Taking out the terrorists

Posted: Mar 24, 2004 12:00 AM

Imagine a world in which Osama bin Laden was free not only to order murderous attacks on American civilians and other targets with impunity but to be carried through the streets by adoring crowds and hailed everywhere as a "spiritual leader." Such was Israel's world until Monday, when its soldiers killed Israel's Osama bin Laden: Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of the terrorist organization Hamas.

For years, Yassin was able to order young men to murder Jews by blowing themselves up on buses, in crowded restaurants and markets, and most recently, at a port near Gaza, home to Yassin and his homicidal minions. Since September 2000 alone, Hamas has killed 377 Israelis and injured more than 2,000 others. After each attack for which Hamas has claimed responsibility, Yassin could be seen celebrating the deaths as he was paraded through the streets of Gaza aloft in his wheelchair, to which he has been confined since a sporting accident in his youth.

No one -- certainly not his bloodthirsty followers -- doubted Yassin's role in Hamas' campaign of terror. Yet Israel was supposed to sit by and watch its mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, grandparents and grandchildren torn apart by nail-laden explosives detonated by Yassin's troops, while he remained free to incite and order more killings.

World leaders have been nearly unanimous in their condemnation of Israel's actions. British foreign secretary Jack Straw said the killing of Yassin was "unacceptable, it's unjustified, and it's very unlikely to achieve its objective."

"Such actions are not only contrary to international law, but they do not do anything to help the search for a peaceful solution," chimed in U.N Secretary General Kofi Annan. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak called the killing "regrettable and cowardly," while Jordan's King Abdullah called it a "criminal act."

Even the White House weighed in with criticism, though mild in comparison to other governments. "We are deeply troubled," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said shortly after the killing.

Instead of criticism, the White House ought to be defending Israel. Why is Israel always held to a higher standard of restraint than any other nation in the world? Would we exercise the same self-control if Osama were in plain view and we could take him out with relatively little collateral loss of life? Exactly how many innocent Israelis must die before Israel is allowed to retaliate against the terrorist perpetrators?

Much of the blame for the decision to go after Yassin has been directed at Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, as if he were some demented outlaw. But Israel's Cabinet approved the decision, and Israelis themselves overwhelmingly support the action. According to a poll published in the daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot, 60 percent of Israelis approved of Yassin's killing. And why not? Yassin was no "spiritual leader," the term almost universally used to describe him in the press worldwide. His spiritual direction amounted to nothing more than promising gullible young Palestinians a place in paradise if they would shed the blood of Jews.

Israel cannot end the terrorism directed at it by killing one man, any more than we can prevent future attacks on the United States by killing Osama bin Laden. But Israel was right to kill Yassin, just as we would be right to kill Osama if we were lucky enough to catch him in our crosshairs. The Israelis have already made clear that Yassin is not their only target.

Palestinian terrorists have launched war against Israel. They have promised to annihilate Israel and drive its people into the sea. Israel has no choice but to take these terrorists at their word and to hunt them down and kill them. To expect anything else of Israel would not only be hypocritical, but would be to condemn its people to certain extinction.

George W. Bush told the world that "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." It's time he took his own advice and stood with Israel in its fight to defeat the terrorists one by one.