Monday, September 06, 2004

The Suicide Attacks in Israel and the Consequences

The suicide bombings that took place in Beersheva, Israel - for which Hamas has claimed responsibility-on Sept. 1, 2004, may well have significant consequences. It has been announced that the attack that left 16 people dead and some 100 injured was staged "in order to take revenge". Israel had staged a series of operations against Hamas, a radical Palestinian group, since the beginning of the current year. In this framework first the organization's spiritual leader and founder Sheikh Ahmad Yaseen and later Rantissi, one of the leading Hamas figures, were killed along with many other high-level Hamas officials. The latest act of Hamas seems to be a belated response.

Syria was in the "center" of the statements Israeli officials made in the wake of the suicide bombings. They consider Syria to be the party "mainly responsible" for these attacks. First Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Yalon made a statement, saying that the suicide bombers had received their orders "from the Hamas headquarters in Damascus" and that Israel would take action "against those who support terrorism". Then Israel's Deputy Minister of Defense Zeev Boim announced that Israel was contemplating the possibility of an Israeli "military intervention against the terrorist targets in Syria".

These statements could be made for one of the following two reasons. The first possibility is that Israel is really going to stage such an operation and it is threatening Syria. The second -and stronger-possibility is that Israel is issuing that threat in order to deter Syria from supporting similar actions in the future. We can say that Israel does have the "will" to stage a military operation against targets deep inside Syria. Last year, in response to a suicide bombing that took place in Israel, Israeli forces bombed a camp situated close to Damascus (to the north of the capital) on the grounds that the camp belonged to "Islamic Jihad".

So, on the basis of that example if not for anything else, one could say that Israel has the "will" to stage such an operation against Syria. However, though Israel may have the capacity to stage such an operation it is not possible to say that the current regional and global conditions are suitable for such a move. If the conditions had been suitable and Israel really intended to stage such an operation it would have staged a surprise raid as in the case of last year's operation rather than making an announcement. Therefore, we can say that Israel has made these statements in order to make the "other side" drop any plans for the "future attacks".

These suicide attacks may also have consequences regarding certain policies Israel has been conducted lately. Due to the series of operations it has staged against the high-level Hamas figures since the start of the current year Israel has come under criticism. It has plunged into a "legitimacy crisis" in the international arena. From now on Israel will have an opportunity to pounce upon Hamas with more ease. The suicide attacks for which Hamas has claimed responsibility will create a "platform of legitimacy" for the operations Israel would stage against Hamas from now on. Israel would come under less pressure from the international community. If though it would still be criticized to some extent Israel would not take that criticism into consideration.

The first operation corroborating this argument has already taken place. On Sept. 7, 2004 the Israeli Army staged an attack in Gaza on Shijaya, a town known as a Hamas stronghold, killing 14 and wounding 30, all of them Hamas militants.

When the Israeli operations directed against top Hamas figures such as Sheikh Ahmad Yaseen and Rantissi drew strong adverse reactions Israel started staging operations targeted at Hamas officials of lesser rank. However, from now on, there is a stronger possibility that Israel will target key Hamas figures once again. If such a change occurs we can expect the following three people to be the target: Halid Meshal, the political leader of the organization who is in Damascus, and Mahmoud Zahar and Ismael Haniyeh who are both in Gaza.

The suicide attacks in Beersheva seem to have eased the strain on Israel also regarding the construction of the controversial "security wall". Israel started to build the wall in June 2002 in order to "prevent terrorists from infiltrating from the West Bank". As on many other issues construction of the wall plunged Israel into a legitimacy crisis in the international field. (The latest development on this issue involved the International Court of Justice. In July 2004 the court decided that the wall was unlawful and should be torn down. Later in the month, in a related development, the UN adopted a draft resolution in the same direction. Although the UN resolution was not of a binding nature it intensified the pressure on Israel and caused the Israeli government to delay the construction work.)

However, the suicide attacks that took place in Beersheva on Sept. 1, 2004 stirred Israel into action once again regarding the construction of the wall. The spokesman for the Israeli Defense Ministry announced that the measures required had been taken to go ahead with the construction of the wall and that work would resume in two to three weeks. Immediately after the attacks some segments of the Israeli public started criticizing the Israeli government for having suspended the construction of the wall. The public has rallied around the idea that the construction work should be sped up. Not only the public opinion has been shaped in that fashion inside the country but also, thanks to the Beersheva attacks, the Israeli government has found a chance to show the international community "how justified its security concerns have been". Now this new international climate gives Israel an opportunity to continue with the construction of the wall. Israel has found a chance to defend before the international community its decision to build such a wall. It is not under as much strain as in the past. Although the international community continues to put pressure on the Israeli government the latter now has -thanks to the support given by the Israeli public-the capacity not to take that pressure into consideration.

Although Israeli officials have announced that resumption of the wall construction has got nothing to do with the suicide attacks one tends to think that these attacks will give Israel a chance to implement its security policies with greater ease from now on.

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