Israeli journalists applied to the district court hearing the Dirar Abusisi case for release of his interrogation transcripts. The court did so today and the Israeli media have publisehd a largely stenographic and lurid account of Abusisi’s supposed rocket engineering prowess in expanding the range and accuracy of Hamas’ “world-class” rocket/missile technology. The material is a more explicit version of the indictment which also claimed he’d founded a Hamas version of West Point in order to improve the tactics and strategy of its terror mission. But there is almost nothing (more on that later) that is new here and not found in the earlier indictment about which I blogged.
All of the interrogation material published, as far as I’m concerned, is garbage. As I’ve reported here, there is no record that Abusisi took any military engineering course in Ukraine and the professors Shabak claim he studied with either didn’t exist, were misidentified, or didn’t teach the courses necessary for him to learn this. He was a civil engineer, not a military engineer and there is almost no evidence that any of his expertise in running a medium-sized power plant could transfer to the realm of rocket technology.
Further, the Ynet version of the story (a truncated English version) features a drawing of a rocket supposedly penned by Abusisi with an Arabic caption translated into Hebrew (presumably by a Shabak Arabist). The crude drawing which looks more like a children’s sword than a rocket says:
Missile: I never saw its details, so this is purely a conclusion.
Think about what this means: Hamas’ supposed rocket engineer, who commanded the entire technological planning for this element of Hamas’ military strategy against Israel never saw the actual “details,” by which I presume he means the rocket itself. So he draws what the rocket he supposedly designed would look like, if he had actually seen those details in physical form. Is it at all credible that a rocket engineer never sees the rocket he’s designed? He merely sits at a computer downloading supposed calculations and equations and presents the results of his web research to someone in Hamas who then goes out and builds the actual rocket without the designer being involved? Sorry, I just don’t buy it.
If this interrogation protocol is to be believed the major source of information and research for his rocket-building was the internet. If that is so, then one can understand why Hamas’ rocket technology is so abysmal. Where are the supposed terror masterminds from Syria, Hezbollah and Iran pumping tens of millions into upgrading Hamas’ weapons technology? Why aren’t they providing the on-site training to Abusisi, rather than having the poor soul troll the internet looking for a rocket payload?
In fact, on the Fresh discussion forum, Tal Inbar, who describes himself as an expert on military aerospace technology and senior researcher at the Fisher Institute, responds to the Ynet account of Abusisi’s internet forays into rocket design with the following scornful comment:
These passages underscore how unfortunate it was for Israel to tear this Palestinian Werner von Braun away from his research for his Hamas brethren.
In other words, if this is the extent of Hamas rocket program then better to have continued to let the blind lead the blind.
Many may ask why Abusisi offered these details to Shabak. Well, when you’re sitting there you have to tell ‘em something. We know that Shabak employs torture against terror suspects, especially high value ones like Abusisi (more on why he was such a high value target later). In fact, the accused’s lawyer, Tal Linoy explicitly said (Hebrew) that this information was extracted by Israeli intelligence goons under torture. Further, Abusisi’s family says that Dirar himself told Shabak a deliberately false story in order to satisfy their needs to justify their own claims that they captured a major Hamas terror leader.
There is one extremely important new development in this story which no one (except Abusisi and Shabak) knew previously. That is, that Abusisi allegedly told his interrogators that he sought to stop working for Hamas and that he received a explicit threat against his own life and that of his children. And that when he wrote a letter to Mohammed Dief, Hamas’ chief military operative, asking to be relieved of his responsibilities helping design weapons, he received no answer.
This is what motivated Abusisi to leave Gaza. Not the previous explanation he and his family offered claiming conditions there after Operation Cast Lead were so bad that he needed to leave for the sake of his family. In truth, he did need to leave for the sake of his family, but for an entirely different reason. He had crossed Hamas. Imagine someone’s a loyal lieutenant in Tony Soprano’s “crew” and decides he’s had enough and wants a real life. The consigliere is not going to look terribly kindly on such a person. In fact, he might plot to do such a turncoat real harm.
The only question is what the nature of Abusisi’s involvement with Hamas’ military wing actually was. There are two possibilities: either he had no involvement and when approached wanted nothing to do with it; or he had already engaged in some way with Hamas and performed weapons-related work for them and then rejected further involvement. There is no way on God’s earth that Abusisi was as key a figure as Shabak is trying to make him out to be. It may be possible that he had done the equivalent of running a few license plates through the police computer (in TV crime shows, that’s always how the Mafia begins to recruit a future corrupt cop) for Hamas. But I highly doubt his involvement was much deeper than that.
Now, how would this Hamas consigliere react once he found out that the engineer on whom he had pinned such high hopes had turned and run from Gaza escaping through a tunnel to Egypt and later flying on to Jordan and Ukraine? You might want revenge. And how would you get it? You might put out word to Shabak that a high-value Hamas weapons engineer had fled Gaza and was on his way to Ukraine. You might convey to your informant that Abusisi was Hamas’ chief rocket engineer, that he was responsible for all technological developments, innovation and improvement in rocket design.
All that would be a pretty nice brew to present to Israel and would certainly piqué the interest of its intelligence services. But what would be the icing on the cake? What would Hamas have that Israel wants more than anything in the world? I’m half tempted not to answer my own question and offer readers guesses in the comment thread below. But I can’t do that. So here goes: Gilad Shalit. You’ll recall that several Israeli military-intelligence reporters claimed after he was first kidnapped that Abusisi was nabbed because he would be the key to liberating Shalit.
So if Hamas really wanted to ‘do the dirty’ on Abusisi, they’d tell Shabak that the man knew Shalit’s whereabouts. That is the only thing that would make Israel move heaven and earth to kidnap him on a train in Ukraine and forcibly transfer him to an Israeli prison. Extraordinary rendition is a rare tactic for Israeli intelligence. They usually prefer to kill, rather than kidnap. Such a kidnapping is terribly messy and the repercussions from it are felt for years to come in lawsuits, complaints to international human rights bodies, etc. But if Israel felt Abusisi could lead them to Shalit then it all would be worth it to them.
Of course, everything Hamas passed on to Israel would be lies, or almost all of it. Yes, perhaps Abusisi did perform some tasks for Hamas. That part would be true. But all the rest would be lies. And the purpose of this extraordinary hoax would be to teach all current and future collaborators with Hamas that if they ever think they can abandon the organization and flee, this will be their reward: a couple of decades in a ratty Israeli prison compliments of the boys in the Izzeldin Brigades.
Of secondary pleasure to Hamas would be faking out Israeli intelligence and getting them to buy this tissue of lies. Dief and his comrades would read the headlines blaring in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem about Abusisi being the key to finding Shalit and the mastermind of Hamas’ rocket program and they would laugh themselves silly.
As for the Shabak, they’ve been had. But what can they do? Can they descend from the tree limb onto which they perched themselves so precariously? No. One thing Israeli intelligence will NEVER do is admit a mistake. They won’t even admit a mistake when they kill one of their own as they did in Operation Bren, let alone when they kidnap a Palestinian in error. And after all, how much is a Palestinian’s life worth to Shabak, anyway? It’s a paltry price to pay to maintain face and honor; to put Abusisi away for a few decades in order to maintain the charade that his kidnapping was an important achievement in the war against Hamas terror. When what it really was was a bollixed intelligence operation in which they’d been duped by Hamas, which was seeking pure revenge against someone it viewed as a traitor for abandoning the armed struggle.
Regarding my claim that the Israeli reporting on this story is largely stenography–in all the stories I’ve read (Haaretz and Ynet) there is a 100% acceptance of Abusisi’s alleged statements as a confession of guilt. There is no investigative research attempting to determine whether the claims made about Abusisi’s involvement are credible. There is no statement from Abusisi or his attorney rebutting the charges (except in Maariv). It’s really a set up, vanity reporting on behalf of Israeli intelligence services. This is, I’m afraid, the level of quality one learns to expect of Israeli journalism when it comes to stories on this subject. When it comes to debunking Shabak, very few have the guts to do it. Far safer to merely regurgitate what is offered like a dutiful momma bird offering worms to her babies.
The coming weeks will bring a major foreign news documentary about Abusisi’s case. More on that as the broadcast date approaches.
This article was first published at Tikun Olam and reprinted with permission.