Like Gasoline on a Fire

Yassin’s assassination is likely to enflame a new cycle of bloodletting in the Middle East


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s intention may be to end the suicide attacks directed at his country by assassinating Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, but his murder is more likely to bring about more bloodshed between Palestinians and Israelis. It may even enflame violence in the entire region.

The death of Yassin may not only prompt Hamas retaliation, but also trigger anti-Israeli sentiment among other Palestinians who do not necessarily support the “human bomb” tactic of Hamas. Many world media believe that Yassin’s killing is very likely to radicalize more Palestinians and spur more attacks against Israel.

Hamas has already vowed to avenge Yassin, the 74-year-old wheel chair-bound leader who was blown up by a missile in Gaza on March 24. “Sharon has opened the gates of hell and he will be targeted personally,” they said. Hamas members threatened to bring death to every Israeli family.

For the moment, most Israelis seem to support the assassination. But that may change when retaliation in Israeli cities begin. A dove Israeli statesman said gloomily that a Pandora’s box has been opened, and Israelis are now counting down to a rash of anticipated terrorist attacks. “The question is,” he said, “how many Israelis on earth will have to die for this?”

Pan Guang, Director of the Institute of European and Asian Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, deems that killing Yassin was a risky move aimed at smashing Hamas spiritually by killing its spiritual leader. He said that because there is currently utter mutual distrust between Palestinians and Israelis, exchanges of violence have taken place frequently. Israel has intended to stamp out suicide attacks through beheading the senior Hamas military command. It has been marginally effective as evidenced by the continuing violence.

Hamas is unlikely to cower from the death of Yassin. On the contrary it may launch an all-out war against Israel, according to Pan.

Hamas would lose such a war, Pan stressed, but Israel cannot easily eradicate Hamas, since the organization has accumulated years of experience in taking on Israel. If it is severely damaged, it may continue underground and employ subtler tactics, the Middle East affairs expert said.

As for the repercussions of the assassination elsewhere in the world, Zhu Weilie, a researcher on Middle East studies, said that Yassin’s assassination would further fan Palestinian hostility not only toward Israel but also to the United States. He also thinks the global anti-terrorist campaign will only get tougher, at least in the near future.

ANGRY VOLCANO: Mournful Palestinians attend Yassin’s funeral in Gaza on March 22

Some observers are now concerned that the death of Yassin may impact the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), saying radical organizations may finally get the upper hand and replace the already weak Arafat. Hamas may even take out moderate PNA officials disrupting peace talks with Israel on either side. Another possibility is that the PNA will simply disintegrate and a wave of radicalized youth could join Hamas or similar organizations, they predicted.

Sharon has already bypassed Arafat and the PNA with plans to pull out of Gaza and part of the West Bank unilaterally. Sharon’s government then demanded the PNA to take effective measures to crack down on radical forces to ensure the stability of the situation after Israeli withdrawal. Will Israel do anything to Arafat next? An Israeli official has warned that Arafat is more dangerous than Yassin was.

The Middle East peace process has witnessed turmoil in recent years to say the least, and negotiations have long been deadlocked. Although the international community has made much effort in mediation, there is no end in sight to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. From the dead end U.S.-backed roadmap, to the erecting of the “security” barrier dissecting the West Bank, and from the besiegement of Arafat to the sustained “targeted killing” policy, talks between the two sides have not made any progress, in fact they have regressed. This “targeted” assassination is no different.

After September 11, 2001, Israel further stressed “security for peace” taking advantage of U.S.-led anti-terrorist operations in the Middle East. Israel has utilized its supreme military strength over Palestine in adopting more extreme measures to remove leaders of radical Palestinian organizations. This in turn has aroused an influx of violent reactions by radical Palestinian groups. Violence has entrapped the two sides into a perpetual cycle of “violence for violence”—opposite to the will of both sides.

The Israeli intelligence department once said that assassinating Yassin or Arafat would not be difficult. The problem is how Israel would deal with the aftermaths of such a move. Some critics in Israel said frankly that Hamas would be the sole winner of the Yassin’s assassination.