NOTE: Israelis, I’m seeking the uncensored version of this Channel 10 newscast, which contains Ronen Bergman’s report on this killing. The military censor has removed the portion of the newscast containing Ronen’s story.
Earlier today, a drone engineer named Mohammed al-Zoari was assassinated in Tunisia by a Mossad Kidon hit squad. Al-Zoari reputedly led drone operations for Hamas. Though news reports said that he’d arrived from Lebanon to visit family in Tunisia, where he was born. A local journalist reported on his Facebook page that the Mossad is widely blamed for the killing. At least three killers were directly involved, who used false passports to enter the country. It’s also been reported that the Tunisian director of national intelligence has been sacked from his position.
המוסד התנקש בחייו של מוחמד זווארי בטוניס. היה מעורב בפיתוח מל"טים מתקדמים לחמאס. העצורים לא קשורים לפרשה
— Ronen Bergman (@ronenbergman) December 16, 2016
Ronen Bergman, reporting for Yediot Achronot and Channel 10 TV, credits Mossad with the killing. He says that Prime Minister Netanyahu was briefed about the assassination while he was still visiting Kazakhstan up to the point that the killers made their escape from Tunisia.
I queried an Israeli journalist who reports on intelligence matters and he told me that he has reported on the story but that’s he’s been severely restricted by the military censor regarding what he can say. This is further indication of Israeli involvement. An inquiry to an Israeli security source brought the half-joking response that I should “ask Assaf Yariv” about the case. That’s an in-joke among spooks, who would know that Yariv was lent by the Shabak to the Mossad to coördinate operations between the two agencies. Since Shabak is responsible for operations against Palestinian militants in the West Bank and Gaza, it would’ve been instrumental in tracking al-Zoari’s activity there. But since he was murdered abroad, the Mossad would be responsible for the hit. Hence the cross-agency coördination required and the role of someone like Yariv.
The Mossad ought to be careful because Tunisia is liable to have the same CCTV systems that Dubai did, which permitted it to track the 27 Mossad Kidon agents implicated in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabouh. That operation didn’t end well for Israel, as its exposure cost several Mossad station chiefs their jobs once it was known which countries the Mossad stole passports from as part of the killing.
I’ve reported here on drone operations by both Hamas and Hezbollah. A Hamas drone infiltrated Israel and reached within a few miles of the Dimona nuclear site. It’s also thought that Hezbollah hacked the navigation systems of Israeli drones leading them either to crash or to be deliberately aborted in flight by their Israeli military operators.
But murdering a drone engineer? Why? No drone has threatened Israel in any serious way. What could this man possibly have been doing that warranted his elimination? Something smells awfully fishy about this one.
Another possibility is that he was also involved in Hezbollah drone operations, or that he’d traveled to Lebanon to offer his services to the Islamist group. That might put him on Mossad’s radar. Hezbollah’s technical expertise would be more advanced than Hamas’ due to collaboration with Iranian flight engineers.
My guess, which is only speculation at this point, was that Bibi needed a diversion from the constant drumbeat of scandal and bad news that’s come his way lately. The police and state prosecutor are in the midst of several investigations of corruption charges related to him and his wife, Sara. Dead Arabs always give Israeli pols a popularity boost. In the past, Bibi has used invasions of Gaza to this effect. For some reason, he’s not prepared to go that route this time. But killing a Hamasnik in a nice clean kill? That’s worth a few days of good publicity in the media.
But one should also recall the disastrous assassination attempt on Khaled Meshal which was conducted during his first term as PM. That ended badly when Jordanians captured the two murderers and they were transferred to Jordanian custody. That forced Israel to offer an antidote to the poison injected in Meshal, which saved his life. Israel has learned from that episode not to let their victims die a slow death, but to finish them off quickly (as they did with al-Mabouh).
This would be Yossi Cohen’s second known assassination since he assumed the reins of the Mossad. Certainly a feather in his cap as well. But as with the murder of Omer Nayef Zaed in Bulgaria, an operative who’d long since ceased any connection to militant operations, one wonders what was gained in the current attack.