July 3, 2003
Hamas and the Triple Standard
When it comes to Israel's fight against Hamas, a triple standard seems at work.
Israel is now completely at war with Palestinian terror groups, no less than America is at war with Al Qaeda worldwide and Saddam loyalists in Iraq. Hence, Israel must escalate its rules of engagement, mimicking those recently established by American forces in our own war against terror waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. As such, Israel should preemptively and unrelentingly eliminate Hamas and company where they stand as soon as they are identified or self-identify.
By "eliminate," I mean kill. By "as soon as they self-identify," I mean as soon as parading militants don the green-masked and explosive-bedecked uniform of a suicide bomber, or publicly proclaim themselves as waiting for orders to do so, whether the militant is beating his chest in a rally or cradling a megaphone in a press conference. By "where they stand," I mean wherever they are located -- in a car, in a training camp or in a public protest procession. Israel must hit Hamas members while marching in uniform in the West Bank and Gaza before they change clothes into Chasidic garb and Israeli pop attire and then board buses in Jerusalem.
For precedent, we need only look to recent tactics employed by our own military and coalition forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.
On June 9, American forces in Iraq launched Operation Peninsula Strike, which chased down and killed a group of Saddam loyalist ambushers, first reported as 27 but then adjusted downward to just seven. The day before, Americans located and utterly destroyed a loyalist training camp, killing 70, and detaining about 400 other suspects. Even as I type, these successes are being repeated in a new sweep across the width of Iraq, locking down towns as U.S. troops go door-to-door hunting for Saddam loyalists and arm caches. And of course everyone remembers the first shot of the Iraq War -- a precision "decapitation strike" in the heart of a residential neighborhood. "Decapitation" is military lingo for pre-emptive assassination of top leadership.
Speaking of aerial assassination and assault, last November, a joint CIA Predator tracked an Al Qaeda cell in a private car speeding across the Yemeni desert. A Hellfire missile incinerated the car and its six occupants. In Afghanistan, American bombers, Predators and gunships incessantly bombed suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda wherever they were discovered, in a cave, in a hut, on a mountaintop, at a wedding. America has done all this on the other side of the world.
Israel is fighting a similar war for survival but right down the street.
Yet there seems to be a triple standard at play. America can assassinate and decapitate, send in gunships and missiles, surround and lock down whole towns, and round up and detain suspects by the hundreds in its war on terror creating one standard. Hamas, in the minds of some, is engaged in mere "rogue resistance," and its bus bombs and murder squads should be overlooked as incidental to polite roadmap discourse-thus creating a second standard. At the same time, Israel is expected to exhibit restraint and not fight back as vigorously and preemptively as America does -- creating a third standard. Such restraint is as absurd as it is self-destructive.
Naturally, the issue of collateral damage and innocent civilians arises. Therefore, Israel should do as America did before launching its war against Iraq. Remember? America issued instructions and leaflets to Iraqi civilians not to stand near any member of Saddam's military or its infrastructure. Israel should do the same: issue warnings that the Palestinian populace avoiding standing near anyone self-identifying or identified as Hamas or a terrorist. That said, Israel should deploy long-range snipers, helicopter gunships, assassination and decapitation and all the other tactics regretfully needed in a war against terror that has been embedded within a civilian setting.
And then, Israel should continue to eliminate Hamas terrorists where they stand until the forces of peace within the Palestinian community can rise to the occasion.
Edwin Black is the author of "IBM and the Holocaust" (Crown 2001). His next book, "War Against the Weak" (Four Walls Eight Windows) will be published in September.