Did Israel commit a terrorist act?

Did Israel commit a terrorist act?

Did Israel commit a terrorist act?

What the foreign papers are saying.
July 26 2002 5:10 PM

Israel Hits and Misses

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, an Israeli F-16 dropped a 1-tonne bomb on a residential neighborhood of Gaza City in an attempt to assassinate Hamas military commander Salah Shehadeh. Shehadeh was killed, but so were 15 other Palestinians, including 10 children, and as many as 150 were injured. Initially, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared the operation "one of our greatest successes," though he later told Yediot Ahronot, "Had I known the outcome, I would have postponed the assassination." Israel's Ma'ariv led its front page with the headline "The Assassination and the Embarrassment," and Ha'aretz called the incident "the first terrorist attack [Israel] has perpetrated in years." Ha'aretz claimed it was not, as the government claimed, "a targeted and justified killing," but rather "a grave and unforgivable act." Although the op-ed acknowledged that the operation was different from Palestinian acts of terror—"Whereas for the Palestinians, the mass killing of innocent civilians has been done with deliberate intent, for the Israeli senior echelon of late July 2002, the killing of innocent people stems from inattention"—it said there was an "intolerable erosion" of the moral gap between Palestinian and Israeli actions, "a gap without the existence of which we have no chance of winning this war, a gap without which there is no point in winning this war."

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The generally pro-Sharon Jerusalem Post said much of the responsibility for the death of innocents "lies heavily on Palestinian shoulders." Yasser Arafat released Shehadeh from a Palestinian prison and had refused Israeli and U.S. requests to rearrest him, "Plainly, no Palestinian civilians would have been wounded in an attack indeed, no attack would have been necessary had Shehadeh been properly imprisoned." The editorial also accused Hamas of cynical tactics: "Shehadeh operated from a densely populated Gaza City neighborhood precisely because he knew the children on the street served him as a shield against assassination." An op-ed in the same paper written by Uri Dan, the New York Post's Middle East correspondent, declared that killing Hamas' Osama Bin Laden "was a first-class achievement for Israel" because it warned the group "that its chiefs are not immune to Israeli attacks." He denied that it would incite revenge attacks: "Suicide bombing attacks are clear Hamas policy, and as such are carried out at every opportunity and in every place, employing explosive belts, car bombs and shootings. Shehadeh's targeting has caused serious, long-term damage to Hamas's suicide capability."

Yediot Ahronot's editorial lamented the loss of life, but an op-ed in the same paper approved of the attack. Arieh Eldad declared: "Our enemies should realize they have driven us to a turning point ­ a point at which we are no longer ready to sacrifice our lives to protect the lives of families of murderers. Those who make bombs should know that they and their wives and children, their fathers and mothers and their neighbors, can die the same death they are planning for us." (Hebrew translations courtesy of the Lebanon Daily Star's "Israeli Press Review.")

Britain's Guardian said Shehadeh "was a dedicated enemy of peace, an apparently remorseless killer whose methods undermined and betrayed the very quest for which he fought. He was a butcher of innocents. Even so, [he] should not have been assassinated. One day he might have been made to answer for his crimes." The Times, in contrast offered guarded support for Israel's assassination policy: "Given his bloodstained record, and continuing role in directing indiscriminate terror, the Israeli targeting of Salah Shehade is as justified as the West's pursuit of any al-Qaeda leader. It is, however, a grave pity that the undeniably irresponsible way in which the attack was conducted has allowed Israel's critics to focus on the tragically mistaken manner of its actions and ignore the underlying realities." The Daily Telegraph also supported Israel—it said "the continued survival of men such as Shehada will ensure that there is no peace in the region"—but it called Tuesday's events a "mistake" because the carnage was disproportionate: "The whole point is to avoid the killing of innocent civilians, and Israel certainly has the technical capabilities and ingenuity to achieve such outcomes."

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.