Archive for Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Killings receive wide support in Israel

April 20, 2004


— Does Israel's policy of marking Palestinian extremist leaders for death make the Jewish state a safer place? Does it save Israeli lives, or put them at greater risk by upping the ante for retaliation?

The recent targeted killings of Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi were widely applauded here, even as countries around the world condemned them as "extrajudicial" executions.

"Illegal and disgusting," Sweden's Prime Minister Goeran Persson said of the airstrike that killed Rantisi on Saturday in the Gaza Strip. "Unlawful, unjustified and counterproductive," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said.

The United States, for its part, issued a muted call for Israel "to consider the implications of the actions it carries out," while affirming its right of self-defense.

Israeli officials say the policy is effective and that recent events prove it: Hamas' military capability has been dramatically eroded, and Israel has not been forced to pay an unbearable price. Despite bitter cries for an "earthquake" of revenge after the March 22 killing of Yassin, Hamas has been unable to mount a serious attack, the officials say.

Further, they say, the fact that Hamas was unwilling to publicly identify Rantisi's chosen successor Sunday shows the organization is on the defensive.

Overall Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, speaking from the relative safety of Damascus, Syria, vowed Sunday to respond with "100 unique attacks." Israel, which has targeted Mashaal and once tried to kill him with poison, said over the weekend it was considering an attack on Hamas' Damascus headquarters.

"The moment Israel has the opportunity to strike at Mashaal in Damascus it will," cabinet minister Gideon Ezra said.

Despite a flurry of debate and a pending challenge before the Israeli Supreme Court brought by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel to bar targeted killings, many Israelis see the policy as a necessary evil that seems to be routing a violent enemy.

"It is true that Israel has enormously expanded the definition of the ticking bomb, which it used to justify assassinations early on," Yedioth Ahronoth, the mass-circulation Israeli daily editorialized after Rantisi's killing.

"With that having been said, one thing is clear," the editorial continued, summarizing the dominant mood here. "It is inconceivable that the people who send others to commit suicide bombing attacks should be able to sleep soundly in their beds. If there is justification for killing a terrorist on his way to commit a terror attack, there is far more justification for killing the commander and preacher who sent the terrorist on his way."

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