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.
The IDF offensive could thwart plans by Hamas and other groups collaborating with it, such as Fatah. Israel has reached the conclusion that Hamas was planning to launch an all-out terror campaign, which was heralded by the double suicide bombing in Ashdod port, in which 10 people were killed.
Before the Ashdod attack, Hamas launched a sophisticated offensive on the Erez checkpoint, which failed. Several months ago, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet decided to strike out at the Hamas leadership, and even tried to kill Yassin himself. One failed attempt to eliminate Yassin was followed by a period of relative quiet. The resolution to kill Hamas leaders was reaffirmed last week by the cabinet, following the Ashdod bombings.
It is clear that both of these offensives - Israel's and Hamas' - will increase the bloodshed. Not only will terrorist leaders and armed militants be killed, but innocent civilians on both sides will lose their lives.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now