Death by remote control as hit squads returnBy Robert Fisk in Gaza 13 April 2001
When the Israelis came for Abu Jihad exactly 13 years ago, they employed up to 4,000 men for his assassination. There was an Awacs plane over Tunis, a squadron of jets to protect the Awacs, two warships in the Mediterranean, a submarine to guard the warships, a 707 refuelling aircraft, 40 men to go ashore and surround the home of Yasser Arafat's PLO deputy commander, and four men and an officer to murder their victim.
Abu Jihad's son Jihad al-Wazzir recalls: "First they killed the bodyguard who was asleep in the car outside. Then they killed the gardener and the second bodyguard ... My dad was writing in his office and went into the hall with a pistol. He got off one shot before he was hit. My mother remembers how each of the four men would step forward and empty an entire clip of bullets from an automatic weapon into my dad - like it was a kind of ritual. Then an officer in a black mask stepped forward and shot him in the head, just to make sure."
Today, Israel's murder squads come cheaper: a computer chip that activates a bomb in a mobile telephone, a family collaborator, or even a splash of ultra-violet paint on the roof of a car to alert an Israeli Apache helicopter pilot to fire a Hellfire missile into the Palestinian's vehicle.
It's long-range assassination. But some things don't change. Palestinians have long believed - and Jihad al-Wazzir Jnr is convinced - that the Israeli who delivered the coup de grâce to his father on 16 April 1988 was an intelligence officer called Moshe Yalon. And today, one of the principal instigators behind the policy of murdering Israel's Palestinian military opponents is the deputy chief of staff, a certain major general called Moshe Yalon.
It's a cruel, vicious, internationally illegal war in which the Palestinians have themselves been guilty in the past. Back in the Seventies, Israeli and PLO agents murdered each other in Europe in a policy of retaliation and counter-retaliation that drove European security forces insane with anger. "In the end, these murders led to a ceasefire," Mr al-Wazzir explains. "The whole thing ended."
It continued, however, in Beirut where two of the men involved in murdering PLO leaders were called Ehud Barak and Amnon Shahak. Shahak would later become the Israeli military commander in Lebanon in 1982. And it was Mr Barak who as Prime Minister last year relaunched Israel's murder squads.
Historians will one day debate the worth of such killings. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, after all, have their own murderers - though their suicide bombs slaughter civilians as well as soldiers, hitherto unknown victims rather than individual Israeli intelligence officers.
But Israel's killers take innocent lives too. An Apache helicopter attack on a Palestinian militant tore two middle-aged Palestinian women to pieces; the Israelis did not apologise. The nephew of a man murdered by the Israelis in Nablus later admitted to the Palestinian Authority that he had given his uncle's location to the Israelis. He told his interrogators: "They said they were only going to arrest him. Then they killed him."
If it's a dirty war - which it is - it's also a developing one. Mr al- Wazzir, now an economic analyst in Gaza, explains: "It's small-scale now and in known locations. People who did not think of themselves as targets are killed. There's a network of Israeli army intelligence and air force intelligence, and Mossad and Shin Bet that works together, feeding each other information.
"They can cross the lines between Area C [under Israeli control] and Area B [shared control] in the occupied territories. They can penetrate these borders. Usually, they carry out operations when the IDF [Israeli Defence Force] morale is low. When they killed my father, the IDF was in very low spirits because of the first intifada. So they go for a 'spectacular' to show what great warriors they are. Now the IDF morale is low again because of the second intifada."
Palestinian security officers in Gaza have been intrigued at the logic behind the Israeli killings. One of the Palestinian officials says:"Our guys meet their guys and we know their officers and operatives. I tell you this frankly - they are as corrupt and indisciplined as we are. And as ruthless.
"After they [the Israelis] targeted Mohamed Dahlan's convoy when he was coming back from security talks, Dahlan [the head of Palestinian 'preventive security' in Gaza] talked to [the Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon] Peres. 'Look what you guys are doing to us,' Dahlan told Peres. 'Don't you realise it was me who took Sharon's son to meet Arafat?'"
Was this a threat? Mr al-Wazzir understands some of the death squad logic. "It has some effect because we Palestinians are a paternalistic society," he says. "We believe in the idea of a father figure. But when they assassinated my dad, the intifada didn't stop. It was affected but all the political objectives failed; rather than demoralising the Palestinians, the assassination fuelled the intifada.
"They say there's a list now of 100 Palestinians on the murder list. No, I don't think the Palestinians will adopt the same type of killings against Israeli intelligence. An army is an institution, a system. Murdering an officer just results in him being replaced."
The Israelis have murdered up to 20 Palestinians they claim to
be "terrorists" - with no concrete evidence and no court hearings.
It's a practice they honed in Lebanon where guerrilla leaders were
blown up by hidden bombs or shot in the back by Shin Bet execution
squads, often - as in the case of an Amal leader in the village of
Bidias - after interrogation. All this was, and still is, in the name
of "security". And that is something the murders have clearly not