- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The Arab world and, in fact, much of the Western world have criticized the killing of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, founder and spiritual leader of the Islamic Resistance Movement, an outfit better known as Hamas.

While Palestinians regarded Yassin as a respected figure of the resistance to Israeli occupation, Israel claimed Yassin was responsible for many of the suicide bombings carried out in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories that have claimed scores of innocent lives. Silvan Shalom, Israel’s foreign minister, speaking to CNN shortly after the attacks, described Yassin as “the godfather of the suicide bombs.”

In defending its actions, Israel is trying to equate the militant quadriplegic imam to al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. Israel accuses Yassin of being responsible for a multitude of terrorist attacks against the Jewish state, countering Palestinian claims that Yassin was a moderating force who could restrain Palestinians and possibly prevent further attacks.

Yassin was killed while emerging from a Gaza mosque following dawn prayers Monday, when a number of Israeli missiles fired from attack helicopters put an end to his life. He died along with his bodyguards and several other people.

Indeed, the United States would love to terminate bin Laden in a similar manner, if only it could find him. But the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan and Pakistan are harder to penetrate than the slums of the Gaza Strip.

However, a word of caution is required here to Israel, the United States and the rest of the civilized world as the fight against terrorism continues and gathers momentum. Indeed, if the Madrid bombings were any indication, the terrorism situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon.

Simply killing Yassin and bin Laden will not herald the end of attacks in Israel, the United States and other parts of the world. In fact, it could well have the opposite effect, as Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, one of the Hamas leaders predicted following Yassin’s death: “Israel has opened the gates of hell.”

Hamas’ reaction to its leader’s assassination will be, says Rantisi, “as rough as a heavy earthquake.” And as numerous analysts now predict, we could well see a fresh wave of violence erupt in the Holy Land. Some Palestinians already refer to the killing of Yassin as the beginning of the “third intifada.”

For every Yassin or bin Laden killed, history has shown there are dozens of potential leaders waiting in the sidelines, ready to assume their place. Just ask the French about their attempts at eliminating the revolutionary leadership of the Vietminh in Indo-China or the rebels of the National Liberation Front in Algeria — or the American experience in Vietnam when it came to targeting North Vietnamese and communist military leaders.

“There will always be terrorists as long as there is a reason for them to commit acts of terrorism,” said Charles Henderson, a former Marine and author of four books on the Vietnam War. “These are fundamental lessons that the Marine Corps teaches. You have to eliminate the motivation.”

Marine Corps Gen. Victor H. Krulak, says Mr. Henderson, recognized that in Vietnam you could not simply win the war militarily. “You had to win their hearts and minds,” he says. That theory holds true with all groups that turn to violence. Eradicate the root reasons and you deny them popular support, without which a revolutionary cause cannot sustain itself.

The war on terrorism must be pursued, but accompanied by well-established strategies to help stamp out causes that lead to such actions by Yassins, bin Ladens and others.

Since the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, in Lower Manhattan and on the Pentagon, there has been — as there should be — much emphasis on finding bin Laden. But missing from the war on terrorism has been a comprehensive policy to study, identify and eradicate the basic reasons for this worldwide contempt of American and Western norms.

The elimination of Yassin and bin Laden may well set back Hamas and al Qaeda, but it will not end the threats presented by these groups. In the case of bin Laden, the United States, in cooperation with its allies and the countries concerned, should address the reasons young people in countries around the Arab and Islamic worlds flow to al Qaeda. Why are some young people so prepared to sacrifice their lives? What is the best way to combat statements, such one attributed to al Qaeda after the Madrid bombing: “You love life, we love death”?

Fighting terrorism, building walls and fences as protection against it must be emphasized along with delving deeper into the socioeconomic motivations for such drastic actions. And those motivations must be addressed from a humanitarian perspective. Missiles and bombs alone will only help ensure the never-ending cycle of violence continues.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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