27 September 2004
The killing by Israel of a senior Hamas member on Syrian soil shows that Ariel Sharon's government is taking its assassination campaign to new lengths. By acknowledging, albeit unofficially, that it carried out the car bombing that killed Izz Eldine Subhi Sheik Khalil in Damascus yesterday, the Israeli government has demonstrated its willingness to hunt down and kill anyone it regards as a threat to security in surrounding Arab states, and not just in the West Bank and Gaza. Mr Sharon feels powerful enough to openly commit state-sponsored murder across the Middle East, despite the fact that this flies in the face of international law.
Israel blames Syria, indirectly, for a Hamas suicide bombing that killed 16 Israelis last month, saying it is ultimately responsible for the actions of Hamas because it shelters militants in Damascus. Khalil was undoubtedly a member of an organisation with blood on its hands. But all the Israeli government will achieve through picking off Hamas members in this way is a further spiral of revenge attacks. Nor is there any evidence, despite the arguments of Israeli hawks, that killing off the Hamas leadership weakens the organisation. Hamas has deep roots in the Palestinian community, arguably deeper than Yasser Arafat's Fatah organisation, and killing the present leadership only means that more radical elements come forward. And the brutal nature of these assassinations ensures that the ranks of Hamas are swelled. The only way for Israel to guarantee its security is through peace talks and, eventually, a two-state settlement.
But it is little wonder that the Israeli government feels able to extend its own "war on terror" with impunity. There was no censure from the Bush administration when Mr Sharon tore up the "road map" peace plan. And respect for international law is at a low ebb. Defending his support for the doctrine of pre-emption, Tony Blair stated in a weekend interview: "What's changed for me is, post 11 September, you no longer wait for the thing to happen. You go out actively and try to stop it." It is a sentiment that Mr Sharon, regrettably, seems all too eager to exploit.