It was heartening to hear that Israel’s cabinet has decided against a direct assault on the Palestinian Authority in response to Monday’s terrorist attack in Tel Aviv. This was Sharon’s wrong-headed strategy in 2001 — destroying the administrative, security and civilian infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority rather than directly battling the terrorists. Now, a targeted effort is anticipated against the terror cells of Islamic Jihad, which recruited the bomber in the West Bank and the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades that also advocates and attempts such operations.
However insufficient, military action is an understandable response to terrorism. We should be reminded of the high-profile bloody attack against Israeli civilians on Pesakh in 2002, when the bombing of a Passover seder at a hotel in Netanya took 30 lives and prompted a mobilization of army reservists and the reoccupation of most of the West Bank by the IDF. The bitter Palestinian complaint about “occupation” became much more justified after Operation Defensive Shield than before, but most Palestinians did not learn the lesson of cause and effect as a result.
The cycle of violence reflects an incomplete logic that has taken hold of both populations; we’ve heard from both sides that force is the only language that the other understands. But while the wholesale reoccupation may not have been the best response to terror that Passover, it was more-or-less inevitable. Even so revered a dovish figure as Meir Pa’il suggested at the time that Israel needed to reoccupy the West Bank for a short time in order to persuade the Palestinians that they could not win by violence. Arguably, Israel was losing the war known as the Al-Aksa Intifada until that point.
My feeling is that the use of force needs to be as narrowly targeted as possible against the perpetrators of violence. In fact, “targeted assassinations,” as ugly as this tactic sounds, is — if carried out carefully to limit non-combatant casualties — the reverse of terrorism, which is so heinous because it randomly murders innocents and regards this as legitimate resistance (as Hamas officials have again been reminding us lately).