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March 24, 2004

Israel's Killing of Yassin Endangers Americans in Iraq and Elsewhere


by Juan Cole

David R. Sands makes excellent points about the connection between Ariel Sharon's murder of Shaikh Ahmed Yassin on Monday and the security of Americans in Iraq and elsewhere. (I use the word "murder" to refer to extra-judicial killing outside the framework of conventional war between states).

Sands points out that Iraqis in the north and the south staged protests:

"Protesters at two demonstrations against the U.S.-led coalition – one in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and the other in the southern city of Basra – chanted in support of Sheik Ahmed Yassin. 'Do not worry, Palestine. Iraq will avenge the assassination of Sheik Yassin,' protesters in Mosul chanted."

It is not as if Mosul and Basra were quiet or coalition forces needed more provocations. AP reported that ' In the northern city of Mosul, gunmen shot at three members of Iraq's security forces, killing one and wounding two. ' And in Basra, it said, ' In other violence, two explosions in Basra wounded 13 British troops. The blasts occurred shortly after a demonstration by unemployed men. Rocks, gasoline bombs and a grenade were thrown during the demonstration, and soldiers fired tear gas. It wasn't clear whether the explosions were linked to the clashes. '

Sands also says, "Several members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council expressed alarm over the killing. 'The terrorist networks will use it as justification for more attacks,' said Adnan al-Assadi, a member of the fundamentalist Shi'ite Dawa Party who serves on the council. 'This could happen in Iraq because the Israelis are well protected in Israel and the Americans are more vulnerable here in Iraq.'"

At a time when American soldiers and civilians throughout Iraq are already daily being targeted by Sunni Muslim guerrillas, for Ariel Sharon to order the murder of Yassin and seven others while they were leaving a mosque is an act of treason against his American ally. It doubles the danger for every American man and woman in Iraq.

Sands then points to the reaction of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, which is reported at greater length by AP :

Sistani said, "'We call upon the sons of the Arab and Islamic nations to close ranks, unite and work hard for the liberation of the usurped land and restore rights. This morning, the occupying Zionist entity committed an ugly crime against the Palestinian people by killing one of their heroes, scholar martyr Ahmed Yassin.'"

Sistani is a man who can at will put hundreds of thousands of demonstrating Iraqis into the streets of Baghdad and Basra, posing a severe threat to US and UK troops and officials. And Sharon has managed to enrage him.

Some readers expressed surprise at Sistani's statement. But someone sent me a fatwa he issued on 9 April 2002, provoked by the Israeli attack on Jenin, which left 4,000 of the 16,000 camp residents homeless and killed tens. He wrote then, "Our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the holy, occupied territories in these days face continuous Zionist acts of aggression, the like of which has not been seen in modern history." All the major Shiite clergy in Iraq agree on this point, which is why it was frankly stupid for those great Arabists, Richard Perle and Doug Feith, to dream that the Shiites of Iraq (under a restored Hashemite monarchy) would moderate the Lebanese Hizbu'llah (Hezbollah). Reinforce it, more likely.

In fact, a lot of Sistani's feistiness and determination that Iraq is not going to end up with a long-term Western occupation derives from his low opinion of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians. The US can to some significant degree thank Ariel Sharon's iron fist for the distrust and suspicion with which their presence in Iraq is greeted.

And, of course, Hamas cadres are now talking about hitting US targets, something they have not usually done in the past.

Sistani is wrong to consider Ahmed Yassin a hero. His ideas were bigoted and hateful, and the tactic of killing civilians is despicable (I'm not favorably disposed in general toward killing anyone at all if it can be avoided). But Middle Easterners all know one thing that the American public, on the whole, ignores: Israel is assiduously stealing Palestinian land, tossing Palestinians out of their homeland, and oppressing Palestinians. Even Sharon's planned unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, which may or may not take place, will just result in more colonization of the West Bank. Israel's policies toward the West Bank are unparalleled in the contemporary world. There are countries that are attempting to annex territories and populations that would rather have independence. There are no other countries that insist on occupying a people whom they do not wish to absorb, but only to steal from. These policies do not justify killing civilians. But they explain why some misguided persons might resort to such a desperate and frankly evil measure. The Israelis engaged in terrorism in the 1940s when it was they who feared losing their homeland.

Everyone should be clear that murdering Yassin bestowed no operational advantage on Israel. Yassin was in the political and religious wing of Hamas. He did not plan or carry out tactical terrorist actions, though he certainly approved of them as a form of national liberation struggle (on the other hand he did sometimes talk of trying to achieve a 100-year truce with Israel; that aspect of this complex figure is gone, opening the way for a new generation of violent young men to come to the fore in Hamas, with no restraint whatsoever on their thirst for vengeance). Yassin was an old half-blind man in a wheel chair. Israel could have arrested him and tried him anytime Sharon chose. Sharon could even have had him executed after a fair trial, staying within the bounds of the rule of law. Who could have objected to a terrorist being tried and sentenced? To take him out, using American missiles, was just a fancy way of murdering him, destined to produce more hatred against the United States at a time when we don't need that. It is a form of state terrorism, designed to instill terror in a civilian population. Sharon is nothing more than a mafia don who rubs out other mafia dons, and doesn't care how many innocent women and children get sprayed by the machine gun fire (were Yassin's 7 companions all guilty of capital crimes? How would we know without a trial?) The lot of them belong in jail.

Sharon has done nothing for the US effort in Iraq. Has Israel offered any monetary aid to the US for the effort? The Israeli per capita income, at $17,000 a year, is higher than that of Spain, but the Spanish managed to contribute. Actually what I remember is that when the Israelis heard there was going to be a war, they came trooping to Washington with their hands out, asking for an extra $4 billion. Yes, folks, the US taxpayer was asked to fork over $4 billion to Ariel Sharon. Why? Because US men and women from Nebraska and Missouri and the other states were being put in harm's way in part to protect Israeli interests in the Middle East? We had to tax ourselves for the privilege of contributing to Israeli security?

So not only has Sharon done nothing for us or the Iraq effort, but ever since September 11 he has behaved with brutal insensitivity toward American interests. The weekend after that horrifying event, Sharon was attacking Palestinian targets, further inflaming anti-American feeling. A decent man would have put off such actions out of respect for the 3000 US dead. Indeed, a decent man would have sought peace and reinvigorated the Oslo process to help the US out. Sharon wouldn't recognize decency if he were served a steaming bowl of it next to the two lambs a day he must devour to stay at that obscene weight.

The most dangerous regime to United States interests in the Middle East is that of Ariel Sharon, not because he fights terrorists, but because he is stealing the land of another people and is brutalizing them in the process – and those are people with whom the rest of the Middle East and the Muslim world sympathizes. A US counter-insurgency fight against Muslim radical extremists requires winning hearts and minds, which is impossible as long as Sharon behaves the way he did Monday, since everyone in the region knows that the US coddles the Israeli Right. Israel once had a proper prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who knew how to make peace and how to be a good partner for America. Sharon is not good enough to shine his shoes.


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    Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Visit his blog.

     

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