Israel's 'miscalculation'

Thursday, July 25, 2002

ISRAELI Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's initial reaction to Israel's bombing raid on Gaza City -- "one of our major successes" -- was extremely disturbing.

While it killed its primary target, Sheikh Salah Shehadeh, founder of the paramilitary wing of Hamas, it also left 14 civilians dead and 150 wounded. The enduring image of this military mission will be the scene of a man holding the body of a 2-month-old girl, wrapped in a Palestinian flag, followed by a long procession of mourners.

Surely Israel has the intelligence capabilities, precision weaponry and well-trained forces to have come up with a way to target a terrorist leader with less collateral damage. To use an American-made F-16 fighter jet to drop a laser-guided bomb on a residential area in the middle of the night is to court disaster.

And disaster resulted.

Even President Bush, who had been giving Israel wide latitude to defend itself, described the attack as "heavy handed." The condemnation from Europe was decidedly more blunt. Sweden called it a crime against international law and "morally unworthy of a democracy like Israel."

The tone from the Israeli government, while short of apologetic, at least showed signs of contrition Wednesday. "What happened is really regrettable. It wasn't done intentionally," Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said. "I think all of us feel sorry for the loss of life of innocent people, particularly children." Peres said Israeli troops would proceed with a pullback from the West Bank and that the government had released millions of dollars in frozen Palestinian taxes and issued 4,000 work permits.

Military leaders insist that they used the right weapon, but with the wrong calculations. But Israel's biggest miscalculation was that a 1-ton bomb could ever be the weapon of choice when targeting one man in an apartment building --

or that the world would look the other way at needless loss of life.

©2002 San Francisco Chronicle.