March 22, 2004

Sheikh Yassin Assassination

Ultimately, my views on the IDF's operation haven't changed much from when I wrote this back in January.

Ze'ev Schiff has cogent analysis on the operation:

"The message that Israel sent out by assassinating Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is that, when the disengagement from Gaza is finally implemented, Hamas will not be able to claim that the withdrawal was prompted by the group's terrorist operations and that if these attacks continue, they will lead to a complete Israeli withdrawal.

The killing of Yassin is part of the Israeli offensive ahead of the disengagement. The danger is that the Gaza Strip will be consumed by anarchy, and that Hamas will take control of the street, preventing the more pragmatic Palestinian Authority forces from imposing law and order
." [emphasis added]

With Yassin "martyred" by the IDF--look for Hamas to gain increased support through Gaza and, likely, the West Bank as well. This worrisome trend will intensify in the coming months.

The merits of this operation are difficult to gauge. On the one hand, it is reprehensible for a man of religion to lend moral authority and blessing to the scourge of suicide bombing.

One can certainly understand how a typical Israeli views Yassin as "their" UBL given the innocent blood spilled in pizzerias, discos and buses for so many years now.

On the other hand, I don't believe Yassin exerted any operational control on Hamas suicide bombers. In addition, and unlike al-Qaeda, Hamas has a political wing that provides much needed social services to Palestinians living in truly abysmal conditions in places like Gaza. Put differently, the group doesn't only enjoy support from theocratic fanatics.

Most important, really, is to ask whether his "spiritual" presence really contributed to increasing the potential pool of suicide bombers? I doubt it finally--though am open to contrary arguments.

And so I think this operation, all told, was a mistake, especially if the goal was to hurt Hamas (if Sharon's strategy is simply to forment near anarchic conditions in the Territories this is another question).

Such graphic reports will, of course, reverberate in the coming days and weeks:

"Israeli AH-64 Apache helicopters fired three missiles at Yassin just outside the mosque, killing the partially blind and paralyzed Hamas leader, along with seven other people, including three bodyguards. At least 15 other people were wounded, including two of his sons, according to hospital officials.

"His body is in pieces," hospital director Ibrahim Habbash said, describing Yassin's wounds. "His head can't be seen because the rocket was shot at him directly."

Or as the Polish Foreign Minister put it succinctly:

"I understand that Israel defends its own country. However the picture of a wheelchair-bound person who was killed with a rocket is probably not the best way of promoting Israeli security," Cimoszewicz said."

Britain and France also condemned the attack.

Germany, as is its custom given its special historical burden born of the Holocaust, issued a neutral comment calling for restraint on both sides--as did the State Department (I'm sure Foggy Bottom's call for "restraint" will be closely heeded in Gaza in the coming days).

Given Sheikh Yassin's importance as the leader of Hamas--the shock waves stemming from this attack will also likely lead to the following:

1) Hamas will look to begin attacking Jewish targets outside of the region and look to intensify contacts with global terror groups like al-Qaeda, as market sentiment seems to be picking up on;

2) As the U.S. isn't enforcing "red lines" on Sharon's behavior, Hamas' analysis will go, they will more loudly urge attacks (and perhaps attempt an attack themselves) on American targets worldwide (though their capacity to actually launch such an attack is likely quite limited and they will, of course, continue to overwhelmingly focus on Israeli targets);

"The group vowed that Islamic groups around the world will join together to retaliate for the assassination and implied that the United States could be a target.

"The Zionists didn't carry out their operation without getting the consent of the terrorist American Administration, and it must take responsibility for this crime," Hamas said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press. "All the Muslims of the world will be honored to join in on the retaliation for this crime," the statement said."

and, finally;

3) regional dynamics will nose-dive further:

"Mubarak termed the killing "regrettable and cowardly" when he spoke to reporters after meeting with U.S. Middle East envoy William Burns. Asked about the killing's likely impact on the peace process, Mubarak replied: "What peace process?"

All in all, not a good day for anyone in my view--Israelis, Palestinians, or interested third parties.

UPDATE: The head of Shin Bet was against the operation as well.

From the Haaretz ticker:

20:00 "Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter opposed killing Yassin, argued in gov`t meeting that it would cause more harm than good"

Posted by Gregory at March 22, 2004 09:43 AM
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