FW: Botched Assassination by Israel Gives New Life to Hamas

Dan Kohn (dan@teledesic.com)
Thu, 09 Oct 1997 20:11:15 -0700

> [* Absolutely surreal article. If this were a movie, you'd call it
> patently unrealistic. - dan *]
> http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/1997-10/06/073l-100697-idx
> .h
> tml
> Botched Assassination by Israel Gives New Life to Hamas
> By Barton Gellman
> Washington Post Foreign Service
> Monday, October 6, 1997; Page A01
> The Washington Post
> AMMAN, Jordan, Oct. 5-As Hamas leader Khaled Meshal drove up to his
> office here one morning late last month, two men were loitering
> outside
> the door. One was dark and muscular, the other bearded and blond.
> According to five witnesses, the blond fell in behind Meshal as he
> left
> his car and extended an arm to the Hamas leader's left ear. From a
> lead-colored instrument wrapped in tape came a loud popping sound,
> Meshal said, and a shivering sensation raced down his spine "like an
> electric shock."
> Within minutes of the Sept. 25 attack, Meshal's bodyguard would run
> the
> men down and subdue them in a bloody fistfight a mile away. Within
> hours, Meshal, 41, would lie perilously close to death in a military
> hospital with uncontrollable vomiting and respiratory arrest. By the
> following day, U.S. and Jordanian officials said, the two captured
> assailants' cover identities as Canadian tourists had unraveled, and
> their Jordanian interrogators had recognized them as agents of Mossad,
> the Israeli espionage agency. The 10 days since what is described here
> and in Israel as a botched assassination attempt have been some of the
> costliest for Israel in the history of its storied security services.
> Jordan's King Hussein, Israel's closest Arab ally, was so enraged by
> the
> attack in his capital that close confidants said today he came to the
> brink of breaking relations with the Jewish state. Canada, protesting
> the breach of previous promises to stop forging its passports,
> recalled
> its ambassador to Israel.
> According to Israeli opposition leader Ehud Barak, Prime Minister
> Binyamin Netanyahu told him today that he himself had directed the
> effort to kill Meshal. Senior U.S. officials, who have participated in
> American efforts at damage control, confirmed that the orders came
> from
> the highest levels of Israel's government.
> Yet after spraying what U.S. and Jordanian officials described as a
> lethal nerve toxin through the Hamas leader's skin, Israel was
> compelled
> to meet Jordanian and American demands to supply the antidote -- an
> extraordinary if indirect admission of Israeli sponsorship of an
> assassination attempt. The U.S. and Jordanian sources said that Mossad
> agents still in Jordan, participants in the operation who carried the
> antidote in case of accident, turned it over to Jordanian doctors the
> following day.
> Meshal's revival from the gates of death -- U.S. officials said the
> poison, which they declined to name, would have killed him within 48
> hours -- in some ways prefigured a resurrection of his Islamic
> Resistance Movement, or Hamas.
> Hamas, a militant anti-Israeli group, had been on the defensive
> recently, its spokesman arrested in Jordan and its mosques and social
> service centers shut down in the West Bank and Gaza Strip amid the
> first
> serious crackdown on the organization by Palestinian leader Yasser
> Arafat since early 1996. But in Netanyahu's efforts to calm the crisis
> with Jordan -- he flew secretly to Amman last weekend, but Israeli and
> Jordanian officials said the king refused to see him -- the Israeli
> premier not only saved Meshal's life but freed the founder of Hamas,
> Sheik Ahmed Yassin, from a life term in an Israeli prison.
> That marked the end, for now at least, of further pressure on Hamas by
> Arafat or Hussein. Both men, although threatened by Islamic
> fundamentalists, felt compelled by strong Islamic constituencies to
> hasten to Yassin's hospital bedside and cover the popular religious
> leader with kisses to the forehead and cheeks. According to
> Palestinian
> and American officials, weeks of systematic arrests of Hamas members
> by
> Arafat's Palestinian Authority have ground to a halt.
> Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan, returning from an emergency trip to see
> President Clinton in Washington, said in an interview at his palace
> guest house today that he feels "waves of nausea still" when he thinks
> of Israel's betrayal and its consequences.
> "I think it is an act of gross stupidity," he said. "We are always
> reminded that Israel is the only democratic state in the region . . .
> and yet you find the only democratic state in the region being
> associated with an act of terror. What is the point of our meeting in
> Sharm al-Sheik [in 1996] condemning terror in all its aspects?"
> In public, the Israeli government is saying little about the debacle.
> Cabinet Secretary Dani Naveh read a brief statement today announcing
> that "the government of Israel refrains at this time from commenting
> on
> media reports regarding activities against Hamas leader Khaled
> Meshal."
> The statement went on to describe Meshal as "the preeminent figure in
> Hamas and responsible for the murder of innocent Israeli civilians."
> It
> added, "The government's responsibility is to protect the lives of its
> citizens and to fight uncompromisingly against terrorism."
> Opposition leader Barak, a former armed services chief of staff who
> met
> one-on-one with Netanyahu today, described the private meeting for
> Israeli Television shortly afterward. "The prime minister has taken
> responsibility," he said. "He said he approved it, and he's
> responsible."
> "It was a pathetic decision and would never have been made by any
> other
> prime minister since [the late Menachem] Begin," Barak added.
> His remarks contributed to a bitter political debate that has featured
> finger-pointing among Israeli security services and calls for the
> resignations of Netanyahu and Mossad chief Dani Yatom.
> The attempt on Meshal's life had its origin, according to Israeli
> officials, in an emergency cabinet meeting July 30. Two Hamas suicide
> bombers, in synchronized explosions, killed 16 Israelis that day in
> the
> Mahane Yehuda produce market in Jerusalem. The cabinet, according to
> two
> of its members, voted a broadly worded authorization to hunt down
> Hamas
> military leaders wherever they could be found. It did not approve
> specific targets or set constraints.
> Late in September, two Israeli agents checked into Amman's
> Intercontinental Hotel, posing as Canadian tourists. According to
> documents transliterated into Arabic and then back to English, their
> passports identified them as Shawn Kendall, 28, and Barry Beads, 36.
> On the morning of Sept. 25, Meshal's driver grew suspicious when an
> olive-green Hyundai sedan appeared to be following their car. Just
> before they reached the office in a new commercial district of
> southern
> Amman, the green car passed them and drove out of sight.
> The driver, who asked that he not be named, said he spotted the two
> foreigners loitering as he pulled up in front of Meshal's office. He
> told Meshal to circle the rear of the car and meet him at the driver's
> door, and he placed himself between Meshal and the suspicious men.
> Raghda Mohammed, who works in the adjacent infant products store, said
> the blond foreigner had some kind of device strapped to his right arm
> with white tape. "He reached toward [Meshal's] neck, and I heard a
> bang," she said.
> Meshal's driver, poised for trouble, thrust upward on the blond man's
> arm and knocked him to the ground. The man's glasses tumbled to the
> pavement, and the driver snatched them up. According to three
> witnesses,
> the two foreigners then fled on foot.
> Mohammed Abu Saif, 30, Meshal's bodyguard, was just arriving in a
> trail
> car. A powerfully built man with martial arts training, he saw the
> scuffle and sprinted after the fleeing Israelis. The muscular one, who
> was slower, turned and threw a soda can at his pursuer but missed.
> Rounding a corner after 200 yards, the Israelis jumped into an olive
> green Hyundai rental car bearing license number 5374. "The car was
> already moving," Abu Saif said in an interview. "It looked as if they
> had trained to do that."
> Abu Saif stood in the center of the street and waved down an oncoming
> private car. The driver accelerated after the Hyundai, which rounded
> two
> curves at high speed and then unexpectedly stopped to let the Israelis
> off after less than a mile.
> Jordanian officials speculated that the Israeli escape plan called for
> a
> switch to another car. When he emerged from the Hyundai, the blond man
> no longer had the instrument strapped to his arm, and the weapon used
> against Meshal has not been recovered.
> Abu Saif, whose account was backed in several details by witnesses who
> gathered to watch the fight, said he caught the muscular dark man by
> the
> back of his shirt. The blond man pivoted and slammed a hard object
> into
> Abu Saif's head, leaving him with a wound that took 18 stitches and
> eight days in a hospital to repair.
> "I got the heavily built guy and hit him with a right in the face and
> dropped him on the ground," Abu Saif said. "The second guy attacked
> me,
> and I hit him in the face. Then the muscular guy got up with a stone
> in
> his hand, but I was able to hold his friend, and I used him as a
> shield."
> The bodyguard then threw the blond man down an embankment and tumbled
> after him. The muscular Israeli, he said, could have escaped but did
> not. By this time, from the gathering crowd, a man emerged and said he
> was a security officer.
> Together, the two Jordanians bundled the battered Israelis into a taxi
> and took them to the police station at Wadi Seir. When a Canadian
> consular officer arrived some time later, his ostensible countrymen
> refused offers to provide a lawyer, a doctor or information to their
> families in Canada.
> Meshal, meanwhile, soon found he could not stand upright.
> "Two hours after the attack, he started with acute vertigo and severe
> vomiting, and he was taken to Islamic Hospital," said Ishak Maraqa, a
> neurosurgeon and friend of Meshal's who visited his bedside. "While
> there, he started to have difficulty breathing. On his majesty's
> orders,
> he was moved to King Hussein Medical Center, and there his respiration
> failed."
> By the following morning, a Friday, said fellow Hamas politburo member
> Mousa Abu Marzook, Meshal had a fever of 102 degrees that did not
> respond to treatment.
> "He was unconscious and breathing on a respirator, and there was no
> hope," Abu Marzook said. "The doctors analyzed everything, and they
> couldn't find what was the problem."
> Jordanian intelligence by this time knew or surmised that Meshal had
> been felled by some sort of chemical attack. In the first frantic
> flurry
> of phone calls -- there were dozens, officials said, at every level of
> both governments -- Hussein drew a line. If Meshal died, he told
> Netanyahu, according to a briefing given to the semiofficial newspaper
> al-Rai, Israel's agents would be tried in public and hanged, and
> anything could happen in relations between the two states.
> "If the case was not treated and death was the result of this attack,"
> Prime Minister Abdel Salam Majali said in an interview today,
> "certainly
> things would have developed in a very nasty way." By the end of the
> day
> on Friday, the antidote was handed over, apparently on orders from
> Netanyahu.
> On Saturday, according to officials from both governments, Hussein
> telephoned President Clinton to plead for further help in treating the
> poison and managing the crisis. By Sunday, a top-ranking delegation of
> Israelis was in Amman, including Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yitzhak
> Mordechai, Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon, Naveh and security
> officials David Ivri and Efraim Halevy.
> Israel wanted its agents back. Hussein, refusing to meet Netanyahu,
> told
> them through Crown Prince Hassan that his price would begin with
> Yassin's release -- to placate Jordan's Islamic opposition. Hussein,
> who
> regards the participation of Islamic militants in parliament as
> essential to Jordan's stability, already was fighting a losing battle
> to
> reverse their boycott of legislative elections set for Nov. 4.
> Hassan flew Monday to Washington with a briefcase full of evidence
> implicating Israel. There, he briefed Clinton, Vice President Gore and
> Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, pleading for help to turn
> Arab-Israeli relations from what the king regards as their present
> disastrous course.