Assassination in Malaysia struck a heavy blow to Hamas

Even though it’s not clear to the Gazan public which projects engineer Dr. Fadi al-Batsch was involved in, the mood in Gaza indicates that his assassination has affected the Hamas military wing’s operations and morale.

Hamas mourns Fadi al-Batsh in Gaza. Credit: Arab Press/JCPA.
Hamas mourns Fadi al-Batsh in Gaza. Credit: Arab Press/JCPA.
Yoni Ben Menachem
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.

According to sources in Hamas, the Israeli Mossad intelligence agency is continuing to hunt down senior scientists attached to the Hamas military wing in various countries around the world. The Hamas scientists were using their scientific knowledge to develop various means of warfare for Hamas to use in its war 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 hitch, 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 current incident concerns the assassination of Dr. Fadi al-Batsh, aged 35, a resident of Jabalya in the Gaza Strip, who lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, for the past 10 years.

Al-Batsh was considered to be 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 shot to death on April 21, 2018, when he was on his way to morning prayers at the mosque. According to sources in the Malaysian police, he was shot by two motorcyclists who managed to flee from 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 not let the murderers leave the country.

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

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

Elements in Gaza claim that al-Batsh assisted with the development of drones for the military wing of Hamas. 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 dead man was an expert “on rockets,” reported the Journal. 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 runs operations in Malaysia. Until now, it has been known that it deals mostly with the recruitment of Palestinian students attending local universities for carrying out acts of terror inside 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 the 2014 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 paraglider assault.

A Hamas delegation led by Khaled Mashal 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, 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 their 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 Israel’s gas rigs. Al-Zoari was assassinated in December 2016 near his home in Sfax, Tunisia, by unknown assailants, and the killing was attributed to Israeli Mossad agents.

A Hamas obituary poster for Mohammed al-Zoari
A Hamas obituary poster for Mohammed al-Zoari (Arab press: JCPA)

According to various reports, Hamas also used the services of an Iraqi scientist named Taha al-Jabouri to improve the technological abilities of its rocket system. Al-Jabouri used to work in the missile industry under Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

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 that he can return to Gaza.

Dirar Abu Sisi, an electronic engineer from Gaza, is currently serving a 21-year active 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 the Hamas military wing in expanding the range of its rockets and developing a means of warfare that can penetrate the armor plating of armored vehicles used by the IDF.

The significance of the assassination

The precise background of the assassination of Hamas engineer Dr. Fadi al-Batsh is still not clear. Israel is maintaining its silence, and 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.

Dr. al-Batsh’s assassination occurred during the Hamas “return” campaign, which has faltered over the past few weeks and has 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 into 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 Dr. al-Batsh requires a change in the rules of the game on the side of Hamas.

Even though it’s still not clear to the Gazan public which projects the Hamas engineer 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.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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