a second deck of cards needed

  1. 5,748 Posts.
    Aug. 22, 2003
    Editorial: A second deck

    The capture by US troops in Iraq of Ali Hassan al-Majid widely known as "Chemical Ali" and the fifth most wanted fugitive on the Allied list is excellent news. So too is the killing, by an Israeli helicopter gunship, of Ismail Abu Shanab, the fifth most senior figure in Hamas. Both men are responsible for a great deal of killing. Both men would likely have killed more had they not been stopped.

    But, we are told, there is a difference. Majid's capture is a step toward a more peaceful Iraq. Abu Shanab's killing contributes to the cycle of violence. Majid's capture was lawful. Abu Shanab's killing was extrajudicial. Majid "personified the clannish and ruthless nature of Saddam Hussein's republic of fear in Iraq," according to The Guardian. Abu Shanab, a favored guest on TV news, was recently described by ABC's Ted Koppel as "a spokesman and senior leader for the Palestinian organization Hamas [who] spent seven years in an Israeli prison and is a US-trained engineer." Actually, Shanab was the man who, following the Seder massacre of March 2002, said, "Our spirit is high, our mood is good," adding that he was especially pleased the bomb had been designed with weapons-grade explosives, not fertilizer. Morally speaking, it is difficult to see how Shanab was any better a man than al-Majid, even if the latter's killing was on a greater scale.

    Still, it is said there are political differences. Capture al-Majid, and that's one less card in the deck. Kill Abu Shanab, and Israel invites retaliation and inspires new Hamas cadres. Tom Friedman calls it Palestinian math: "Israel kills one Hamas operative and three others volunteer to take his place, in which case what Israel is doing is actually self-destructive." Friedman bases his view on the observation that, "By now, Israel should have killed off the entire Hamas leadership twice" but hasn't, because leadership vacancies are constantly being filled. In fact, Israel has carried out no more than 111 targeted killings, according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. The leadership of Hamas remains mostly untouched, and Israel has failed to undertake a militarily meaningful campaign against terrorist groups. Instead, it prefers symbolic, token, or incomplete measures.

    Opponents of Israeli military strikes are mistaken in another way. Hamas does not "retaliate." It attacks. Tuesday's bus bombing, for example, was said to be in retaliation for an Israeli raid against an Islamic Jihad leader in Hebron. But that raid was on a bomb factory! Israel's killing of an Abu Shanab is neither more nor less provoking to Hamas than anything else Israel might do, including abstaining from action. It may be argued that Israel resolves nothing when it takes military action. What's certain is that it does not "escalate" anything.

    The problem here, then, isn't that a military solution has been tried and has failed. The problem is that the most basic military steps have not been attempted.

    Why, for example, does Israel not follow the example of the US in Iraq and issue its own deck of cards of the 55 most wanted terrorist leaders? It would be useful to know if Abu Shanab was a King of Spades or an Eight of Clubs. It would be clarifying to know whether Yasser Arafat, whom the government repeatedly describes as a terrorist mastermind, belongs in this deck. If he does, then he ought to be disposed of accordingly. If he does not, it would seem both pointless and dishonest for the Israeli government to demonize him the way it does.

    But perhaps here another objection to our analogy may be raised. In Iraq, the meaning of victory is clear: a moderate and progressive state that respects human rights, the rights of its neighbors, and has popular support. The old Ba'athist guard being opposed to all this, they must be rooted out by the occupying power.

    And in Palestine? In Palestine, Hamas and other terrorist groups enjoy wide support. In Palestine, the killing of an Abu Shanab by the occupying power is considered "an ugly crime," as PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas put it yesterday, not a strike against terrorism. In Palestine, one increasingly gets the sense that terrorist movements and democratic ones blend.

    Following Abu Shanab's assassination yesterday, Islamic Jihad and Hamas issued manifestos declaring the hudna finished, which was almost funny. "Sharon, not us, made the truce fail," said Muhammad al-Hindi, a leader of Islamic Jihad. No doubt, he will be believed. No doubt, too, the Palestinian Authority will seize on Abu Shanab's killing as another excuse to take no steps against terrorist groups.

    So perhaps the analogy doesn't work. Yet it remains the stated policy of the Bush administration to seek a Palestinian leadership that is humane, competent, and "not compromised by terror." It also is the stated policy of Mahmoud Abbas to lead a Palestine which constitutes "a qualitative addition" to the family of democratic nations. The question now is whether the US and Israel will bend to the current Palestinian reality, or bend the Palestinian reality into their vision.
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