Netanyahu tries to shift blame for failed `hit' on Mossad


The Israeli Prime Minister is battling desperately to avoid taking the blame for the Mossad assassination attempt on a Hamas leader in Jordan 10 days ago. Amid a diplomatic crisis with Jordan over the affair, unprecedentedly strained relations with Canada stemming from the fact that the Mossad hitmen were carrying Canadian passports, and Israeli media calls for his resignation, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday began a determined campaign to pin all responsibility for the fiasco on the Mossad.

Although some reports suggest it was Mr Netanyahu who insisted on going ahead with the September 25th assassination attempt on Hamas official Mr Khaled Mashaal against the objections of the Mossad chief, Mr Danny Yatom, it seems increasingly likely that the Prime Minister will demand Mr Yatom's resignation, while deflecting accusations that his own decision-making has again proved appallingly flawed.

Mr Netanyahu's chances of escaping personal responsibility may depend on the precise nature of the deal agreed by Israel and Jordan to smooth over the affair. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas spiritual leader freed by Israel last Wednesday as part of that deal, said yesterday he planned to return to Gaza today - a move anticipated with delight in Hamas, and bound to ignite new criticism inside Israel of Mr Netanyahu.

Hamas and Jordanian officials also claim that other Hamas prisoners are soon to be freed by Israel, in return for the release of the two Mossad hitmen still held by Jordan. The freeing of men known to have been involved in orchestrating suicide bombings could cause a still greater outcry.

The "Mashaal affair" is naturally overshadowing all other developments here at present, including today's scheduled resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The only small sign that the international damage may now be coming under control came when Israel's ambassador to Jordan, Mr Oded Eran, was yesterday allowed to present his credentials to King Hussein. The king had been on the verge of cutting ties with Israel last week.

Mr Ehud Barak, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said last night the Prime Minister had acknowledged to him that he had approved the failed hit.

An Israeli cabinet statement issued yesterday made no such acknowledgment. It did, however, seek to protect Mr Netanyahu by noting that decisions on such operations filtered upwards from the security services to the political echelons, rather than the other way round - the implication being that the Prime Minister could not possibly have imposed his desire for Mr Mashaal's elimination on a reluctant Mossad.

Some reports appearing here and overseas over the weekend indicate that Mr Netanyahu, determined to hit back at Hamas after the summer's suicide bombings and after a shooting attack on two Israeli security guards in Amman, pressured Mr Yatom into carrying out the bungled assassination attempt.

David Horovitz is managing editor of the Jerusalem Report