Syria, Lebanon-based resistance leaders top Israel's hit-listAbdel Aziz Rantisi was one of the Hamas leaders at the top of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hit-list, after the brutal assassination last month of Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. On April 17, the newly appointed leader was killed by an Israeli air strike on his car in the Gaza Strip. A new form of escalation in Israel's aggressive policies toward the Palestinian people and their plight has emerged.
The Hamas leadership has already appointed a new chief to replace Rantisi but has decided to keep the name of its new leader a secret, fearing Israel will also target the new leader.
In contrast to widespread opinion that the next "target" on Sharon's list is the Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat, it appears there are actually others "in line" before the Palestinian leader.
Just recently, Arafat strongly brushed off Israeli ongoing threats to kill him, as US and other world leaders firmly slammed Israel's prime minister for suggesting an act that could plunge the Middle-East deeper into chaos. Arafat was referring to interviews the Israeli leader had given earlier disclosing that two of his arch foes, Arafat and Hassan Nasrallah, should not feel "beyond the reach" of assassination by Israeli troops. Arafat reacted by saying, "For me, I don't care," and added, "I care only for my people, for our students, for our children."
Meanwhile, in Washington, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage responded to Sharon's comments, saying, "Our position on such questions - the exile or assassination of Yasser Arafat - is very well known. We are opposed, and we have made that very clear to the government of Israel."
It seems that nowadays Arafat is not on top of the list of Israeli targets, contrary to various assessments. Some officials believe Tel-Aviv is even interested in keeping Arafat in his position for two main reasons: Firstly, peace negotiations between Israel and the current Palestinian leadership have been "stuck" for quite a while - a situation the Israeli leadership encourages in order to keep their desired stalemate between the sides. Secondly, there are those in Israeli political circles that claim it is better to have someone "known" as head of the Palestinian people as opposed to an "enigma" that may surface and even be "worst" to the Israelis than Arafat himself.
So then – who actually is on Israel's "hit-list" if not the Palestinian president?
Of course, this question is difficult to answer, even quite impossible, given the obvious secrecy surrounding such sensitive policy decisions. Sharon and only a handful of senior military intelligence officials know the exact answer, but, according to recent foreign press reports, it seems the next assassinations carried out by Israeli forces will take place abroad – on foreign territory.
According to these unconfirmed reports, leaders of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah are next on Sharon's "black list."
Topping the Israeli hit-list is Lebanon's Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah's Secretary General. Sharon even threatened Nasrallah recently by saying the Hizbullah chief was not beyond Israel's reach.
Nasrallah was born to a poor family in a camp near Beirut. From the very start, he was an outstanding and remarkable student, devoted to the teachings of Islam, and attracted the attention of the heads of Shiite leadership.
Sheikh Nasrallah is married to Fatima Yassin. They have three children, remained after their elder son Hadi was killed by Israeli forces at the age of 18.
Nasrallah's mother raised Hassan in Lebanon until the family moved to Najaf in Iraq. His father, Abd al-Karim, was a merchant who made a living selling produce in villages in southern Lebanon. Eventually, Abd al-Karim managed to open a small grocery shop in the neighborhood. Hassan used to visit the shop frequently in order to help, always noticing the picture of Imam Mousa al Sadr hanging on one of the walls. Nasrallah hoped he would be able to follow al Sadr's footsteps one day…
Despite his family not being uniquely religious, Hassan, the young boy, was fascinated by religion, where practices such as praying and fasting were insufficient for him. As a teenager, when he returned to the village of Bazouriya, he joined Amal. It was a natural decision for him since he was affectionately attached to Imam Mousa al Sadr. At that time he was 15 year old, and Amal was known by the name of “the movement of the deprived.”
Hassan and his brother Hussein became members of Amal Base, where he became the representative in his village despite his young age. During those times, and within a few months, he decided to travel to Najaf to study Quranic divine sciences. At that time, he was below the age of 16.
In the mosque of Sour, he met cleric Sayyed Muhammad al Gharawi, who used to teach in the name of Imam Mousa al Sadr, and Hassan spoke to him about his wish to go to Hawza (Islamic Seminary) in Najaf, the village and Shiite religious school, where students chose their teachers, and lived a communal life. Al Gharawi, who knew Sayyed Muhammad Baqir al Sadr in Iraq, sent with Hassan a letter of recommendation to the latter.
Upon his arrival to Najaf, he met Lebanese people and asked them about the possibility of delivering a letter of recommendation to Ayatullah Sayyed Muhammad Baqir al Sadr, who was one of the Hawza magnates, and they replied that Sayyed Abbass al Musawi is capable of doing so.
At first, Hassan Nasrallah thought that al-Musawi was an Iraqi, therefore he spoke to him in classical Arabic. However, al-Musawi had told him, “Don’t bother yourself, I am Lebanese, and I come from Nabi Sheeth in the Beqaa." This was the beginning of a strong relationship of friendship and partnership between the two men.
According to the request of Sayyed Muhammad Baqir al Sadr, Al-Musawi was appointed to the custody and teaching of the new arrival. After receiving him and reading the letter of recommendation from Sayyed Muhammad al Gharawi, the Iraqi religious pioneer asked him if he had any money.
When Hassan replied “not even one penny”, Sayyed Muhammad Baqir al Sadr turned to Sayyed Abbas al-Musawi and told him, “provide him with a room, be his teacher, and take care of him.” He then gave Nasrallah some money to buy clothes and books, in addition to a monthly allowance.
The formation of the Hizbullah organization was done with Abbas Mussawi, who was assassinated by the Israeli army in 1992. Following Mussawi's killing, Nassrallah was chosen to replace Mussawi as Secretary General of the Hizbullah, which took control of the villages of southern Lebanon.
Next on the Israeli target list is likely Imad Khalil Al-Alami - the Syria-based head of Hamas' overseas operations. Al-Alami is a member of Hamas' Political Bureau located in Damascus and a military operations leader. As part of the resistance movement's external leadership, he is part of the most effective and powerful wing of Hamas because it controls the West Bank and prison branches of Hamas and has gained total financial control.
Al-Alami has had oversight responsibility for the military wing of Hamas within the Palestinian territories and directs the dispatch of personnel and funding to the West Bank and Gaza. According to an Israeli intelligence source, Hamas now has two or three offices in Damascus, led by al-Alami, the chairman of a key Hamas committee. “Al-Alami co-ordinates, finances and orchestrates suicide attacks in Israel,” the source said.
Khaled Mashal is placed well on top of the Israeli secret services hit-list as well. Mashal, head of the Hamas political bureau who escaped a Mossad assassination is also based in Syria. Mashal has been described alternately as the "political leader" of the group and the leader of Hamas' Syrian branch. He may actually be both. After the killing of Shiekh Yassin and al Rantisi, Mashal is the most powerful figure in Hamas.
On September 25, 1997 Mashal was the target of an assassination attempt carried out by the Israeli Mossad under the direction of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ten Mossad agents carrying Canadian passports entered Jordan, where Mashal was living, and injected him with a toxic substance. At the time of the assassination attempt Mashal was considered Hamas' Jordanian branch chief.
Jordanian authorities discovered the assassination attempt and arrested two Mossad agents who had engaged in the attempt. Jordan's King Hussein then demanded that Netanyahu turn over the poison antidote, and at first Netanyahu refused. As the incident began to grow in political significance, however, US President Bill Clinton intervened and forced Netanyahu to turn over the antidote. Jordanian authorities later released the Mossad agents in exchange for the release of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison.
In August of 1999, probably in reaction to pressure from the Clinton administration, Jordanian police issued an arrest warrant for Mashal in advance of a visit to the country by then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Recently, Mashal has acted as a vocal critic of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, often refusing to follow directives issued by the Palestinian Authority regarding cease-fires with Israel.
Dr. Ramadan Abdullah Shalah, who serves as Secretary-General of the Islamic Jihad is also probably marked by Israel. The Islamic Jihad leader is a Syria-based, former Florida professor who was born in the Gaza Strip and received his education in the 1980s in London, where he received his doctorate in Islamic economics at the University of Durnham. In England, Shalah was named to head the local Islamic Jihad office, where he handled "propaganda" and other activities.
In 1990, Shalah taught Middle East courses at South Florida University in Tampa, where he also served as a director of WISE, the World and Islamic Studies Enterprise, a think-tank devoted to Muslim political and religious issues that was connected to Islamic Jihad. In October 1995, following the assassination of Fathi Abd al-Aziz Shkaki, Shalah became head of Islamic Jihad.
Early in 1996, Shalah returned to the Middle East, establishing himself and his group in Damascus. In January 1997, Shalah and representatives of Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine took part in a Damascus rally where they vowed to resume attacks against Israel. "We are going to retaliate with a language that the enemy can only understand," Shalah said. "The danger of the suicide operations are coming."
In September 2000, Shalah was quoted as announcing, "Our enemy possesses the most sophisticated weapons in the world and its army is trained to a very high standard. … We have nothing with which to repel killing… against us except the weapon of martyrdom. It is easy and costs us only our lives…human bombs cannot be defeated, not even by nuclear bombs."
In October 2000, following an Islamic Jihad attack on an Israeli military post in Gaza Strip, Shalah said, "These actions are the beginning and there will be other attacks against settlers and the Israeli army." In December 2000, Shalah spoke at the Iranian embassy in Damascus, saying that uprising was "the only alternative for the Palestinian people" and added, "The Palestinian people is determined to free its land and build an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital."
Most of these leaders operate from within Damascus. Last year, Israel sent a serious "warning" to the Syrian government in Damascus by bombing a Palestinian training camp in Ein Saheb, near Damascus.
Sources in Israel said that the first warning has already lost its impact. Syria is unmoved by the Israeli aggression and continue to support Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah, regardless of military threats and diplomatic pressure exerted by the United States.
The situation in the Middle East has been deteriorating on a daily basis with the continuation of Israeli violence against the Palestinian people. As developments unfold, it looks as if the next stage in Israel's war is an escalation in its policies with assassinations expected to be carried out overseas. Israeli Mossad squads are responsible, among many other things, for carrying out "special" overseas operations.
Some two years ago, when Meir Dagan was appointed to head the Mossad agency, reports said he planned to reactivate a "unique" secretive operations unit, code named Caesarea, to target the commanders, controllers, and financiers of "terrorist groups" throughout the Middle East.
Quoting sources close to the Mossad, the British Sunday Times reported at the time that Islamists abroad will become as "vulnerable" as those in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "There is no reason why we should not do the same abroad. They will have nowhere to hide," said one source that is said to be familiar with Dagan's plans for the Mossad.
"Gone are the days of black-tie parties around the globe and fat expense accounts," he said. "Whatever we can't shoot will be closed down."
The paper reported that Dagan is particularly determined to resurrect the "reputation" of the Caesarea Squad, which suffered a major setback following the failed bid to kill Khaled Mashal in Amman in 1997.
Even though it is clear Israel's plots are to strike at targets abroad, only future developments will be able to pinpoint the exact nature of these targets. However, Israel should bear in mind that by these killings and assassinations, the resistance to occupation will go on as Ismail Haniyeh, one of Hamas' political leaders, said following al Rantisi's assassination: "This blood will not be wasted. We are not going to give up."