Israel admits assassinating Palestinian commander in Tunisia

Authorities in Israel have authorized the publication of an interview acknowledging Israel’s role in the assassination of a senior Palestinian military commander in Tunisia in 1988. The target of the assassination was Khalil al-Wazir, better known as Abu Jihad, one of the co-founders of Fatah, the secular wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organization chaired by Yasser Arafat. In the 1960s and 1970s, Abu Jihad rose within the ranks of Fatah and eventually became commander of its armed wing, known as al-Assifa. However, he was killed on April 16, 1988, when a group of unidentified gunmen stormed his villa in Tunisian capital Tunis, before managing to slip away. In the past 23 years, the Israeli intelligence services have been repeatedly singled out as prime suspects in Abu Jihad’s assassination. Nearly 15 years ago, Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot announced that it had secured an interview with an Israeli commando who had a leading role in the operation and had been the one who fired the shots that killed the Fatah commander. But the interview was blocked from publication by the Israeli military censors, who, under Israeli law, have the power to prevent the airing of information that might harm national security. In 2000, however, the commando, Nahum Lev, died in a motorcycle accident, which prompted the Israeli newspaper to renew its application for the ban on the interview to be lifted. This week, Israeli authorities officially lifted the ban, which allowed Yedioth Ahronot to run the interview with Lev. The airing of the interview was coupled by a more substantial account of the operation, which appeared in the specialist Israel Defense magazine. According to the article, the operation was planned over several months by the Israeli covert action agency Mossad and the Sayaret Matkal, a special forces unit of the Israel Defense Forces. It involved 26 commandos who allegedly reached the Tunisian shore on rubber boats. Several of them walked the streets of Tunis disguised as women tourists. One of the commandos, who was carrying a map, approached the guard at the gate to Abu Jihad’s villa and distracted him by asking for directions. As the guard was looking over the map, another Israeli commando, who was carrying a “box of chocolates”, opened it, extracted a handgun fitted with a silencer and shot the guard in the head. Another team of commandos shot dead a second bodyguard stationed at the opposite end of the compound, as well as a gardener who happened to be in the vicinity. Lev told Yedioth Ahronot that he “felt bad about the gardener”, but rationalized it by convincing himself that “in an operation such as this you have to make sure that any potential resistance is neutralized”. As for Abu Jihad himself, Lev said he “shot him with a long burst of fire […] without hesitation”. The Israel Defense article also disclosed that Israel’s current Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, and Vice Prime Minister, Moshe Yaalon, had a role in the operation, but gave no further details. Israel typically refuses comment on matters of covert operations and the authorization to publish the interview with Nahum Lev is widely viewed as an extremely rare case, which signifies indirect acknowledgment by Israel of responsibility for Abu Jihad’s assassination.

2 Responses to Israel admits assassinating Palestinian commander in Tunisia

  1. Giorgos says:

    there is more to the operation, the local police was bribed and they didn’t patrol the target’s residence as they did frequently.

  2. MikeV says:

    What will this do to influence the stalled investigation into alleged Israeli involvement in the January 2010 killing of Mahmoud al-Mahbouh in Dubai? Even though the Yanks and Brits took the lead on it, I bet this gives the officials in the UAE some ammo to shout “it was a Mossad plot.”

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