THE UPCOMING ASSASSINATION OF YASSER ARAFAT
In all likelihood, before the end of Summer, Israeli Prime minister Ariel Sharon may make good on his threat to kill Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
I base this assumption on a number of factors:
* Sharon is old and this government is most likely his last hurrah. He faces potential ICC prosecution for his role in the massacre of Palestinians by Christian militiamen during his command of Israeli forces in Lebanon and allegations of corruption at home. Arafat has been, after Nasser, the primal enemy of Israel for most of Sharon's career. There are scores to be settled with Arafat that only Israelis of Sharon's generation can recall. If Sharon must go out he'd rather close his career with Arafat's head on a plate.
*Arafat, who may be somewhat addled, gives Israel no profit by being left alive and enables much harm. Arafat is demonstrably faithless in terms of keeping agreements and despite his numerous tactical retreats, Arafat promotes and encourages terrorism by other Palestinian groups when his personal and official PA forces are not actually commiting it. Arafat cannot deliver any kind of a peace not actually enforced by Israeli arms, even were he sincere and his iron control over the PA prevents any other Palestinian leader from exercising meaningful authority.
* If Israel is to have American support through the diplomatic storm that will ensue by killing Arafat it will only be while George W. Bush is president. President Kerry would not approve of such a step if for no other reason than the EU would go ballistic - the breaking of diplomatic relations with Israel by some European states could not be ruled out. However, Sharon cannot kill Arafat too close to the November elections for fear of tipping the scales to Kerry, so if this act is to be done it would have to occur before Labor Day - my personal guess is during the middle of the Democratic Convention.
* Sharon has followed through on similar threats to kill bloodthirsty sociopaths like Yassin and Rantisi. Why doubt him now ?
Juan Cole has pointed out that Israel's targeted assassination policy has caused the U.S. needless difficulties in Iraq which is true and that such extrajudicial killings are " illegal under international law " which is frankly incorrect if the target is part of a hostile military organization - certainly the case with Rantisi and Yassin. Distinictions between " political " and "military" wings of terror groups are a specious political fiction - by that logic Osama bin Laden heads al Qaida's " political wing ". Israel may however still have active and binding agreements with the PA that may still be in force ( I haven't had time to retrace all the minutia of the second intifada - I vaguely recall Arafat saying " this is war " but I'm not sure what formal steps each side has taken ) which need to be terminated prior to taking any action against Arafat.
The best long-term strategy for the War on Terror is much like Great Britain's treatment of slave traders and pirates in the 18th and 19th century- characters like bin Laden, Arafat, Yassin, Mullah Omar and the like who target civilians, do not bear arms openly or follow the other rules of war should simply be attacked on sight and given swift military justice if captured - no Guantanamos and culturally appropriate meals but firing squads. Of course, if such tactics caused these various terror groups to sue for peace a la Gaddafi or follow the rules of war in subsequent attacks then they could be treated as lawful opponents with combatant rights under Geneva. We should not make it impossible for our enemies to rejoin the ranks of civilized mankind.
Israel killing Arafat could engender a tremendous crisis but it would also be a step toward the crushing of terrorism as a de facto legitimate vehicle of international relations ( Given the status of Arafat in the eyes of Europe it's hard to argue that his tactics of suicide-bombings are not indulged and winked at by our allies as at least tolerable behavior). In any event I think it is an even we may soon see come to pass.