Israel’s history of assassinations

Great piece by Jackson Diehl in today’s Washington Post.
In it, he details how in each of June 2001 and December 2001– though he erroneously referred to this having happened Dec 2002– American diplomacy had seemed to be successful in winning a ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and then the Israeli security forces heated things up again by undertaking one of their ‘assassination specials’ against the Palestinians…
Not that June 2001 was the first time that had happened, either.
The record goes back at least as far October 1995, when Rabin’s security forces assassinated Fathi Shiqaqi, of Islamic Jihad. Then the Mossad (when Peres was PM) took out Hamas’s Yahya Ayyash, in January 1996.
Both those assassinations were undertaken at times when the Israeli political echelon was also trying to effect a breakthrough in the peace process. (Actually, that could make it a little different from Sharon’s use of assassinations, which is much more widespread and also not necessarily linked to any engagement in peacemaking that is anything like as serious as Rabin’s and Peres’s engagement in that 1995-96 period.)
Details of the 1995-96 assassinations, by the way, are in my 2000 book on the Syrian-Israeli peace talks of 1991-96.
But still, as Diehl demonstrates in his piece, this matter has a significant history.
Sometime, when I have time, I’d like to write more about how I see Sharon’s motivations and maneuvering in all this.
One key point to note is the “appeasement of domestic critics of the peace process aspect.” It’s NOT necessarily the case that, when ordering such assassinations, Israeli leaders have a clear and visionary idea of how this plays into the peacemaking. It’s not even– as Diehl seems to indicate– that they do it precisely in order to torpedo the peace process. In my view, it’s more like they do it as a cheap and unthinking way to appease their domestic critics and reassure them that they are “still security hawks”.
What that totally neglects, however, is the quite illegal nature of such killings. Their quite inhumane effects– especially when carried out in crowded places!! And of course, their effect on the continued re-radicalization of the Palestinian street.
Even given the very best interpretation of Rabin’s or Peres’s or Sharon’s motives– that is, the “explanation” that they themselves give for these actions: that is, that they are designed to weaken the Palestinian hardliners and empower the Palestinian moderates– can’t they see that it just doesn’t work that way???
Also, how extremely patronizing and de-humanizing can you be, to think that swooping in to kill Palestinian hardliners is going to “help” Abu Mazen.

Harley-size cycle of violence

Well, my timing really stinks. Not the first time that the story has majorly changed between deadline-time for my column, and the time of its appearing. (And probably, given the lead-times involved, not the last.)
You can see the column of mine that appeared today in the CSM by clicking here. I wrote it Sunday, did a last-over edit late Tues evening. Just after that, I guess, all heck broke loose.
Maybe I should have seen it coming? Already, Tuesday, IDF attack helicopters had killed five in Gaza (but not the prominent Hamas pol they were aiming for, Abdel-Aziz Rantissi). Actually, I had put a quick ref to that event in an edit I did Tues afternoon, but the copy-editor took it out for lack of space.
Then Wednesday came the big bus-bomb in Jerusalem…

Continue reading “Harley-size cycle of violence”

Bush angry with Sharon?

So maybe Sharon really did piss W off last week, at Aqaba, as Akiva Eldar reported in HaAretz today?
Here’s what Reuters reported this afternoon, about Bush’s reaction to the Israeli government’s attempt to launch yet another extra-judicial killing yesterday. (The attempt failed. The target, Hamas’s Abdel-Aziz Rantissi, escaped with minor injuries. Two other people were killed, and a further number injured.)
Anyway, Reuters:
In a rare criticism of Israel, Bush said the attack on the official of the Hamas group could undermine efforts by Palestinians to end anti-Israeli violence, as specified in his peace “road map.”
He directed his top aides make phone calls to senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, urging the two sides to adhere to plan.
Bush did not take part in the calls.
“I’m concerned that the attacks will make it more difficult for Palestinian leadership to fight off terrorist attacks. I also don’t believe the attacks helped Israeli security,” Bush said as he met Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in the Oval office.
“I am determined to keep the process on the road to peace and I believe that with responsible leadership by all parties we can bring peace to the region,” Bush told reporters.
Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi of the Palestinian Hamas group, which has rejected the peace plan, was wounded in Tuesday’s strike by Israeli helicopter gunships. The strike killed two others, wounded 20 and threatened to sabotage the peace plan endorsed by Israeli and Palestinian leaders last week at a summit with Bush.
Bush said he regretted the loss of innocent life in the strike.
Another Israeli attack on Palestinian targets followed initial U.S. criticisms of the strike on Rantissi. The White House said it was still studying the second incident.
Under terms of the peace plan, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for ending anti-Israeli violence and dismantling groups such as Hamas that attack Israelis.
Asked whether Israel’s attack on Rantissi was “out of bounds of the road map,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. “That’s correct.”


SHARON USES THE ‘O’ WORD: Might the fragile-seeming Mideast ‘roadmap’ have some legs after all? The most intriguing indication that this just might be so came from reports that were leaked out of a seemingly stormy encounter Monday afternoon between Ariel Sharon and some of his colleagues in the Likud Party leadership.
According to these reports, which were relayed breathlessly to a waiting outside world by Reuters and the Israel daily Ha’Aretz, among others, Sharon actually confronted his colleagues with some harsh truths about the nature of Israel’s longterm administration of military rule over the lives of the 3.5 million Palestinian residents of the occupied territories.
“We don’t like the word, but this is occupation,” Reuters reported him as saying. “To keep 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation is bad for Israel and the Palestinians…We need to get away from this in a way that won’t hurt our security. This cannot continue forever.”
Sharon’s confrontation with his colleagues came one day after the Likud members in the government showed themselves badly split over how to vote in the government’s vote on the four-party International Roadmap for an Israeli-Palestinian Peace. Sharon’s motion that the government support the roadmap squeaked through by only one vote, with many abstentions– and a number of Likud leaders were among the abstainers.
I wonder how many decades it has been– if indeed it has ever happened before–since a leader of Likud used this particular “‘O’ word”? For decades now, Likud and all the rest of Israel’s territorial maximalists have studiously avoided ever using it. And in addition, they have exerted massive efforts in order to force other people not to use it, either. The territories in question– that is, the West Bank, Gaza (and Golan)– are always referred to, when specification of their status is necessary, as either “the administered territories”, or “the territories.” Occasionally, if they were feeling very generous, Likud people would allow as to how these lands might be “disputed territories”.
Well, actually, Golan and a hugely expanded version of East Jerusalem are not even considered to be in these categories, since the Israeli Knesset unilaterally annexed them in respectively 1981 and 1967. But no-one else of any note has ever recognized those acts of annexation as legitimate.
And then, the rest of the West Bank– after expanded East Jeruslaem was gouged out of it– was referred to by the Biblical tags “Yehuda and Shomron” (Judea and Samaria).
So now, finally, in 2003, Sharon utters the word “occupation”.
It is true, he uses this to refer only to the people of the occupied territories, rather than to the territories themselves. (That should be the next step.) But still, it is excellent that he has come to recognize and name the nature of the administrative arrangement according to which the Israeli government has–for 36 long years now– come to exercize military rule over the Palestinian people of these lands.
According to Ha’Aretz’s version, Sharon told the Likud meeting Monday afternoon, “It is not possible to continue holding three and a half million people under occupation… This is a terrible thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the Israeli economy. Today 1.8 million Palestinians live thanks to support from international organization. Do you want to take responsible [sic] for them yourselves? I do not think that it is right to control Bethlehem and Ramallah.”
Well, of course there are more ways than one to end Israel’s occupation over the Palestinian PEOPLE. One way would be the way advocated by extremists inside the Israeli government like Tourism Minister Benny Elon. He advocates widescale “transfer”– that is, the ethnic cleansing of large numbers of Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza, into neighboring countries.
That way, Israel would get the land, and Jordan or Egypt would get the “responsibility” for the looking after its now already deeply pauperized Palestinian population.
That’s why it is important to urge Sharon to go one stage further, and giver explicit recognition not only that the nature of Israel’s relationship to the people of the West Bank and Gaza is one of “occupation”, but that its relationship to those territories themselves is also one of “occupation”.
Because “occupation”– as everyone involved in this business either states openly, or implicitly admits by their very employment of complicated circumlocutions– is not an acceptable longterm situation.
So I really want to applaud Sharon for having started to use the O word. But he needs to go on and use it in reference to the lands concerned, and not just the people…
He also needs to take concrete steps that show that the “support” he has now grudgingly extended to the Roadmap will be actualized in concrete steps his government can and should take, starting now. Like, for example, ordering the total halt on all new construction activity in connection with the settlements project in the occupied territories and the dismantlement of the so-called “illegal” settlements. (Of course, under international law, ALL the settlements are quite illegal.)
Will he take such steps? Unlike his good buddy Bill Safire, I cannot read his mind.
But some of what he reportedly said at Monday’s Likud meeting did not augur well for the prospect of him taking such actions. Questioned by one Likud MP who’s a resident of the “Ariel” mega-settlement in the northern West Bank, Sharon soothingly replied that the roadmap did allow for the continued building of settlement housing. “It certainly allows the unlimited building for your children and grandchildren, and I hope even for your great-grandchildren,” he was reported as saying.
Despite such warning signs as this though, still, I just have to savor the moment of reading about Sharon’s encounter with the ‘O’ word.


FOUND! A WORTH-READING ISRAELI BLOG: From Salam via Diane I found a good-to-read blog by an Israeli. At last! Someone who writes from the heart. She’s Imshin. For some reason her blog is called “Not a Fish”. Her definition of it is: “The meaningless chatter of your regular split personality Israeli mother trying to make sense of current insanity.”
But no, Imshin, I don’t think it’s meaningless at all. It gives a great flavor of what life must be like for you. I found your post about teaching your kids about their gas masks very moving and real. There’s lots of other good stuff on there as well. As soon as I dare fiddle with the JWN template again I’ll put a permanent link to “Not a Fish” in there.
Of course, it would still be great if we could think that the Palestinians in the occupied territories had anything like the gas-masks and other civil-defense preparations and facilities that Israelis have. But still, the situation Imshin writes about is the one that, I imagine, many many Israelis are in.

Like Peres, Like Powell?

Colin Powell’s big oral presentation Feb 5 was aimed mostly at other governments– right? Well, put it this way, not wholly right. In fact, a large part of the speech was, by common consent, aimed much more at the US public than at people or governments elsewhere. That was the portion of the speech where he was attempting to establish a link between Saddam Hussein’s regime and al-Qaeda. Scarier still: he argued there’s a link between Saddam’s regime and Qaedaterrorists who are gaining access to biological and chemical weapons…
Very scary stuff for Americans still reeling from the shocks of September 11. But the links Powell talked about, between Saddam and al-Qaeda are not, it turns out, well established by the facts of the matter.
Powell’s case hinged centrally on the alleged links between Saddam’s regime and a predominantly Kurdish Islamic-extremist group called Ansar al-Islam that is based in northern Iraq. (It’s also called “the Zarkawi network”.) “Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Massad Al-Zarqawi an associate and collaborator of Usama bin Laden and his al-Qaida lieutenants,” Powell claimed in his speech to the U.N. He went on to explain that after Qaeda and the Taliban had been routed from Afghanistan, the Zarqawi network–which had previously been running advanced chemical-weapons research and production facilities in Afghanistan, “helped establish another poison and explosive training center camp, and this camp is located in northeastern Iraq. You see a picture of this camp. [shows one of his indecipherable pictures.] The network is teaching its operatives how to produce ricin and other poisons. Let me remind you how ricin works. Less than a pinch — imagine a pinch of salt — less than a pinch of ricin, eating just this amount in your food, would cause shock, followed by circulatory failure. Death comes within 72 hours and there is no antidote. There is no cure. It is fatal…”
Are you scared yet? You’re supposed to be… But here across my electronic transom today comes a report from the International Crisis Group, a sober research-and-analysis outfit run by a former Foreign Minister of Australia and a former President of Finland. The ICG has some analysts on Iraqi affairs who are world-class: objective and well-informed. Their conclusion about “Ansar al-Islam”? “Little is certain about the external connections of Ansar al-Islam, an offshoot of an Islamist movement with a long history in Kurdish politics,” the report writes. “What is clear is that the main support for Ansar al-Islam comes from powerful factions in Iran, its sole lifeline to the outside world.”
Iran? Howzzat again?
In the press release that accompanied publication of the report, ICG Middle East Program Director Robert Malley said of the enclave in northern Iraq where the Ansar al-Islam are holed up: “This is a region outside Baghdad’s control and we see no evidence that Ansar has a strategic alliance with Saddam Hussein. There is no question that the group has brought misery to many people in the area it controls, but it is highly unlikely that Ansar al-Islam is anything more than a minor irritant in local Kurdish politics”.
And this is the “evidence” that links Saddam to Qaeda?
The ICG report is called, “Radical Islam In Iraqi Kurdistan: The Mouse That Roared?” Go read it.
* * *
I note, parenthetically, that one of the strongest and most persistent proponents of the Saddam-Ansar-Qaeda link has been our old friend Bill Safire.
* * *
This kind of “tapping into the general fear regardless of what actually caused it” routine reminds me of what Shimon Peres’ government did in Israel in early 1996. Back then, Israeli voters were– quite understandably– fearful, angry, and traumatized because Palestinian terrorists had set off a string of very damaging attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Some 60-plus Israelis had been killed. Peres was going into an election. He evidently felt he “had to do something!” So he hit back– against the poor longsuffering people of south Lebanon who had suffered many, many tough assaults at Israel’s hands since 1978.
Yes, I know there have been so many Israeli attacks against south Lebanon over the years. Peres’s heroic campaign was the one called “Operation Grapes of Wrath”. The operation’s game plan as articulated by Israeli military leaders involved uprooting as much as possible of the civilian population of south Lebanon, herding them north to Beirut, in the hope that once there they would put pressure on the Lebanese government to start acting against the Hizbollah guerrillas who had been mounting an increasingly effective resistance to Israel’s presence in south Lebanon in the preceding years. (And if such deliberate use of civilian suffering to force political goals is not also terrorism, I’d like to know what it is.)
The operation backfired badly. Because of the sheer density of Israeli bombs dropped it was not surprising that some ended up hitting a U.N.-protected gathering point for civilians in Kafr Qana. More than 120 civilians were obliterated, wiped out, killed. Oh what an embarrassment for Peres. The Lebanese people united around the slogan of rapid Israeli withdrawal– and Hizbollah were more popular than ever before. (Note to Rumsfeld et al: that’s what military overkill does for you, friend.)
And the darnedest thing for Peres, too. He didn’t even get re-elected that time! (He has never actually won an Israeli election.) Funny thing about those Israeli-Arab voters: they didn’t feel like going to the polls to support Peres that time, but stayed home in droves instead How irrational can you get?
Sic tempera, sic mores, I would say (and it’s a pity my Dad’s not around to check the Latin). Anyway, couple of years later, I go to Israel, meet Peres in his elegant office in the Shalom Center in tel Aviv– main form of decoration: pictures of you-know-who doing various things, or awards given to you-know-who. He graciously agreed to answer the questions I had on the research I was doing about the Israeli-Syrian negotiations that had run from 1991 through 1996. (Read the book that I wrote about that. It’s pretty darn’ interesting.) Obviously, His April 1996 campaign against Lebanon played into that…
“So tell me, Mr Peres,” I say, trying desperately to keep my eyes from lingering too long on his startlingly purple-dyed hair, “–can you tell me exactly why it was that you decided you needed to move so hard against Lebanon’s Hizbollah at that time?”
“Terror in the south, terror in the north!” was the best explanation he could come up with at the time. I assume he thought I was quite unaware of the fact that Lebanese Hizbollah and the Palestinian groups that had masterminded the suicide bombs were quite separate organizations, and that I would simply take at face value his “explanation” that if one bunch of folks hits you, then the general sense of outrage you feel because of that makes it quite okay– nay, perhaps even necessary— to go out and get your revenge against a totally distinct third party.
And now, this seems to be Colin Powell’s argumentation. O tempora, o mores.