Politics & Policy

Taking On Terrorists

Why Yassin had to go.

Ahmed Yassin, so-called spiritual leader of the Hamas terrorist organization, was killed on Monday in an action that the Israelis call “active defense.” Defense or not, the killing of one of the highest-ranked terrorists in the region has caused Israel enormous damage internationally. But it was worth it.

Yassin founded Hamas in 1987 during the first major Palestinian uprising in what Donald Rumsfeld has accurately called the “so-called occupied” territories. (His point, that the Israelis could rightfully claim those territories, was received about as warmly as his remarks on “Old Europe.”) Europe, the U.N., and the Arab states are all in an anti-Israeli uproar over this action, and are likely to seek international sanctions against Israel for its policy of targeted killings. British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said the Yassin killing was, “…very unlikely to achieve its objectives…I don’t believe Israel will benefit from the fact that…an 80-year-old in a wheelchair was assassinated.” But Israel has already benefited and will continue to benefit in a very important way.

The day of Yasser Arafat is about over. As both President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon have said, Arafat will never live up to any peace bargain so dealing with him is not a part of whatever remains of the “peace process.” The U.S. roadmap for peace is in tatters, as every government official who talks on background–either here or in Israel–offers unasked. As a result, Ariel Sharon’s government decided last fall that they would act unilaterally to make Israel safer by “disengagment” from the Palestinians. Disengagement means withdrawing from Gaza and building the West Bank terrorist barrier–”the fence”–of which the International Court of Justice is now considering the legality. It also means less Israeli supervision of the Palestinian areas. Coupled with the sun setting behind Arafat, this is creating a power vacuum that the terrorists are working hard to fill. As Arafat’s grip slowly slips, instability in the Palestinian areas increases.

Yassin’s Hamas, along with the Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and Arafat’s own Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, have all been manipulating the Palestinian agencies–especially the security forces–to position themselves to take control when Arafat’s reign ends. Apparently, they are betting his end will be soon. At the same time, in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas was most powerful, Israelis are preparing to withdraw and leave the one million Palestinians there in control of their own affairs. (Neighboring Egypt wants no part of Gaza, but it wants an influx of Palestinians even less. It is preparing to place troops on its border with Gaza–not inside the Strip–to help maintain order.)

By decapitating Hamas, Israel is making it much less likely that the organization will rule Gaza and thus giving the less-bad guys there a chance to take control. Abdel Aziz Rantisi and Khaled Meshal–the two Hamas leaders who claim to succeed Yassin–are very likely to share his fate very soon. They are part of the Islamic Resistance Movement, which launches suicide bombers against Israel.

Call him what you like, Yassin (the “spiritual leader”) was an active terrorist, planning and approving suicide bombings and other attacks. Eliminating him was not, as the EU claimed, a violation of international law. It was not much different from our striking at an al Qaeda or Taliban leader with a missile from a Predator UAV. Whatever difference there is lies in expectations: We are expected to attack, and the Israelis–having known of and tolerated Yassin’s activities in Gaza for decades–aren’t. What the Israelis are doing is changing the ground rules. They have to: What has gone before hasn’t worked.

That the Israelis are pulling out of Gaza–something the Palestinians have demanded for years–made the Yassin killing necessary. From their pullout from Lebanon in the early 1980s, the Israelis learned two things. First was that they cannot allow their withdrawal to be seen as a victory for terrorism. Second was that they cannot allow terrorists to take control when they leave. In Lebanon, Hezbollah now operates openly from positions right on the Israeli border. A Hezbollah unit fired mortars at an Israeli town just a few days ago, prompting an Israeli air strike. Now that the Israelis have decided to pull out of Gaza–and will likely reduce their presence in the West Bank after the fence is built–they are applying the lessons of Lebanon. One of the lessons compels killing as many of the terrorist leaders as they can. And that’s what they’re doing.

From public statements by Defense Minister Mofaz–and conversations with sources–it is clear that the Israelis won’t stop with Yassin. All of the Hamas leaders are targeted, as are their Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade counterparts. Whichever of them can be found will be killed. There is only one exception: Arafat himself.

Ariel Sharon has promised President Bush that no harm will come to Arafat at Israeli hands. Arafat, at 74, is beset with several problems of old age, and has been isolated in his Ramallah compound for more than a year. He can still rally the media to his call, but his power shrinks almost daily. There is also enormous unrest among the terrorist groups, making it more than possible that one of them will kill Arafat and try to make it appear that the Israelis did it. Israeli Army Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon–an opponent of Sharon–stupidly made that scenario a possibility by hinting Arafat could be next to go after Yassin. Yaalon has set the stage for Arafat’s demise and the resulting international condemnation of Israel that will go well beyond the current round of U.N. caterwauling.

Many in the media are condemning the Yassin killing on the ground that he was moderating his stance, and even spoke recently of accepting some sort of peace deal with Israel if it withdrew from Gaza and the West Bank. That reasoning is defective. The terrorists at war with Israel, like the terrorists and terrorist-sponsoring nations at war with the United States, will not accept “peace” except as a temporary façade for protecting themselves while they prepare the next round of murderous attacks.

Terrorism against Israel and against the United States is ideologically driven. If the terrorists and their state sponsors were interested in peace, they would state publicly Israel’s right to exist. It is the same for the United States. If our terrorist enemies renounced their ideology and hate for us, we might be able to achieve a peace with them. But we should not count on that happening any time soon. Peace is not about processes. It is about winners and losers. This is a fact that Israel has accepted. So must we.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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