Text size

Is the world a better place without Imad Mughniyah? The instinctive answer is "Yes." Even after a short nap, serious consideration and much bandying about, the answer is still yes. But a cost-and-benefit analysis could challenge the validity of this response; if a car bomb explodes tomorrow next to a Jewish school in New Jersey or in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, and if the Israeli consulate in some South American city collapses, we'll be talking differently. On the other hand, if Mughniyah's assassination prevented a few terror attacks that were in the works, then the answer is obvious. It's all a matter of counting heads.

There's at least one thing on which everyone agreed: Mughniyah's elimination will not end terror, nor the war against it. If anyone still needs proof, just look at Ahmed Yassin, Abdel Aziz Rantisi and Abbas Mussawi, or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. Their replacements are worse than they were.

So why all the joy, if that's the case? It's because terror has been bound up with certain key figures, while the causes behind the terror have been ignored. The slogan "terror is terror is terror" begets a narrow school of warfare that focuses on individuals and can produce a great sense of satisfaction when its symbols are destroyed, but which can also make it more difficult to achieve the main goal of fighting the phenomenon effectively.

The closest example is the kind of warfare that Israel wages against Hamas or Hezbollah. Both are defined as terror organizations because of the methods they use against Israel. Both have similar ideologies - to bring about an end to the State of Israel. Despite this ideology, both are rational organizations that recognize that their ideological goal requires them to adopt a practical policy in order to survive, at least until they can realize the ideology.

For that purpose, they are willing to adopt the terms of a political movement. Hamas represents itself as a Palestinian nationalist movement whose goal is to end the occupation, and Hezbollah uses almost identical language when it speaks about the Lebanese national mission, the aim of which is to drive Israel out of Lebanese territory. Both organizations attempt to impose "possible" rules of the game on Israel. Hezbollah "agrees" not to attack Israel as long as the latter does not attack Lebanese territory. (The abduction of soldiers is part of the organization's private accounting and is beyond the scope of the national struggle.) Hamas puts forth similar conditions: a cease-fire with Israel in exchange for an absence of attacks and the release of prisoners.

Hezbollah and Hamas need the umbrella of a state that can justify their national claims. Look at the effort invested by Hezbollah secretary-general Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah in persuading the Lebanese that the war that he initiated and conducted was their war. Hamas uses nearly identical language. Just as Hezbollah does not speak about a "Shi'ite war" against Israel, so Hamas does not present a religious agenda of a war against the Jews. The Lebanese state or the Palestinian state-in-the-making are the justification for the activity of both organizations.

That is precisely the foundation that Israel could use in order to fight the terror carried out by both of these groups. Negotiating with the Palestinian Authority and establishing a Palestinian state quickly could turn Hamas into an internal Palestinian problem and deny it of its pretext of national warfare. Negotiating with Syria and reaching agreements on Lebanon, as well, could neutralize Hezbollah's national arguments and could even place the organization in a confrontation with Syria.

Even these arrangements would not end terror completely, but they would transfer ownership of the treatment of it to the nation-state. Just as Egypt, Morocco, Algeria or Saudi Arabia deal with problems of domestic terror, so must the aspiration be to transfer the problem of Hezbollah and Hamas terror to the owners.

But when peace agreements are perceived as concessions or as weakness, when negotiations with Syria are repeatedly postponed on the grounds that President Bashar Assad is not serious and the talks with the Palestinians are suspended on the grounds that the person with whom we can speak is unable to deliver the goods, there is nothing left but to wage war against the symbols of terror, to eliminate the Hamas or Hezbollah leadership, to point to a brilliant operational and intelligence victory, to count the victims of vengeance and to proceed to the next candidate.