With an Israeli and American death toll in past week alone of 23 innocent civilians, including five Americans killed at Hebrew University, Israel is clearly engaged in a war—yet the Bush Administration condemns Israel for using a tactic we employ in our own War on Terror: targeting terrorists.
The rationale behind selectively killing terrorists is simple: armed combatants hell-bent on brutally murdering innocent civilians can't be stopped short of their own deaths. Our military bombed Tora Bora not to scare Osama bin Laden, but to kill him—and any other terrorists in his midst.
In a brazen attempt to thwart targeting, however, terrorists often surround themselves with women and children as human shields, believing that Western values would prohibit Israel or America from risking the death of innocents. Thankfully, both America and Israel go to great pains to minimize the loss of innocent life, but sometimes, tragic mistakes do occur.
In dropping a one-ton bomb on the apartment building housing Hamas military leader Salah Shehade, Israel committed a horrific error. Its intelligence report that the building was free of innocents was inexcusably wrong, resulting in the deaths of 14 Palestinian civilians, including nine children.
The White House was absolutely correct to condemn the deaths of innocent Palestinians, and Israel should be forced to pay a public relations price for such a recklessly careless move. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer rightly called Israel's action "heavy-handed", but State Department press flack Richard Boucher went one step further in declaring, "We don't think [targeting] contributes to Israel's security."
If criticism of Israel was limited to its unintentional killing of 14 innocents, that would be one thing. But the official Bush administration position is that targeting of terrorists is wrong, even if there are no civilian casualties. Noted one senior State Department official, "It would be the same if it were a carload of terrorists."
Expecting the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces to round up the terrorist members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and other groups is a fruitless exercise—the PA has done and continues to do nothing to stem the tide of murderous attacks on innocent Israelis. Israel has repeatedly tried to work with PA security forces to stop terrorists, but to no avail.
Consider the case of Muhammad Shakher Havishi, the first suicide bomber who was an Israeli citizen. For a week before his suicide bombing last September, Israel had pleaded with PA authorities to arrest Havishi, who was training in Jenin with Kiam Adouan, one of Hamas's most senior military leaders. On multiple occasions, Israel provided the PA evidence it had gathered showing that Havishi had left Israel for the West Bank. Israel merely wanted Havishi detained and sent back. The PA refused.
Havishi did return, but with a bomb strapped to his waist, killing three Israelis and wounding 36 others in Nahariya.
Even when the PA nominally agrees to cooperate, such efforts are often pure farce. Earlier this summer, the PA promised to place the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, under house arrest. In late June, however, Yassin attended a public, anti-America rally in Gaza. Yassin felt free to participate in the demonstration, because, as he told Reuters, “I was informed of no house arrest order.” Yassin was not hiding in the crowd to avoid detection, either. He addressed the gathering of 1,500 Palestinians filled with hatred for America.
Maybe at some point in the future, the PA will genuinely pursue peace and work to prevent suicide bombings, but that is not the neighbor with whom Israel is now dealing.
For now, Israel should do as the United States does, not as it hypocritically says. When the Taliban refused our post-9/11 offer to hand over Osama bin Laden, the despotic regime was hit with the full force of American might—as well it should have been. The PA’s failure to hand over known terrorists, particularly leaders such as Shehade, should be treated no differently by Israel.
Despite its effectiveness, targeting is a tool that should be used in moderation, and in combination with other measures. But aside from the Shehade debacle, Israel has shown an incredible ability to target terrorists with a minimum of civilian casualties. None other than the United Nations—no friend of Israel—found that most of the 52 deaths at the supposed Jenin “massacre” earlier this year were of armed combatants from various terrorist organizations. In fact, the UN found that while the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) killed 38 of the roughly 200 armed militants—or one in five—the IDF killed only 14 of the nearly 14,000 civilians at the refugee camp—or one in 1,000.
The Bush Administration has been a great friend of Israel—and of the Palestinian people, who have also suffered greatly as a result of the intifada. But the President needs to fully recognize that Israel is fighting its own war on terror, one for it that hits much closer to home. The condemnation of targeting terrorists might be fine in a perfect world, but the situation in Israel is far from perfect. Just ask the 23 innocents who have died there in the past week alone.