Netanyahu Tried to Assassinate Hamas’s Meshaal — Flashback to 1997

Khaled Meshaal, the head of the political wing of Hamas, told Charlie Rose (of CBS and PBS) — in an interview in July at Meshaal’s home “in exile” in Doha, Qatar: “The Palestinian people have been dying slowly. So now they do not fear dying instantly.”  

And what about Meshaal himself?  In 1997, he was walking on a street in Jordan’s capital when Mossad combatants sprayed a powerful poison in his ear. He was near death, saved only after King Hussein forced Israel to hand over an antidote.  Why would Israel’s prime minister — who happened to be none other than Benjamin Netanyahu — do that?  Because the Mossad assassins had been arrested, and an angry King Hussein was going to release them only in exchange for the antidote.]

This excerpt from Spies Against Armageddon (the history of Israeli intelligence and security agencies, updated this year by authors Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman) starts with a new Mossad director in 1997, Danny Yatom, reacting to a wave of Hamas suicide attacks inside Israel. It was an ugly time, marked by blood and fear.


SPY-HALF_version2CAt Mossad headquarters, Yatom instructed [the operations department] Caesarea and the research department to find him someone to strike.

The pool of possibilities, known in the Mossad as the “bank of targets,” was limited and poor at the time. There were
no suitable and operationally reachable targets available immediately among Hamas leaders.

Netanyahu was impatient and kept pressing Yatom. The Mossad director, in turn, impatiently pressed his underlings. It took a while, but they came up with a few minor targets. These were considered, but dismissed. One man was too unimportant. Another lived in a European country, and that was ruled out. A third, in the United Arab Emirates, would be very difficult to reach.

The process resembled the person who loses a valuable piece of jewelry, then searches only in places around him that are well lit. It is a lazy, but common, approach. In the Mossad’s search process, the easy solution they alighted upon was Khaled Meshaal, and the location would be Jordan’s capital, Amman.

There were two problems with this choice: Meshaal was not truly important in Hamas and certainly had no role in the group’s terrorism campaign. More significantly, Jordan was Israel’s strategic asset in the region. King Hussein had met secretly with Israelis—including dozens of times with Mossad chiefs—long before signing a peace treaty in 1994. He provided information and coordinated his political stands with Israel.

Jordanian intelligence was one of the Mossad’s best allies, to the point that they acted together against their common enemy: the Palestinians.

The Jordanians were tipping off the Mossad about terrorists, handing them over to Israel on occasion, and letting Israelis observe interrogations of radical Palestinians. Jordanian intelligence even showed a readiness to assassinate Hamas and Hezbollah militants.

Neither Netanyahu nor Yatom gave enough thought to the grave risk of jeopardizing that relationship. An assassination in Jordan, even if successful, could backfire, yet no one in the Mossad’s upper ranks seemed to recognize the danger. Everyone seemed to buy into the group-think of being yes men.

The operation was initiated hastily, and that was further hastened by another Hamas attack in early September. This time, the group sent three suicide bombers to the main pedestrian mall in Jerusalem. Five Israelis were killed, and 180 people were wounded.

[The rest of the story, a botched assassination attempt in Amman, is told on pages 291-295 of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars — the latest history of the Mossad and other Israeli security agencies, by Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman.]

August 3, 2014

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