The cost-benefit calculation
In the cost-benefit calculation of the assassination of Yassin, there are certainly costs; but they should be measured against the benefits, and the damage that would be done by not going ahead in the circumstances.
Former Senator George Mitchell, the chairman of the committee that three years ago tried to find a way out of the current cycle of Israeli-Palestinian violence, has been appointed once again to head a committee to stabilize something before collapse. This time it is the board of directors of the Disney Corp., which declared war on its leader of the last 20 years, Michael Eisner.
Mitchell had a moment of enlightenment. "Our loyalty," he said, "is not to the management. We will organize management and policy together, to create maximum value for our stockholders, in the short term and the long term." Mitchell doesn't have to discuss the Middle East nowadays, but what he said about Eisner and Disney could be said by another George - Bush - about the Palestinians, from Yasser Arafat to Ahmed Yassin. The Palestinian people deserve better managers, to produce the most value for them, and halt their degeneration into the abyss of misery and despair.
In the cost-benefit calculation of the assassination of Yassin, there are certainly costs; but they should be measured against the benefits, and the damage that would be done by not going ahead in the circumstances. The life spans of many Israeli, and of Yassin himself (despite gloomy medical predictions), were much longer when he was in Israeli detention; but when the crisis with Jordan broke out over the Khaled Mashal affair, placating King Hussein properly superseded other considerations, even at the cost of freeing Yassin.
During the Oslo process, Yitzhak Rabin gritted his teeth and agreed to regard the Palestine Liberation Organization as the representative organization of the Palestinian people, on the assumption that it was headed by a managing director with whom a deal could be struck and that the deal would oblige the members of the organization. If someone refused to accept the deal, the manager would be obliged to impose it on them.
Arafat signed, but did not intend to keep his word. U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, who is not to the right of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the political spectrum, emphasized during a recent speech that there was a built-in flaw in Oslo that allowed Arafat to keep the terror card while negotiating politically.
After the murder of George Khoury in Jerusalem by a Fatah-Tanzim cell, Arafat promised to find those responsible for the attack on the wrong victim, and thus momentarily forgot to claim, as he usually does, that he doesn't have the strength - because of Israel, which destroyed the Palestinian Authority - to control the terror. The assessment of the Shin Bet security service is that Arafat's organization, under increasing influence from Hezbollah, is responsible for 90 percent of the terror incidents in the West Bank. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the popular fronts are responsible for the rest.
There's been no lack of motivation among all of them - even before the assassination of Yassin, and there are plenty of plots and volunteers for suicide missions. The explosives cause the bottleneck, as they are usually smuggled in from Israel. It's not desire for vengeance that is lacking, but the means.
The alienation from Arafat and the demand for a new Palestinian leadership that is moderate, clean, and fights terror are impassable bridges in the Bush administration's policies. So as not to remain a prisoner of Arafat's rejectionism, even without the lost "seven days of quiet" from the days of the Mitchell report, Sharon finally came out with the initiative for evacuating Gaza. Hamas, which could have responded with restraint, preferring to prepare for integration into the Palestinian government control over the area freed from occupation, chose the opposite pole - provocative, bragging, painful escalation, bringing terror to the Ashdod port. Hamas did not agree to allow Sharon withdraw. It insisted on expelling him, scattering more Israeli bodies on the exit route from Gaza and drawing a direct line from Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon to Yassin in Palestine.
The paralysis in Franklin Roosevelt's legs did not prevent him from being the commander-in-chief of the American forces during World War II. Yassin was not merely a spiritual guide with physical limitations, but also the military commander of the fighting, which was partly guerrilla warfare and mostly terror. The members of the political and military chain of command are more (and not less) justified targets than innocent civilians; contrary to the shameful propaganda of the Sharon government in 2001, the murder of Rehavam Ze'evi after the assassination of the leader of the Popular Front, was no worse than any other lethal attack. Exacting a personal and organizational price to heighten survival considerations on the other side is a reasonable goal as a combat method and is derived from the political purpose.
Last summer, the bombing of Salah Shehadeh was meant to prevent planned terror attacks and push Hamas to achieve a cease-fire; and later, when it was violated, the operations against Yassin (dubbed "Auto-Gear," an allusion to his wheelchair) and his colleagues ("Golden Candlestick, was the code name for the operation against Mahmoud a-Zahar), were meant to press for the renewal of the cease-fire.
Now, the context is making the way out of Gaza and an effort to shape a Palestinian arena that will give the moderates a chance to overcome the extremists. It will be easier for Mohammed (Dahlan) without Ahmed (Yassin).