The Killing Of Sheikh Yassin
By Robert Fisk
24 March, 2004
doesnt take an awful lot of courage to murder a paraplegic in a wheelchair.
But it takes only a few moments to absorb the implications of the assassination
of Sheikh Yassin. Yes, he endorsed suicide bombings - including the
murder of Israeli children. Yes, if you live by the sword, you die by
the sword, in a wheelchair or not. But something went wrong with the
narrative of the news story yesterday - and something infinitely more
dangerous, another sinister precedent - was set for our brave new world.
Take the old man
himself. From the start, the Israeli line was simple. Sheikh Yassin
was the "head of the snake" - to use the words of the Israeli
ambassador to London - the head of Hamas, "one of the world's most
dangerous terrorist organisations". But then came obfuscation from
the world's media. Yassin, the BBC World Service Television told us
at lunchtime, was originally freed by the Israelis in a "prisoner
exchange". It sounded like one of those familiar swaps - a Palestinian
released in exchange for captured Israeli soldiers. And then, later
in the day, the BBC told us that he had been freed "following a
deal brokered by King Hussain (of Jordan)". Which was all very
strange. He was a prisoner of the Israelis. This "head of the snake"
was in an Israeli prison. And then, bingo, this supposed monster was
let go because of a "deal". Sheikh Yassin was set free by
no less than that law-and-order right- wing Likudist Benjamin Netanyahu
when he was Prime Minister of Israel. King Hussain wasn't a "broker"
between two sides. Two Israeli Mossad secret agents had tried to murder
a Hamas official in Amman, the capital of an Arab nation which had a
full peace agreement with Israel. They had injected the Hamas man with
poison and the late King Hussain called the US President in fury and
threatened to put the captured Mossad men on trial if he wasn't given
the antidote to the poison and if Yassin wasn't released.
gave in. Yassin was freed and the Mossad lads went safely home to Israel.
So the "head of the snake" was let loose by Israel itself,
courtesy of the Israeli Prime Minister - a chapter in the narrative
of history which was conveniently forgotten yesterday. Which is all
very odd. For if the elderly cleric really was worthy of state murder,
why did Mr Netanyahu let him go in the first place? It was not a question
that anyone wanted to ask yesterday.
But there was something
infinitely more dangerous in all this. Yet another Arab - another leader,
however vengeful and ruthless - had been assassinated. The Americans
want to kill Osama Bin Laden. They want to kill Mullah Omar. They killed
Saddam's two sons. The Israelis repeatedly threaten to murder Yasser
Arafat. It's getting to be a habit.
No one has begun
to work out the implications of all this. For years, there has been
an unwritten rule in the cruel war of government-versus- guerrilla.
You can kill the men on the street, the bomb makers and gunmen. But
the leadership on both sides - government ministers, spiritual leaders
- were allowed to survive.
Now all is changed
utterly. Anyone who advocates violence is now on a death list. So who
can be surprised if the rules are broken by the other side?
With all their own
security, Bush and Blair may be safe, but what about their ambassadors
and fellow ministers? Leaders are fair game. We will not say this. If,
or when, our own political leaders are gunned down or blown up, we shall
vilify the killers and argue a new stage in "terrorism" has
been reached. We shall forget that we are now encouraging this all-
out assassination spree.