RAMALLAH – Hamas has closed ranks and is licking its wounds following the Jan. 20 assassination in Dubai of one of its top operatives, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. It is alleged that one of its own was responsible for providing the hit team with vital logistical information.
Dubai’s chief of police, Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, on Sunday called on Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar to launch an "internal investigation" into the operation.
Tamim claims that an associate of al-Mabhouh, a high-ranking military leader, leaked information about the Hamas leader’s visit to Dubai and went as far as to refer to the associate as "the real murderer."
The Israeli intelligence organization Mossad, which has a history of assassinating Israel’s political opponents abroad, is believed to have both the motive and the means to carry out the killing which bears its hallmark.
Foreign media reports have further alleged that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his approval for the murder at the beginning of the year and that members of the assassination squad were already scouting out the location months beforehand.
"This is a serious breach of Hamas’ security, something which the organization hitherto had prided itself on. It shows that Israeli intelligence has managed to penetrate the inner circles of the group," Samir Awad, from Birzeit University near Ramallah, told IPS.
"The Israelis have had to struggle to infiltrate Hamas intelligence in the past due to the fact that the inner core of the movement is made up of hard-core ideologues whose religious zealotry has made it difficult for them to be bribed.
"This is one of the reasons that the Israelis have been unable to establish the precise location of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who has been held by Hamas in Gaza for a number of years despite the many Israeli informers in Gaza," added Awad.
"This is indeed a big blow to Hamas’ invincibility," Prof. Moshe Ma’oz of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University told IPS.
Israel has found it fairly easy to bribe members within the Palestinian Authority (PA) due to the nepotism and corruption which pervade the organization
"There are various methods Israeli intelligence uses to establish agents and get close to the Palestinian leadership in both political factions.
"This includes using drugs, women, financial bribery, and emotional and political blackmail. This just goes to show that Hamas is human and has its weaknesses which too can be exploited," added Ma’oz.
The collective Hamas leadership has gone into damage control. Various sources approached by IPS refused to talk or even answer their phones.
Mahmoud Ramahi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in Ramallah who was imprisoned for three years by the Israelis for Hamas membership and who recently gave an exclusive interview to IPS on Hamas’ stand on the 1967 borders, refused to comment.
"You will have to speak to Hamas in Gaza about this. I can only speak as a member of the PLC," Ramahi told IPS. A subsequent visit by IPS to the Ramallah offices of the Hamas PLC members failed to locate any of the PLC members.
Ahmed Yousef, a close associate of Gaza’s Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, and former foreign adviser to Gaza’s Hamas leadership, refused to comment as well.
"No, I’m not interested in talking about the Dubai assassination. Surely you can find somebody else to talk to?" Yousef asked IPS without giving an explanation behind his refusal.
IPS then tried, without success, to contact Gaza’s Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoun, who had turned off his phone.
Another Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zahuri, denied foreign media reports that Hamas member Nahro Massoud has been arrested in Damascus by Dubai authorities, a denial supported by Hamas politburo chief-in-exile in Damascus Khaled Meshaal.
As more information about the subterfuge surrounding the assassination is made public knowledge, the more conspiracy theories circulate and the thicker the plot becomes.
Two former PA-affiliated Fatah members, and former PA intelligence officers in Gaza before Hamas overthrew the PA unity government in the June 2007 coup, have been named as chief suspects in the Dubai slaying.
Anwar Shheibar and Ahmed Hasnain were allegedly members of a death cell which carried out violent suppression of the PA’s political opponents, especially Hamas members, before they fled Gaza after the 2007 coup.
According to newspaper reports they were recently arrested in Jordan and then extradited to Dubai on request of the Dubai authorities.
The two are alleged to have rented hotel rooms and hired vehicles for the assassination squad.
They are further alleged to be close contacts of the notorious Central Intelligence Agency favorite Muhammad Dahlan, one of the alleged chief instigators of an attempted Gaza coup against Hamas which was preempted by the Hamas authorities.
Media reports allege both men are not only employees of one of several Dubai-based companies run by Dahlan but until recently were also on the PA payroll in Ramallah.
Dahlan has denied the claims while a PA spokesman in Ramallah refused to be drawn on the issue.
"We are following a policy of no comment until the police in Dubai have finished their investigation as we believe this could negatively affect the outcome," Ghassan Khatib, a PA media office spokesman, told IPS.
"While all the allegations regarding Hamas and PA involvement in cooperating with the assassination are just rumors and possibly conspiracy theories at this point in time, none of this bodes well for future unity between Hamas and the PA, or Palestinian peace talks with Israel," Awad told IPS.
However, Ma’oz says there are other factors which enter into the equation of future negotiations between the two Palestinian parties as both have a lot to lose from the current circumstances.
"With the correct pressure and intensive negotiations the two sides could still find common ground," Ma’oz told IPS.
(Inter Press Service)