Why Did Mossad Execute Mohammed al-Zoari?
Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen, executed a Hamas flight engineer, Mohammed al-Zoari, in Tunisia several days ago. Almost from the moment he died, Tunisian journalists claimed the “hit” was carried out by Mossad. Yesterday, the government released an official statement confirming the claim of “foreign involvement,” which everyone knows refers to the agency’s assassination unit, Kidon.
The question is why? After days of trying to ascertain what in al Zoari’s work would’ve caused him to be such a danger to Israel I come up cold, with nothing. The best I can find is that he was moving his drone operations from Gaza to Tunisia because there would be more airspace unencumbered by Israeli surveillance, where he could test his drones.
On September 19th, Israel destroyed a drone off the Gaza coast. An Al Jazeera producer just told me there were reports in the past month of armed Palestinian drones. Perhaps this was one of al Zoari’s flight tests? Perhaps he was testing an armed drone? Who knows?
If the victim was working on armed drones, that wouldn’t be surprising. Israel has been assassinating Palestinian militants with them for years. One has to wonder if Israel can develop them, why can’t Arabs? Besides this, the Palestinian armed drone, if it exists, has never become operational. Never harmed a single Israeli. So al Zoari’s real threat to Israel was minimal, if at all.
Al Zoari’s brother allegedly told Al Jazeera that the murdered man was working on underwater drones at the time of his death. How an aeronautics specialist could switch to designing underwater drones is beyond me. The principles of propulsion and virtually everything else would appear entirely different (though I’m no expert in the subject). And again, even if this claim is true, there’s been no claim that Hamas has such weaponry or is capable of using it in an operational way.
At least in one way, Kidon has learned a lesson from the al-Mabouh catastrophe. It disabled CCTV monitoring at the crime scene so that the killers and the killing would not be recorded (though this claim has been disputed by Tunisian authorities). Presumably, they did this is other parts of the country where the killers might’ve been monitored. Meaning, this operation involved a vast amount of technical coördination and penetrating virtually the entire CCTV system in Tunisia (or at least the parts of it where the killers traveled). So in effect, al-Zoari was murdered so Mossad could test its operational prowess. A disgusting thought.
In the old days, nuclear-armed states used to carry out atomic tests on the ground or in the air. But now, with advanced engineering simulation techniques, they don’t have to do this. They can test weaponry in the lab. Unfortunately for al Zoari, the Mossad still operates the old-fashioned way. It has to murder poor shlubs like al-Zoari just to prove it can still do it.
Tunisia has also revealed a critical sub-plot to the main murder: the Mossad created a fake documentary film production which it claimed was associated with an Arab media company. Last June, it hired a Hungarian woman, brought her to Vienna, where she met her Mossad contact whose “cover” was a “news producer.” He tasked her to arrange to interview al Zoari for which she’d be paid 100 Euros per day. She did so and gave the film to her Mossad/news producer contact. He paid her 2,000 Euros for successfully completing her “mission.” Several months later, she was tasked to return to Tunisia, rent two cars and leave them in a specific location along with the keys in the car. She did so and left the country just before the killing (about which she knew nothing).
Two Tunisians living in Sweden also were recruited to the plot in a similar fashion and tasked with buying cell phones and SIM cards, and buying two additional cars and a house for the operation in Sfax, the town where al Zoari lived. They too seem innocent of anything worse than being props in the overall plot.
How in God’s name does Austria permit the Mossad to operate on its territory and plan international murder plots there?
Interestingly, at least one of the suspects Tunisian police have arrested for complicity in the plot is a leading member of Tunisia’s Jewish community. I don’t know if there is credible evidence against him or this is an attempt to prove that Tunisian Jews have colluded with the Israeli spy agency. It reeks of past blood libels perpetrated by Arab states against their Jewish citizens. But there is the distinct possibility that Mossad would commit such an atrocious act if it advanced their interests in killing al Zoari. Time will tell which is correct.
Here is my “take” on this latest murder: the last assassination carried out under Cohen’s watch was the murder of Omar Naef Zayed in Bulgaria earlier this year. In that case, a former militant who’d last engaged in an act of terror in the 1980s was murdered inside the Palestinian embassy in Sofia by Mossad killers. No one in the Mossad or Israeli government ever made any claim that this victim was an active terrorist.
I believe the hit involved a settling of scores of sorts between Cohen and Zayed. The latter escaped from Israel and made his way to Sofia, where he married and ran a small grocery store. Cohen was irked that this small fry got away from Israeli justice under his watch (he was a European theater chief for Mossad at the time of his escape). So his first goal on assuming the post of Mossad chief was to kill the one that got away.
Cohen’s second hit was an equally small fry, al Zoari. A man who, if he was a threat to Israel, was a marginal one at best. This raises the question: why would Mossad risk its reputation on killing people who pose a low-level threat? Hubris is at work here. The same sort of hubris which led Meir Dagan to approve the assassination of Mahmoud al Mabouh.
True, the Tunisian killing appears to have gone off, from Mossad’s point of view, without a hitch. But such success will encourage Cohen to take further chances. Eventually, his pride will lead him to make a terrible mistake (not that killing these men wasn’t such a mistake), because it will expose the seamy side of Israeli skullduggery to the world.
While I have great respect for Ronen Bergman, Yediot’s intelligence correspondent, I disagree with his assessment–that in order for this killing to be justified the target must have serious “value” for the Mossad. That is, he must be a genuine danger to Israel. In my personal estimation, he wasn’t.
But I do agree with this portion of his assessment:
There is also a symbolic value [in the assassination]: the Mossad conducts many operations. In contrast to the image it’s earned, it’s not an agency whose main purpose is to kill people. Nevertheless, there is nothing like such operations, if the Mossad was indeed responsible for it, to strengthen such a fearsome image.
In not a few instances, no less important than neutralizing the actual target is the message conveyed: that the enemies of Israel, whoever they may be–we will find and kill them. Over the course of time, these missions created a myth surrounding the Mossad: that of its “long outstretched arm,” and the reputation of an aggressive organization, lacking any mercy. Not bad for a spy agency whose mission is to deterrence [i.e. murder] no less than prevention.
With all my respect for him, only an Israeli or operative for a foreign spy agency could’ve written such a passage. The rest of us find such thinking not only invidious, but unbelievably cynical. The notion that killing a man not for what he personally and directly represents, but for what his murder means for your nation’s reputation, is heinous.
I have no doubt that Bergman is correct. After all, he’s proven he understands his intelligence sources quite well. In this, he is only conveying their thinking, which is what a good reporter does.
But the thought itself is depressing. It reminds me of this passage Josh Marshall wrote regarding a different historical context. He argued that recent scholarship about the origins of World War I found that Germany indeed wanted and provoked the war, at least in part because it felt that its Austro-Hungarian ally was gradually disintegrating into ethnic factionalism and strife. The Germans struck in 1914 because they felt time was running out and if they were to achieve their goals through war, they must do it quickly.
Marshall added this closing thought, which immediately brought Israel to mind (though of course as a liberal Zionist, that would be farthest from his mind):
The one lesson that shines through most vividly from these events a century ago is the immense danger caused when one power believes it is running out of time to secure the advantages it believes it can secure only or most easily through war…This pessimism, this need to provoke or escalate crises, is the root of all sorts of mischief. It is the best prism through which to understand the increasingly unstable moment we are now living through. Which countries if any want a general war? Which countries, if any, believe they can gain from one and at what cost? And how do we collectively prevent any major power from believing its interests can best be secured or only be secured by war?
What is the collective killing regime of the Mossad if not an expression of this nihilist philosophy? That Israel is running out of time due to the increasing power of its enemies. In order to deter them from achieving their interests, Israel must strike now and strike aggressively regardless of the long-term consequences.
Israel has proven time and again that it wants war, it incites war. War is a tool of state policy. It achieves the country’s goals of maintaining regional hegemony against all comers. The Mossad is a critical part of this war-making machine as it projects destructive Israeli power outside its territorial boundaries.
With the new posse coming to town in Washington, I fear that Israel will persuade Trump, Friedman & Co. that a “general war” in the Middle East against Iran or Hezbollah or any number of Islamist targets will advance U.S. interests as well. It would be a fool’s errand. But this election has taught many of us that there is nothing gained by underestimating Donald Trump’s capacity for knavery.
13 thoughts on “Why Did Mossad Execute Mohammed al-Zoari? – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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One point you don’t mention is that the security minister resigned 5 hours after the killing. It is quiet very fast before the government can come to some conclusion to what really happened. So it is clear that this is a cover up for a police “blunder”. This guy was known not to be liked by the authorities. But they don’t want a remake of the Tunisian “arab spring”. So what better that to say it was foreign intervention. It is why you will not see any webcam of the scene. I am not a fan of Israel action when it contradict the law. But in this case as you pointed out there was no real interest to spend millions (as mossad operation cost) for this guy.
Why couldn’t they have just killed him with a little drone? A drone strike would be so much simpler than setting up false, Viennese film production companies, and hiring Hungarian and Tunisian ‘cut outs’ to rent cell phones and cars, etc.
And the poetic justice to use a drone.
@ Neil: Making light of the murder of a human being, even one you detest, is disgusting & not permitted according to the comment rules.
“In that case, a former militant who’d last engaged in an act of terror…”
The act of terror that you chose not to mention involved three young Arabs setting on an innocent yeshiva student named Eliyahu Amedi, and stabbing him to death in the street.
@ Neil: I wrote an article which is linked in the post in which I covered the terror attack in excruciating detail. Before commenting here read EVERY link in EVERY post you intend to comment on. DOn’t waste our time with stupidity, which will only show how poorly prepared you are to comment intelligently.
Richard, please be careful! Who will write up and post this kind of article after the Mossad gets to you???
@ Jackqueline: I can’t tell if you’re a concern troll or genuinely concerned for my safety. I’m betting you’re the former. If so, thanks for your concern…[dripping sarcasm]
I don’t read Hebrew so I don’t know what’s written in the Ynet article but that “Hungarian” woman is a Tunisian woman living in Austria according to Tunisian media, she was arrested and explained how she was recruited by a Hungarian company, there was another person involved in the ‘fake’ documentary who left the country with the excuse of some urgent meeting in Budapest.
I’ve seen no mention of a member of the Jewish community in Tunisia arrested in the Tunisian media, but there’re many articles on the Israeli journalist from Channel 10, Vardi, who entered the country on a German passpost claiming to be a writer. People are very upset about an Israeli journalist showing the bullets on the wall of the Zouari-house, and by the fact that he apparently showed up at the house just after the funeral (in the images we can see him changing micro whenever he’s speaking to a Tunisian, that is without the logo in Hebrew).
Whoever killed Zouari, the chutzpah of the Israeli journalist is going to be very damaging for the thousands of Israeli Jews (and maybe French Jews too) of Tunisian origin who come to Tunisia every year on pilgrimage to Djerba.
The Tunisia of today is no longer the Tunisia of Ben Ali, where people could enter Tunisia on an Israeli passport (last year Israelis were refused entry to Tunis on a around-the-Mediterranean cruise and had to stay on the boat while everyone else visited Tunis).
Demonstrations in Sfax and Tunis: http://www.huffpostmaghreb.com/2016/12/20/manifestation-assassinat-_n_13744542.html
And I just read that Monday night the German ambassador to Tunisia was called for a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Tunisians want to know about the Israeli journalist and his German passport.
“there’s been no claim that Hamas has such weaponry or is capable of using it in an operational way” – you try to explain the assassination (if it is indeed an assassination) as an act of punishment and then say it does not make any sense when in fact, if anything, it is an act of prevention.
It makes little sense to kill a terrorist after the damage is done, either by hurting innocent people or creating blue prints for aerial or underwater drones. After the attack is over, it is the court duty to decide on the punishment. But when the damage is about to happen and there is danger in the future, an assassination may be a moral course of action. Just like Obama authorized the killing of Bin Laden who still possessed a treat to many people around the globe.
@ Akiva: The murder hasn’t prevented anything. Since neither you nor I have any knowledge or even evidence that he did anything that endangered Israel.
Ah yes, murder as a moral act. I have a rule in this blog: no one justifies murder, ever. If you do this again here you will not publish further. Read the comment rules.
MOre lies: Obama justified the MURDER, the ASSASSINATION of Bin Laden, not his ‘killing,’ as you wrote. And Bin Laden was no threat to anyone except perhaps his gardener. Are you ignorant or just another wasted hasbaranik sent here to dissemble?? Don’t answer that: we already know the answer.
Here is a video of the underwater drones http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4898338,00.html
So we know he was engineering a weapon against Israel. Should we wait until we have 1st casualty in order to strike? That is more of a Christian thing.
I didn’t understand your last paragraph “Obama justified the MURDER, the ASSASSINATION of Bin Laden, not his killing” – would you mind explaining it?
@ Akiva Ben Simon: I don’t know what that video portrays. I only know what Ynet claims it portrays. I don’t know what the Tunisian media report says either. Nor do you.