(photo credit: Associated Press)
The question of whether the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai earlier this month was carried out by Israel or not is insignificant with regards to the impact his demise will likely have on Hamas and its ability to continue smuggling long-range rockets into the Gaza Strip.
Mabhouh, 50, was found dead in his Dubai hotel on January 20. On Friday, Hamas announced the murder, which the group said was carried out by the Mossad, either by electrocution, suffocation or poison.
The timing of the assassination comes almost exactly two years after Hizbullah’s military commander Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in a car bombing in Damascus in February 2008.
Then, too, fingers were pointed at the Mossad. Hizbullah and Iran have yet to find someone capable of effectively replacing Mughniyeh, who in addition to commanding Hizbullah forces was also the guerrilla group’s liaison to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Syria and Hamas.
Mabhouh appears to have played a similar role on behalf of Hamas. According to the few details known about him, Mabhouh helped establish the Izzadin Kassam in the Gaza Strip in the 1980s and was behind the kidnappings in the first intifada of two Israeli soldiers – Sgt. Avi Sasportas in February 1989 and Pvt. Ilan Sa’adon in May of that year, some of the first abductions carried out by the terror group. Both men were later found dead.
At one point Mabhouh fled Gaza and was reportedly based in Damascus, where he operated alongside Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal. During time he spent overseas, Mabhouh established strong ties in Sudan that he later used to smuggle weaponry from Iran to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
One report claimed that he was behind the weapons convoy that Israel bombed during Operation Cast Lead and as it was making its way to Gaza through the Sudanese desert.
Mabhouh did, however, succeed in smuggling long-range rockets into Gaza. Proof of this came in late 2009, when Hamas test-fired a missile with a 60-km. range, capable of striking Tel Aviv and believed to have been manufactured in Iran.
Like the assassination of Mughniyeh, Mabhouh’s murder is another blow to the ‘axis of evil’ that threatens Israel and is led by Iran and continues on to Syria, to Hizbullah in Lebanon, and then to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip. It also joins a long list of similar special operations that have taken place in recent years aimed on the one hand at hitting Iran and at the same time at maintaining Israeli deterrence in the region.
The list of operations can be traced back to the bombing of the Syrian reactor in September 2007 following the Second Lebanon War, a clear message to Iran regarding Israel’s determination and military capabilities; the assassination of Mughniyeh in 2008; the assassination of Gen. Muhammad Suleiman, Bashar Assad’s liaison to Hamas and Hizbullah and head of the Syrian nuclear program, that same year; and the bombing of the weapons convoy in Sudan that Mabhouh reportedly organized.