'War is now open," declared the new Hamas
leader, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, after the Israeli assassination of Sheik
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
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
Originally published on March 23, 2004