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

Hamas drone expert shot dead in Tunisia by assailants using gun silencers

Mohamed ZouariA senior aviation engineer who headed the unmanned aerial vehicle program of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, has been shot dead outside his home in Tunisia by a group of assailants using gun silencers. Mohamed Zaouari, 49, was a Tunisian national who had spent over a decade creating an innovative aerial drone program for Hamas, the Palestinian group that today controls the Gaza Strip. He had lived outside of Tunisia for much of his life, most recently in Syria, where he is believed to have worked as an engineer in a private firm, while also consulting with the Palestinian group. He had returned to Tunisia in 2011, following the upheaval in the country that sparked the so-called Arab Spring.

Zaouari was reportedly shot on Thursday in his hometown of Sfax, Tunisia’s second-largest city, located 170 miles southeast of the capital Tunis. Local media said he was shot dead at the wheel of his car, which was parked outside his home. His body was riddled with over 20 bullets, according to a police statement. On Friday, Tunisia’s Deputy Prosecutor General, Mourad Turki, said during a radio interview that several people are believed to have participated in Zaouari’s killing. Eight people had been arrested in connection with the crime, while at least two others were still at large, said Turki. All ten are believed to be Tunisian citizens. Among them is a woman, claiming to be a journalist, who has reportedly interviewed Zaouari in the past. She was allegedly arrested as she was boarding a flight from the Tunis-Carthage International Airport to the Hungarian capital Budapest. Additionally, officials from Tunisia’s Interior Ministry said that four rental vehicles had been seized in connection with Zaouari’s killing, and that two weapons equipped with silencers had been found in one of the vehicles.

A statement issued on Saturday by the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said Zaouari had been a part of Hamas for a decade, and blamed his killing on the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency. Hamas leaders said that Zaouari’s contribution to the organization would be celebrated during a specially designated “day of mourning”, and that his killing would be avenged. “The enemy must know the blood of the leader Zaouari will not go in vain”, said a statement issued by Hamas on Saturday. Israel has not responded to Hamas’ accusations. Tzachi Hanegbi, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of National Security and Foreign Affairs, said late on Saturday that Israel was “not connected” with Zaouari’s killing and added that “none of those people arrested are our allies”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 December 2016 | Permalink