By Hanna Kawas*
On Dec. 15, 2016, Tunisian Mohammad al-Zawahri, a Hamas leader and flight engineer specializing in unmanned aerial vehicles, was assassinated in the Tunisian city of Sfax. This operation bore eerie similarities to another assassination 28 years earlier of prominent Palestinian leader and high-ranking Fatah official Khalil Al Wazir (popularly known as Abu Jihad).
According to Gideon Levy in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Dec. 22, “Back in 1988, not far from the place where Zawahri was murdered, Israel murdered Abu Jihad in front of his wife and children in an operation given the poetic name ‘Show of Force’. Its perpetrators, from the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, boasted of it for years afterward.”
Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman, a recognized expert on the Israeli Mossad, wrote in an opinion article in the Ynetnews on Dec. 19, 2016:
“If the Mossad is indeed behind the assassination of Hamas aviation engineer Mohammad al-Zawahri in Tunisia, as reported by the foreign press, this is the first assassination attributed to the Israeli intelligence organization under Cohen’s leadership (or perhaps the second: Omar Zayed of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine died under mysterious circumstances in Bulgaria).”
Bergman also acknowledged in that same article that:
“Tunisia is what the Mossad calls a ‘soft target’ state…not an actual enemy state” and also noted that “The people arrested in Tunisia were likely not involved and will be released soon.”
Four years ago, the Times of Israel reported on Nov. 1, 2012 that:
“Yedioth Ahronoth investigative reporter Ronen Bergman’s interview with Nahum Lev, the commander of the operation and the officer who killed Abu Jihad, was cleared for publication…after being blocked by the military censor for more than a decade. The interview was conducted prior to Lev’s death from a car accident in August 2000. In allowing its publication, Israel essentially confirmed the open secret that it carried out the operation.”
Was the Tunisian Security establishment complicit in both these assassination operations?
Following is some of the most relevant background information:
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali came to power in Tunisia on November 7, 1987 in a bloodless coup d’état against then President Habib Bourguiba in questionable and suspicious circumstances.
In his early days, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was awarded training at the “Senior Intelligence School in Maryland and the School for Anti-Aircraft Field Artillery in Texas.”
In 1987, the new Tunisian security chief Abderrahmane Balhaj Ali, “accompanied Ben Ali to Carthage at the time of his assumption of power…as general director of the presidential security”, a position he continued to hold for 14 years.
On April 16, 1988, just a few months after Ben Ali became President, Abu Jihad was assassinated by the Mossad. In 1993, David Yallop, the British investigative journalist, in his book “To the Ends of the Earth”, exposed the complicity of the U.S. and Tunisian governments in the murder of Abu Jihad. He noted:
“The ‘High Backing’ also included the President of Tunis, Ben Ali, and the United States government, specifically the State Department.” (Page 224)
On February 7, 2011, after the Tunisian popular revolution that ousted Ben Ali and his cohorts, Canada Palestine Association sent a letter to the Tunisian Ambassador to Canada, regarding the murder of Palestinian Leader Abu Jihad entitled “Bring Ben Ali and his Police and Intelligence Officers to Justice”. To this date, we have NOT received any response, not even an acknowledgement of receipt of the letter.
Times of Israel reported on Nov. 5, 2012 that the Tunisian “Wafa movement announced…that it intended to sue Israel in a Tunis court over its involvement in the killing of Fatah official Khalil Al-Wazir (Abu Jihad)…Fadira Najjar, an attorney and member of Wafa, told Tunisian television that the assassination was perpetrated on Tunisian soil and is considered a war crime under international law. Najjar claimed that deposed Tunisian president Zine El-Abidine Bin Ali colluded with Israel in the killing, along with security officials.”
It is worth noting that a Ynetnews story on this same subject did not refer to Tunisian “security officials” that were involved in the murder of Abu Jihad.
A year ago, Balhaj Ali was resurrected to again head the Tunisian security apparatus and on Dec. 2, 2015, Jeune Afrique reported that he is “the new strong man of the services of the Tunisian police. His appointment is accompanied by a series of changes in the security apparatus…”
On Dec. 16, 2016 Ynetnews reported his sudden resignation this way: “Five hours after the assassination (of al-Zawahri), the Tunisian National Security Commissioner, Abed al-Rahman Balhaj Ali, announced his resignation without specifying why. Political sources in Tunisia have not ruled out the possibility that the resignation came against the backdrop of the assassination.”
Haaretz also reported on Dec. 18, 2016 that “Foreign elements were behind the assassination of a Hamas drone expert last Thursday, Tunisia announced on Sunday evening, following allegations that the engineer’s death was orchestrated by Israel’s Mossad.”
All of these facts raise many serious and troubling questions:
What is the “Senior Intelligence School in Maryland”? Is it similar to the “School of the Americas (Assassins)? Is it tied to the CIA? Does it train and recruit foreign nationals as CIA agents? Was Ben Ali recruited to the CIA? Did the Tunisian government knew of Ben Ali’s activities?
What does Abderrahmane Balhaj Ali know about the 1987 Tunisian coup d’état? Was he ever questioned by the Tunisian governments that followed Ben Ali’s Government and did he have any role in the Abu Jihad assassination? Was he ever questioned about what he did know “as general director of the presidential security” about the murder of Abu Jihad?
Why did Balhaj Ali resign five hours after the assassination of al-Zawahri? You would think that the “Tunisian National Security Commissioner” would want to investigate and expose the assassins!
What are the connections and similarities between the assassinations of Mohammed Zawahri and Abu Jihad? And, more importantly, would exposing and convicting the Tunisian security and police officials who were complicit in Abu Jihad’s murder have prevented the murder of al-Zawahri?
Why did the Tunisian government blame Zawahri’s assassination only on “foreign elements”?
Was Israeli journalist Bergman right when he stated “The people arrested in Tunisia were likely not involved”? And were those people scapegoats, to protect higher ranking Tunisian officials that were involved?
Why does the Mossad consider Tunisia a “soft target” state? And why does the current Tunisian government insist on ignoring popular and parliamentary demands to penalize any normalization with Israel?
And the most crucial point: Is the current Tunisian government willing or capable of appointing a National Security Commissioner that serves the Tunisian and Arab peoples and has no ties or allegiance to the CIA, Mossad, Italian or French security services?
Why does Saudi Arabia harbor and protect the deposed Tunisian leader Ben Ali, who has been convicted in absentia on multiple counts by Tunisian courts, thereby thwarting justice? Why is Saudi Arabia giving refuge to this murderer with Tunisian and Arab blood on his hands?
And finally, why are the Fatah leadership and its Palestinian Authority security forces not actively investigating and bringing to justice the murderers of Abu Jihad and Yasser Arafat, rather than chasing after those who oppose and resist the Israeli enemy?
To have genuine justice for the many Palestinians and Arabs who have been murdered in cold blood by the Israeli Mossad, we need to also “clean house” and expose and prosecute all those complicit in such crimes, especially those still in power.
The ‘Arab Spring’ that was started in Tunisia in December 2010 will surely continue until it accomplishes its objectives in bringing freedom, democracy and independence to the Arab nation and peoples.
*Hanna Kawas is Chairperson of the Canada Palestine Association and co-host of Voice of Palestine. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: http://www.cpavancouver.org.