Author: YOSSI MELMAN
Posted on March 26, 2017
The killing of Hamas operative Mazen Fuqaha on Friday night near his home southwest of Gaza City was the work of professionals. The assassin or assassins acted calmly, fired four bullets at point-blank range with guns equipped with silencers and left the scene without leaving any trace – at least so far.
Hamas hurriedly pointed a finger at Israel and blamed the Mossad for the murder.
Some Hamas officials mentioned, in the same breath, the December assassination in Tunisia of an engineer who helped develop drones and a mini-submarine for Hamas. That killing was attributed by the media to the Mossad.
Three potential suspects could have carried out the Fuqaha killing.
Radical Salafist groups in Gaza that oppose Hamas have launched rockets against Israel and hundreds of its members have been locked up by Hamas in recent months. Palestinian sources, however, estimate this probability as very low.
Another possibility is that the killing was an “inside job” – that someone in Hamas decided, for whatever reason, to get read of Fuqaha.
In the past, there have been incidents in which senior Hamas officials and commanders were murdered by their peers because of internal power struggles or personal disagreements. Surely, this scenario is possible, ever since Yahya Sinwar was elected the Hamas leader in Gaza. Nearly two years ago, he ordered the killing of a senior Hamas commander because of disagreements between them.
Israel, meanwhile, maintains its silence.
Assuming Israel turns out to be behind the assassination, it most probably was a joint operation of its intelligence community.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) is responsible for counterterrorism in Gaza, but works closely with other branches of the intelligence community and the IDF’s Special Forces.
Fuqaha, 35, from the township of Tubas in the northern part of the West Bank, was sentenced in 2003 to nine life terms in prison for dispatching a suicide bomber during the second intifada who murdered nine Israelis on a bus in northern Israel.
He was released in 2011 as part of the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap, when the Shin Bet insisted that he and others would not be allowed to return to their West Bank homes and would be deported to Gaza.
There, in violation of his release commitment not to be involved in terrorism, he became a senior operative in the “West Bank command” of Hamas, which is subject to its military headquarters based in Turkey in charge of planning and executing terrorist operations against Israelis and the PA in the West Bank and Israel.
It’s worth noting that the Shin Bet chief told the Knesset last week that Hamas has increased its efforts to execute terrorist acts in the West Bank and Israel, especially before Passover. After Fuqaha’s death, his family in Tubas said Israeli intelligence officers had asked them to deliver warnings to him to stop his activities.
Assuming Israel is behind the assassination, it indicates a new approach.
True, Israel wants to maintain quiet and tranquility along the border with Gaza.
If, indeed, Israel can assassinate Hamas leaders in Gaza and abroad without leaving its fingerprints, it shows a more aggressive approach.
It’s worth noting that the new head of the Shin Bet, Nadav Argaman, has spent all his professional life in the special operations wing of his organization.
And the new Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen, aspires to make his agency more “operational.”
When there is precise intelligence and operational feasibility, Israel has an itch to execute such operations, but it is a dangerous game that can get out of control.
Hamas spokesmen promise to avenge the killing of their member, but the organization still doesn’t want to be dragged into a new confrontation, because it feels it has not yet recovered from its loss in the last war in 2014 and is not yet ready militarily.
Therefore, Hamas most probably will try to avenge the killing of Fuqaha – not directly from Gaza, but indirectly from the West Bank or Jerusalem – without leaving its own prints.