JERUSALEM (Oct. 5)
Israel has implied that it was behind a botched assassination attempt on a Hamas leader in Jordan.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused Sunday to confirm or deny whether Israel played a role in the failed Sept. 25 attempt.
But Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh, in an apparent effort to explain the motivation behind the incident, said that Israel has an obligation “to defend the rights of its citizens and to fight terror without compromise.”
Naveh, who read from a statement after an emergency meeting Sunday of the Security Cabinet, did not explicitly say that Mossad agents had tried to murder Khaled Mashaal, director of Hamas’s political wing in Jordan.
But Naveh’s assertion that Mashaal is “responsible for the murder of many Israeli citizens” was widely viewed by Israelis as a de facto admission by the government.
Naveh referred to Mashaal in the statement as the “number one figure in Hamas.”
Allegations that Mossad agents entered Jordan with phony Canadian passports and injected Mashaal with a lethal substance have severely strained Israel’s relations with both Canada and Jordan.
On Oct. 2, Canadian officials, accusing Israel of endangering Canadians traveling in the Middle East, announced that they were recalling their ambassador to Israel, David Berger.
Berger left Israel on Saturday for consultations with his government.
Jordan’s King Hussein, Israel’s closest Arab ally, was reported to be furious at Israel’s attempt to carry out an assassination on Jordanian soil.
According to Jordanian media reports, two of the Israeli agents who gave Mashaal a potentially lethal injection were apprehended by Jordanian police and are now in custody. At least four other agents reportedly found refuge at the Israeli Embassy in Amman.
Hussein made an angry phone call to Netanyahu to protest the attack on Mashaal, the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot reported last week.
Amid dire warnings from Hussein of repercussions if Mashaal died, an Israeli physician was dispatched to Jordan immediately after the attack to administer an antidote to the hospitalized Hamas official.
In an attempt to contain the diplomatic fallout, a high-level delegation of Israel officials — including Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon and Naveh — flew on Sept. 28 to Jordan to meet with Hussein.
On Oct. 1, Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin was released from an Israeli prison and flown by helicopter to Jordan.
The wheelchair-bound Muslim cleric, who was jailed in 1989, had been serving a life sentence for ordering the deaths of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel.
It is widely believed that Israel’s decision to free Yassin, who is in failing health, was part of a deal for the future release of the two Israeli agents who reportedly carried out the attack against Mashaal.
Hussein, who made peace with Israel despite opposition from other Arab leaders and many of his own citizens, showed his displeasure with Netanyahu during a newspaper interview published Sunday.
“I personally just can’t figure out what the Israeli prime minister thinks, and this worries me a lot,” Hussein said.
Angry though he was, Hussein accepted the credentials of Israel’s new ambassador to Jordan, Oded Eran, in a ceremony Sunday that had been scheduled before the Sept. 25 attack.
In Israel, members of the opposition called an emergency Knesset session for next week to discuss the affair. The Knesset had been scheduled to be in recess until November, after this month’s series of Jewish holidays.
Opposition leaders placed the blame for the entire affair squarely on Netanyahu.
Labor Party leader Ehud Barak said the country “was stuck in a quagmire.”
Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Barak’s predecessor at Labor’s helm, said “a mess like this would never have happened during my term as prime minister.”
Former Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir also lashed out at Netanyahu, saying, “Nothing was achieved and only damage was caused to our relations with Canada and Jordan, and I ask why and what for.”