September 18, 2003

Kill Arafat? Israel, per this

Kill Arafat?

Israel, per this article, indicates that it is "a matter of how, not if" that the IDF will act to kill or expel Arafat.

Arafat is certainly taking it seriously--thus the children and women being employed as human shields.

I'm still betting Bush will rein Sharon in on this one. It would just be too dumb an operation with widespread negative ramifications.

Let me add a couple points to Marshall's post. TPM assumes Arafat is expelled, not killed, so that he would be able to retain operational control of the PA's security apparatus from, say, Tunis. And I'm worried an increasing number of Israeli elites are thinking that too--thus bolstering the case to assassinate rather than expel Arafat.

Killing Arafat would be even dumber. I'll touch on some of the reasons why a bit later.

First, a few words on Arafat. Yes he has blood on his hands. Yes he didn't submit a counter-proposal to Barak at Camp David II when he very much should have gone the extra mile to try to get a deal. Yes he still says stupid stuff like this way too often. Yes, he's stuck in a time warp where he romanticizes himself as a 60's style national liberation guerrilla while appearing increasingly incoherent and incapable of comprehending the realities unfolding about him.

Put simply, an Abu Ala or Abu Mazen operating without Arafat hovering about them would be a major improvement in terms of providing a real negotiating partner with unfettered authority to strike a deal some day.

But, despite all this, it would be folly to kill him. Call it the humiliation factor. Arafat, or at least the iconic kaffiyeh-clad figure the world sees poking about his Ramallah compound, is the repository and symbol of Palestinian national aspirations, whether you like it or not.

To kill him would most assuredly not be viewed by Palestinians, as it is in some quarters of Tel Aviv and perhaps Washington, as a means by which to benefit the prospects of forward movement on peace process negotiations by getting rid of a "problem" leader.

Instead, such an action would be viewed as a de facto decapitation of Palestinian national aspirations. It would cause widespread fury, humiliation, and cries for retribution through the Occupied Territories (and, indeed, through large swaths of the Arab and Islamic world).

But put all that aside for a moment. Ultimately, like any leader, Sharon must ask himself whether killing Arafat would enhance the security outlook for his people. Would Israelis be safer with Arafat gone? Would there be fewer terror attacks? No and no, I wager.

Commentators might wonder if Sharon's strategy was to create a quasi-anarchic situation in the West Bank and Gaza with Fatah remnants battling it out with Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Let them devour themselves, he might calculate, while we wait a few years for the storm to cool and hope a more responsible Palestinian government is in the offing.

I think the reality would be quite different. Yes, there would be some internecine violence. But, more significantly, a wave of increased anti-Israeli radicalization would sweep the Territories. You couldn't devise a better Hamas and Islamic Jihad recruitment drive if you tried. Legions of Palestinians (yes, more so than today) would try to blow up any Israeli they could. No fence, no matter how wide or long, would be able to stop all such attacks.

Meanwhile, the regional situation would escalate. The Israelis would be making our life more difficult in Iraq--where an Arafat assassination would play into the hands of the Iraqi resistance--at least as a propaganda tool. The Egyptians might, I think, go beyond a mere downgrade or suspension of diplomatic relations with more substantive anti-Israeli actions. Important Israeli bilateral relationships--like the Israeli-Turkish and Israeli-Indian ones--would suffer. Syria would allow the spigot in southern Lebanon to be turned on (more) to allow for Hezbollah to intensify attacks into N. Israel. More strain would be put on Jordan's stability given its restless Palestinian population. And so on.

Oh, and Israel would be roundly condemned by, well, just about everyone for taking such an action. More than the routine anti-Israeli diatribes over at Turtle Bay--strong messages of disapproval would flow into Israel's Foreign Ministry from pretty much every government around the globe. Israel would rarely have been so isolated on the global stage.

There's more. But I think readers can tell by now that I think killing Arafat is a supremely poor idea. Here's hoping, ultimately, Sharon will too.

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