Yassin’s Killing Opens New Chapter in Israeli-Palestinian War

Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has fired the Israel-Palestinian war up to a new plane. The targeted assassination of Hamas founder, leader and moving spirit, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Monday, March 22, was the prime minister’s thunderous reply to the critics who argue that his disengagement strategy would hand the Gaza Strip over to Hamas control. It signals his determination to purge Gaza of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists ahead its evacuation. Yassin’s death is but the precursor to liquidating the violent movement he founded in 1987 to “cleanse” Middle East of Jewish sovereignty and replace it with an Islamic republic.
This cleanout of Hamas strength will take time. Until it is done, Israel cannot pull out of the Gaza Strip or even begin the process of disengagement.
Sharon’s action was addressed in particular to Washington. He was irked by the sharp message he received from the White House this week, which debkafile‘s political sources reveal here for the first time:
It consisted of eight main points which are paraphrased hereunder:
1. After listening to Sharon’s aides Dov Weisglass and other emissaries, we find that there is no properly-formed disengagement and evacuation plan. The prime’s proposals are “at best, an agenda.”
2. We don’t know what Israel wants. We are confused. Weisglass and Eiland (head of Israel’s national security council in the prime minister’s office) speak in two languages.
3. “If you wanted us to endorse your plan why did you publish it before discussing it with us? We might have offered observations.
4. We must ask the prime minister if (as part of his disengagement plan) he is prepared to hand over to the Palestinians all the routes to the Gaza Strip. We understand that what is proposed is action to remove only the civilian population. That is okay, but don’t call it disengagement. Evacuating Gush Katif and redeploying Israeli forces around the Gaza Strip would only create a sort of bull pen and leave Israeli responsible for its Palestinian population.
5. According to our information, not a single Israeli settler was killed in the Gaza Strip in 2003. So why the sudden rush?
6. After trying to bring some order to what we (the White House) are told by Weisglass, it appears that you (Israel) are seeking our backing for the British security plan aimed at Palestinian security forces bringing order to the streets of the Gaza Strip at the same time as Israel cracks down on Hamas and removes Jewish settlers. We don’t necessarily accept this plan but it least it has a certain innate logic. What we don’t understand is whether all air, land and sea approaches to the Strip will be laid open to Hamas and the foreign terrorists present there.
7. (debkafile‘s analysts rate this as the key paragraph in the White House message to Sharon). If what you intend is to prevent the activation of Gaza port and airfield and cushion the Philadelphi highway route (running parallel to the border with Egypt) with a one-kilometer wide buffer strip and at the same time leave people free to move between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and allow Palestinians to work in Israel – what would be different from the present situation? We don’t see any difference.
8. What we do see is that your plan or the talk abound it means that instead of dialogue with Arafat or Dahlan, you will have to address the Hamas.
debkafile‘s Washington sources report that the White House shot off the message to Jerusalem after accepting the finding of the National Security Council that Sharon’s proposals for disengagement and removal of settlements are unreal and his actions are confused and governed by the pressures of the investigations against him and his sons and his falling popular ratings as registered in the latest American-backed samplings. Sharon’s visit to Washington, reportedly postponed again until after Passover, has been consequently removed from the presidential engagement diary in the foreseeable future.
It was in the shadow of this message from the White House that the prime minister brushed off hostile questions on his disengagement intentions from his Likud ministers Sunday, March 21. Finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu, one of the few present who was aware of the American rejection, disappointed the critics by refraining from turning against the prime minister. He simply posed three conditions for accepting Sharon’s strategy:
Before pulling out of the Gaza Strip, Israel must finish building its West Bank security fence to include also the main Jewish settlement blocs, Modiin and the Modiin-Jerusalem Highway 443; the Bush administration must formally repudiate the Palestinian “right of return” demand for the 1948 refugees and Israeli must retain control of international crossing points and its freedom of self-defense to fight terrorists everywhere.
After the thunderbolt of the Hamas leader’s death, what happens next will hinge very much on how two quarters react: First, the Hamas leaders, who will have to decide quickly how to channel the fury of their following, whether against Israel or against the Palestinian Authority. If the latter, the fundamentalist group would have to drive all the way in their takeover of the Gaza Strip by kicking the PA and its head Yasser Arafat out of the territory. If the former, the Hamas would opt for a coalition with Arafat and his terrorist arms to wage an all-out war of revenge against Israel. In that case, Hamas would seek guarantees from Arafat for a power-sharing arrangement in Palestinian government.
Before Yassin’s death, the Hamas was moving in the opposite direction, boycotting the PA and Arafat and accepting collaboration only with his Fatah-al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades for suicide attacks against Israel.
The other party to watch now is Arafat himself. He may decide to take advantage of Hamas disarray and move in on the Gaza Strip and Gaza City where his people have been pushed to the sidelines in recent weeks. It is doubtful that he can muster the strength for a takeover on this scale. He may therefore hold up Palestinian unity as the crisis watchword and call on Hamas remnants to join forces with PA security units to beat Israel into the ground.
This Sharon government would then be confronted with a Palestinian front fighting for a single slogan: We are all Hamas! This would signal a new stage in the Israel-Palestinian war.
Immediate Chain of Events after Yassin Killing
Monday March 22, 2004
Israel goes on peak terror alert after the Hamas, echoed by Fatah, issued furious revenge threats – “Israel has opened the gates of hell” – for the early morning helicopter-borne missile attack that killed Hamas leader and 8 companions outside Gaza City mosque Monday, March 22.
The threats pointed to Palestinian and world Islamic retaliation against Israeli and Jewish targets inside the country and overseas. They reverberated along the procession of tens of thousands of mourners at the sheikh’s funeral in Gaza City.
Monday night, Hizballah responded to the call by directing heavy cross-border missile-mortar bombardment of IDF positions for almost three hours. Israeli air force and artillery hit Hizballah firing positions along the border and further inside Lebanese territory.
In Jaffa, an Arab passenger went on a stabbing rampage on a local bus, injuring three before escaping. During the day, Jerusalem’s Gilo district was fired on from the direction of neighboring Beit Jala or Bethlehem. In the morning, a Qassam missile exploded at the Erez Gaza crossing. A Palestinian went for passersby with an axe on Ramat Gan’s Ben Gurion Street, wounding three. He was caught.
The decision to kill Yassin, founder of the Hamas whose declared objective was to destroy “Jewish sovereignty” in the Middle East and establish an Islamic republic in its stead, was taken by the Israeli cabinet two days after the March 14 double suicide attack that killed 10 Israelis in Ashdod port. It was decided then that no terrorist, high or low ranking, would be immune to Israeli attack.
Monday night, after Yassin’s death, an Israeli senior defense source did not deny that “it may be coming closer to Yasser Arafat.”
The White House response was supportive. Presidential national security adviser Condoleezza Rice commented: Let us remember Hamas is a terrorist organization and Sheikh Yassin himself was heavily involved in terrorism. She denied Washington had had advance warning of the assassination or was involved in any way.
Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon made his first comment to an afternoon meeting of his Likud Knesset faction. He promised that the Yassin killing was not the end and defended Israel’s “natural right” to fight its proclaimed enemies. This would be done day by day. Defense minister Shaul Mofaz provided statistics: Yassin personally sent hundreds of suicide to kill Israeli civilians. The Hamas caused 407 Israeli deaths, 40 percent of all victims of the Palestinian Intifada.
“Change” ministers opposed the action when it was put to the cabinet. Opposition Labor leader, former prime minister Shimon Peres, said he too would have voted against the operation. Another former Labor prime minister, Ehud Barak, warmly defended the Yassin killing, slamming Israeli left-wing criticism as “misconceived, defeatist and encouragement for terrorism.”
In Brussels, UK FM Jack Straw sharp condemned Israeli for “unlawful, unacceptable and unjust” killing. He spoke in Brussels where he is attending EU discussion on ways to fight terror – in Europe. London police meanwhile urged British citizens to inform on suspected terrorists. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak called off the parliamentary delegation supposed to travel to Jerusalem for the joint celebration of the 25th anniversary of Egyptian-Israeli peace accord. In Baghdad, an anti-Israeli Muslim rally took place.

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