After nearly 25 years of secrecy, Israel has finally acknowledged the targeted killing of Abu Jihad, a deputy of the late Yasser Arafat.
Israel was immediately suspected of the killing in 1988, but the information behind the attack was only made public this past week.
Two of the men involved in the operation now hold high political positions in Israel: Ehud Barak is the Minister of Defense, and Moshe Ya’alon is the Vice Prime Minister.
The report of the attack was published in Yediot Ahronot, and described a well-planned operation that had been premeditated for months. It included an interview with the commando Nahum Lev, who was responsible for shooting Abu Jihad and one of his bodyguards.
“Abu Jihad was not assassinated by a solider, but by a decision of the Israeli government and its military leadership,” said Mahmud al-Alul, a former assistant to the PLO deputy.
The report explained how the operation was a joint effort by the Mossad secret service and the Sayeret Matkal, a special unit of the IDF.
The Israeli commandos reached the shores of Tunisia on rubber boats in April of 1988. Lev approached the Abu Jihad’s home with another soldier who was dressed as a woman, holding a large box of chocolates that concealed a gun fitted with a silencer.
Two bodyguards and a gardener were also killed during the operation.
“It was too bad about the gardener. But in operations like this, you have to ensure that all potential resistance is neutralized,” Lev said in the interview.
“Abu Jihad was involved in horrible acts against civilians. He was a dead man walking. I shot him without hesitation.”
Israel’s military and political censor’s objective is to stop the publication of any material that might be considered a threat to national security. Israel has a policy of blocking publication of any information that could expose agents, tactics, and intelligence gathering methods, or put anyone still alive in harm’s way. This might explain why the information was originally concealed, but does not account for why it was not released after Lev died in 2000.
Yediot Ahronot had been negotiating with Israeli’s military censors for months for permission to tell the story.
BBC’s Kevin Connolly said, “the censors have now given way rather than fight the newspaper in the Supreme Court.”
Abu Jihad was often referred to as Arafat’s number two, and most likely his successor to running the PLO in the event of his death. He helped form the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and was associated with helping to mobilize the first Palestinian intifada uprising in December 1987.
Abu Jihad was described as a quiet and soft-spoken figure, but ideologically he was willing to use brutality and bloodshed to advance the cause of Palestinian independence. He was accused of orchestrating a number of deadly attacks against Israeli civilians, including a 1975 hostage situation at a Tel Aviv hotel that killed 11 Israelis, and an attack in 1978 on an Israeli bus that killed 38 people.
Alan Hart, former Middle East Chief Correspondent for Independent Television News, who had discussions with Arafat during the intifada, recently wrote about Abu Jihad’s role in the uprising. He attributed Abu Jihad with oversight management and control of the intifada “from the bedroom of his modest, whitewashed villa in Sidi Bou Said, a suburb to the north-east of Tunis.”
He believes Abu Jihad’s role thwarted the Israeli attempt to control the uprising as efficiently as they had hoped.
“That was why, on 16 April 1988, Israeli Special Forces went all the way to Tunis to assassinate Abu Jihad in his bedroom.”
Assassinations have become a staple in the Middle East, especially within the Arab-Israeli conflict. While both sides are guilty of calculated killing, the fact that it was a planned operation, concealed at the time and for an additional twelve years following the death of the gunman, is reprehensible. Yet, Palestine’s lack of observer status in the United Nations means that those who are still alive and were complicit in the attack will never be held accountable as the case could never make it to the ICC.
– Danielle Morland