The world is in an uproar, the Middle East is in a state of turbulence, but the top echelons of the Israel Defense Forces are utterly silent. There are no signs of anxiety, no inkling of regret, and also no euphoria. Two whole days after it carried off the dramatic mega-assassination, the senior command is not really apprehensive of a mega-attack. In its assessment, the reactions to the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin will not be apocalyptic. Yes, Hamas will attempt to create a new balance of terror but, no, the Middle East will not go up in flames. Part of the Palestinian public actually welcomes the move. Some of the Arab countries are also satisfied.
Have no fear, the IDF says. There is always room for worry but there is no real reason for panic. In the long run, the liquidation of Yassin will not intensify anarchy among the Palestinians, but will calm it down. This week's killing is the first in a series of steps aimed at making it possible for an alternate Palestinian leadership to take control, to stabilize the situation and to bring the end of the conflict closer.
Have the rules of the game not been broken now? Is there no moral dilemma in the killing of a spiritual leader of a political movement? The IDF does not see a problem. It points out that Yassin was identified with the suicide bombings from their inception; that in the past few months he had initiated a new wave of terror designed to create the impression that Israel was fleeing from the Gaza Strip. It reiterates that, in certain cases, Yassin was directly responsible, both from the spiritual and from the operative points of view, for approving bombings.
Let us assume that the liquidation was justified. Was it clever? Will it not strengthen Hamas? The IDF takes an interesting position: Indeed, there is no justification for the assassination as an isolated act. If we were only dealing with Yassin, the cost is too high. We have turned him into a martyr, strengthened Hamas, fanned the flames of revenge and received Rantisi in his stead. But the IDF says this is not an isolated move. We are dealing with the entire Hamas leadership. A succession of killings can be expected in the coming months, aimed at serving as a deterrence and, eventually, at bringing the Palestinians to their senses.
According to this logic, Yasser Arafat should also be a target. Is Israel planning the assassination of the head of the Palestinian national movement? Arafat enjoys immunity. Perhaps the time will come when this should be reconsidered. But what should be done now is to kill him gently. To kill him as a political force. For as long as he has hegemony, nothing will change. Only after Yassin, Arafat and Hassan Nasrallah (each in a different way) are neutralized, will an alternate Palestinian leadership be able to flourish. Only then will there be a renewed chance for people who have been pushed into the corner in the past six months, such as Mahmoud Abbas, Mohammed Dahlan and Salam Fayyad.
Even so, was the Yassin assassination not an impulsive act of revenge? Does experience not teach us that liquidations do not help? The IDF claims targeted assassinations are useful. In the summer of 2003, a series of six killings led to the Hamas leadership's request for a hudna. Now that Hamas has instigated new tidal waves of terror, it was essential to operate vectorial counterforces. The military command prefered that this not be another defensive shield-type operation in the Gaza Strip but rather a series of liquidations. Yes, there are risks. The coming months will be difficult. The summer will be hot. However, the assessment of the senior command is that, at this stage of the confrontation, just as in March 2002, it is impossible to escape the vortex of terror without applying massive force.
What about the political horizon? What about the disengagement plan? Will the new aggressive move not return us to the whirlpool of blood and prevent any progress? According to the IDF, when the Palestinian reforms came to a halt at the end of the summer, the conflict resumed the appearance of a reservoir of stagnant water. There is no Palestinian partner, no American initative, and Ahmed Qureia is a dead duck. The disengagement idea is a stone that was thrown into these stagnant waters.
And indeed, it is an idea, not a plan, that we are talking of. It is an egg that has not yet hatched. No solution has yet been found for its inherent danger: turning the Gaza Strip into an active base for the terror of Hamas, Hezbollah and Al-Qaida. No way has been found, either, to ensure that the plan will get the Palestinians to pay the price for their aggression. Thus the new stone may sink in the stagnant water just as previous ones have - Tenet, Mitchell and the road map. Any number of things could happen between Spring 2004 and Summer 2005. Despite everything said, there could be a mega-attack, and Arafat could die. Therefore, anyone who wants to see movement has to clear the various terror leaders from the way.
Already two years ago, the senior IDF command predicted that the present confrontation would be long and exhausting. It was right. It compared the confrontation to a boxing match where two contenders sink in the mud as they continue to slam blows at each other. It was right about this too. The question that remains hovering over the streets of Tel Aviv, beyond the limits of the defense establishment, is whether the Israeli boxer will be able to stem the downward process or whether he will simply give it further momentum; if the prevailing aggressive policy will manage to pull us out of the mud or cause us to sink even further.
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