Saturday, April 17, 2004

No surprise that Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi has become the latest victim of Israel's judge, jury and executioner policy of assassinating its opponents. Israel had vowed to try to kill the entire Hamas leadership and the firebrand Rantissi was their number one target after he became head of Hamas in Gaza.

Israel sees the absence of any significant retaliation for the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin as proof that it has seriously weakened Hamas.

The organisation now faces a power vacuum. Four of the founders of Hamas in 1987 -- Yassin, Rantissi, Ibrahim Makadmeh and Salah Shehadeh -- are all dead.

Emboldened by the free hand given by George Bush earlier this week, Israel will now seek to crush Hamas completely. I expect three remaining senior Hamas officials in Gaza -- Ismail Haniyeh, Said Siam, and Mahmoud Zahar -- to be next in Israel's crosshairs. Two have already escaped assassination attempts.

For its part, Hamas's exiled leadership (which is considered more radical) will play an increasingly central role, with the balance of power shifting further towards figures like Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas's political bureau. Israel's assassination policy means that Hamas's armed wing will now have to be directed not from Gaza but from a leadership in Beirut and Damascus.



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