Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of militant Palestinian group Hamas, is dead and many innocent Israelis will soon join him. Those who will inevitably be grief-stricken need to look no further than Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when laying their blame--he has brought the impending retaliation upon his country.
In response to numerous attacks against Israel, the most recent being the double suicide bombing in the southern port of Ashdod, Sharon and his governing coalition oversaw the operation and delighted in its success.
Their delight will undoubtedly be short lived.
Sheik Yassin was targeted for a variety of reasons, chief among them being Israeli assertions he not only condoned, but helped organize and execute various attacks on Israeli citizens. The powers-that-be in Jerusalem saw him as a violent threat to their state, a terrorist, and they responded in kind with a violent dawn attack on the quadriplegic cleric.
This was not the all-too-common child-killing stray bullet or indiscriminate gunship attack that often send Palestinians into a vengeful rage. No, it was the assassination of a leader with blood on his hands. But it was an assassination nonetheless, transforming a criminal into a martyr, and it will inevitably lead to more innocent blood being spilled--both Israeli and Palestinian.
While Sheik Yassin may have been behind the deaths of countless Israelis, his assassination guarantees the deaths of countless more. He had many followers in life, this is one of the chief reasons Israel saw him as such a threat. Now, in death, he will have exponentially more.
The rhetoric pouring forth from members of Hamas, even from more moderate Palestinians, has the region--indeed the world--bracing for what will likely be the bloodiest and most destructive chapter in the renewed Israeli-Palestinian violence, violence that shortly followed Sharon's election just over three years ago.
"I say to Sharon, he will pay a heavy price," said Abdel Aziz Rantisi, one of Sheik Yassin's closest aides, in the wake of the attack. "Let him just wait--just wait."
Threats have been leveled against not only the Prime Minister and members of his cabinet, but against the citizens of Israel, many of whom do not support the action taken in their name by Sharon. Perhaps they are not as oblivious to history as their decision-makers seem to be.
The last major assassination by an Israeli Prime Minister--Shimon Peres' 1996 attack on Gaza operative "The Engineer"--was also an effort to show strength and dominance in the face of an increasingly militant resistance. However, that attack had a catastrophic outcome.
In retaliation for the 1996 assassination, Hezbollah (a Lebanon-based Palestinian resistance movement) launched a major rocket attack on northern Israeli targets, leading to the evacuation of numerous Israeli settlements and cities.
There is no reason to believe the response to this attack will be anything less.
I am in no way seeking to portray Sheik Yassin as a victim in this whole affair. He has openly praised suicide bombings, criticized the more cooperative and peaceful stance taken by Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, and helped draft the militant and anti-Semitic Hamas charter.
But instead of attempting to contain the cleric, instead of taking a lower profile approach when dealing with--and possibly eliminating--Sheik Yassin, Sharon and his government have martyred him, guaranteeing his legacy. This was, quite possibly, the worst approach they could have taken.
There are even those within Sharon's cabinet who oppose the former military strongman's hawkish actions.
"I fear we have opened up a cycle here and that many will pay for it with their lives," said Israeli Interior Minister Avraham Poraz.
At least one Israeli leader has stepped out of the self-satisfied majority and said what so many people around the world already know: Sharon has further endangered the people he is charged to protect.