Israelis often lose their sense of proportion. The military operation in the Jericho prison that led to the capture of the assassins of minister Rehavam "Gandhi" Ze'evi was a relatively simple one. To compare it to the hostage-rescue operation in Entebbe (July 1978) is pure hogwash and betrays abysmal ignorance of Israel's military history.
Four years ago, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon instructed Israel's security branches to devise plans to apprehend the six men responsible for the assassination, or, in the absence of any alternative, to eliminate them. Sharon gave these orders after he agreed in 2002 to allow these murderers and their commanders to be transferred from their place of asylum under Yasser Arafat's protection in the Mukata in Ramallah, to the custody of British and American guards in Jericho.
Since then, Sharon kept constant track of the situation in the Jericho jail, instructing the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the IDF to present him with ideas and plans on how to apprehend or eliminate the wanted men should the conditions of their imprisonment be violated or if they should escape. Sharon ordered that the jail and its inmates be placed under the constant surveillance of Israeli intelligence.
Consequently, there is no reason for all the amazement and adulation expressed at the Jericho operation. The army had plenty of time to prepare for it. Secondly, the IDF units already had experience in placing a similar building under siege - Yasser Arafat's Mukata, which had been encircled by tanks and bulldozers in the siege that went on from late March 2002 until Arafat's demise.
In other words, the apprehension of Gandhi's assassins is a direct dividend of Sharon's policy and the decisions he made as prime minister. Just as the elimination of the Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in March 2004 and his successor Dr Abdul Aziz al-Rantisi abouta month later was the direct outcome of Sharon's decisions, the same goes for the arrest of Gandhi's assassins.
For from my knowledge of Sharon, if he were still functioning as prime minister, he would let those criminals escape from jail in order to have the opportunity to eliminate them. After all, that is what Mahmoud Abbas repeatedly cautioned against, as did the British and American representatives - that if the Jericho agreement were violated, "they will be eliminated."
I say this because Sharon was all too familiar with the high-minded lawyers in Israel and outside it always looking for excuses to defend Palestinian terrorists. The justices of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem have done this all too often too - under the baton of Israel's legal dictator, the self-appointed saint, Supreme Court President Aharon Barak.
Sharon remembers these judges well from the days back in February 1983: They were responsible for causing him and the people of Israel a historic injustice when they deposed him from his position as defense minister using an Israeli legal invention and declared him to have "indirect responsibility" for the massacre of Palestinians by Lebanese Christians in Sabra and Shatilla. The court's decision was a politically motivated ruling intended to prevent defense minister Sharon from eventually succeeding Menachem Begin as prime minister.
But it didn't do Aharon Barak any good - Sharon became prime minister, one of the greatest prime ministers Israel has ever had, but thanks to Barak, this happened later than it should have, to Israel's detriment. And he, Sharon, with the support of his security cabinet of course, took direct responsibility for eliminating those responsible for the murder and massacre of Jews, in order to safeguard the honored judges sitting in their magnificent ivory tower in Jerusalem, along with the hundreds of legal clerks working in the offices of the Justice Ministry on Salah a-Din Street in Jerusalem.
IN SHARON'S eyes, anyone responsible for the murder of Jews is living on borrowed time. That was his hallowed principle in his war against terror and has been his heritage since 1953, for over 50 years. He formulated this principle when he carried out the reprisals ordered by prime minister and defense minister Ben-Gurion, when Moshe Dayan was chief of General Staff, and chief of operations in the General Staff was Lt.-Col. "Gandhi" Ze'evi.
I met Ze'evi and Lt.-Col. "Arik" Sharon in 1954. They were working together very closely at the time, with Sharon himself repeatedly leading his soldiers to battle, and Ze'evi coordinating the policy with the General Staff. Before Sharon set out on the reprisal mission in Kibiya, Gandhi bade him farewell in the Ben Shemen forest. Sharon handed him the operation orders, which he wrote after he received orders to go to Kibiya, directly from chief of General Staff Moshe Dayan, who also came to Ben-Shemen to wish him and the soldiers, the members of Unit 101 and 890th paratroopers' brigade, good luck on their mission. Ironically, Gandhi, who stopped afterwards for a bite to eat at Lod Airport, lost the operational orders - which were later returned to him by a waiter, after Sharon and his people had returned from Kibiya.
Over the years, even after Sharon and Gandhi had both been promoted to the rank of general, Ze'evi envied his colleague's brilliant record, and tried to trip him up on more than one occasion. But Sharon always forgave him and also helped him. When the Palestinians shot Gandhi in Jerusalem, Sharon rushed to the hospital, where he saw his friend lying there dying; and when he emerged from his room, there were tears in his eyes. "I will take care of the assassins," he said.
How ridiculous it is to hear the legal experts arguing publicly among themselves about how and where the criminals should be tried. If we have to depend on lawyers like these, there will be no one left capable of defending the Jews in the State of Israel for many years to come.