Analysis: Mystery surrounds murder of Tunisian aviation engineer

With the passage of time, it has become questionable whether this was the work of Mossad spies and assassins.

December 18, 2016 06:24
3 minute read.
Girls walk the street dressed in (L-R) the Salafi, Palestinian and Tunisian flags

Girls walk the street dressed in (L-R) the Salafi, Palestinian and Tunisian flags during the second anniversary of the Tunisian Revolution in Tunis. (photo credit: REUTERS)

On Friday, the bullet-riddled body of Muhammad Zawari was found in his car in the southern Tunisian city of Sfax. The 49-year-old aviation engineer was a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Hamas admitted Saturday that Zawari was a member of its military wing. Some local reports even claimed that by traveling to Lebanon he also came into contact with Hezbollah.

There were sufficient reasons to Tunisian and other Arab media outlets to argue that the Mossad is responsible for the assassination.

Some Israeli commentators, especially at Channel 10, repeated the claim. But with the passage of time it has become questionable whether this was the work of spies and assassins.

Testimony and evidence collected at the scene by the Tunisian police indicate that the perpetrator or perpetrators didn’t act with the professionalism that has characterized previous assassinations of Iranian scientists and Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists attributed to the Mossad during the past decade.

Crime scene photos clearly show that the assassins sprayed his car with bullets, while past assassinations attributed to the Mossad were carried out by car bombs operated by remote control or by poison. Using guns with silencers was characteristic of Mossad operations in the ‘70s, ‘80s and up to the mid-’90s.

According to other reports, a Tunisian female “journalist” who claimed to live in Hungary made contact with Zawari two days before his death.

This is also very unusual and might have raised the target’s suspicions and endangered the entire operation.

Furthermore, the Tunisian investigator said that they found two guns with silencers and four rental cars used by the perpetrators. Leaving behind such traceable evidence indicates a kind of negligence which is unknown in the Mossad – unless such artifacts were left behind to incriminate innocents and conceal the real perpetrators.

Zawari left Tunisia in the ‘90s under government pressure and moved to Syria, where he began working for Hamas. In 2011, after the revolution which brought democracy to Tunisia, he returned to his homeland and opened a school where he taught students how to develop and assemble small drones.

After the murder some journalists wrote that he also worked for Hezbollah.

But this claim seems very strange, since Hezbollah is supported by Iran which has a very developed and successful drone program. It is very unlikely that the Lebanese- Shi’ite movement needs a Tunisian engineer to develop its drones.

Hamas is also trying to develop unmanned aerial vehicles. It is trying to achieve this goal by employing local Gazan engineers with some support from Iran and to use the Internet as a source of technological information.

This is a field in which the liquidation of one engineer could not stymie the terrorist group. In most of the past assassination operations attributed to the Mossad, it was clear that the purpose was to kill key figures whom their groups could not function without, at least for the time being. It seems from what we know so far about Zawari that this is not the case with him.

One has to understand that the decision-making process prior to such a special operation is very complicated. It includes diplomatic considerations, and a true desire to minimize risk and above all not to endanger operatives.

And all this demands a clear-cut confirmation by the prime minister.

Early Sunday morning, reports from Tunisia added a new interesting piece of information: it was said that the surveillance camera covering the area were rigged. If this is the case, it's slightly softens the overall picture and may indicate that, after all, the perpetrators were skillful.

It seems, however, that Zawari, a member of the military wing of Hamas, was a small cog, certainly not a target of such high quality for the Mossad to risk getting rid of him.

Nevertheless, one shouldn’t rule out the possibility that he was involved in a highly sensitive scheme known to the Mossad and worth the risk of a special operation against him. However, if this is not the case he may well have been killed because of a personal or criminal dispute. The truth may never be known.

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