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Israeli officials compete for extremism accolades

01/16/2004

Today's headlines in the Middle East screamed that Israel is targeting Sheikh Ahmed Yassin of the Hamas for assassination, following the suicide attack engineered by Hamas and the Fatah Al-Aqsah brigades at the Erez Checkpoint.

Assassination plans, if there are any, are certainly secret, so you might expect that the source of this "news" would be an anonymous source, perhaps a disgruntled leftist pilot.

But in fact, the source of this statement was Israel's right-wing deputy minister of Defence, Ze'ev Boim. What he actually said was "Sheik Yassin is marked for death, and he should hide himself deep underground where he won't know the difference between day and night. And we will find him in the tunnels, and we will eliminate him."

The statement looks more like someone sounding off than a military order, because that is what it is. Nonetheless, it produced repercussions for Israel as if it was an actual military order. The EU promptly warned Israel not to do it. Killing terrorists is bad for peace according to the EU spokesmen: "The European Union has spoken on several occasions against the so-called extra-judicial killings of suspected terrorists...Proceeding in such a manner against a leading figure of a Palestinian terrorist organization would be counterproductive to efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East as the European Union has expressed many times before."

US State Department spokesmen Richard Boucher also noted that the US values the life of Sheikh Yassin. Yassin himself got to be a hero, saying,"We do not fear the threat of death.We will not bow to pressure and resistance will continue until the occupation is destroyed."

Reserve General Amos Gilad noted "We should never announce in advance what our intentions are," Gilad said, branding Yasin as the "supreme leader of crime".

It is very unlikely that Israel would announce actual military plans in that way. So this statement of Mr Boim was meaningless, except for producing headlines in Al Jazeera and Ha'aretz and practically every other newspaper. It had the effect of getting Israel censured for something it didn't even do yet, and may not be intending to do at all, and at the same time making Yassin into a hero, without any effort on Yassin's part at all.

This doesn't seem like a very good deal for Israel. However, Boim was not considering the good of Israel at all when he made the statement. Rather, it was part of the contest between government personalities to see who could be the biggest fascist. This is assumed to be the best way of gaining popularity in Israeli politics.

Consider also the previous announcement by Israeli Minister of Agriculture, Israel Katz, that Israel was planning to double the number of settlers in the Golan. There wasn't any such plan in fact, and Katz's announcement only served to make the Israeli government look like callous warmongers who are rejecting the Syrian peace offer. But Katz doesn't care. He got his name in the media, and got himself identified with right-wing extremism, which is thought to be the key to career success in the Likud party.

Of course, the same process takes place on the other side of the divide. Competition between Hamas and Fatah, between Islamists and more secular groups among the Palestinians, between older politicians and the new generation, fueled the Intifada and is fueling the progressive polarization of Palestinian society.

Isn't competition wonderful?

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000160.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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