Terrorism after Yassin

Claude Salhani, whose analysis on such things I respect, has an interesting take on the Yassin assassination.

While Palestinians regarded Yassin as a respected figure of the resistance to Israeli occupation, Israel claimed that Yassin was responsible for many of the suicide bombings carried out in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories that have claimed scores of innocent lives. Silvan Shalom, Israel’s foreign minister, speaking to CNN shortly after the attacks, described Yassin as “the godfather of the suicide bombs.”

In defending its actions, Israel is trying to equate the militant quadriplegic imam to al-Qaida’s Osama bin Laden. Israel accuses Yassin of being responsible for a multitude of terrorist attacks against the Jewish state, countering Palestinian claims that Yassin was a moderating force who could restrain Palestinians and possibly prevent further attacks.


Indeed, the United States would love to terminate bin Laden in a similar manner, if only they could find him. But the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan and Pakistan are harder to penetrate than the slums of the Gaza Strip.

However, a word of caution is required here to Israel, the United States and the rest of the civilized world as the fight against terrorism continues, and gathers momentum. Indeed, if the Madrid bombings were any indication, the situation in regard to terrorism is not likely to improve anytime soon.

Simply killing Yassin and bin Laden will not herald the end of attacks in Israel, the United States and other parts of the world. In fact, it could well have the opposite effect, as Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, one of the Hamas leaders predicted following Yassin’s death. “Israel has opened the gates of hell,” warned Rantisi.

Hamas’ reaction to the assassination of its leader will be, says Rantisi, “as rough as a heavy earthquake.” And as numerous analysts now predict, we could well witness the start of a fresh wave of violence erupting in the Holy Land. Some Palestinians are already referring to the killing of Yassin as the beginning of the “third intifada.”

He then follows with some Vietnam “hearts and minds” comparisons and the “root causes” argument:

While the war on terrorism must be pursued, it must also be accompanied at the same time by well-established strategies to help stamp out the causes that lead to such actions by Yassins, bin Ladens and others.

Since the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in lower Manhattan and on the Pentagon, much emphasis has been placed finding bin Laden, as it should be. But what has been missing from the war on terrorism has been a comprehensive policy to study, identify and set out to eradicate the basic reasons for this worldwide contempt of American and Western norms.

The elimination of Yassin and bin Laden may well set Hamas and al-Qaida back, but it will not put an end to the threats presented by these groups. In the case of bin Laden, the United States, in cooperation with its allies and the countries concerned, should address the reasons young people in countries around the Arab and Islamic worlds flow to al-Qaida. Why are some young people so prepared to sacrifice their lives? How do you combat statements, such the one purportedly issued by al-Qaida after the Madrid bombing saying, “You love life, we love death”?

Emphasis must be placed on fighting terrorism, building walls and fences as protection against it, but at the same time delving deeper into the socio-economic reasons that motivates individual to undertake such drastic actions. And then address those reasons from a humanitarian perspective. Missiles and bombs alone will only help ensure that the never-ending cycle of violence continues.

I agree completely. But how do we do it? Kevin Drum chided my glee over Israel’s strike saying he’d prefer “a policy that works, please, not just one that feels good.” So do I. The problem is figuring out what that is.

Clearly, a policy of tit-for-tat isn’t going to be enough. The Brits spent decades doing that against the IRA without success. Certainly, a world in which the people of the Islamic world appreciated Western values–and had something approaching a Western lifestyle–would be one much less hospitable to terrorism than the one we live in. Simply blowing people up in response to people getting blown up won’t do it. Neither will simple appeasement. But, then, almost no serious student of this issue is calling for either of those extremes. But damned if I know what the proper balance is. I doubt anyone does.

I’d note, though, that the Bush Administration seems to be trying to pursue both avenues at the same time: military action against terrorists, especially al Qaeda, while trying to establish democratic institutions in Iraq and elsewhere. It’ll be years before we can adequately assess how well it’s worked.

Update: Glenn Reynolds says much the same, albeit much more succinctly:

You want a revolution in antiterrorism? Fine. We’d all love to see the plan.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ron says:

    Simply killing Yassin and bin Laden will not herald the end of attacks in Israel, the United States and other parts of the world.
    Neither will leaving them in place.

    When the status quo is unacceptable, there is no need to fear change.

  2. i wonder how much this years uncertainty about the US elections played in the Israeli decision to start actively taking out the terrorist? not that i care.. they should have done this long ago.

  3. Clearly, a policy of tit-for-tat isn’t going to be enough. The Brits spent decades doing that against the IRA without success.

    On the other hand, the Brits also pretty much kept their gloves on for much of the Troubles; British elite opinion and public opinion wouldn’t countenance the level of “kicking ass and taking names” that Israelis or Americans will accept. Witness the reaction when the Brits rubbed out those 3 IRA guys in Gibraltar in the mid-80s; there are still recriminations over that.

    By comparison, I doubt most Americans would bat an eye if 3 Al Qaeda operatives were killed in broad daylight in Guam (heck, nobody other than Bobby Fisk had much sympathy for those guys who got Predator’d in Yemen).

  4. I. M. Rhimin says:

    Road Map To Peace

    Yassin was old and deaf and blind;
    they said he was the deadly kind.
    So in self-defense strategic
    they blew up a quadriplegic.