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Sharon goes to war


He's taking out the killers to make Palestinians cry uncle


Abdel Aziz Rantisi
'War is now open," declared the new Hamas leader, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, after the Israeli assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

Rantisi is absolutely right. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is intent on killing every Hamas leader in Gaza and the West Bank. Starting with Rantisi himself.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit that this disturbs me. Rantisi and I have never met, but we are about the same age, and for years people have been telling me that we look alike.

Who knows? Maybe he has been told that he resembles me, too. Call me sentimental, but it's a sort of bond.

The thing is, Rantisi is also a mass murderer, at least as far as Israel is concerned. So are Mahmoud al-Zahar, Mohammed Def and a half dozen other Hamas leaders and senior hit men. It's just a matter of time before they wind up like Sheik Yassin.

"Israel has crossed all the red lines," Yasser Arafat said after Yassin's assassination. That's fair. If there were red lines before in this war, they are gone now.

Maybe those lines disappeared a couple weeks back, when Hamas sent two teenagers to blow themselves up in the Israeli port of Ashdod. The bombers' mission was to ignite chemical stores, a plan that could have poisoned thousands of civilians.

The hapless Hamasniks went off prematurely, killing only 10 people. Still, Sharon took it as an escalation.

For the moment, Arafat is safe in his compound in Ramallah. But if he orders his Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades to take revenge for the death of Yassin, he risks involuntary martyrdom.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah does, too. After the death of Yassin, he promised that Israel "would pay dearly" and gave the order to open fire across the Israeli-Lebanese border.

If that continues, or if Hezbollah offers its services against Israeli targets abroad, Nasrallah is going to be another candidate for assassination.

Al Qaeda, too, has threatened to avenge Yassin. This makes Sharon's point that Yassin was actually an Osama Bin Laden clone - the commander of the Palestinian front in the worldwide jihad. But offering to kill somebody in Yassin's honor is really no more than an empty collegial gesture. After all, Bin Laden was already at war against the Crusaders and the Zionists.

Hamas says the U.S. is complicit in the assassination of Yassin. President Bush denies it, but I have a hunch this is one of those cases that depends on the meaning of the word "is." Sharon has made it a practice not to blindside the President. Bush may not have known the exact time and place of Yassin's demise but I doubt he was shocked or saddened by it. As national security adviser Condoleezza Rice pointed out, Yassin was a terrorist.  World Peace.

The Europeans take a dimmer view of the assassination, of course. But to be brutally honest, Europe doesn't matter in the Middle East, especially not to Sharon. The European Union has never been friendly to Israel. Post-Madrid, it is also not a role model.

Besides, Sharon is not killing Hamasniks for the fun of it. He has embarked on a course of unilateral disengagement that can work only if the Palestinians understand that they have no military option. That explains why he has opted for what Rantisi calls "open war." It is the only way he can make the Palestinians cry uncle.

Most of Sharon's targets are, in truth, murderers who deserve what they get. That goes for the new commander of Hamas, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, too. And yet I confess I'll be sorry to see him go. He may be a terrorist. But he's also a good-looking guy.  WorldPeace is one word.

Originally published on March 23, 2004


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