It has been a bloody week here in Israel, a dizzying week, a nauseating week, if you will.
Two days after the Aqaba Summit, Hamas executed a terrorist attack at the Erez Junction at the northern border of the Gaza strip. Israel had decided as a gesture of good will toward the Palestinians to release 100 security prisoners and to open the border so that several thousand Palestinians could enter Israel for employment.
Those coming for employment from Gaza had to pass through the Erez Junction. The three terrorists disguised themselves as workers and stood in line to cross the border. From the workers’ line they climbed over the fence to the other side. From there they entered into a cement plant area where they changed into Israeli army uniforms. They then made their way to the army outpost and managed to kill four soldiers before being killed themselves.
That scenario raised several problems. First, the gesture of allowing the workers to pass into Israel was exploited by the terrorists and used to launch the attack. Second, it was apparent that there were collaborators among the workers to help them obtain and hide the army uniforms. Obviously those are factors that would cause Israel not to want to lift the closures, even if the vast majority of the workers were innocent. Finally, it highlighted the problem that while the Israeli government was trying to make peace arrangements with one sector of the Palestinian Authority, the other groups planned to go on with the terror, while the Palestinian Authority could do nothing to stop them.
Two days after that Israel responded by an attempted targeted killing of Abed el Rentisi, the head of the “armed” wing (terrorism) of Hamas. The attempt failed, leaving Rentisi lightly wounded, yet alive. Not only alive, but a hero. The streets of Gaza went into a rage.
Was this attempt to kill Rentisi a mistake? On the one hand, he himself personally is probably responsible for more terrorist attacks than anyone alive today. He has initiated public incitement for terrorism perhaps more than anyone else as well. Morally, he certainly is a criminal worthy of the death penalty in my eyes.
But there is a difference between morality and strategy. Sharon and his cabinet members claimed that their policy has always been that they would continue to take responsibility for fighting terrorist attacks, and Bush and Abu Mazen were well aware of this. Again, morally there can be no fault with that.
On the other hand, the Aqaba agreement was with Abu Mazen, not with Hamas. Hamas is seen as the equivalent of an “opposition party” among the Palestinians. Abu Mazen was asking for time to swing the people toward him and bring Hamas under control. The attack certainly undercut Abu Mazen’s chances of gaining authority and control in the territories. Why make an agreement with Abu Mazen and then undercut his chances of succeeding?
In the background there were two political events that preceded these attacks. Mazen made his first set of speeches right after the Aqaba Summit. He firmly denounced terror, continued his endorsement of the Road Map, and called for Hamas to submit to the Authority. Rentisi refused and announced his intention of continuing the attacks on Israel. On the other hand, the Hamas leadership was split and a percentage of them, perhaps even a majority, was willing to go along with Abu Mazen for a trial period to give the negotiations a chance.
The second event was the Likud Central committee assembly (Sharon’s party). There Sharon was met with boos and screaming by the right wing extremists in his party. Sharon handled it well, kept his cool, and continued in his support of the Aqaba Summit plan. Most of his cabinet members and most of his party members stood with him. However the event was still an embarrassment to some degree.
Then came the Erez attack, then the attempt on Rentisi, and everything began to come apart at the seams.
Another aspect of the question as to whether the attack on Rentisi was wise is the factor that it failed. Had it succeeded, perhaps the positive result might have overcome the initial wave of anger in response. But it didn’t succeed. Why? Some military commentators stated that the Israeli policy of waiting for Rentisi’s car to get out of a more populated street, and only to fire one missile at first from the helicopter is what allowed for him to escape. In other words, the Israeli Army’s attempt to prevent innocent civilians from being injured backfired. But that was only one angle of interpretation.
For those of us who are believers in God and in the power of prayer, we also have to struggle with two other options. One is that it failed because it wasn’t the will of God in the first place and therefore was not blessed. The other option is that it was the will of God, but that we as the believing community did not pray enough. In all of these three interpretations, we can certainly be encouraged to pray more.
Then followed yesterday the big terrorist attack in Jerusalem: over 70 were injured, 17 have already died, and there are a few more in critical condition. This attack was covered widely in the international press, so I want only to point out a couple of side factors.
First, the terrorist came in disguised as a black coated, ultra orthodox Jew. This creates a security problem in that all the ultra orthodox are dressed alike. With tens of thousands of orthodox walking around the streets of Jerusalem at all times, identifying a potential terrorist in orthodox garb is virtually impossible. In addition, the oversized black coats are so roomy; they can easily cover up a large quantity of explosives strapped to the terrorist’s body underneath.
Second, several Israeli analysts claimed that the amount of time that it takes for Hamas to get organized to execute a terrorist attack of this level is more than the time that there was between the attempt on Rentisi’s life and the blast on the Jerusalem bus. In other words, the idea that the terrorist attack came as retribution for the attempt on Rentisi’s life is false. This attack was planned previously as part of the overall terrorism against Israel, or perhaps specifically against the peace negotiations.
Israel then responded quickly with its own retribution, this time indeed killing Yaaser Taav, another one of the top ranked Hamas terrorist leaders. The problem this time was that Taav’s wife and two children were in the car with him and were killed as well, producing another failure. Seven were killed in all and some thirty wounded. Israeli Army policy is that the targeted killing should not be attempted when the wife, children or other innocents are in the car with the terrorist. Immediate interpretations on the Israeli side were that this might have been an “intelligence” error, not correctly reporting the passengers in the car, perhaps because of the hasty and urgent nature of the attack.
At this point rhetoric on all sides is growing worse. The situation seems to be without any light on the horizon. Yet I write these words only a few hours after that last attack.
May these details give you some material for thought as you go before the Lord in prayer. May God grant you wisdom, perseverance and faith as you continue to intercede for the peace of Jerusalem and the salvation of Israel.
Asher serves as president of Tikkun Global family of ministries and congregations, dedicated to the dual restoration of Israel and the Church. He is founder of the Revive Israel five-fold ministry team, and oversees both Ahavat Yeshua and Tiferet Yeshua congregations in Israel.
He and his wife Betty share a passion for personal prayer and devotion, local evangelism and discipleship in Hebrew, and unity of the Body of believers worldwide.
Asher was raised in a conservative Jewish home and holds degrees from Harvard University, Baltimore Hebrew College and Messiah Biblical Institute. He has authored numerous books, tracts and articles.