No huddling in ghettos
It is important to track down terrorist leaders, but better to keep tabs on them than to kill them.
The government proclaims the army will uproot terror from Gaza and stop the Qassam fire. Yet it has decided to allocate NIS 350 million to shellproof thousands of homes in Sderot and other towns around Gaza. What are the citizens supposed to understand from that? That the government does not believe that commando units, the "rehabilitated" army or the "major offensive" planned for Gaza can end the Qassams? That on the eve of Israel's 60th anniversary, we're back to the era of "stockade and tower" fortifications, doomed forever to huddle in a ghetto?
The government usually warns Israelis not to travel to Sinai around holiday time. Most Sinai-lovers ignore these warnings, and when springtime rolls around, they flock there in droves. Now one arch-terrorist bites the dust and the government is telling us to adopt a ghetto mentality when traveling, go into a self-imposed siege and conceal our identity. In short, to behave like "Shimshon der nebechdiker," as prime minister Levi Eshkol wisecracked in Yiddish back in the 1960s - poor Samson, the strong man crippled by insecurity.
Governments are supposed to make their citizens feel safe, not scare them. Those who gave the green light to bump off Mughniyah had to take into account that such an act could have dire consequences, such as Jewish centers and Israeli embassies being blown up, or Haifa being bombarded by missiles. They had to consider ahead of time whether eliminating this man was worth it.
Sometimes it is preferable to keep an eye on an arch-terrorist to thwart his plans, rather than getting rid of him and remaining in the dark about what he was busy cooking up. In public, the defense minister claimed that Mughniyah's assassination was a serious blow to global terror. Mughniyah was responsible for the murder of hundreds of civilians - and he killed many more Americans and Arabs than Jews, by the way.
But after so many years of fighting terror, we should know by now that cutting down a terrorist boss does not solve the terrorism problem in the long run. On the contrary: We got rid of Sayyad Abbas Musawi and who did we get instead? Nasrallah, who turned out to be a charismatic but cruel leader who dragged Iran into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an accomplice to terror. We assassinated Yehiya Ayash, the "engineer," through a cell phone bomb. What did that get us? Dozens of suicide bombings in the heart of Israeli cities.
Restraint is also power, as Ariel Sharon liked to say when he decided that not doing something would better serve Israeli security. The graveyards are full of irreplaceable people. We assassinated Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and what happened? The opposite of what we expected: Hamas grew and grew until it took over Gaza.
There were many times we considered bumping off Yasser Arafat, the father of institutionalized terror against Israel. And then one day, during the first Lebanon War in 1982, prime minister Menachem Begin received an urgent message from the General Staff that army snipers had Arafat in their crosshairs. Should they go ahead? Begin, who detested Arafat and called him "the man with hairy face," said no. Later, he confided to me, "A few hours of glory would have cost us thousands of lives."
It is important to track down terrorist leaders, but better to keep tabs on them than to kill them. Mughniyah's assassination will not make up one iota for the fiasco of the Second Lebanon War, let alone the decrepit state of the army after 20 years of policing the territories to safeguard the occupation. You could think that if Olmert did okay the assassination, he did it in order to rebuild himself as a determined, decisive leader.
Go on, fly around the world. Do your shopping as noisily as you are accustomed to, and speak Hebrew. We don't want to live in a ghetto. Not in the south of Israel and not outside of Israel.