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A Repeat of the Seventies? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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At this stage, Hamas and Israel are on the verge of [engaging in] widespread clashes in light of a fragile truce. In this context, the murder of one of Hamas’ most prominent security commanders, namely Mahmoud al Mabhouh, took place recently in Dubai. We say murder because Dubai police reported that the man had been strangled to death. As for Hamas, it declared the martyrdom of its security commander and promised revenge. Israel, the prime suspect, did not hide its intentions of targeting the man and even though it made no official comment, all the evidence points to it.

Therefore, from what we have seen so far, it was an operation carried out by Israel’s intelligence apparatus against one of Hamas’ leading figures assigned to coordinate Hamas security and foreign relations and to strengthen its military wing, the Al Qassam Brigades, and to secure arms and support for it.

This was an unprecedented and brazen act and a blatant violation of the sovereignty of an Arab state, in this case, the United Arab Emirates. I believe the culprits must be caught. If there is a lead that suggests Israel’s involvement in the crime then it must be used against it on the legal, political and media levels. Turning the Arab countries into places for assassinations and pursuit to take place is very worrying as it takes us back to Beirut during the seventies and the eighties when the city was an open field for Israel to carry out operations against various rival Palestinian factions, and for warring Lebanese groups as well as regional and international intelligence agencies. It was as if there was an unwritten international agreement to limit the conflict area to Beirut or its neighbouring island, Cyprus.

We are no longer in the revolutionary, chaotic and unrestrained seventies and eighties. We now live in an age that faces other challenges and crises.

Al Mabhouh’s killers must be tracked down without any hesitation. No one can argue against this because to pursue them is to uphold the sovereignty of law and protect stable countries from foreign groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Al Mabhouh’s killers must be brought to justice so that Israel and those who are pursuing it or those being pursued by it would respect the fact that there are stable Arab countries that do not want to be dragged into conflict, war and assassinations that they themselves did not choose to get involved in. Resorting to compelling media campaigns and stirring up the public’s emotions is not acceptable. Supporting the Palestinian cause does not necessarily have to be in accordance with the standards and style of Hamas and Hezbollah…but this is a different matter.

It is a dangerous operation and a new twist that signifies severe consequences. We must put an end to Arab soil being transformed into an arena for confrontation, pursuit, bombings and assassinations at the hands of the Jewish state and revolutionary organizations.

We have experienced this over the past decades. Flights were hijacked in Jordan and blown up and assassinations were carried out in capitals all over the world in the name of the Palestinian Cause. Israel carried out intelligence operations in Beirut, Tunisia and London. Palestinian factions along with revolutionary professionals such as the Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal or the Lebanese terrorist Anis Nakash together with a band of revolutionaries from the German leftist groups and the Japanese Red Army spearheaded similar operations. The peak of such undertakings was the infamous operation carried out in Vienna in December 1975 when Wadie Hadad decided to abduct OPEC ministers and plotted to kill both the Saudi and Iranian oil ministers. The operation was reported to have been planned by a revolutionary Arab state at the time. The terrorists successfully attacked the meeting in Vienna, killed some security men then boarded a plane that stopped over in Libya and Algeria before disappearing into the dark.

The OPEC operation in Vienna was not the only one of its kind as there were many other similar attacks. Anyone who reads the interviews conducted by journalist Ghassan Charbel in his book entitled ‘Asrar al Sunduq al Aswad’ [Secrets of the Black Box] would be amazed at the recklessness of people like Carlos the Jackal or Anis Nakash or their commanders such as the Palestinians Wadie Hadad or even Abu Jihad Khalil al Wazir.

Their various operations were carried out in the name of the Palestinian cause despite there being no obvious link. The orders given by a revolutionary Arab state to Wadie Hadad and his men to carry out the attack on the OPEC ministers and to assassinate the Saudi and Iranian oil ministers is a clear example of such recklessness.

In the extended interviews in Ghassan Charbel’s book, Anis Nakash says that he was assigned to lead the OPEC operation along with Carlos the Jackal and that the latter had received direct orders to execute both [the Saudi and Iranian oil] ministers. However, Lebanese terrorist Nakash, who was more familiar with the Arab world than the Latin revolutionary Carlos the Jackal, was perfectly aware of the consequences of such actions on the Palestinian cause. Eventually he advised Carlos the Jackal to refrain from carrying out that order and to spare the lives of both men in return for a large ransom and the public reading of a revolutionary political communiqué in the name of “the Arab revolutionary wing.” Carlos the Jackal then looked at him and said in a rather convinced tone: you seem to understand politics very well!

Operations carried out by revolutionary Palestinian groups caused division and tension not only among Arab states, but also among the Palestinians themselves. Palestinian politicians were assassinated at the hands of other Palestinians under the banner of revolutionary purity and Fedayeen action. Chaos reigned as some people transformed into assassins for hire such as Abu Nidal.

We recall that era in order to evaluate the statement made by Mahmoud al Zahhar, a leading figure in the Hamas movement, following the murder of al Mabhouh. Al Zahhar said that by killing Mahmoud al Mabhouh, Israel wants to change the rules of the game by moving the battlefield outside of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Al Zahhar indicated that Israel had had a taste of this throughout its prolonged conflict with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and affirmed that Israel was well-aware of Hamas’ ability to get its targets anywhere.

It was as if al Zahhar was trying to say that Hamas is just as good as Fatah, the Black September Organization, Wadie Hadad, Carlos the Jackal and Anis Nakash, and that it can operate even better than they did back in the seventies and the eighties.

The remarkable thing is that the most prominent Palestinian writer based abroad referred to the same idea in an article in which he commented on al Mabhouh’s assassination. He wrote, “It might be useful to remind the Israelis and their Western allies that the Palestinian resistance factions disturbed the entire world, inflicted heavy casualties on the Israelis and spread terror throughout their embassies and aviation companies when the confrontation was taken to foreign lands, in particular the European continent during the seventies and the eighties.”

What does this comment actually mean?

We are not talking about fighting Israel as this is only natural for groups that reject the peace process in principle and in essence. It is normal for them to be engaged in armed conflict with Israel. But didn’t the paramilitary groups in the seventies deem anything permissible in the name of Palestine? Didn’t Hezbollah recently violate Egypt’s sovereignty in the name of the Palestinian cause?

Do the comments of al Zahhar and the Palestinian writer mean that it is permissible now to infiltrate Arab and non-Arab countries alike, hijack flights and kill others throughout the world all in the name of the Palestinian cause? Is this a sign that what will happen, or the threats that are made, represent a natural extension to the actions carried out by the likes of Carlos the Jackal and Anis Nakash in the seventies and the eighties? What backs this theory is the fact that Carlos the Jackal sent a message of admiration and support to Osama Bin Laden straight after the 9/11 attacks carried out by Al Qaeda from his prison in France where he has been locked up since 1994. Similarly, Anis Nakash, who is now residing in Beirut under the protection of Hezbollah, is still explicitly endorsing the divine party and praising all its actions. Nakash believes that his revolutionary ideology has not changed since the seventies, meaning that the man now sees himself as part of Hezbollah or Hamas.

To sum up: it would be completely absurd to follow the same path once again. Let us assume that Hamas and its allies carry out similar actions to Wadie Hadad and his men or Abu Iyad and his men. What good would come of it? Do the people in Hamas and their allies realize that we are approaching the end of the first decade of the second millennium? Do they realize that a new world has emerged in the wake of the 9/11 attacks? Are they aware that the Soviet Union has already collapsed, that Saddam Hussein has been hanged and that Muammar Gaddafi has retired from revolutionary work and that Carlos the Jackal might be spending his last days in prison planting flowers and arguing with the guards? Or is time and its various twists and turns of no significance whatsoever to al Zahhar and the old Palestinian writer? It is the prelude to reckless chaos. As a result, we should try with all our might to rein in the Israeli tendency to wreak havoc and promptly confront the blatant violation of the sovereignty of Arab and non-Arab states. Nobody wants a repeat of the seventies.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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