I happened to learn about the car-bomb assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah commander, while talking to a Palestinian Fatah man who is a confidante of Mohammed Dahlan, who is famously reputed in the press to have been both a torturer and the CIA’s man in Gaza, until the Hamas ousted him.
The Fatah / Dahlan man who imparted the assassination news hates Hamas with a passion — he said that in last year’s rival security forces showdown they grabbed and tortured him with knives for four hours (he was earlier tortured by the Israelis far longer, and worse, but views that as par for the course)– and is no fan of Hezbollah, but he viewed the killing with irony. He said he was hearing that the Israelis were saying "we cleared the account with him (Mughniyeh)" (Palestinian Authority security forces, like those Dahlan ran, now have regular coordination meetings with their ostensible enemies, Israeli intelligence), yet he claimed that Mughniyeh’s major killings had been more against other Arabs (eg. Saudi, Kuwait) than against Israelis.
The Israeli killing men are trying to contain their grins. The government issued a non-denial denial "Israel rejects the attempt by terror groups to attribute to it any involvement in this incident. We have nothing further to add" — i.e. they reject terror groups saying they were involved, but do not say that they were not involved.
The US, which had a $25 million bounty on Mughniyeh’s head (he’s implicated, in, among other things, the Lebanon Marine barracks bombing, the kidnap/ holding of AP reporter Terry Anderson, a TWA hijacking) felt no need to show restraint, saying, through the State Department: "The world is a better place without this man in it. He was a cold-blooded killer, a mass murderer and a terrorist responsible for countless innocent lives lost."
In a world of proportionality and full enforcement of the murder laws — or even, rough justice-style "what goes around comes around" — George Bush’s men would not want to make that statement, since they (and Israel) are responsible for vastly more, and vastly more civilian, killings, don’t have Mughniyeh’s sometime excuse of responding to invasion, and don’t want to start up their cars tomorrow morning and wind up blown to bits.
But that is not this world. This is mafia world. If you’re big enough, you can whack guys.
It so happened that, hours before, another Palestinian man had used that mafia term as we wove through scrolls of barbed wire, checkpoints, walls, and Galil/M-16 toting Occupation men as Jewish settlers/occupiers zipped through the West Bank on ethnically/religiously segregated superhighways.
Two days before, a fairly typical day in Israeli politics, the lead front page headline in the Haaretz newspaper was "IDF (Israel Defense Forces) to step up Gaza assassinations," in response to homemade rockets from besieged, hungry, bombed Gaza that had recently wounded Israelis (for background on the siege and the disproportionate death tolls, see postings of December 7, 2007, "Imposed Hunger in Gaza, The Army in Indonesia. Questions of Logic and Activism," and January 6, 2008 "The Breaking of the Gaza Wall. Wise, Justified Political Violence.").
"The IDF needs to wipe out a neighborhood in Gaza," said the Israeli Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, "We need to target all those responsible for terrorism without asking who they are" — suggesting a broad definition of "responsible" that encompasses those whose actions are unknown, but who do, at least, fit the criterion of being Palestinians living in Gaza. (Haaretz English Edition, February 11, 2008).
Dani Yatom, the former Shin Bet internal security chief, now a parliamentarian for what constitutes Israel’s establishment left, the Labor Party, said on TV of blowing up the smaller killer Mughniyeh that "the free and democratic world today achieved a very important goal" — suggesting that freedom and democracy do not have law and order (as opposed to whacking) as a prerequisite, which seems to undercut the whole US worldwide project of building up heavily-armed security forces, along with non-troublesome courts — in places including occupied Palestine — on the claimed premise that you can’t have freedom and democracy until you’ve first established the rule of law.
The politics are pretty clear. The US Republicans want terrorism — other people’s — on the US electoral front burner (see posting re. the just-announced 9/11 tribunals, February 11, 2008, "The Guantanamo Gambit. A Smart But Vulnerable Establishment. Tactical Options in US Politics."), and Israel’s Olmert administration is still smarting from a new official report (the Winograd Commission) saying they lost the ’06 Lebanon war with Hezbollah (and with the precision-carpet-bombed civilian populations of southern Leabanon, and southern Beirut), and are simultaneously facing a fierce Israeli public clamor to go in and kill more Gazans.
There’s always a certain — weak — case to be made for just taking out a killer if nice, legal courts can’t do it (its the kind of thing that leftist guerrilla/liberation movements, or the French Resistance, did all the time). That was basically the case — apart from the weapons/ Al Qeada lies — that the US made for taking out Saddam Hussein. But the weak case becomes dangerously unserious when the one proposing to do the ajusticiamiento (delivery of justice, as they used to say in rebel Central America), has, like, say, the US or Israeli leadership, killed and murdered far more prolifically than has the proposed target. Then, though you remove a smaller killer from the face of the earth, you make the bigger killer still stronger, thus making life even more dangerous for regular people who are still walking around.
Surprisingly enough, for a man based in the New York area — an old mob stronghold and recently the fictional home of HBO’s Tony Soprano — Malcom Hoenlein, head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations seemed to express surprise, at a Tuesday Jerusalem press conference, at his group’s poll findings that American popular support for Israel is "broad" but "also thin, and most Americans see Israel as a dark and militaristic place."
Evidently they shouldn’t. When an assassination car bomb explodes, it gives off a lot of light.
(For the Hoenlein press conference see Anshel Pfeffer, "Hoenlein: Obama’s spirit of change could harm Israel," Haaretz, February 13, 2008; despite the headline, he wasn’t criticizing Obama, who like all the big 3 candidates, is already pledged to the official US/Israeli government line, including on Gaza. He was merely fretting that "[t]here is a legitimate concern over the zeitgeist around the campaign… All the talk about change, but without defining that that change should be, is an opening for all kind of mischief.").
ALLAN NAIRN can be reached through his blog.