Mossad identified Hamas drone expert as principal target ‘years ago’: expert

Mohamed ZaouariDespite persistent silence from Tel Aviv, commentators there seem increasingly convinced that Israeli spies were behind last week’s killing of an aviation engineer who worked for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The man, Mohamed Zaouari, 49, was a Tunisian national who had spent over a decade creating an innovative aerial drone program for the Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip. He was reportedly shot dead outside his home in east-central Tunisia by an unidentified group of assailants carrying guns equipped with silencers. A statement issued on Saturday by the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, blamed Zaouari’s killing on the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency.

Writing for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the veteran security correspondent Ronen Bergman said on Monday that Israeli spies had identified Zaouari “years ago” as a potential target. Bergman claims that Israeli intelligence agencies monitored Zaouari “as soon as he left Tunisia for [the Syrian capital] Damascus” over a decade ago. Eventually, the Israelis began to see Zaouari as a major contributor to efforts by Hamas and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah to develop unmanned aerial vehicle programs. Through constant surveillance, Israeli intelligence was able to confirm that Zaouari was in regular contact with other Palestinian and Lebanese technical experts. The latter allegedly included Hassan Lakkis, a leading Hezbollah commander, who was one of the Shiite militant group’s primary weapons procurer and developer. Lakkis was killed on the evening of December 3, 2013, outside his home in Beirut, in circumstances that appear to be similar to last week’s killing of Zaouari in Tunisia.

Bergman argues that, if Israeli intelligence was indeed behind Zaouari’s killing, he was targeted because he was seen “as an increasingly dangerous element” and the Israelis believed that his death would cause Hamas “considerable damage”. The decision to target him in a distant location like Tunisia bore considerable risk, says Bergman, given that Zaouari was almost certainly aware that he was under threat from rival intelligence agencies and was taking precautions. Additionally, as the Mossad found out in the aftermath of the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010, the world is now “filled with cameras and biometric systems” that make covert operations dangerous. Consequently, these types of high-risk operations are reserved for principal targets whose removal will subtract strategic abilities from Israel’s adversaries. Bergman notes that, if Zaouari was killed by Israeli operatives, his death will mark one of the first major operations by the Mossad under the new leadership of Yossi Cohen, who was appointed as head of the secretive agency a year ago.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 December 2016 | Permalink

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