|Beyond Images - Briefing 9
||Perspectives on the Arab-Israeli Conflict
HAMAS’ MILITARY MASTERMIND: The Israeli strike on
|London - published Friday 23 August 2002
“The bombing of the Gaza City building with Hamas
leader Salah Shehadeh inside it was an inexcusable act
by Israel. Israel is as bad as the terrorists it is fighting."
The Facts of the Attack
On the night of 23 July 2002, an Israeli
Air Force jet bombed a Gaza City building occupied by the
commander of the military wing of Hamas, Salah Shehadeh.
Shehadeh was killed, together with 14 Palestinian
civilians, including 9 children. Over 100 people were injured.
Israel was condemned worldwide for the
attack. It is a little known fact that according to Israel's
Defence Minister Ben-Eliezer, Israel took account of the danger
to civilians in the period leading up to the attack, and on
eight occasions postponed action against Shehadeh for this
Hamas was founded in 1988. It is ideologically
committed to the destruction of Israel and its replacement
by a Palestinian Islamic state. It rejects coexistence and
peace with Israel (in any borders and on any land).
Its 'military wing', Izzadin Al-Qassam,
was set up to further Hamas goals. It has openly declared
war against Israel. Its leader was Salah Shehadeh.
Since the mid-1990s Hamas has carried out
hundreds of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians including
suicide bombings, machine-gun attacks, drive-by shootings
and grenade attacks. Hamas was responsible for the Sbarro
pizza house bombing, the Passover bombing of the Park Hotel
in Netanya, the Saturday night double-bombing of the Ben Yehuda
pedestrian precinct, and many other notorious attacks.
From his Gaza stronghold, Salah Shehadeh
masterminded Hamas activities - planning Hamas attacks, and
recruiting, training and equipping bombers to carry them out.
Israel's Right to Stop Salah Shehadeh
The Palestinian Authority knew Shehadeh's
record and his intentions, but did not curb his activities.
In the period before Israel struck at him,
Israeli officials received a warning that Shehadeh was planning
a Hamas “mega-attack”, capable of killing possibly
hundreds of Israelis with a one tonne bomb.
(Various extremely dangerous “mega-terror”
attacks have been carried out by Palestinians since April
2002 which lent credibility to this latest warning (see
Beyond Images Briefing 3 – Mega-Terror: The Escalating
Danger to Israel, and Beyond Images Briefing 4 - Pi Glilot).
It has recently been reported that the
likely aim of the Shehadeh plan was to blow up the Katif bridge,
which leads from Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and
out of the area, over Palestinian population centres.
Israel's immediate purpose in attacking
Shehadeh was to prevent what could have been a "mega"
Shehadeh’s activities made him a
legitimate target for Israel in the exercise of its right
Shehadeh resided in the densely populated
Gaza Strip. (According to some commentators, this fact itself
constitutes a war crime by Hamas under the Geneva Convention,
because Shehadeh evidently used Palestinian non-combatants
as human shields and therefore as “protection”
against attack by Israel knowing full well that he was "at
war" with Israel).
Israel’s bombing attack – was Israel indifferent
to civilian lives?
In the days immediately after Israel struck,
critics alleged that Israel had deliberately killed the civilians
residing with Shehadeh, and was using "terrorism"
of its own in its attack on him.
However, three days after Israel's bombing
strike, Israel’s Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer
described the sequence of Israeli decisions preceding the
attack (in a speech reported in the Jerusalem Post, 26 July
2002). His description casts new light on the operation:
Israel had been planning an attack on Shehadeh
for six months, but the strike had been postponed “eight
times” by the Israeli Cabinet and IDF due to concern
about harming innocent civilians around Shehadeh;
Israel received the information about Shehadeh's
planned "mega-attack" but even then held off in
fear of killing his wife and daughter;
Four days before the actual strike, an
Israel jet fighter mission against Shehadeh was turned back
in mid-air when the IDF learned that Shehadeh’s daughter
was with him;
On the day of the attack, however, Israel
received what it assumed to be correct information that Shehadeh
was alone in a particular building with two other members
of Izzadin al Qassam. Israel struck.
The information Israel received was wrong.
The building housed many civilians. Israeli officials have
carried out an internal investigation into the mistake.
However, Israel's miscalculation may have
gone further. A senior Israeli Defence Ministry official has
accepted that there was also misjudgment about the likely
consequences of dropping a large bomb - albeit "pinpointed"
- into a residential area.
There has also been criticism of the fact
that the Israeli Cabinet appears not to have been consulted
over the actual strike.
The Death of Palestinian Civilians
Nine Palestinian children died in the strike.
These victims are a tragedy of war. But, ultimately, it is
clear that Israel did not wish to inflict this harm.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defence Minister
Ben-Eliezer and President Moshe Katsav each expressed regret
for the loss of life among innocent Palestinians. At the same
time, each strongly defended Israel's right to take action
The group headed by Saleh Shehadeh, and
the many other Palestinian terrorist groups, aim to kill innocent
Israelis. This is their doctrine. Shehadeh was quite simply,
one of the most ruthless terrorists in the world.
By contrast, Israel strives to minimise
harm to Palestinians while preserving the right to take legitimate
actions to protect the lives of its citizens.
The suggestion that Israeli actions and
those of Palestinian terrorist groups are equivalent has no
basis, and indeed encourages the terrorists to continue their
atrocities in the belief that the outside world sees them
Israel made an intelligence error in the
course of the Shehadeh attack, and a miscalculation as to
the consequences of the use of such a large weapon. It has
expressed regret for the consequences of the attack.
But the description by Israel's Defence
Minister of the period leading up to the attack indicate how
concerned Israel was to avoid civilian casualties. These concerns
caused Israel to postpone the strike against Saleh Shahadeh
despite Israel knowing what a great danger he was.
Hamas is responsible for creating the culture
of mass terror which has brought its own people so much suffering
and misery without achieving any gains. It, not Israel, is
ultimately responsible for the loss of life in Gaza City that