On January 20th, Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhoud was assassinated in Dubai. This, by now, is well-known. What is unknown, however, is just about all the details surrounding the murder. Who, why and how all remain unanswered. It is clear that he was killed in his hotel room the day after his arrival and Hamas, and pretty much all the Arab media believes that Israel is behind the assassination. Despite all the unknowns, this assassination has the potential to tear apart the Palestinian reconciliation efforts as well as the peace talks between Israel and Palestine.
Dubai police have said that the assassination was carried out by people carrying European passports and that the assassins fled the country following the killing. Original speculation claimed the assassins were from a ‘criminal gang’ and Hamas leaders are not commenting on the specifics of the murder. It has been said that the killing was done ‘swiftly.’ Mabhoud’s brother, however, claims that the Hamas leader was strangled and electrocuted before death – something that is not necessarily a quick process.
Hamas was quick to blame the Israeli Mossad was behind the killing. Senior leader Mahmoud Zahar says that the Israeli agents must have accompanied Israeli minister Uzi Landau into the UAE. Hamas officials have promised retaliation that is “painful but rational.” While some have hypothesized that a Hamas retaliation would take place abroad – as the assassination was – Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas representative, said that local retaliation would be more damaging to the occupation than attacks abroad.
[tweetmeme] The assassination closely resembles the attempted assassination of Khalid Meshaal in Amman, Jordan in 1997. The botched attempt was orchestrated by PM Netanyahu during his last tenure as PM. If one were to take away the potential for a Hollywood thriller (Meshaal had poison injected behind the ear; his bodyguard ran down one of the assassins; the Jordanian King demanded that the anecdote be delivered from Israel immediate…), the comparisons between the two events are simple and easily made. Both were assassination attempts on foreign soil. Both involved assassins holding European passports. Both targeted high-level Hamas leaders. It seems natural that Hamas would immediately blame Israel.
As Greg Carlstrom points out, there is no proof that Israel is behind the attack, only speculation. But perception counts. Because the Arab media has taken such a strong hold on the assumption of Israeli guilt, Netanyahu is effectively guilty until Dubai police can prove his innocence. This situation has dire consequences; rather, the response from Hamas will have dire consequences.
Since the end of Operation Cast Lead, Hamas and Israel have held an unofficial cease-fire. Hamas has been trying to halt splinter groups from firing missiles into Israel while Israel has conducted minimal raids into Gaza. Hamas retribution could easily upset this uneasy balance. If Hamas attacks in Israel or abroad, it could easily trigger a new round of violence. At the very least, an attack on Israel would seemingly justify the Israeli blockade of Gaza and increase the pressure to intensify the already suffocating policy.
Furthermore, any retaliation by Hamas would make the US completely unable to pressure Israel on its human rights abuses. This would consequently push peace further into the realm of impossibility.
The chances that the US could actually do anything to truly push Israel towards peace is already laughable – everyone saw how Obama embarrassed himself while trying to answer a question about Palestinian human rights. The US currently has no policy for how to deal with Hamas – besides ignoring the democratically elected group. A resumption of violence in Gaza would force a more aggressive US policy towards Hamas and negate any chance Obama had of standing up to Netanyahu. The assassination of Mabhoud is tragic; certainly he was not a good man, but death is death and I would not wish that on anyone. Perhaps more tragic, unfortunately, is the consequences of his death.