Israel plans to eliminate Hamas leaders around the world, and the country’s long history of carrying out such operations against terrorists proves its capability to do so, foreign policy and defense experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Israel allegedly assassinated senior Hamas leader Salih Al-Aruri in a targeted drone strike in Lebanon on Tuesday, highlighting the country’s vocal commitment to carrying out a global elimination campaign against high-level Hamas operatives and leaders. This operation is planned to be carried out in part by Israel’s military and in part by the country’s extensive intelligence services like Mossad, which have successfully carried out similar assassination plots in prior decades, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“Mossad is a very capable first-rate intelligence service both in the collection and analysis of intelligence and in the carrying out of covert operations,” Mick Mulroy, former defense official and CIA paramilitary officer, told the DCNF. “They have a very long memory and an equally long reach.”
After the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) counteroffensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip ends, Israel will start pursuing senior Hamas officials in more targeted operations throughout the Middle East, including in Qatar, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Lebanon, the WSJ reported. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has assigned this task to Mossad, more formally known as The Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks, according to The Jewish Virtual Library.
“I have instructed the Mossad to act against the heads of Hamas wherever they are,” Netanyahu said in an address in December, according to the WSJ. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in the same address that Hamas leaders are living on “borrowed time” and are “marked for death”; Mossad chief David Barnea echoed these comments again on Wednesday, according to The Guardian.
Mossad was founded in 1949 as Israel’s premier intelligence agency for counterterrorism, psychological warfare and international stealth tasks, including assassination or rescue operations, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. Mossad’s primary objective is to monitor threats from nations and groups across the Middle East who seek Israel’s destruction.
Though Netanyahu has been openly vocal about Israel and Mossad’s intent to kill Hamas leaders on a global scale, most targeted operations are conducted in secret and are seldom acknowledged by the country publicly. For example, Israel has still not publicly confirmed that it was behind the assassination of Al-Aruri on Tuesday.
“Israel never takes ‘credit’ for people dropping dead or things blowing up,” Shoshana Bryen, defense analyst and senior director of The Jewish Policy Center, told the DCNF. “However, occasionally, you do get evidence of Israel’s capabilities.”
Bryen noted an example from 2009, when Mossad agents allegedly targeted and killed senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh with a poison injection in his Dubai hotel room; Israel never claimed responsibility, according to WIRED. In a separate example a year prior, Mossad, in cooperation with the CIA, assassinated Hezbollah’s international operations chief Imad Mughniyah, who was responsible for terrorist attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and the Israeli Embassy in Argentina; Mughniyah was killed in Damascus when a bomb on the spare tire of a car he was entering exploded, according to The Washington Post.
Mulroy noted that Mossad working in concert with the CIA would expand the reach and efficacy of an assassination campaign against Hamas. “The CIA and Mossad have a very close relationship. Working together, there are few places – if any – that a terrorist from Oct. 7th could hide to avoid discovery,” Mulroy told the DCNF.
Mulroy recalled one of Mossad’s most notable alleged operations that took place after the 1972 Munich Olympic terrorist attacks, when Palestinian militants took 11 Israeli athletes and coaches hostage before eventually executing them, according to The New York Times. In response, then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir assigned Mossad with the task of tracking down and killing those responsible, a process that took several years and spanned across countries including Italy, France, Cyprus and Greece, according to NPR.
The 1972 Munich Olympic attacks and the subsequent response by Mossad were portrayed in the 2005 film “Munich,” directed by Steven Spielberg.
Israel and Mossad have fallen under scrutiny for carrying out operations that have sometimes gone awry; in the case of the 1972 Munich attacks, Mossad agents mistakenly assassinated a waiter in Norway, having believed he was a Palestinian militant, according to NPR. Israeli intelligence has also been criticized for reportedly being aware of Hamas’ Oct. 7 plans but failing to act in advance, having believed the terrorist group was incapable of carrying the attacks out, according to the NYT.
In total, Israel has carried out over 2,700 global assassination operations since the end of World War II, according to the WSJ. Israel and Mossad have spent decades hunting down Hamas militants and killing them, an effort only strengthened in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks.
“This is indeed an area where when surrounded with quantity, Israel’s intelligence and security services are proving they have quality,” Benham Ben Tableau, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the DCNF. “While the methods and tradecraft will likely remain a secret, Israel’s ability to penetrate or surveil adversarial terror networks around the region gives it a massive step up.”
“Were I a Hamas terrorist, I would assume I will be found, and I would assume I will die on that day – in Gaza or elsewhere,” Bryen told the DCNF.
The Israeli defense ministry did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
Jake Smith on January 7, 2024