Gideon Levy on Liquidations

In his article, entitled “Liquidation Sale”, published today in Haaretz, Gideon Levy writes that “It was like an especially wild orgy: First the great intoxication of the senses, then the bitter sobering up the next morning. Within a few hours, Israel went from celebrating the assassination of Imad Mughniyah to the fear of what would follow. The ‘great feat of intelligence’, the ‘perfect execution’, the ‘humiliation of Bashar Assad’ were replaced in the blink of an eye with a spate of fear-inducing ‘travel advisories’ by the Counterterrorism Office – don’t travel, don’t identify yourself, don’t congregate, be careful, take every precaution – and with states of high alert on the northern border, and at all of Israel’s embassies and consulates, and Jewish community centers worldwide. If these are the dangers that lie in wait for us, one has to ask: What did we need this assassination for?

“Whoever killed Mughniyah was once again playing with the most dangerous fire of all: He undermined Israel’s security. If it was Israel, one has to ask whether there was any shred of sense in this move. If it was not Israel, our famed intelligence agencies would do well to prove this quickly, before the next disaster. Was the security of Israel’s citizens improved? Was terror dealt a permanent blow? History, with its multitude of previous assassinations, teaches that the answer is no. The chain of ‘terrorist chieftains’ liquidated by Israel, from Ali Salameh and Abu Jihad through Abbas Mussawi and Yihyeh Ayash to Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi – all “operations” that we celebrated with great pomp and circumstance for one sweet and intoxicating moment – have thus far brought only harsh and painful revenge attacks against Israel and Jews throughout the world, as well as infinite replacements no less effective than their predecessors, and sometimes more so. From assassination to assassination, terror has only increased and become more sophisticated.

“We have never really demanded an accounting from those responsible for these liquidations; we have merely been excited by their ‘achievements’. How we enjoy wallowing in these childish tales of heroism! …

“First, the partying: It is depressing to see the pseudo-victory celebrations. What, for heaven’s sake, is there to celebrate, other than the oldest and most primitive feeling of all – revenge? The parade of generals and pundits who were interviewed in every possible platform, putting their heads together and dispensing cunning smiles, inflated with their own self-importance, along with the generations of terror victims who were called on to express the joy of their personal revenge, and the deciphering of hints – here is Ehud Olmert smiling in the Knesset and Ehud Barak standing tall in Ankara – all of these painted a picture of unparalleled grimness. Even devoted fans of the genre need to think about the morning after. Even for them, vengeance for the sake of vengeance, an eye for an eye, in the best spirit of our biblical values, cannot be the be-all and end-all. Moreover, a society that rejoices and takes pride in its media victory after every assassination is a society in bad shape, while a war on terror that only encourages ever more vicious reprisals is a lost war…”

Uri Avnery on Liquidations

This week’s article by Uri Avnery denounces its “targetted assassinations”:

“If a person in the street were asked to name the area of enterprise in which we Israelis excel, his answer would probably be: Hi-Tech. And indeed, in this area we have recorded some impressive achievements. It seems as if hardly a day passes without an Israeli start-up company that was born in a garage being sold for hundreds of millions. Little Israel is one of the major hi-tech powers in the world.

But the profession in which Israel is not only one of the biggest, but the unchallenged Numero Uno is: liquidations.

This week this was proven once again. The Hebrew verb ‘lekhassel’ – liquidate – in all its grammatical forms, currently dominates our public discourse. Respected professors debate with academic solemnity when to ‘liquidate’ and whom. Used generals discuss with professional zeal the technicalities of ‘liquidation’, its rules and methods. Shrewd politicians compete with each other about the number and status of the candidates for ‘liquidation’.

INDEED, FOR a long time now there has not been such an orgy of jubilation and self-congratulation in the Israeli media as there was this week. Every reporter, every commentator, every political hack, every transient celeb interviewed on TV, on the radio and in the newspapers, was radiant with pride. We have done it! We have succeeded! We have ‘liquidated’ Imad Mughniyeh!

He was a ‘terrorist’. And not just a terrorist, a master terrorist! An arch-terrorist! The very king of terrorists! From hour to hour his stature grew, reaching gigantic proportions. Compared to him, Osama Bin-Laden is a mere beginner. The list of his exploits grew from news report to news report, from headline to headline.

There is and never has been anyone like him. For years he has kept out of sight. But our good boys – many, many good boys – have not neglected him for a moment. They worked day and night, weeks and months, years and decades, in order to trace him. They ‘knew him better than his friends, better than he knew himself’ (verbatim quote from a respected Haaretz commentator, gloating like all his colleagues) … Mughniyeh-the-person has disappeared, and Mughniyeh-the-legend has taken his place, a world-embracing mythological terrorist, who has long been marked as ‘a Son of Death’ (i.e. a person to be killed) as declared on TV by another out-of-use general. His ‘liquidation’ was a huge, almost supra-natural, achievement, much more important than Lebanon War II, in which we were not so very successful. The ‘liquidation’ equals at least the glorious Entebbe exploit, if not more.

True, the Holy Book enjoins us: ‘Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth / Lest the Lord see it and it displeases him’. (Proverbs 24:17) But this was not just any enemy, it was a super-super-enemy, and therefore the Lord will certainly excuse us for dancing with joy from talk-show to talk-show, from issue to issue, from speech to speech, as long as we do not distribute candies in the street – even if the Israeli government denies feebly that we were the ones who ‘liquidated’ the man. AS CHANCE would have it, the ‘liquidation’ was carried out only a few days after I wrote an article about the inability of occupying powers to understand the inner logic of resistance organizations. Mughniyeh’s ‘liquidation’ is an outstanding example of this. (Of course, Israel gave up its occupation of South Lebanon some years ago, but the relationship between the parties has remained as it was.)

In the eyes of the Israeli leadership, the ‘liquidation’ was a huge success. We have ‘cut off the head of the serpent’ (another headline from Haaretz). We have inflicted on Hizbullah immense damage, so much that it cannot be repaired. ‘This is not revenge but prevention’, as another of the guided reporters (Haaretz again) declared. This is such an important achievement, that it outweighs the inevitable revenge, whatever the number of victims-to-be.

In the eyes of Hizbullah, thing look quite different. The organization has acquired another precious asset: a national hero, whose name fills the air from Iran to Morocco. The ‘liquidated’ Mughniyeh is worth more than the live Mughniyeh, irrespective of what his real status may have been at the end of his life.

Enough to remember what happened here in 1942, when the British ‘liquidated’ Abraham Stern (a.k.a. Ya’ir): from his blood the Lehi organization (a.k.a. Stern Gang) was born and became perhaps the most efficient terrorist organization of the 20th century.

Therefore, Hizbullah has no interest at all in belittling the status of the liquidatee. On the contrary, Hassan Nasrallah, exactly like Ehud Olmert, has every interest in blowing up his stature to huge proportions.

And the main thing: the anger about the murder and the pride in the martyr will inspire another generation of youngsters, who will be ready to die for Allah and Nasrallah. The more Israeli propaganda enlarges the proportions of Mughniyeh, the more young Shiites will be inspired to follow his example.

Everybody knows that there will be revenge. Nasrallah has promised this, adding that it could take place anywhere in the world. For a long time already, people in Israel believe Nasrallah much more than Olmert.

Israeli security organs are issuing dire warnings for people going abroad – to be on guard at every moment, not to be conspicuous, not to congregate with other Israelis, not to accept unusual invitations, etc. The media have magnified these warnings to the point of hysteria. In the Israeli embassies, security has been tightened. On the Northern border, too, an alert has been sounded – just a few days after Olmert boasted in the Knesset that, as a result of the war, the Northern border is now quieter than ever before.

Such worries are far from baseless. All the past ‘liquidations’ of this kind have brought with them dire consequences:

– The classic example is, of course, the ‘liquidation’ of Nasrallah’s predecessor, Abbas Mussawi. He was killed in South Lebanon in 1992 by Apache gunships. All of Israel rejoiced. Then, too, the Champagne was flowing. In revenge, Hizbullah blew up the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, as well as the Jewish community center there. The planner was, it is now alleged, Imad Mughniyeh. More than a hundred people perished. The main result: instead of the rather grey Mussawi, the sophisticated, masterly Nasrallah took over.

– Before that, Golda Meir ordered a series of ‘liquidations’ to revenge the tragedy of the Israeli athletes in Munich (most of whom were actually killed by the inept German police trying to prevent their being flown to Algeria as hostages). Not one of the ‘liquidated’ had anything to do with the outrage itself. They were PLO diplomatic representatives, sitting ducks in their offices. The matter is described at length in Stephen Spielberg’s kitschy film ‘Munich’. The result: the PLO became stronger and turned into a state-in-the-making, Yasser Arafat eventually returned to Palestine.

– The ‘liquidation’ of Yahyah Ayyash in Gaza in 1996 resembles the Mughniyeh affair. It was carried out by means of a booby-trapped cellular telephone. Ayyash’s dimensions, too, were blown up to giant proportions, so that he had become a legend already in his own lifetime. The nickname ‘the engineer’ was attached to him because he prepared the explosive devices used by Hamas. Shimon Peres, who had succeeded to the Prime Ministership after the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, believed that the ‘liquidation’ would lend him huge popularity and get him re-elected. The opposite happened: Hamas reacted with a series of sensational suicide-bombings and brought Binyamin Netanyahu to power.

– Fathi Shikaki, head of Islamic Jihad, was ‘liquidated’ in 1995 by a bicyclist who shot him down in a Malta street. The small organization was not eradicated, but on the contrary grew through its revenge actions. Today it is the group which is launching the Qassams at Sderot.

– Hamas leader Khaled Mash’al was actually being ‘liquidated’ in a street in Amman by the injection of poison. The act was exposed and its perpetrators identified and a furious King Hussein compelled Israel to provide the antidote that saved his life. The ‘liquidators’ were allowed to go home in return for the release of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmad Yassin from Israeli prison. As a result, Mash’al was promoted and is now the senior political leader of Hamas.

– Sheik Yassin himself, a paraplegic, was ‘liquidated’ by attack helicopters while leaving a mosque after prayer. A previous attempt by bombing his home had failed. The sheik became a martyr in the eyes of the entire Arab world, and has served since as an inspiration for hundreds of Hamas attacks.

The decision to carry out a ‘liquidation’ resembles the decision that was taken to start the Second Lebanon War: not one of the deciders gives a damn for the suffering of the civilian population that inevitably falls victim to the revenge.

Why, then, are the ‘liquidations’ carried out?

The response of one of the generals who was asked this question: ‘There is no unequivocal answer to this’.

These words are dripping with Chutzpa: how can one decide on such an action when there is no unequivocal answer to the question of its being worth the price?

I suspect that the real reason is both political and psychological. Political, because it is always popular. After every ‘liquidation’, there is much jubilation. When the revenge arrives, the public (and the media) do not see the connection between the ‘liquidation’ and the response. Each is seen separately. Few people have the time and the inclination to think about it, when everybody is burning with fury about the latest murderous attack.

In the present situation, there is an additional political motivation: the army has no answer to the Qassams, nor has it any desire to get enmeshed in the re-occupation of the Gaza Strip, with all the expected casualties. A sensational ‘liquidation’ is a simple alternative.

… When the ‘liquidation’ ends in success, the executioners can raise glasses of champagne. A mixture of blood, champagne and folly is an intoxicating but toxic cocktail”.

Uri Avnery’s weekly article was received by email.