Assassination in Damascus hints at Israel-Arab effort

jerusalem | The notion of an Israel-Arab alliance against terror may strike some as ludicrous, but after the killing of a Hamas mastermind recently in Damascus, that idea is gaining traction.

Hamas called the Sunday, Sept. 26, killing of Izzadin Sheik Khalil a “despicable crime” and blamed it on the Mossad, but Syria’s tersely worded condemnation was a far cry from that depiction.

It was also a far cry from Damascus’ outrage after Israel bombed a terrorist camp on its outskirts last October, a departure that experts attributed to the U.S.-led pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Other speculation focused on the possibility that Arab nations with better relations with Israel, such as Jordan or Morocco, may have given Israel the intelligence information.

Israeli officials had no comment, but The Associated Press quoted security sources in Jerusalem as claiming responsibility for the bomb planted in the seat of Khalil’s car.

The assassination in the Syrian capital in a bombing blew away the city’s decades-old image as a safe haven for terrorists.

“Assad is very keen to win favor with the United States,” ex-Mossad agent Gad Shimron told Israel’s Channel Two television. “Who knows how many parties were involved in this operation?”

Last week, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper said an unspecified Arab intelligence agency had agreed to Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s request for information on the whereabouts of senior Hamas fugitives.

On Sept. 26, many Palestinians were convinced that it was Syria that helped the Jewish state, not least because Assad shut down the Damascus offices of Hamas and kindred group Islamic Jihad last week.

On Sept. 27, Yossi Melman, a longtime expert on Middle East intelligence, dismissed the Al-Hayat report, although he said that Israeli secret services do cooperate with their Arab counterparts.

“It is reasonable to believe that there is certain cooperation between Israel and some Arab intelligence bodies, above all Jordan, which is not a secret, Egypt to a very limited degree, Morocco and Tunisia to a small extent, and the United Arab Emirates,” Melman was quoted as saying in Ha’aretz.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, canceled a trip to Israel to protest the assassination.

For many Israelis, it appeared a logical extension of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s vow to crack down on Palestinian terrorists before implementing his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank next year.

“We must send a message to the world’s terrorists as a whole that there are no safe hiding places for them, and that Israel can reach anywhere it needs to in order to get a terrorist — if it needs to,” former Mossad chief Danny Yatom told Army Radio.

Perhaps evincing a new confusion at losing its Syrian haven, Hamas threatened in a statement to abandon its policy of not attacking Israelis outside Israeli borders, only to be contradicted by group officials who said no such decision had been made.

Israeli security sources said Hamas, which has always claimed to be a local movement, was worried about being too closely identified with international terrorist groups such as al-Qaida.

But there are hazards closer to home.

When a Hezbollah military chief was slain in a Beirut bombing last July, a killing also blamed on the Mossad, the Lebanese militia responded the next day by shooting dead two Israeli soldiers on the border.