Politics & Policy

Terror Tactics

Attacking Israelis is business as usual for Hamas.

In the wake of Israel’s assassination of Sheikh Yassin, a number of clichés have been predictably bandied about. The first is the reference to Yassin as the spiritual leader of Hamas. Yassin was really the CEO of a terrorism conglomerate. Hamas has weapons-research programs, international propaganda wings, legal and illegal moneymaking ventures, and a social-welfare network–in addition of course to their core competency, mass murder. Yassin was intimately involved in building Hamas. In 1989 Israel tried and imprisoned Yassin. The trial revealed his intimate involvement in planning operations, and during his imprisonment Hamas began to fall apart. Hamas’s number two at the time, Mousa Abu Marzuq, took over–he was based in the United States then–and reorganized Hamas so that future attacks on its leadership would not be as debilitating. Yassin was also a fundraiser extraordinaire. On his release from prison in 1997 he traveled to Iran and the Gulf where he raised tens of millions.

Another cliché is that Hamas is about more than terrorism: It also runs hospitals and schools. True enough. But they offer enormous synergies with Hamas’s core function, murdering Israelis. Hamas facilities double as bases for military operations. Hamas social activities serve to recruit terrorists. All of this been extensively documented, but the best single article is Matthew Levitt’s “Hamas from Cradle to Grave” in the Middle East Quarterly.

My favorite cliché of all is the idea that somehow Yassin’s killing will initiate a new wave of violence against Israel, exemplified by Hamas’s statement that the assassination had “opened the gates of hell.”

So, Hamas was holding back in its operations before? Hamas, which is utterly and unequivocally devoted to the destruction of Israel–as is clearly stated in its founding covenant, which cites the anti-Semitic Czarist forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion–was not really applying itself to murdering Israelis until now?

It is possible that the Yassin assassination will add–marginally–to the vast well of Palestinian anger. But, considering that substantial segments of Palestinian society encourage children to martyr themselves, it is difficult to believe that the Palestinians could get much angrier.

More important, this facile analysis ignores the operational side of terrorism. Suicide bombings are not random expressions of individual rage; like all terror attacks, they are carefully organized. Bombs need to be built, and this is not something that can be done hastily: “Work accidents” have killed dozens of Palestinians and a good bomb-maker is too valuable to lose. Targets also have to be scouted out and the attacker transported to his site. The truth is that Hamas always carries out as many operations as they believe will have a reasonable chance of success.

Comments of Sheikh Yassin–translated by MEMRI from the newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat–illustrates this point: “The Islamic Movement cannot take all the Palestinian males demanding to participate in Jihad and in martyrdom operations, because they are so numerous. Our means are limited, and we cannot absorb all those who desire to confront the Israeli enemy…”

In other words, Hamas has all of the recruits it needs–its problems are training, equipping, and deploying these recruits. Consequently, taking out leaders in terrorist organizations does not perpetuate the violence by further angering the masses. The Palestinian masses are already blind with rage. Removing the leadership does, however, frustrate attempts to harness this anger into acts of mass murder. And maybe, just maybe, the removal of a charismatic radical figure like Yassin opens a window, creating the possibility that different ideas will emerge and that the Palestinians will turn away from their self-destructive madness.

Aaron Mannes is the author of “ TerrorBlog” and Profiles in Terror, forthcoming in May.

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