By taking aim at Hamas, Sharon hopes to boost Palestinian Authority.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
0 one believes Israel is a
safer place just after the
assassination of Sheik
Ahmed Yassin, leader of
the terrorist group Hamas. The
question is whether the assassination
and continued Israeli pressure on
Hamas will contribute to stability
In targeting Yassin, Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon had clear
political goals. He says he intends to
crush Hamas so that when Israel
withdraws from Gaza as Sharon
plans, it will not seem to be forced
out by terrorism. As such, Yassin's
boast that Hamas would make Israel
leave under fire may have cost him
Sharon also hopes to tilt the bal-
ance of power in Gaza dramatically
in favor of the more moderate
Palestinian Authority so that when
Israel pulls out, the Palestinian
Authority will be strong enough to
maintain law and order. But will the
March 22 assassination really help
achieve such objectives?
In the short term, few doubt that
there will be more terrorist attacks
and that more young Palestinians
will swell Hamas' ranks. The uncer-
tainty is about the longer term.
Advocates of the assassination say
relentless pressure will eventually
wear,down Hamas and help the
Palestinian Authority take control of
the Gaza Strip after Israel's planned
withdrawal.- These advocates point
to the unilateral cease-fire declared
by Hamas last summer after intense
military pressure by Israel.
Opponents maintain that Israel's
pressure will backfire and that
Hamas, with the "martyred" Yassin
attracting more recruits than ever,
will become stronger and even more
radicalized. If so, it could forge
alliances with major players in the
international terrorist network, such
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as Al Qaida and Hezbollah, endan-
gering not only Israel but Jews and
possibly Westerners everywhere.
The immediate fear is that Hamas
will redouble its efforts to carry out
a so-called mega-terror attack to
retaliate for Yassin's death.
Palestinian terrorists have attempt-
ed such mega-terror acts before.
Indeed, the decision to kill Yassin
came after terrorists tried earlier this
month to gene-rate- such an attack by
blowing up deadly stores of chemi-
cals and gases at the Ashdod port.
They failed, however, killing "only"
10 Israelis in a double suicide bomb-
Ali Mustapha, leader of the Popular
Front for the Liberation of Palestine,
was followed by the assassination of
Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam
With the terrorist organizations
constantly trying to attack Israel,
many regard their claims of specific
retribution with skepticism. But
some analysts warn that Sharon's
pressure on Hamas is likely to back-
Reuven Paz, an expert on funda-
mentalist movements at the Herzliya
Interdisciplinary Center, argues that
it could trigger such widespread
Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Ahmed urei
pray for Sheik Yassin at an emergency meeting at Arafat's ofice March 22.
smash Hamas and avert the kind of
disorder the analysts fear.
Beyond the political tactics sur-
rounding the withdrawal, the gov-
ernment has defined Hamas as a
strategic threat that must be
destroyed. That's because Hamas
rules out any compromise with
- Israel, advocates the destruction of
the Jewish state and its replacement
with an Islamic theocracy, and is
ready to use any means to achieve its
Government spokesmen say
Sharon, in effect, has declared war
on Hamas. The assassination of
Yassin, whom Defense Minister
Shaul Mofaz called Israel's Osama
bin Laden, was only the opening
From now on, the officials say, the
Israel Defense Forces will focus
almost solely on Hamas, targeting its
leaders, militiamen and funding.
"No Hamas leader will be immune,"
Finance Minister Benjamin
The Israelis believe they have a
green light from Washington for all-
out war against Hamas. Unlike the
Europeans, who condemned Yassin's
assassination as contrary to interna-
tional law, American officials at first
expressed tacit understanding for
Israel's position, drawing parallels to
the U.S. war against global terror-
ism. Later in the day, however, U.S.
spokesmen called the attack "deeply
ing at the port.
There are several precedents for
strong terrorist reaction when Israel
kills terrorist leaders. A similar assas-
sination 12 years ago, of Hezbollah
leader Sheik Abbas Musavvi, resulted
in a retaliatory attack on the Israeli
Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29
people. Likewise, the killing of
Hamas master bombmaker Yehiya
Ayash in. 1996 was followed by a
wave of bus bombings that killed
dozens of Israelis.
The August 2001 targeting of Abu
Palestinian support for Hamas that
P.A. Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei s
days in office could be numbered.
Pressure on Hamas also could also
undermine local strongman
Mohammed Dahlan, whom Israel
eventually would like to see impos-
ing order for the Palestinian
Authority in Gaza.
Other analysts suggest that chaos
after the assassination could adverse-
ly affect Sharon's projected with-
drawal from Gaza. That might make
it necessary to leave Israeli troops
there, deferring plans for a full with-
But Sharon appears determined to
Since the eruption of the violent
Palestinian uprising 3 1 /2 years ago,
Hamas has committed. 425 terrorist
attacks, leaving 377 -Israelis dead and
2,076 wounded. It has been respon-
sible for 52 suicide bombings that
claimed 288 Israeli lives.
According to the IDF intelligence
chief Lt. Gen. Aharon Ze'evi, Yassin
was directly involved in planning
and approving military operations.
Some pundits, like Ha'aretz's
Danny Rubinstein, claim that Yassin
was a relative moderate within
Hamas. Unlike some of his potential
successors, Rubinstein maintains,
STRATEGIC KILLINGS on page 20