Despite Ronen Bergman’s new book, which largely lionizes the Mossad for their ‘feats of heroism and courage’ in eliminating Israels’ enemies via nearly 3,000 assassinations over a 70-year period, it often fails. Sometimes it even fails spectacularly, as it did in the case of Mahmoud al Mabouh. Earlier this month, an Israeli assassination squad failed again, in an operation that threatens to become quite a mess.
As I reported, based on information conveyed to me by an Israeli security source, the target was Mohammed Hamdan, a Hamas operative based in Lebanon who was coordinating a weapons development project with Hezbollah which would import Iranian missile parts into Gaza. The new weapons technology would be used to upgrade existing Hamas missile stocks, according to my source.
Hamdan was targeted as he was entering his car in parking area at his residence. Arab news reports say that the bomb detonated before he entered the vehicle, which explains why he escaped with only a leg wound. Some reports say the wound is serious, others say it was not. My guess is that if a bomb explodes next to you and you’re wounded, the wound is liable to be serious.
The question my source refused to answer was how the operation failed. Clearly, the killers did something wrong. As new reports in Al Akhbar indicate: the bomb had been attached to the car’s engine and would detonate when it was turned on. Hamdan, however, stuck his arm inside the car and turned the ignition on from outside. After the engine turned over, he moved toward the trunk of the car. This is what saved his life.
Lebanese intelligence has had precisely the sort of good breaks in investigating the case which Dubai police had in the al-Mabouh assassination. Of the two Lebanese conspirators, one fled to Turkey. A very bad move since Turkey not only has a good intelligence service, it hates Israel and has good relations with its Lebanese neighbor. The Turks captured the Lebanese accomplice, returning him back to Lebanon. That’s why the case has broken wide open. The second Lebanese accomplice escaped to Romania (another report says the Netherlands).
The Lebanese now also know the identities of the two actual Mossad agents who authored the plot. One is a Swedish-Iraqi national and the other is a female citizen of Georgia. Now, just like the 27 Mossad Kidon agents, all of them have been fully exposed and lost their usefulness as Kidon killers.
One reason Hamdan was a high priority target is that he represents an alarming development for Israeli security: a growing alliance among three of Israel’s greatest foes, Hezbollah, Iran and Hamas. Until now, Hezbollah and Hamas have not, over the years, collaborated in any serious way. But with both being allied closely with Iran, the latter is developing methods of improving the fighting capabilities of both Islamist groups against Israel. Ever since 1948, when Israel faced off against enemies on multiple military fronts, Israel has feared such alliance against it. That’s why a war fighting on both a northern and southern front is one of Israel’s greatest fears.
This assassination is part of a long-term series of murders by the Mossad directed against Hezbollah commanders, and Syrian and Iranian generals. The strategic thinking behind it is that Israel will destroy the capabilities of its enemies by murdering them. It fails in every respect. At best, it may have a short-term benefit (even that is arguable). But in the medium to long-term, virtually every figure eliminated is replaced by someone at least as adept, and often far more capable than the figure who was murdered.
As Bergman himself notes, Abbas Mussawi hardly focused on the threat from Israel when he led Hezbollah. Yet after his assassination, his replacement, Hassan Nasrallah, made it his life’s work to humiliate Israel every chance he got. Similarly, when Israel assassinated Sheikh Ahmed Yassine, he was replaced by a cadre of highly capable Hamas military and political figures who have carried on the fight against Israel. I disagree with Bergman’s claim that the murder of Yassine “brought Hamas to its knees” or represented a “victory” of any sort:
…(The targeted killings) stopped the suicide bombings. At its peak, they killed Sheikh Yassin (in March 2004) and then (three) weeks later (his successor Abdel Aziz) Rantisi. Hamas came to the conclusion that it was simply not capable of continuing, and through the Egyptians begged for a ceasefire.
Hamas is still around, it is still a problem. But what happened then proves that even a jihadist terrorist organization that seemingly has no limits can be brought to its knees when you attach a significant price tag to its commanders.
And if there is such a thing as victory, this is it. And it was also the victory of Sharon.
Hamas, contrary to Bergman’s claim has indeed ‘continued’ and still represents a formidable enemy. This represents the weakness of Bergman’s otherwise formidable work of historical research. Even if Sharon succeeded in lessening the number of suicide attacks against Israelis, this campaign did nothing overall to ensure Israel’s long-term security. Hundreds of Israelis have died since 2004. Hundreds or thousands more will die till peace is finally secured. So in what sense is this a “victory.” Perhaps in a limited tactical sense it was an achievement. If so, it was a very limited one not worthy of the level of praise Bergman heaps upon it.
Not to mention that the Israeli journalist does concede that the assassination brought Iran into the vacuum that was created, where it proceeded to become a major sponsor of Hamas’ military wing. What is gained when you eliminate one man only to find an entire country replacing him as a formidable enemy?
When Does an Assassination Become Terrorism?
I wanted to add to this post another type of attempted assassination, though in Israeli parlance it would be called a terror attack (interesting how when your country murders someone it’s kosher, but when another tries to murder you, it’s terrorism). Last week, Palestinians in Tulkarem noticed during heavy rains that metal objects hidden under the road had become exposed. They reported this to police who brought in the bomb squad, which disarmed what would have been a powerful bomb.
My Israeli security source told me that the bombs were planted by Palestinian militants and the Israelis believe it was intended to explode when an IDF patrol passed by on its way to arrest Palestinian suspects in the town. Maariv published a similar report.
Note, that Palestinians saved the lives of Israeli soldiers in this instance. And that Palestinian security forces disarmed these weapons by doing their job properly. Yet the raging extremists running Israel bitch and moan about how the Palestinians incite terror and are little more than useless. Here is a perfect example that proves this maundering to be a lie.
I am not defending the PA decision to collaborate with Israel. This is not a decision I would make. But I’m not the PA, nor am I Palestinian. Personally, I think the PA is a sham and that it should disband and leave the whole mess in Israeli hands. Yes, it would make life miserable for Palestinians, as Israel would be extremely annoyed at having to resume administering the West Bank. But they would be only marginally more miserable than now.
Israel would have to provide its own security throughout the West Bank. It would have no more Palestinian partner to do its dirty work. Failures would be Israel’s responsibility. There would be no one else to blame as there is now.
The benefit would be that much more pressure would be exerted against Israel as the Occupation would be exposed for all the world to see. As it is now, Israel can make the false claim that Palestinians are governing themselves. That relieves a great deal of pressure on it.
Finally, note that when the Mossad murders an Israeli enemy in a foreign country, it’s a righteous act to defend the homeland. But when a Palestinian attempts to do virtually the same thing to the Israeli army in the process of kidnapping Palestinians, then it’s an act of terror. Hypocrisy, much??
Soleimani Khan says
The facilitation of these exercises in Arab countries like Lebanon occur through clandestine cooperation with other intelligence units, namely Saudi Arabia’s. The eyes on the ground, more or less.
The “funny part” is when someone tries to extrapolate things like such cooperation backwards in time to include, for example, Hariri’s assassination. Intelligence agencies and analysts will do it, but it’s not allowed before the public eye. Same techniques, tactics and procedures (i.e., modus operandi) and the benefit delivered to those who (a) saw Hariri as weak against Hezbollah and Iran and (b) his assassination as a means of fomenting enmity between non-Israeli aligned actors. Even corroboration in the present day of facts, like the overt kidnapping of the new Hariri by Saudi Arabia along the same objective lines, is not allowed to become a source of inference upon what else Saudi Arabia may be doing for Israel in Lebanon. Because those ties, for the most part, would expose “assets”.
The PA in Lebanon is very much Saudi aligned. Your sources are credible IMHO. Meanwhile, “ISIS” in Egypt even declared war on the Palestinians. Isn’t that convenient? This all serves short term benefit, but thoughts like mine are not rare among the streets of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia’s reputation dwindles, so does some of the PA’s (who keep following the Saudis to a cliff), and Israel’s image and reputation do not improve either in the long-term.
I appreciate you highlighting the double-standard at the end. I think competition of interests along the lines of this sort of resolution and objective seeking through violence can only lead to inevitable conflagration and demise for all participants. It’s like the Samson option in slow motion.
I wanted to clarify something you wrote
“ I am not a Palestinian “
After reading your blog extensively, I am utterly convinced that you are in fact a Palestinian. Nothing else would explain your attempt to bash Israel at every turn for everything
Richard Silverstein says
@Moshe: I am utterly convinced that you’ve violated the comment rules and are now moderated.
Soleimani Khan says
He’s not, but so what if he was? It’s your mentality that plays the “us versus them” games you’ve been brainwashed with and fails to see the intellectual nuances. If you want peace for Israel, be peaceful yourself.
Ariel Koren says
“another type of attempted assassination, though in Israeli parlance it would be called a terror attack“
How on earth is that an assassination? There is no one who is specifically targeted. Call it freedom fighting if you may, but assassination??? That’s a new stretch.
Ariel Koren says
“PA decision to collaborate with Israel”
You call this collaboration??? Seriously?? Palestinians civilians are mostly driving on this road so disarming the bombs comes first to defend their lives
If the Palestinians helped an investigation about who planted those, it would be a different story but you proposing that simply leaving the bomb there was an option is beyond me.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Ariel Koren: the problem with Israelis like you is that believe that you are smarter than the Israeli security source who told me the bombs were intended to kill Israeli soldiers, not Palestinians. The bombs could not have killed Palestinians because those who planted them would not have detonated them to target Palestinians.
Ariel Koren says
״The bombs could not have killed Palestinians״
With all due respect – Are you delusional? It’s a bomb!!! And the picture suggests homemade one.
But for a leftist who says “let them return, it SHOULD be ok” to say “you could leave the bomb, it probably won’t hurt Palestinians” actually makes sense.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Ariel Koren: This is my blog. I’m the balehbus here’s. You trash me or the blog, I’ll trash you. If you wish to remain you show derech eretz. You don’t, you’re gone. Capiche?
You have no idea what a sophisticated, crude, or otherwise bomb looks like. And my security source, who DOES know these things, says it was intended for the IDF. BTW, when have you ever heard of Palestinian militants exploding a highway IED that killed Palestinians? Never happened.
Another rule here for you: you NEVER put words in my mouth. You never say what I believe. You never paraphrase what I believe. And you certainly never put question marks around phrases I never uttered. Next time you try that crap and you’re outta here.
Ariel Koren says
Bombs and accidents are going hand in hand.