March 23, 2004, 7:15 P.M.
The High Ground: Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin was killed by Israeli forces in a helicopter assault on the quadriplegic sheik as he left a mosque this morning. Sheik Ahmed was apparently targeted by the Israeli government due to his alleged responsibility for scores of suicide attacks against targets with Israel since 2000.
In the cloak and dagger world of international politics, I guess it has always been understood that nations “target” individuals for execution who present a particularly well-defined or imminent threat to some country or another. Apparently, nations that profess to be civilized no longer hide such intentions, they only hide behind moral high ground justifications based on righteous indignation so as to differentiate them from their targets. Clearly, if Hamas targets an Israeli official, soldier, politician or citizen that it sees as a threat to its well being, the act will be pronounced terrorism without question.
The United States has been forthcoming about this country’s willingness to “target” Osama bin Laden, top Iraqi officials, and other internationally recognized bad guys. In the case of bin Laden, these actions are justifiable and understandable. Bin Laden is without question an enemy of the U.S. He has sworn to use his vast resources to wage a campaign of terror and murder. In targeting him we can at least argue the high ground, although this is a slippery slope. At the risk of drawing the ire of the likes of George Will, the lines are much less clear in the case of Israel.
Not only was Ahmed killed in the attack by the Israeli Air Force, but several others were killed with him. Seventeen were wounded. Now there will be retribution; it will be swift and violent and it may not just be against Israel. Hamas has threatened the U.S., blaming U.S. support for Israel as a factor facilitating the killing of Ahmed.
But the U.S. can’t come down on Israel too hard for targeting Ahmed because, as the architect of a suicide bombing campaign, he has no stake in the moral high ground either. Besides, who are we to blame anybody for what we do ourselves, the pot calling the kettle black and all. It all seems to come down to might makes right, but in the unconventional world of punch and counterpunch in the Middle East, there seems to be no measure of might sufficient to clearly establish anyone’s claim to moral authority, that is, if you accept winning as the measure of right or wrong. I don’t particularly agree that might makes right or that victory in this colossal and ancient struggle in the Middle East can be clearly defined. There are too many good arguments on both sides of the new Israeli wall, but neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis will ever convince the other of their position and neither seems to be listening to the other. Perhaps its hard to hear over all the bombs.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan we are learning that the struggle with al Qaeda and the Taliban has not ended either. Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters apparently sourrounded in Pakistan appear to have vaporized, escaping capture through a maze of well-constructed, well-engineered tunnels, into Afghanistan. Insurgent members of the Taliban killed an Afghan cabinet minister, the son of warlord Ismail Kahn, aviation minister Milwais Sadig, and as many as 100 others in fighting in the western city of Herat. Included among those who are thought to have escaped were high ranking al Qaeda and/or Taliban officials who were “targeted by the U.S.” U.S. authority in Afghanistan is clearly not universally viewed as “right” just yet.
The Israeli government has talked of abandoning certain West Bank and Gaza Strip territory to the Palestinians and retreating behind the walls of a new Jericho. The bombings continue on both sides because the Palestinians want the turnover of those lands to appear as a victory. Israel continues to retaliate because it has no other strategy and because it wants to convey a message of strength. The U.S. advises them in the context of its own lack of moral authority and the bombing continues. There’s no high ground here.