Killing of Terrorist in Gaza Gives Israel Pyrrhic Victory

July 25, 2002

The Israeli air strike that killed a top Palestinian terror leader - but also resulted in the deaths of civilians, including nine children, in a crowded Gaza neighborhood - was a classic example of a Pyrrhic victory: It was achieved at excessive cost, to the point of negating the gains.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's characterization of it Tuesday as "one of our major successes" was premature, contradicted yesterday by his own government's admission that it was based on flawed military intelligence.

The tactical advantage of assassinating the notorious leader of Hamas' terror wing, Salah Shehadeh - in itself a legitimate military objective - was outweighed by the political and public-relations backlash that followed the dropping of a 1-ton bomb at night on an apartment building in a densely populated neighborhood. The target, Shehadeh, was appropriate. And the context - Palestinians' refusal to stop the violence against Israelis - was apt. But the location, timing and means of carrying out the strike were all wrong.

The attack came just as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were meeting to discuss security arrangements amid reports that Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups were considering halting suicide bombings if Israel would begin withdrawing troops from the West Bank.

After President George W. Bush condemned the Israeli action as "heavy handed" and was reported to be privately furious with Sharon over it, Israel had to take note and reassess the results of the attack. "We wouldn't have done it if we knew what the consequences would be," a senior Israeli military official told a news conference. That sounds disingenuous, even when coupled with a later statement that the action was based on flawed intelligence.

In tacit recognition of the ham-handedness of the attack, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres yesterday said Israel would withdraw troops from some West Bank cities and had released millions of dollars in frozen tax money for the Palestinian Authority, in what were seen as concessions to Palestinian public opinion. Realistically, however, Israel must now brace for a violent reaction.

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