On Monday March 22, in a morning helicopter attack, the army killed a wanted terrorist. This terrorist was on the State Department’s watch list and was identified by Condoleezza Rice as “being involved in terrorist actions.” You would think that the United States would have rejoiced, that the governments of Europe would have taken a brief moment to thank us for making the world safer, and that even Arab governments wold have paid lip service to the operation.
But it wasn’t the American army that killed Sheik Ahmed Yassin; it was the Israeli army, and therein lies all the difference. Suddenly the action was “deeply troubling” to the Bush administration. Suddenly the governments of Europe were condemning the assassination as though Israel had tried to kill the recognized leader of a sovereign state. Suddenly this wasn’t a step toward making the world safer, but a provocation that was going to lead to more terrorism. Suddenly it seemed as though, yet again, Israel was criticized for defending itself.
Sheik Yassin founded Hamas in 1988 and its stated goal has always been the violent destruction of Israel. Although his official title was “spiritual leader,” his real role went far beyond that. According to both American and Israeli intelligence, Sheik Yassin played an active role in planning and executing terrorist attacks. Hamas, and by extension Sheik Yassin, took responsibility for the murders of over 300 Israelis in the last three years. In terms of political influence, symbolic stature and operational involvement, the only comparable figure is Osama bin Laden. While many people (myself included) are uneasy about targeted assassinations, few would criticize the successful assassination of bin Laden because it is such a clear cut case. The same argument applies to Sheik Yassin. He was a terrorist mastermind. He had the blood of hundreds of innocent civilians on his hands. The world, and especially the Middle East, will be better off without him. Indeed, since Sheik Yassin’s death, we are seeing the first steps toward a new round of political negotiations. The Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Qureia, said on April 1 “that the Palestinians were willing to be full partners in the peace process.”
Gabrielle Goodfellow, in “Yassin’s assassination hinders peace” (3/31), compares the assassination of Sheik Yassin to merely “one good stab” at Hamas. If so, Israel must have used quite the blade; it has been 12 days since the assassination and Hamas has not yet launched a successful attack on Israel. It’s not for lack of motivation. After the assassination the new Hamas leader Aziz Abdul al-Rantisi threatened both Israel and America but has not successfully struck either. A New York Times article entitled “Israelis Say Hamas Is Not Able to Mount Major Retaliation” cited over 50 security warnings in the first five days after the attack, but Israel has managed to prevent them all. Although Goodfellow goes on to suggest that “there will always be a ‘Sheik Yassin’ in Palestine,” the facts on the ground contradict her. Rantisi is simply not able to direct the terrorist effort as well as Sheik Yassin was. Hamas may not be dead, but its inability to strike Israel thus far suggests that at the least, it is badly wounded.
By crippling Hamas, Israel has actually strengthened the hand of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas’ official negotiating position is that “there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.” Not only is Hamas unwilling to make any kind of peace; it is also effective at stopping the Palestinian Authority from making any kind of peace. Last summer, at the height of Bush’s roadmap, Israel began to pull back from Palestinian cities and allow the Palestinian Authority to try to administer itself. Unfortunately, this short ceasefire was broken when Hamas launched a series of suicide bombings that forced Israel to reoccupy the West Bank. Abu Abbas, then the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, claimed that he could not crack down on Hamas — it was simply too strong and too popular.
In the coming months, the Palestinian Authority will be forced to sink or swim on its own. Israel has weakened Hamas and will soon pull out of Gaza; if the Palestinian Authority cannot effectively take over the area, then it is truly worthless as a partner in peace. Arafat cannot rule forever by inciting the mob to hate Israel. Eventually, he will be judged by the same criterion all leaders are judged by: his ability to govern. I hope, for the sake of the Israelis and the Palestinians, that Arafat will embrace this opportunity. I hope that he will show the world that he is the moderate peacemaker that some still claim him to be, and that he will use this opportunity to rein in Hamas and get the region back on track to peace.
Unfortunately, Arafat has thus far proven incapable of making peace, and I believe that my hopes for the region will not be realized in the near future. In the end we will see real peace only when we see real moderation and accountability in Palestinian leadership. Until then, Goodfellow is partially right; we will see many more “Sheik Yassins” in the Palestinian territories. None of them will be as lethal as the original.
David Dubick is a sophomore in Morse College. He is a member of Yale Friends of Israel.