Thank God for the clear-eyed thinking of Israelis like Ronen Bergman. Though he’s essentially recapitulating some of the major points of the Uri Avnery essay I’ve posted here, getting such views into the pages of the New York Times is a real achievement. Here are some of Bergman’s main points:
…However much backslapping and Champagne-cork popping may be going on in Tel Aviv and Langley, Va., the questions remains: Was it worth the effort and resources and the mortal risk to the agents involved? Few would deny that Mr. Mugniyah, who had the blood of many hundreds of Americans and Israelis, not to mention Frenchmen, Germans and Britons, on his hands, deserved the violent death that befell him, or that eliminating this top-flight mass murderer might prevent more death. But this act of combined vengeance, punishment and pre-emption might extract a far greater cost in the future.
…There are precedents. It was on Feb. 16, 1992, that Ehud Barak, then chief of staff of the Israeli military and now minister of defense, gave the order for two combat helicopters hovering over south Lebanon to rocket a convoy in which the Hezbollah leader, Sheik Abbas Musawi, was traveling. Sheik Musawi, his wife and his 6-year-old son were killed. The response was not long in coming: for five days, Katyusha rockets rained down on northern Israel. A 5-year-old girl was killed.
This was only the beginning. Watching television coverage of Sheik Musawi’s assassination at their home in Turkey had been Ehud Sadan, chief of security at the Israeli embassy in Ankara, and his wife. “I hope this doesn’t spark a war of assassinations,” Mrs. Sadan said. Her husband reassured her that nothing would happen. On March 7, he was blown up by a bomb planted under his car. The authorities arrested several members of Turkish Hezbollah, acting under orders from Mr. Mugniyah.
Ten days after that, Mr. Mugniyah’s men blew up the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people and wounding more than 220. Two years later, in July of 1994, a suicide bomber struck at the offices of a Jewish community organization in Buenos Aires, killing 85. A joint investigation by Mossad and the Central Intelligence Agency uncovered clear evidence of Mr. Mugniyah’s involvement in all three bombings. The telephone monitors of the United States National Security Agency turned up “not a smoking gun, but a blazing cannon,” in the words of a Mossad official. A senior Hezbollah operative, Talal Hamiyah, was taped rejoicing with Mr. Mugniyah over “our project in Argentina” and mocking Israeli security services for not preventing it.
My point is not to defend Mugniyah as being a saint or even a hero to the Arab resistance. He was undoubtedly a scumbag as is anyone who engages in such killing of civilians (and I include Israeli generals in this category as well). The point is that strategically such acts simply DON’T WORK. They are palliatives that ease a symptom for a minute or an hour but eventually make the disease much worse. We’ll just have to wait and see for the proof of this statement to emerge, when we hear the news of the next Hezbollah attacks against Israeli or Jewish targets.
What is truly sad is that Bergman goes on the explain that Israeli governments between 1992 and now seemed to understand the logic of my statement above and refrained from such assassinations:
Ever since, the Israelis have been very cautious about assassinating Hezbollah leaders. Two weeks before Israel withdrew from Lebanon in May 2000, military intelligence had Mr. Mugniyah in its sights. Mr. Barak, then prime minister, ruled out a hit, for what he claims were operational reasons, but he surely had the aftermath of the Musawi assassination in mind.
Today, whether Mr. Barak has unlearned his lesson or not, Hezbollah has no doubt that it was Israel who eliminated its top terrorist, and once more it is bent on vengeance. As Hezbollah draws no fine distinctions between the United States and Israel, both nations, along with Jews around the world, might well have to pay the price for the loss of the man whose mystical aura was as important as his operational prowess.
In the immediate aftermath, Hezbollah has chosen not to respond with volleys of rockets aimed at Galilee, as many Israelis feared. But an inkling of how the group might respond can be found in the July 2007 statements of Michael McConnell, America’s director of national intelligence, expressing grave apprehension about Hezbollah sleeper cells in the United States that could go into action should the Americans cross the organization’s “red line.”
This line has now been crossed.
And now we wait for the bloody chickens to come home to roost. Some of my readers who oppose my views will no doubt claim that I’m somehow supporting or defending Hezbollah vengeance. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I oppose all violence especially against civilians no matter what side it comes from. But it is clear there will be a very high price for this apparent Israeli act of vengenace against Hezbollah. Denying this is simply denying past history and the logic of tit for tat vengeance of the Israeli-Arab conflict. It’s deeply ugly and inhumane. But when you play with fire, you and yours will get burned whatever side you’re on in this conflict.