Tuesday, March 23, 2004
Combating Palestinian Terror

Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal examines the effects of Israel's 'targeted assassination' policy [emphasis added]:

After [the terrorist massacre at Netanya in 2002], Israel invaded the West Bank and began to target terrorist leaders more aggressively.

The results, in terms of lives saved, were dramatic. In 2003, the number of Israeli terrorist fatalities declined by more than 50% from the previous year, to 213 from 451. The overall number of attacks also declined, to 3,823 in 2003 from 5,301 in 2002, a drop of 30%. In the spring of 2003, Israel stepped up its campaign of targeted assassinations, including a failed attempt on Yassin's deputy, Abdel Aziz Rantisi. Wise heads said Israel had done nothing except incite the Palestinians to greater violence. Instead, Hamas and other Islamic terrorist groups agreed unilaterally to a cease-fire.

In this context, it bears notice that between 2002 and 2003 the number of Palestinian fatalities also declined significantly, from 1,000 to about 700. The reason here is obvious: As the leaders of Palestinian terror groups were picked off and their operations were disrupted, they were unable to carry out the kind of frequent, large-scale attacks that had provoked Israel's large-scale reprisals. Terrorism is a top-down business, not vice versa. Targeted assassinations not only got rid of the most guilty but diminished the risk of open combat between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian foot soldiers.
The bold phrase is, I think, the crux of the situation (not coincidentally, it's also the crux of the article). The 'wise heads' that predict doom every time Israel goes after one of the terrorist leaders don't understand - if you take out their leadership, you provide a convincing argument for peace.

Even some of the media say this, though they don't realize it. I was watching CTV news last night, and the reporter on the ground was giving her eulogy for Yassin - a 'spiritual leader' providing warm and fuzzy 'guidance to the Palestinian people' who 'cannot be replaced' because these kind of 'spiritual figures' don't just spring up out of the ground. It made me sick just listening to it. I wanted to snap her back into reality - "He's a terrorist, who is singly responsible for hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries!" Reflecting this morning, however, I realize that the reporter was right, but not in a way she could ever have dreamed. Yassin is not replaceable, at least not immediately (perhaps not ever). When you take out the leadership of this kind of organization, you take out the direction as well as the driving force. For it is not the 'important' members of Hamas who take to the streets as suicide bombers. Neither is it their own children. The 'courage' displayed by terrorist leaders is exhibited through the pariahs, the ones deemed 'expendable':
[W]hen one looks closely at just who the suicide bombers are (or were), often they turn out to be society's outcasts. Take Reem Salah al-Rahashi, a mother of two, who in January murdered four Israeli soldiers at the Erez checkpoint on the Gaza-Israel border. In a prerecorded video, Rahashi said becoming a shaheed was her lifelong dream. Later it emerged she'd been caught in an extramarital affair, and that her husband and lover had arranged her "martyrdom operation" as an honorable way to settle the matter. It is with such people, not with themselves, that Palestinian leaders attempt to demonstrate their own fearlessness.
So what happens when the terrorists stop encouraging people to go and blow themselves up? The Palestinians are human - they care about their own lives, and the lives of their children. You'd have a difficult time, were you not a 'spiritual' terrorist leader, convincing them to go die in your stead.

If you remove the head of a snake, the body will die. It may spasm a few times before its synapses finally stop firing, but its death is inevitable, for a headless snake cannot help but perish. The Israeli government understands this, and they are acting on that knowledge.
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A webjournal of ideas, comments, and various other miscellany from a Texan university student (with occasional input from his family) living in Toronto, Ontario. Can you say "culture shock?"

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