Business as usual: feeling frustrated? Disrespected? Insulted? Wounded? Go out there and kill someone. Preferably their top guy. Teach ’em a lesson. Make us feel better. But preferably kill someone who can’t do much damage in response.
After Israel repeatedly ransacked the Haram al-Sharif during the holy month of Ramadan, Palestinians have mounted six terror attacks inside Israel in the past six weeks. The most recent was yesterday, in the ultra-Orthodox city of Elad.
Who to blame? After all, we’ve got to blame someone, right? The first, and most likely culprit is Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. After all, he’s responsible for security. When it fails, he fails. There is the added “convenience” of blaming him for betraying Bibi Netanyahu and toppling his government. That’s why yeshiva students in Elad offered blood-curdling chants for Bennett’s blood.
Blame it on Hamas
So Bennett’s government is now seeking to shift the blame off his shoulders and lay it squarely on those of Hamas. We are hearing an Israeli threat to assassinate its leader Yahya Sinwar in retaliation for the attacks. After all, he praised the assailants, urging more such acts of resistance.
It doesn’t matter to Israel that its own Shin Bet, tasked with defending against such attacks doesn’t attribute any of them to Hamas. An attack that killed a security guard in Ariel, was claimed by Hamas. But a security source tells me the only attacks attributed to any terror group were the ones in Hadera and Beersheba, all attributed to an ISIS affiliate. Further, all of the attackers were lone wolves, with no previously known political affiliations. Further, if anyone is to blame, it is the Shin Bet itself, which is tasked with preventing such attacks. The very reason it failed was that the attacks were not inspired or directed by any group or any leader.
This Sinwar clearly needs to be in the crosshairs sometime in the near future. But it’s depressing to think he could end his life in an Israeli jail.
Ex-IDF general and former minister, Yoav Gallant, said:
“Sinwar is a dead man and he needs to be assassinated immediately,” Likud MK Yoav Gallant told Israel’s Channel 13 news. “If it was up to me, he would be dead tomorrow. Assassinate him, no matter what the consequences are.”
A poll whose results were announced this week found that 59% of Israelis said Yes to the question: “Should Israel assassinate Yihya Sinwar.” Only 20% said No. This is a country bathed in the blood of its enemies. It does not consider long-term objectives or strategic interests, It lives by a code of pure vengeance.
But even if Hamas is not culpable, no matter. Pin it on someone. Blame someone. Anyone. Why not blame Hamas? It’s a usual suspect. One of Israel’s punching bags. Prime Minister under pressure? Popularity fading? Corruption trials jeopardizing a political career? Need a boost? Take it out on poor Gaza. It can’t fight back. It can barely defend its own territory.
That takes some of the pressure off. Diverts attention. Rallies the troops and the people to The Cause. So let’s by all means kill Sinwar. He hates us anyway. He’s our demon. The one we all love to hate.
Hamas is a concept onto which Israel may project all its fears. Hamas the terrorists. Hamas the murderers. Hamas the Nazis. Hamas the annihilationists. Say the word, and you invoke the historic suffering of the Jewish people and give it an address. The truth is that Hamas is not responsible for these terror attacks. Israel is: its rejectionism and refusal to recognize Palestinian rights are the cause of the violence. You may not invoke Hamas as Israel’s bête noir.
Got a problem? “Cut off the head of the snake.” “Mow the grass.” Except in murdering Sinwar, they’d be mowing a lawn full of skulls: Sheikh Yassine, Salah Shehadeh, Ghassan Kanafani, Ahmed Jabari, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Yahya Ayash, and of course, Khaled Meshal (that attempt failed spectacularly). In fact the book , Kill Khaled, recounts the story of the failed Israeli assassination operation. The headline of this post echoes the book title. All these leaders (and many more) murdered in the name of…what? Deterrence? Vengeance? Just for the hell of it?
Israel Prepares for Yet Another “Operation What-the-Hell?”
To prove my point, the prime minister and security establishment are planning an “operation” to “clean out” the “terrorist dens.” They haven’t yet decided whether the “lucky winner “will be Gaza or Jenin, where several of the attackers resided. The goal, if there is anything as coherent as that, is to arrest hundreds of the usual suspects and show the Palestinians who’s boss. In reality, this is doing something just to be seen to be doing something. If you can’t stop terrorists, then do the next best thing. Punish their communities–their families, their neighbors. In international criminal law this is known as collective punishment. There’s a Geneva Convention for that. Not that Israel gives a fig about any of that mumbo-jumbo.
What was the benefit of assassinating Hamas’ leaders? What was the gain? Were any fewer Israelis killed as a result? Were any Gaza Operations (Guardian of the Walls, Protective Edge, PIllar of Defense, Cast Lead, etc.) averted? Were any fewer bullets or missiles fired? Either on Israel or Gaza? Did it break the back of Palestinian resistance? Wipe out their will to fight? Knock some sense into them? Make them wave a white flag and give up?
Or did it serve no rational purpose? Did it rather serve to cycle through new leaders, often even tougher and wilier than their murdered predecessors?
This raises the question: what is the purpose? It’s to give the semblance of action, the semblance of control. It’s to give the Israeli people the impression that its leaders are doing something, without doing anything to address the root cause. To respond to Palestinian violence with a knee-jerk need for vengeance.
This response is not rational, not effective, not strategic. It has no clear goal. It will not get Israel from Point A to Point B. It is merely reflexive. Like the Dutch boy holding his finger in the dyke to stave off the flood. But what happens when the dyke gives way? How long can he hold that finger there before the ocean behind it overwhelms him?
Killing Sinwar allows the Israeli public to feel its security forces are doing something to protect them. But it also distracts everyone from what Israel is not doing: it is not addressing the root causes of the conflict. It is avoiding the compromise necessary to achieve a full just peace for both sides. This is impossible, says Israel. This cannot be. It is taboo. So as long as this rejectionism infects Israeli politics, the Sinwars will continue to die; and the poor Israeli victims in places like Bnai Brak, Beersheva, Hadera, Ariel and Elad will continue to die. An endless cycle of useless bloodshed. A perpetual battle to the death between brothers Cain and Abel.
There are voices in Israel declaring that this emperor has no clothes:
הדיון השטחי והמתלהם על.חיסול סינוואר מגוחך. הטרוריסט הזה אחראי להרבה יותר מפיגוע אחד, והרי אין ספק בדבר *היכולת* לחסל אותו, או בהקבלה את נסראללה. השיקולים, בעד ונגד, הם הרבה יותר רחבים מ”קרא לעשות פיגועים”, והקריאות הפשטניות והשטחיות האלה מעידות בעיקר על מצוקתנו, ולא על כוחנו.
— Nurit Canetti (@Sykocan) May 7, 2022
The superficial, clamorous discussion on the assassination of Sinwar is ridiculous…There’s no question of our ability to kill him or even Nasrallah. The considerations for and against are far wider than “he called for terror attacks.” These simplistic cries mainly testify to our hopelessness, and not our power.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.