JERUSALEM (Oct. 13)
The government committee investigating the failed Mossad attempt to assassinate a Hamas leader in Jordan has begun its probe.
During the committee’s first day of hearings Sunday, the head of Mossad, Danny Yatom, was the first witness to appear.
Yatom was reported to have presented evidence that Khaled Mashaal, the target of the botched Sept. 25 assassination attempt, has long been on Israel’s list of potential targets.
The implication was that Mashaal is indeed a major player in the fundamentalist Hamas movement, contrary to what some members of the opposition have recently suggested.
Yatom, according to an Israel Television report, reiterated his claim that all defense and security officials who should have been contacted did, in fact, have prior knowledge of the Mossad operation, and that the decision-making process was measured and thorough.
Yatom has been at loggerheads with the head of Israeli military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, and the head of the Shin Bet domestic intelligence service, Ami Ayalon, both of whom have claimed that they were not informed ahead of time of the ill-fated operation.
On Monday, Israel released nine Arab prisoners under the terms of a deal worked out with Jordan’s King Hussein, who was outraged that the attack was carried out in his capital.
On Oct. 1, Israel freed Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin in exchange for the two Mossad agents captured after the failed attack.
Last week, Israel released some 20 Arab prisoners, most of whom had Jordanian passports, as part of the swap.
Government spokesman Moshe Fogel said Monday that Israel would release a total of 50 to 60 Arab prisoners under the deal with Jordan.
The Canadian government recently recalled its ambassador to Israel, David Berger, after it was disclosed that the two Mossad agents had been carrying Canadian passports.
But Berger was set to return to Israel this week after Israel apologized for using the forged passports and promised it would not happen again.
Meanwhile, a Jordanian official claimed over the weekend that his country had suspended security cooperation with Israel pending the dismissal of all the officials involved in the failed assassination, which embarrassed Jordan in the wider Arab world.
But Israeli officials denied the official’s comments, pointing to cooperation between Israel and Jordan on Saturday, when Israeli soldiers shot dead an armed infiltrator who crossed the border from Jordan to Israeli territory near the West Bank town of Jericho.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who came under intense criticism for the failed operation, created the committee last week “to clarify the events that happened in Jordan.”
One member of the committee, former Mossad chief Nahum Admoni, resigned last week after it emerged that, in the days immediately following the assassination attempt, he had publicly defended the operation in radio and television interviews.
Admoni has been replaced by Dan Tolkowsky, a former commander of the air force.
But civil rights activists intend to petition the High Court of Justice to remove the other two committee members, Yosef Chekhanover and Rafi Peled, on the grounds that they serve on the boards of government-owned companies and therefore cannot be considered independent.
Chekhanover is chairman of El Al; Peled, a former police chief, is director- general of Israel Electric Corporation.
Attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein, in an effort to pre-empt such a challenge in court, has delivered a formal opinion to the prime minister under which Netanyahu would not discuss with the two anything pertaining to their directorships.
The Knesset on Monday debated the failed assassination attempt. All motions introduced by the opposition and coalition factions were referred to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for further discussion.