Israel's plan to hunt down the leader of Hamas around the world
Hamas gunmen participated in a march protesting Israel in Gaza City in May 2021. Photo: Reuters

Israel is said to be preparing a long-term plan to hunt down Hamas leaders globally to prevent the group from resurrecting after the Gaza war.

The US Wall Street Journal on December 1 quoted unnamed Israeli officials as saying that with orders from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s top intelligence agencies are planning to hunt down Hamas leaders living in foreign countries. Countries such as Lebanon, Turkey and Qatar, as fighting in Gaza continues to erupt after a 7-day ceasefire.

The operation would be an extension of years of covert operations by Israeli intelligence, which have been criticized around the world. Israeli agents once posed as women to hunt down Hamas militants in Beirut and disguised themselves as tourists to assassinate a Hamas leader in Dubai.

According to former Israeli officials, this country’s intelligence also planted a bomb in a car to assassinate a Hezbollah leader in Syria and used a remote-controlled rifle to kill him.

A senior commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said that scientist Fakhrizadeh was killed remotely using a “satellite control system” equipped with “artificial intelligence technology” without warning. Is there any assassin present at the scene?

For a long time, regional countries such as Qatar, Lebanon, Iran, and Turkey have provided safe havens for senior Hamas members. Israeli intelligence often avoids targeting these targets to prevent unwanted diplomatic crises.

The new plans are seen as a second chance for Prime Minister Netanyahu, who ordered a failed assassination plan in 1997 to poison Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Jordan.

Mr. Netanyahu was then serving his first term as prime minister and ordered Israeli agents to find a way to kill Meshaal, one of the founders of Hamas, who was living in Jordan at the time.

A group of Israeli spies entered Jordan, posing as Canadian tourists and attacked Meshaal outside the Hamas political office in Amman. An assassin sprayed poison into Meshaal’s ear, but he and another member of the team could not escape in time.

Meshaal falls into a coma, and Jordan threatens to end the peace treaty with Israel. US President Bill Clinton then forced Prime Minister Netanyahu to end the crisis by sending Mossad leaders to bring an antidote to Amman to save Meshaal’s life.

Finally, to ensure the freedom of spies captured in Jordan, Israel agreed to release Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, and 70 Palestinian prisoners. Meshaal later described the failed assassination attempt as a “turning point” that made Hamas stronger.

Twenty-six years later, to the surprise of some Israeli officials who wanted to keep the assassination plans secret, Netanyahu announced his intentions in a speech to the nation on November 22.

“I have instructed Mossad to search for the heads of Hamas wherever they are,” he said, referring to Israel’s foreign intelligence agency.

At the same time, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant declared that Hamas leaders were “like fish on a cutting board.” “They will have to die,” he said. “This effort is happening globally, both with Hamas members in Gaza as well as those traveling on expensive planes abroad.”

Tel Aviv usually tries to keep such plans secret, but current Israeli leaders have shown no reservations in revealing their intention to go after Hamas for the October 7 raid, just as they did to those who attacked at the 1972 Munich Olympics that killing 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.

Officials say Israel is working to kill or capture Hamas leaders in Gaza. The question now for Israel’s leadership is not whether to kill Hamas leaders abroad but where and how, even though this action may be considered a violation of International law.

This shows Tel Aviv’s determination to ensure that Hamas can never again pose a serious threat, regardless of the diplomatic consequences it may cause.

Israel’s plan to target Hamas leaders began to be aggressively promoted immediately after October 7. Sources say some Israeli officials want to immediately launch a campaign to kill Meshaal and other Hamas leaders living abroad. They were especially angered by a video in which Hamas leaders celebrated and prayed while watching live coverage of the attack.

Israel is believed to have never carried out any assassination campaign in Qatar. This Gulf state has allowed Hamas to run a political office in Doha for the past decade.

Qatar is the most active party in efforts to mediate negotiations with Hamas to rescue hostages from Gaza. Doha arranged the exchange of dozens of hostages being held in Gaza with Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli prisons. According to reports from Tel Aviv, more than 130 hostages are still in the hands of Hamas.

According to unnamed Israeli officials, this is the reason why Tel Aviv refrained from launching the assassination campaign in Qatar, but the plan continued to be discussed.

From left, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Cabinet Secretary Benny Gantz at a press conference at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, October 28. Photo: Reuters

From left, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Cabinet Secretary Benny Gantz at a press conference at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, October 28. Photo: Reuters

Perhaps no country has conducted as many assassination campaigns around the world as Israel. According to the book Rise and Kill First by Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, Tel Aviv has conducted more than 2,700 such operations since World War II.

At the 1972 Munich Olympics, Palestinian gunmen from the Black September group held a group of Israeli athletes and coaches hostage in the Olympic Village for two days. The crisis ended with a failed rescue attempt by West German police. All 11 Israeli hostages were killed.

In response, then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir ordered the search and destruction of everyone involved in the hostage killing. This secret operation became known as “Operation Wrath of God” and became the subject of the 2005 Academy Award-nominated film directed by Steven Spielberg.

For the next 20 years, Israeli intelligence hunted those involved in the Munich attack. They carried out assassinations in France, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Lebanon. They used remote-controlled bombs hidden inside phones in France and silenced guns to take down targets on the streets of Rome.

Among those who joined this years-long effort was Ehud Barak, then a young Israeli agent who later became prime minister. In 1973, Barak, dressed in women’s clothing, and a group of spies went to Beirut to kill three Palestinian gunmen involved in the Munich attack.

But the campaign also led to one of Israel’s most memorable defeats in 1973, when a group of Israeli agents killed a Moroccan waiter in Norway. They mistakenly identified the victim as a Palestinian gunman involved in the events in Munich. 6 out of 15 Israeli agents were arrested, and five were sentenced to short prison terms.

Although these assassination operations sometimes backfire and cause diplomatic crises, Tel Aviv has not abandoned its campaign to target Hamas leaders.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s announcement to hunt down Hamas leaders worldwide has sparked a debate among former Israeli intelligence officials.

Former Mossad director Efraim Halevy said Israel should not do this. According to him, eliminating Hamas leaders will not eliminate the threat. Instead, it is likely to galvanize loyal Hamas supporters, thereby making the threat even more dangerous.

“Hunting Hamas on a global scale and systematically trying to eliminate all of its leaders only serves a desire for revenge, not a plan to achieve a strategic goal,” Halevy commented. , calling it a “fanciful” plan.

Amos Yadlin, a retired Israeli general who once led military intelligence, said the operation “is what justice requires.”

“All Hamas leaders, all those who participated in the attack, those who planned the attack, those who ordered the attack, must be brought to justice or destroyed,” he emphasized. “That is the right policy.”