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April 24, 2018 9:20 am

Assassination in Malaysia Struck a Heavy Blow to Hamas

avatar by Yoni Ben Menachem / JNS.org

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A Hamas military drill in the Gaza Strip in March 2018. Photo: Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

JNS.org – According to sources in Hamas, Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency is continuing to hunt down senior scientists attached to the terror group’s military wing in various countries around the world. The Hamas scientists are using their knowledge to develop various means of warfare for Hamas to use against Israel.

The most recent assassination attempt attributed to the Mossad occurred in January 2018, when unknown elements booby-trapped a vehicle belonging to Mohammed Hamdan, a Hamas operative in Sidon, Lebanon who tried to establish a terrorist infrastructure in south Lebanon that would fire rockets at Israel.

Due to a technical glitch, apparently, Hamdan was only moderately injured. However, Lebanese intelligence claimed that, as a result of the car bomb, it uncovered a local espionage network recruited by the Mossad. According to Lebanese intelligence, two Israeli Mossad officers, a man and a woman, managed to flee abroad.

The latest incident in this campaign is the assassination of Dr. Fadi al-Batsh, who lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the past 10 years.

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Al-Batsh was considered an expert in electronic engineering and “alternative energy” who lectured at the University of Kuala Lumpur and also served as an imam at one of the mosques in the city.

He was killed on April 21, 2018 while on his way to morning prayers. According to sources in the Malaysian police, he was shot by two motorcyclists who managed to flee the scene.

Pictures of the murder victim show that he was shot in the neck at close range.

Family members in Gaza reported that he was going to travel to Turkey at the beginning of the following week to attend an international energy conference. They accused the Mossad of the murder and called upon the Malaysian authorities to conduct a quick inquiry and prevent the killers from leaving the country.

The Malaysian authorities are conducting a comprehensive inquiry into the incident. On April 21, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi stated that the murderers of Dr. Fadi al-Batsch belonged to a foreign intelligence service. He announced that his country would approach Interpol with a request for assistance in apprehending the killers.

Hamas has confirmed that al-Batsh was one of its operatives. It praised his excellent work as a scientist and his actions on behalf of “Palestine,” but did not confirm that he belonged to the movement’s military wing.

Elements in Gaza, however, claim that al-Batsh assisted in the development of drones for the military wing. The Wall Street Journal reported that al-Batsh published a paper for the Institute of Physics on “providing a stable power supply for unmanned aerial vehicles.” Malaysia’s deputy prime minister said the al-Batsh was an expert “on rockets.” According to British news accounts, al-Batsh “was a cousin of Khaled al-Batsh, a senior official in the Islamic Jihad terror group.”

The military wing of Hamas is active in Malaysia. Until now, it was believed that these activities mostly concerned recruiting Palestinian students at local universities to carry out acts of terror in the West Bank. In 2010, Hamas sent 15 men to Malaysia to train in paragliding. The military unit was “trained by local instructors,” said Mohammed Kadara, who was captured in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. “We trained [in Gaza] on paragliding, marksmanship, and firing Kalashnikov rifles, and navigation.” The unit’s commander was killed in an air strike, disrupting plans for a paraglide assault.

A Hamas delegation led by Khaled Mashaal and two members of the political bureau, Mohammed Nazzal and Maher Obeid, paid an official visit to Malaysia in December 2015, where they met with Tengku Adnan Mansor, the secretary-general of the ruling party.

Scientists who work for Hamas

The fact that the military wing of Hamas uses the services of engineers and scientists to develop its combat capabilities is not new.

Hamas used the services of Tunisian aeronautical engineer Mohammed al-Zoari to develop unmanned aircraft and small submarines to sabotage Israeli gas rigs. Al-Zoari was assassinated in December 2016 near his home in Sfax, Tunisia by unknown assailants. The killing was attributed to Mossad agents.

According to various reports, Hamas also used the services of an Iraqi scientist named Taha al-Jabouri to improve the capabilities of its rocket system. Al-Jabouri previously worked in Saddam Hussein’s missile industry.

Al-Jabouri was extradited recently from Turkey to Iraq. According to a March 26, 2018 report in the Al-Akhbar newspaper, which identifies with Hezbollah, Hamas approached Iran with a request for help in releasing Taha al-Jabouri from Iraqi incarceration, apparently so he could return to Gaza.

Dirar Abu Sisi, an electronics engineer from Gaza, is currently serving a 21-year prison sentence in an Israeli jail. He was abducted from Ukraine in 2011 and brought to Israel to stand trial.

Abu Sisi was convicted of assisting Hamas’ military wing to expand the range of its rockets and develop a means to penetrate the armor plating of vehicles used by the IDF.

The significance of the assassination

The precise background of the assassination of al-Batsh is still not clear. Israel is maintaining its silence. While Hamas is prepared to confirm that he was one of the movement’s operatives, it has not supplied any further information detailing the confidential projects in which he was involved.

Al-Batsh’s assassination occurred during Hamas’ “March of Return” campaign, which has faltered over the past few weeks and stopped attracting crowds or interest from the international media due to recent developments in Syria and tensions between Iran and Israel.

The assassination took the Hamas leadership by surprise. Gaza sources reported that senior Hamas officials were shocked by the Mossad’s ability to infiltrate Arab and Muslim countries.

After the assassination of Hamas engineer Mohammed al-Zoari in Tunisia in 2016, the military wing of Hamas drew various conclusions about protecting the lives of scientists working abroad on its behalf.

Mustafa Es-Sevaf, a senior Hamas commentator in the Gaza Strip, called upon his movement on April 21, 2018 to begin assassinating Israeli scientists as part of a new policy of “an eye for an eye.”

According to him, the assassination of al-Batsh requires a change in the rules of the game.

Even though it’s still not clear what projects al-Batsch was involved in, the mood in Gaza indicates that his assassination has struck a heavy blow to the Hamas military wing’s operations and morale.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

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