Terrorist Raid Is Unlikely To Boost Israeli Hard-Liners

Violence may be too commonplace to influence election

SATURDAY'S raid by Palestinian gunmen on an Israeli tourist beach, just three weeks before general elections, might have been expected to focus the electorate's mind on security issues and boost the chances of the hard-line Likud government.

Especially when Yosef Shirazi, killed by one of the attackers, became the third Israeli civilian to die in one week of unusually heavy Palestinian violence.

But politicians on both sides of the electoral divide, and independent observers, believe that last week's events will have little effect on the outcome of the vote June 23.

The impact is likely to be short-lived in a country where, as Zeev Chafets, a columnist for the Jerusalem Report magazine, puts it, "this kind of thing happens all the time."

For those Israeli voters looking to the opposition Labor Party for a quick settlement with the Palestinians "these things just reinforce the need for a solution," says Hebrew University political science professor Peter Medding. "For others, they are evidence of the need for more intensive security measures."

Shirazi was killed when two Palestinian commandos swam ashore at the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat early on Saturday morning, carrying Kalashnikov machine guns, grenades, and an anti-tank missile launcher.

One was killed and the other wounded by Israeli security forces. Two other Palestinians are believed to have drowned on their eight-mile swim from Jordan.

The attack followed Wednesday's knifing of Rabbi Shimon Biran, a settler in the Gaza Strip, who died of wounds inflicted by a Muslim fundamentalist activist belonging to the Hamas movement.

Another Hamas militant from Gaza had stabbed 15-year-old Helena Rapp to death three days earlier, while she was on her way to school in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam.

That assault triggered five nights of violent protests by Bat Yam residents, organized by the extreme right wing Kach movement, followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who smashed shop windows, burned cars, and attacked the police, shouting "death to the Arabs."

The deaths of Rapp and Biran prompted the government to seal the Gaza Strip, preventing residents from entering Israel. Tens of thousands of Gazans have been unable to get to their jobs in Israel for the past week.

But the Likud, whose campaign platform rests heavily on the party's reputation of toughness toward the Palestinians and Arabs in general, has not been quick to capitalize on the events.

"I hope neither party will make use [of the attacks] for their campaigns," said Likud spokesman Yossi Ahimeir yesterday. "Such tragic events can happen, and we have to be united" against them, he added.

HAT attitude could reflect the government's concern that repeated breaches of security play not so much to its own message as to the Labor Party's criticism of the Likud's performance.

"It does not help the Likud that it is the party in power," Mr. Chafets points out. "To capitalize on these sorts of events, a right-wing party needs to be able to say, `Vote for me and this won't happen again.' The Likud is not is a position to say that."

"If people are fed up with these incidents, being fed up is the opposition's slogan," adds Rafi Smith, of the Hannoch Smith opinion polling institute. "It could be that this will be bad for the Likud."

Possible beneficiaries of growing popular concern for security issues, however, include the small extreme right-wing parties, such as Moledet, which advocates transferring all Palestinians out of the occupied territories.

Past experience, however, suggests that "a stabbing has a small effect for a short while benefiting the extreme right, but it dissolves quite quickly," Mr. Smith says.

As far as the major parties are concerned, says Dan Pattir, head of the Kirkpatrick Institute for Public Policy at Tel Aviv University, "no one has a clear idea of who this benefits. But I doubt that it will change voting patterns across the board."

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