An ex-Israeli spymaster turned politician has been accused of spilling secrets for political gain by airing his account of the decade-old botched assassination of a Palestinian terrorist in Jordan.
Danny Yatom was forced to resign as head of the Mossad intelligence service after his agents were caught poisoning Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal in a mission that severely strained ties between Israel and arguably its friendliest Arab neighbor.
Now a candidate for the leadership of Israel’s center-left Labor Party, Yatom has been trying to spread the blame for the 1997 fiasco among political rivals — chiefly former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads the rightist Likud Party.
“The decision [to target Meshaal] was made in my absence,” Yatom told Israel Radio on April 12.
He also said it was Ami Ayalon, then head of the Shin Bet domestic security service and now the frontrunner in the Labor race, who proposed killing Meshaal in Jordan.
“Ayalon should own up to his recommendation,” said Yatom, whom opinion polls show trailing in the May 28 primary.
After the would-be assassins of Meshaal were caught by Jordanian police, Israel handed over an antidote that saved the Hamas chief’s life. Netanyahu further released Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin and dozens of other top terrorists from Israeli jails.
Netanyahu, who has been touting his tough-on-terror credentials amid a rise in Hamas power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — and ahead of an anticipated showdown with centrist Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert — denounced Yatom’s remarks.
“The operation bungle was not in the choice of Khaled Meshaal as a target — something obvious to everyone today — but in the implementation, which Yatom was responsible for,” Netanyahu aide Ofir Akunis told the Yediot Achronot newspaper.
“We deplore Yatom’s supplanting of the principles of national security for the sake of internal politics,”! he said .
Ayalon spokeswoman Nilly Richman rejected Yatom’s account of the decision-making on the attempted hit.
“And in any event, such public discussions of such issues are just not done,” she said.
An Israeli commission of inquiry into the affair called for Yatom’s resignation while clearing Netanyahu of blame and not ruling out future Mossad missions in Jordan. Netanyahu’s critics voiced little surprise, noting that he had appointed the panel.