Politicians? Reactions Mixed on Jericho Operation

Most politicians praised Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz Tuesday night for the successful raid to capture the six terrorists who murdered Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi. Some didn't.

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Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 23:18

The IDF’s Nahal Brigade and special anti-terror police forces captured the six killers who assassinated Ze’evi in October 2001 after a nine-hour siege at the Jericho prison where they were held. Three Arabs died in the battle and several others were injured. There were no Israeli casualties.

Acting Prime Minister and Kadima Party Chairman Ehud Olmert praised Mofaz for the successful operation which resulted in the capture of the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and mastermind of the assassination, Ahmed Sa’adat.

Five other terrorists from the group were jailed for life together with Sa’adat in the prison run by the Palestinian Authority under international supervision. All six surrendered to the IDF after sunset Tuesday evening.

“The security establishment has brought honor to Israel,” said Olmert, “and proved their reliability once again." Mofaz in turn praised IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin for the operation’s success.

Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz expressed his satisfaction with the operation as well, and said it had sent an important message to terrorists. “Murderers should pay the full price for their crime,” he said. The six were transferred to a prison in Israel and it is expected they will stand trial for the murder.

Likud Party Chairman and Knesset member Binyamin Netanyahu also had praise for the operation. “This is the right step,” he said, “which demonstrates that you should not reward terror or yield to it.”

Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, also on the Kadima list, praised Olmert for the move and asked that he convey his thanks to the soldiers who carried it out. He also said bluntly that “Hamas is responsible for the events in Jericho because it decided to breach the agreements on the subject of Ze’evi’s killers and release them”. The terrorist group now leads the Palestinian Authority.

Last week PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said he had “no problem” releasing Sa’adat but took no responsibility for his safety once he was freed.

The raid, dubbed “Operation Pay a Visit” was carried out after U.S. and British international observers abandoned their posts due to concerns for their safety, thus clearing the way for the PA to allow the terrorist mastermind to go free.

Not all political groups were supportive of the attack and its successful capture of Ze’evi’s assassins, however.

The Gush Shalom group said the operation was one big advertisement for the Kadima Party and called the operation an “aggressive provocation like a herd of elephants in a china shop, adding more fuel to the fire of conflict and hatred”.

Arab-Israeli Knesset member Azmi Bishara strongly condemned the IDF’s siege and said it was “like gang activity and a wanted-dead-or-alive style of operation”.

Former Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, however, defended the move and said he did not believe the decision to attack was politically motivated, but rather a defense conclusion. “What’s more serious is the fact that the British and Americans left, so there was no choice.” Ben Eliezer was Defense Minister when Ze’evi was murdered.

There were also a number of mixed messages, praising the decision but condemning the general direction of the government’s dealings with the PA.

“Capturing Ze’evi’s killers was necessary but it’s unfortunate to see the zigzagging government policy toward Hamas,” commented Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Yuval Steinitz, a Likud member.

Knesset member Zahava Gal-On, a candidate on the Meretz-Yachad party list, was negative on the decision to use military force rather than diplomacy with the PA. Although she acknowledged that Ze’evi’s killers are “disgusting murderers who should stay behind bars,” Gal-On said there was “the slight scent of elections” behind the operation.

And one politician said the operation simply didn’t go far enough.

“They should have bombed the prison and not risked soldiers’ lives with this operation,” said National Jewish Front leader Baruch Marzel. “Better to have a thousand dead foes than one dead soldier,” he said.