Beyond the loss of life, beyond the near-certainty that the killing of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin will prompt further bombings in or against Israel, the action places the United States in a delicate position.
Unfortunately, this is the result of years of mostly well-intentioned insistence on being intimately involved with what U.S. leaders fondly hope will resemble a “peace process” sooner or later, but which those in the area interpret as interference and/or taking sides.
Israelis are divided about the policy of targeted killings that led to firing three missiles at the wheelchair-bound Sheik Yassin, who founded Hamas, officially named a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, as he emerged from a mosque Monday morning.
Few deny that the immediate effect will be stepped-up suicide bombings, but officials like Finance Minister and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believe the long-term effect will be to weaken the militants “because their leaders will know that they will be destroyed.”
What has U.S. officials concerned is the fact that Hamas, echoed by other radical Islamist groups, has vowed retaliation not only against Israel but against the United States. These groups claim Israel could not have proceeded with this attack without a green light from the United States.
Thus national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and other officials were performing what Cato Institute foreign-policy specialist Ted Carpenter said was a “delicate tightrope dance.”
The United States seeks to distance itself from the missile attack while avoiding the kind of unequivocal condemnation some European leaders issued, which might undermine the close relationship between Israel and the United States.
Even an unvarnished condemnation would have been unlikely to satisfy Hamas. The threat to attack the United States and U.S. interests could be more bluster than reality. But it would be unwise to dismiss it.
The United States has never been the uncritical backer of Israel many in the Arab world believe it to be, but the United States government has repeatedly tried to impose or persuade all sides to buy into its own “path to peace.” The renewed threat might show that no good deed goes unpunished — but more seriously should call into question the ongoing effort to impose an “American way” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.