Thursday, June 19, 2003

# Posted 9:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES ASSASSINATION WORK? Even though they have not made the front page for a few days now, targeted attacks on Hamas leaders are still a major point of contention. Whereas Palestinian negotiators want Israel to stop the attacks -- period -- the Sharon government insists that it has a right to kill any "ticking bombs", i.e. militants in the midst of planning imminent attacks.

While the definition of "imminent" is not a simple matter, Sharon's apparent willingness to forgo vengeance strikes and limit himself to pre-emptive ones suggests that he is amenable to compromise. I hope that this is what Sharon has in mind, since pre-emptive strikes are far more justifiable than punitive ones. No one (outside the Occupied Territories) can object to Israel saving the lives of its own citizens when they are in immediate danger. In contrast, punitive strikes raise the prospect of a Hamas, Fatah or Jihad counterstrike, forcing Israeli retaliation, necessitating a Palestinian response...(cf. "cycle of violence").

Now, I recognize that the "cycle of violence" argument does not have many friends in the blogosphere. While Matt Yglesias and the Armed Liberal have gotten my back on this one, Gene Volokh (posting on behalf of JZ), Martin Kimel (scroll down to June 14th), Dan Simon and others certainly don't.

While all of those arrayed against me make good arguments, they one question they always seem to avoid is "Why now?" In other words, why launch punitive strikes at the one moment when they could do the most possible damage to the peace talks?

The closest Sharon's defenders come to addressing this point is when they insist that killing off the Hamas leadership will benefit Abu Mazen by weakening his most prominent opponents on the Palestinian side. When I point out that such targeted attacks hurt Abu Mazen's credibility, they point out that Israel cannot afford "credibility" if that entails an acceptance of endless terror.

That point had me for a while, but I have figured out what's wrong with it. Targeted killings almost inevitably inflict civilian casualties regardless of whether they are successful in eliminating their intended target. If such deaths could be avoided, Palestinians might accept Abbas in spite of such attacks. Yet most Palestinians seem to feel that Israel must not be allowed to strike down innocent bystanders in the process of eliminating Hamas.

Of course, there is a significant minority that supports Hamas outright. Yet as Zvi Bar'el observes in Ha'aretz,
"Today the ambition of the Palestinian public is to go to work, to make a living, and therefore, to see the peace process advance...

While the attack was going on, seven thousand Palestinians were standing waiting to pass the terminal gates into Israel, only to be turned away because of the shooting.

When there is a period of no hope, no change, the Hamas 'rides high,' accumulating more and more popularity points among Palestinians. But the moment the pipeline to socio-economic welfare is opened, Hamas must immediately find an alternative. It can find a bad alternative in mounting a terror attack, which we cause Israel to clamp down, but in reading the 'map' today, Hamas knows that what people really want, is to go to work, to begin to live their lives again."
If Bar'el is right, then Abu Mazen has a very strong base of potential support. But regardless of how much Palestinians want work, they won't stand for innocent bystanders being slaughtered.

Is that a one-sided perspective, given constant attacks on Israeli civilians? Of course. At the same time, insisting on the sanctity of civilian life is hardly unreasonable.

In the final analysis, I stand by the "credibility" argument because I believe that the targeted assassination of Hamas officials alienates a constituency that is potentially pro-Abbas and pro-peace. And if Abbas can bring peace and prosperity, this same constituency will fall silent when he finally crushes Hamas.

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