pre-clearing it with the US, he's way out of line and there should be a much firmer response coming from the Bush Administration than there has been so far. Since I consider both of these possibilities relatively improbably, I suspect Bush's team knew Yassin was a target (though I'm sure they were in the dark and when or if a new attempt would be made).
3. There was a great deal of debate, here and, to a greater degree, in Europe, over whether the military wing of Hamas could be separated from its political wing. The US State Department does not distinguish between them, considering them a unitary terrorist organization. That's appropriate, and it is a view that has increasingly, but not universally, adopted overseas. If that view is correct - and I believe it is - then Yassin is a legitimate target, as is every member of Hamas. Whether he had an operational role or not. Yassin was not just another preacher spewing hate. He was a key leader of an organization devoted to mass-murder of civilians. It doesn't matter whether Yassin ordered specific attacks or not. What matters is his affiliation with Hamas and his leadership role therein. If we discovered that Osama bin-Laden did not know the operational details of 9-11, but just provided the funding, the inspiration, and proclaimed himself founder and leader of the organization responsible, would anyone deny that he's a legitimate target?
4. The real question, then, should not be whether Israel was freelancing (I doubt she was), or whether Yassin was a legitimate target (he was), or whether the terrorists will respond with more terrorism (that's what terrorists do). The real question is: what is the larger strategy? Is Sharon opening all-out war on Hamas as a prelude to withdrawal, in order to strengthen the hand of Fatah in Gaza? Would taking out Yassin help such a strategy? Is Sharon trying to torpedo his own withdrawal, by goading Fatah into joining Hamas in retaliatory attacks? Is he just playing to domestic politics, bolstering his right wing to make it more possible for him to withdraw? Or, as I fear, is there no strategy; is Israel just lurching between conciliation and forceful response? That's what I fear the most.