Israel's Latest Assassination by Missile

Revolutionary Worker #1235, April 4, 2004, posted at

Israel's bloody assassination machine has struck again, killing yet another Palestinian political figure. This time the target was Sheik Ahmed Yassin, a top leader in the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas.

In the pre-dawn hours of March 22, a pilotless spy plane circled over Yassin's home in Gaza City in the Gaza Strip. As Yassin and his bodyguards headed to the nearby mosque, the Israeli military tracked his movements with video images from the spy plane. Yassin was paraplegic and partially blind, and he got around in a wheelchair.

By the time Yassin came out of the mosque, Apache helicopter gunships--part of the billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Israel--were hovering above.

A report from the Palestine Committee on Human Rights (PCHR) described what happened next: "At approximately 05:20 on Monday morning, Israeli helicopter gunships launched three missiles at Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, 66, an elderly disabled man, after he had left the Islamic Association Mosque in the densely populated al-Sabra neighborhood in the center of Gaza city, after the dawn prayer. Sheikh Yassin was traveling on his wheelchair accompanied by three bodyguards, when one of the missiles directly hit Sheikh Yassin and his bodyguards. The other two missiles exploded in the surrounding area and killed four other civilians."

The missiles also injured 17 others who were coming out of the mosque, including two sons of Yassin and several children.

Israel calls its political assassinations "targeted killings." According to the PCHR, the Israeli military has assassinated around 340 Palestinians through "targeted killings" between September 2000 and early March 2004. The Israeli military has killed hundreds of other Palestinians in street clashes and other incidents during that same period.

The use of the word "targeted" is meant to imply that these are precise operations that hit only those who are the specific targets of the Israelis. But, as in the attack on Yassin, these operations often take place in the middle of crowded urban areas or refugee camps. According to figures compiled by the PCHR, 40% of those killed in Israel's "targeted killings" are people who just happened to be nearby, including many children.

But even if Israel's assassination squads somehow killed only the intended targets, these acts would still be an outrage that expose the deeply unjust and reactionary nature of the Israeli settler-colonial state. Israel was founded on the basis of massive theft of Palestinian land and "ethnic cleansing" of the native Palestinian people. And it exists today through continued occupation of Palestine, domination of the Palestinian nation, and vicious terror and repression against the Palestinian people--including political assassinations of leading figures.

U.S. Backing for Israeli Actions

As the assassination was condemned worldwide, Israel's Sharon government belligerently defended their operation. Several Israeli officials declared that the entire Hamas leadership was a potential target of assassinations. And they threatened other Palestinian officials, including Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestine Authority.

In Washington, some U.S. officials said they were "concerned" about the assassination-- because it could touch off major retaliation by Hamas and lead to further turmoil. But the U.S. made its position clear by vetoing a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel for assassinating Yassin--the latest of many UN resolutions against Israel that the U.S. has vetoed over the years.

The Israeli rulers and their U.S. backers insist that any armed action by Palestinians against the Israeli occupation is "terrorism"--while Israeli military actions are legitimate "self- defense." The U.S.--with its larger strategic concerns of empire--may at times criticize the Israeli government for going "too far" in its actions against the occupied Palestinians, or pose as a "peacemaker" between Israel and the Palestinians as Bush has done with his "road map" for negotiations. But Israel is a vital strategic and military outpost for U.S. imperialism in the region and beyond--and this is at the heart of U.S. backing for the Israeli state.

Sharon's Motives

Some forces within the Israeli government and ruling circles voiced public criticisms of the Yassin assassination, saying that it was a ill-considered "mistake" that could touch off bigger attacks against Israel. This reflects some sharp divisons within Israeli ruling circles over how best to push forward the interests of the Zionist state.

But the March 22 attack in Gaza City was clearly not a hasty move on the part of Ariel Sharon or a decision by lower levels of the Israeli military. This was a coldly calculated move, made by the highest officials of the Israeli government. The Sharon cabinet discussed and approved the assassination. Reports in the Israeli media said that Sharon personally supervised the helicopter attack.

Sharon's decision to eliminate the head of Hamas is closely tied to his announcement in February that he intends to unilaterally withdraw all Israeli settlers and military forces from the Gaza Strip. Some forces around the world said this might be a first step toward the restarting of "peace talks" and Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

But Sharon's intentions have nothing to do with "peace" or with abandoning Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Sharon's plan is to trade a few settlements in Gaza for bringing large areas of the West Bank into Israel permanently. At the same time, he aims to make Gaza an even more secure prison confining Palestinians. As part of this scheme, Sharon has floated out the idea that Egypt--the second largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel--take part in "security" in the Gaza Strip.

As A World to Win News Service analyzed ("Sharon's Shell Game," 2/16/04): "Consider exactly what Sharon is proposing: his current proposal is to pull back about 7,500 settlers from 17 of the 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip, plus a few more from three small, isolated settlements on the West Bank. First, note the numbers involved: there are a total of almost 240,000 Jewish settlers living in Gaza and the West Bank. Their ranks have been growing by almost 10,000 a year over the last three years. It is worth recalling that all of these settlers have arrived in violation of UN resolutions and even Bush's road map. Of course, the U.S. has done nothing to counter this and has continued to provide the Zionist state with massive levels of aid.

"Many (although not all) Zionists consider the Gaza Strip of less importance ideologically than the West Bank, but there are other differences as well. The West Bank has valuable agricultural land and water. That's a big factor in why the bulk of Israeli settlers are there. The Israeli settlements in Gaza are mostly small and rudimentary. Israeli officials have raised the possibility that settlers paid to leave Gaza might relocate to old or new settlements in the West Bank. Recently the Israeli government allocated a million dollars for yet another Jewish-only road through the West Bank to connect an isolated, extreme- rightwing colony with Israel.

"Sharon's real plan is in fact as clear and palpable as the wall of concrete and steel that the Zionists have been building at a furious pace through the West Bank over the past year. The `separation wall,' as the Israelis call it--the Palestinians refer to it more contemptuously as the `apartheid wall'--is supposed to be finished by next summer, about the time the pullout from Gaza is to begin. Can there be much doubt that what Sharon really has in mind is not some unilateral concession to the Palestinians aimed at restarting peace negotiations, but in fact for Israel to retrench unilaterally behind the walls surrounding the Palestinians and fortify its position there?

"As the West Bank wall is now projected, it would leave the Palestinians with roughly half of the land. Israel would keep the bulk of the settlements in the West Bank, meaning most of the present settlers would stay. There Israelis dominate the transport and water networks and help Israel maintain a stranglehold on the economic life of the West Bank Palestinians. Sharon has put forward plans to continue the apartheid wall on the east side of the West Bank, joining up with the western wall between Palestinians and Israel now under construction, to wall off Palestinians from the Jordan valley.

"The Gaza Strip is already totally enclosed by what the Israelis call a `separation barrier,' meaning that the 1.4 million Palestinians living there are virtually imprisoned."

In this context, the killing of Sheik Yassin can be seen as a move by Sharon to carry out his plan for Gaza from a position of strength for the Israeli occupiers.

Israel has now eliminated a figure who was considered a unifying force within Hamas. Part of Sharon's calculation is that the removal of Yassin from the scene might spark infighting among potential successors. Of course, any leading Hamas official is also on the list of potential targets of future Israeli assassinations.

This is in line with the cynical maneuvers that Israel has long carried out--fostering divisions among Palestinians, promoting one group in order to attack another, dividing up Palestinians into small cantons (like the bantustans of apartheid South Africa). Hamas itself was promoted by Israel during the first intifada as a counterweight to secular forces within the Palestinian resistance.

There are reports that following Sharon's announcement of withdrawal from Gaza, Yassin was in talks with other Palestinian groups--including Arafat's Fatah faction of the PLO--over the governing of Gaza after Israeli forces leave. The assassination of Yassin was clearly an attempt to disrupt such developments.

By killing Yassin, Israel was also trying to deliver another terrorizing message to the Palestinian masses and to make a vicious point about the strength of the Israeli military and Hamas's vulnerability. With its ideology and politics based on fundamentalist religious ideology, Hamas doesn't represent a way forward toward liberation for the Palestinian people. But especially in the Gaza Strip, Hamas has built up a base among sections of the people by refusing to go along with the U.S.-sponsored "peace talks" between Israel and Arafat, and by building up a network of social services. The assassination of Yassin was aimed at weakening Hamas's position in Gaza overall.

Sharon and the Zionist rulers are well aware that assassinating Yassin will surely bring on more suicide bombings and other attacks. But this, too, is in their cold-blooded calculations. Such retaliatory actions will be used by these gangsters as justification for yet more assassinations, invasions of towns and refugee camps, house demolitions, collective punishment such as military "closure" of whole areas, and other crimes against the Palestinian people.