Prague, 7 October 1997(RFE/RL) -- The self-contradictory task of defending state-backed assassination as a tactic for combating institutionalized terrorism -- as Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu attempted to do yesterday -- conjures up a wave of Western press commentary.
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: It's enough to make Machiavelli blush
The paper looks at Israel's continuing intelligence controversy and editorializes succinctly: "It's enough to make Machiavelli blush." The writer continues: "Israel's intelligence service, spurred on by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attempts to assassinate a Hamas official in Jordan. The attempt fails, and in its aftermath Mr. Netanyahu is forced to take steps that strengthen Hamas, the radical Islamist group behind suicide bombings in Israel; weaken his putative peace partner, Yasser Arafat; and threaten his own political survival." The editorial adds: "Meanwhile, Netanyahu faces a storm of criticism from his own press and public for the ill-advised operation in Jordan."
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Israel's penance for the diplomatic fiasco
An analysis calls the incident "one of the most embarrassing episodes in the history of Israeli espionage." The analysis, by Barbara Demick, goes on: "As part of the deal that brought Yassin home, brokered by Jordan's King Hussein, an additional 20 Palestinian and Jordanian prisoners were let out of Israeli jails Monday. Up to 50 more were expected to be released in the next two weeks. The prisoner releases are effectively Israel's penance for the diplomatic fiasco of the assassination attempt, which infuriated King Hussein, Israel's closest ally in the Middle East, as well as the Canadian government"
NEW YORK TIMES: Israel has damaged its own interests
The editorial expresses the opinion that Israel is paying a just price for what was both folly and fault. The editorial says: "Israel has damaged its own interests with a bungled assassination attempt against a Hamas leader in Amman, Jordan. Even if the two agents of its Mossad intelligence service had succeeded in killing Khaled Meshal with an injection of poison, Israel would have compromised its relations with three important friends - Jordan, Canada and the United States - for no obvious security gains. Israel's fury and frustration over terrorist bombings are understandable, but trying to assassinate Palestinian leaders in revenge is not the answer. The costs of the assassination attempt are mounting by the day."
The paper concludes: "These consequences ought to persuade the Netanyahu government to end Israel's use of assassination to deal with its enemies abroad. Netanyahu must accept full responsibility for the Amman fiasco. But the policy long predates his rule. Leaders of a new and weak Israel felt justified in defending their country by whatever means they had available. A militarily formidable Israel that rightly demands acceptance from its neighbors should set aside state-sponsored assassination as a foreign-policy tool."
SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Netanyahu appears to have got off lightly
Writing today from Munich commentator Josef Joffe takes a pragmatic stance. Netanyahu evidently will succeed in shifting blame to his Mossad director, Dani Yatom. Joffe writes: "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have got off lightly from the failed attempt in Amman to kill Khaled
Meshal, thought to be the organizer of acts of Hamas terror." Joffe says: "Netanyahu can take even greater comfort from the suicidal loyalty of his secret service chief Dani Yatom who accepted responsibility for the fiasco"
The German commentator adds: "Yatom will not survive this mistake, the worst in the history of the legendary Mossad. The price has been high: Israel has had to apologize to Canada, where the passports used by the agents originated. It has had to allow exiled Hamas Sheikh Ahmed Yassin to return to Gaza and to free another 21 Hamas prisoners. The sacrifice of Dani Yatom however indicates that Netanyahu's position is stronger than generally thought."