The Israeli government could not have perpetrated a ghastlier and more counter-productive act than it did by killing the Hamas "spiritual leader" Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in cold blood. Millions across the globe were stunned at the sight of an old paraplegic in a wheelchair being shot with high-tech missiles. The argument that this was retaliation for Hamas’s killing of 10 Israelis in a terrorist attack will convince nobody. The proposition that a crippled, frail, old man planned or organised that attack defies credibility. There is no evidence that Sheikh Yassin was involved in Hamas’s military operations for many, many years.
Israel’s action is morally indefensible, totally illegal and unbecoming of a minimally civilised state. It is a brazen form of extra-judicial killing. In plain English, this means murder by the state. Yet, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced, it is only the beginning of the systematic elimination of Hamas’s entire leadership.
Israel, quite simply, plans to annihilate who ever it regards as an enemy and a threat. This fits the clinical definition of state terrorism. If powerful governments were to resort to extra-judicial killings of those suspected — but legally unproved — to be sources of threat or purveyors of terrorism, the whole world would become a cauldron of lawlessness, brigandage and bloody chaos.
Most countries have condemned the Israeli action. Even the United States — which has long indulged Israel’s actions — has finally come around to deploring Yassin’s assassination. The Western European states were more forthright. European Union Commissioner Chris Patten compared the Israeli action to dealing with a fire by pouring gasoline on the flames. Even India, which has developed close "anti-terrorism cooperation" and a strategic relationship with Israel, called the action "appalling".
To condemn the action is not to condone Hamas or to paper over the fact that it is a fundamentalist group, which indiscriminately kills civilians. But the thousands upon thousands of Palestinians who poured out in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank, and above all, in Israeli cities like Nazareth, were not condoning or supporting Hamas. They were appalled at Israel’s outrageous conduct. When states take revenge by imitating sub-state terrorists, they reduce themselves to their level. Indeed, morally, they sink even lower, and physically, they can be incomparably more brutal.
The assassination is certain to provoke an unspeakably bloody response through another series of revenge attacks by Hamas. Many Hamas leaders have gone underground, and their newly appointed leader in Gaza, Abdal-Aziz Ranteesi, has vowed apocalyptic revenge — to "make the earth tremble under the feet of the Zionists". The slogan is "war, war, war" on Israel.
Sharon’s plan to assassinate Sheikh Yassin was opposed, not just by his interior minister, but also the head of the Israeli Security Service, Shin Bet — men who cannot be accused of being "soft on terrorism" or covert "Hamas supporters". The Sharon government could not have but willed terrorist attacks. It is inconceivable that it acted in a knee-jerk manner, without knowing of the likelihood of more terrorist strikes.
Sharon does not mind sacrificing the lives of scores, even hundreds, of innocent Israeli civilians, by provoking a large-scale violent response to "targeted assassinations". Such diabolical cynicism has long been integral to Israeli policy. It bears recalling that Hamas is itself the creation of Israel. It has been revealed by Israeli General Yitzhak Sager that beginning in 1978, the Israeli state funded Sheikh Yassin to divide the Palestine national movement and divert it from its PLO-centred secular mainstream.