Rantisi Killing Won't Stop Hamas Terror, Analysts Say

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel's targeted killing of another Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip has thrown the group into confusion and may buy Israel some quiet time - but it will not put an end to terror attacks, analysts here said on Monday.

Dr. Abdel-Aziz Rantisi, 56, his son Muhammed, 27, and bodyguard Ikram Nassar, 35, were killed in an Israeli missile strike on Rantissi's car on Saturday night.

Rantisi took control of Hamas in the Gaza Strip less than a month ago after co-founder and spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin was also killed in an Israeli helicopter missile strike.

Israel accused Rantisi of promoting terrorism and opposing any kind of agreement with Israel. Rantisi, an Egyptian-educated pediatrician and outspoken Hamas official, repeatedly called for the continuation of suicide bombings against Israeli targets.

Before the war in Iraq, Rantisi was one of the first to call on Iraqis to raise an army of suicide bombers to explode themselves as American troops entered Iraq.

An estimated 200,000 Palestinians marched in the funeral procession in Gaza on Sunday calling for revenge. Hamas threatened "100 unique reprisals" and a "volcano of revenge."

Four Hamas-made Kassam rockets slammed into Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip overnight, injuring one Israeli, the army said. Another rocket landed at the Erez crossing point and a sixth inside Israel.

Some analysts here said that it was not clear if Hamas still maintained the capability to carry out attacks since it had not yet made good on its threats to perpetrate a mega-attack in revenge for the killing of Yassin. But others were more cautious.

The reason that there have not been more terror attacks during the last few weeks was due to the efficiency of the Israeli army and not because Hamas did not attempt to carry out attacks, said Reserve Col. Shalom Harari, who is a former advisor to the Ministry of Defense on Palestinian affairs.

"It's not true that [Hamas] didn't do anything," Harari said. "Some operations you heard about and others you will hear about in the [coming] days."

There was the attempted infiltration into the Gaza Strip settlement of Netzarim last week, a suicide bombing over the weekend, and an attempted suicide bombing by a teenager.

"At the end of the day, somewhere, somehow they will succeed," he said.

Dr. Anat Kurz, senior research fellow at the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, said the targeted killing of Rantisi will have "mixed effects."

"The fact that the organization hasn't managed to carry out promised mega attacks in revenge doesn't mean it won't happen. When it does it will be under the banner of revenge," Kurz said in a telephone interview.

It is complicated for Hamas to organize attacks in the near future because of lack of prominent leaders, confusion, having to go underground and they are under massive military pressure, Kurz said.

At the same time, killing Yassin and Rantisi will make it easier for the Iranians to intensify their involvement through the transfer of money and by exerting influence on the leadership of Hamas in Damascus, she added.

Although Rantisi was the Hamas leader in Gaza, Damascus-based Khaled Mashaal became the group's overall leader when Yassin was killed. Mashaal himself survived an Israeli assassination attempt several years ago.

According to reports, Mashaal met with Iranian-backed Hizballah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah and agreed to work together to escalate the fight against Israel. Mashaal has also asked for money from Iran.

Kurz believes that killing Rantisi will make it harder for Hamas to come to a ceasefire agreement in the Gaza Strip or to bring about any calm because anyone who would try to do so at this point would appear to be working with Israel or the Americans.

"In political terms, strategic terms, I'm not sure it's going to be much [help]," she said.

According to Harari, the war against Hamas is not like the wars Israel fought against foreign armies in 1956, 1967 and 1973. "The fight on terror is trial and error," he said.

Sometimes the security forces find out they made a mistake in retrospect and other times they discover that some small move has great results, he said.

He likened the war against Hamas to the Greek mythological character Sisyphus, who was condemned to roll a giant bolder up a hill in Hades only to have it roll back down the hill when he had almost reached the top or like pulling weeds out of the garden that always return.

Hamas has taken a blow, he said, and needs time to regroup but 30 percent of Palestinians belong to either Hamas or Islamic Jihad and its not likely that they will suddenly turn away from the groups.

Nevertheless, he added, the killing of Rantisi may buy Israel some time.

The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, blamed the U.S. for encouraging Israel to kill Rantisi.

"The Palestinian Authority cabinet considers this terrorist Israeli campaign a direct result of American encouragement and the complete bias of the American administration toward the Israeli government," PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said.

President Bush backed Israel's right to defend itself and fight against terrorism in a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sharon's plan to evacuate troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip.

The White House issued a statement saying that, "Israel has the right to defend itself from terrorist attacks. Hamas is a terrorist organization that attacks civilians." The Bush administration said it was not told beforehand about the attack on Rantisi.

The White House statement also expressed U.S. concern for "regional peace and stability" and urged Israel "to consider carefully the consequences of its actions" and urged all parties to "exercise maximum restraint."

U.S. Senator John Kerry, the likely Democratic presidential contender, also backed Israel's actions, saying Israel had "every right" to respond to terror attacks.

Calling Hamas "a terrorist, brutal organization," Kerry told NBC'S "Meet the Press" that the organization has had "years to make up its mind to take part in a peaceful process. They refuse to...and I support Israel's efforts to try to separate itself and to try to be secure."

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