Several birds, one stone
Israel's assassination of a top Hamas official is clearly aimed at forcing the resistance group into a military response, writes Saleh Al-Naami
The ageing father of Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, who was assassinated in Dubai two weeks ago, did not believe that his son died of a heart attack. "They killed him," he repeatedly stated.
In the beginning, the rest of Al-Mabhouh's family and Hamas leaders believed that he had died as a result of a stroke, as stated in a preliminary report by the Dubai police. It soon became apparent, however, that the intuition of the father was correct.
One week after his death, it was revealed that Al-Mabhouh was killed by a highly trained assassination unit. According to information gathered by the Dubai police and Hamas, a group of seven broke into Al-Mabhouh's room at the Rotana Al-Bustan Hotel the day he arrived from Damascus where he resided with his family. Al-Mabhouh had entered the emirate using an alias and forged passport.
The group of seven injected the Hamas leader with a poison that mimics the symptoms of a heart attack, leading Dubai police to believe his death was caused by a stroke. When it was revealed that the victim was a leading member in Hamas, and given the repeated suspicions of his father that Mahmoud was assassinated by Israelis, the police sent samples of Al-Mabhouh's blood to a laboratory in France. After the results confirmed traces of poison, Hamas officially announced that the Israeli Mossad killed Al-Mabhouh.
While Tel Aviv remained silent about the assassination, soon Israeli cabinet members were strongly hinting that Israel was in fact behind the killing. State Minister Danny Hershkovitz asserted that the successful elimination demonstrates that Mossad Chief Meir Dagan is one of the most competent Mossad leaders in the history of Israel. "He is undoubtedly performing his job above and beyond expectations," stated Hershkovitz. "Personally, I believe the Mossad knows exactly how to stop Israel's enemies. Anyone who lays a hand on Jews is risking his life."
Meanwhile, Minister of Minorities Avishay Braverman proposed, "We should act according to the axiom 'kill before you are killed'." Al-Mabhouh was murdered on the same day that Israeli Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau was attending an international energy conference in Abu Dhabi.
A highly placed security source told the popular Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot on Sunday: "Al-Mabhouh's file in Israeli intelligence labels him as a clear and present threat to Israel's security." The newspaper claimed that Al-Mabhouh was responsible for fundraising for Hamas, as well as making arms deals and delivering them to Gaza. It further alleged that he was the right hand man to Ezzeddin Khalil, who was in charge of the movement's finances, and that they worked together to strengthen ties with Iran and Hizbullah officials in Lebanon and Turkey. They also reportedly tapped into rich Muslim circles around the world. Sheikh Khalil was assassinated in Damascus in 2004.
The Israelis are quick to point out Al-Mabhouh is one of the founders of the Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's military wing, and played a principal role in kidnapping two Israeli soldiers in 1989. When he was exposed, Al-Mabhouh fled from the Gaza Strip through the border with Egypt and settled in Damascus.
The assassination in Dubai is categorised by the Israeli Mossad as a "silent mission" -- meaning it leaves no evidence leading to Israel. The operation apparently was retaliation to Al-Mabhouh's resistance activities, and aims to serve a warning to Hamas military leaders who are holding captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. According to the Israeli logic, the mission was also a message that it can reach Shalit's kidnappers, and aims to demoralise resistance movements, sow doubt in their ranks, and undermine their capabilities.
The Zionist security apparatus appears also to have wanted to bring about a new political environment, since it expects Hamas to respond to the assassination with military action. Hamas's expected aggression would be employed by Israel to achieve two main goals. First, Israel would blame Hamas for the deteriorating security situation, improving Israel's standing in the international arena after it was dealt a severe blow by the release of the Goldstone Report accusing it of crimes against humanity. Second, it would give Tel Aviv a pretext to strike Hamas in Gaza, especially in light of Israeli claims that the movement acquired missiles that would change the strategic balance between the two sides.
Since the Mossad is directly under the authority of the Israeli prime minister, he is directly responsible for issuing orders for assassinations abroad. The Committee of Agency Leaders, whose members include the military chief of staff, the head of military intelligence in Amman, the chief of the Mossad, the head of domestic intelligence (Shin Bet), and the prime minister's military secretary, draws up the list of candidates to be assassinated.
Since the 1970s and until the failed attempt to kill the head of Hamas's politburo, Khaled Meshaal, in Amman in 1997, the Israeli military -- represented by Sayeret Matkal, which is directly accountable to military intelligence -- was in charge of killing Palestinians and Arabs in Europe. The attempt on Meshaal's life was a turning point in Israel's assassination policy because it was the first to be carried out by Mossad on Arab soil. The Kidon unit in the Mossad Special Operations Division -- known as Kissaria -- attempted to kill Meshaal and is most likely to have carried out Al-Mabhouh's assassination.
The question now is whether Tel Aviv will succeed in luring Hamas into another round of confrontations to serve Israeli interests. Judging by statements issued by many leading figures in Hamas, it appears that the group is very cautious in deciding how to react to the assassination. Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, member of Hamas's politburo, believes Al-Mabhouh's slaying indicates Israel's desire to "change the rules of the game". Al-Zahhar asserted his group's right to defend itself, but quickly added: "Reaction to the assassination must be weighed carefully." He also said that if the group decides to respond, retaliation would take place inside Palestine, not abroad.
Al-Zahhar stated that in seeking retribution, Hamas would be cautious not to jeopardise its relationship with Arab and Muslim countries. "We limit our confrontation with the Israeli enemy to the occupied territories, but if Israel wants to change the ground rules and open up the world stage for the conflict, it will take sole responsibility for the repercussions," warned Al-Zahhar.
Despite the bravado, it is most probable that if Hamas decides to retaliate, this would indeed take place inside Palestine. According to most experts, the group does not have any military infrastructure overseas. Hamas has never targeted Israeli interests outside the borders of Palestine.
Hamas also knows that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is intent on sabotaging negotiations between Hamas and Israel regarding the exchange of prisoners. On the one hand, Netanyahu rejects Hamas's demands for the release of detainees. At the same time he is under immense pressure by Israeli public opinion and some security and political circles to close a deal. Hence, the assassination of Al-Mabhouh is an attempt to push Hamas to a more extreme position, in order to blame it for failed negotiations.
The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2010/984/re63.htm