Al Jazeera World

Kill Him Silently: Mossad vs Khaled Meshaal

The story behind Mossad’s bungled bid to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.

Click here to watch part two

Filmmaker: Yaser Abu Hilalah

On September 25, 1997, the Israeli secret service tried to kill Khaled Meshaal, the Palestinian political leader of the Hamas movement.

A six-member team had arrived in the Jordanian capital, Amman, a week before the date set for the assassination of the head of the Hamas political bureau who was living in exile.

The Israeli agents had entered through Jordan’s Queen Alia International airport from Amsterdam, Toronto and Paris using false Canadian passports.

Interviewed in the film, Meshaal says: “The Israeli threats started that summer. Israel had tried but failed to prevent Palestinian operations. So it escalated its threats especially against Hamas leaders abroad. With hindsight, those threats reveal what the Israelis were planning. But at the same time we felt relatively at ease since Israel had never carried out an operation in Jordan.”

Mossad’s move to assassinate Meshaal came in the wake of a series of suicide bombings Hamas carried out in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The attacks had left over 20 Israelis dead and hundreds injured.

Israel was enraged and Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, called for an urgent meeting with his security services, including Mossad. He wanted a significant and telling strike against Hamas.

The objective was clear: retaliation.

At the same time there was a growing sense of mutual irritation at the heart of the Jordanian-Israeli relations. With this backdrop, Netanyahu gave the green light for the Mossad covert operation against Meshaal.

It was to involve a slow-acting but lethal poison that would gradually shut down the brain’s respiratory centre, leading to death. The plan was to spray the toxin into Meshaal’s ears, leaving no apparent trace of any weapon, and leading to death within 48 hours.

One of Meshaal’s bodyguards, Muhammad Abu Saif, had chased the two Mossad agents who had carried out the operation and, with the help of a passing Palestinian Liberation Army officer, later captured them.

The failed assassination proved to be one of the greatest fiascos in the history of special operations, and a pivotal moment in the rise of Hamas.

This two-part film features exclusive interviews with Meshaal himself as well as with Danny Yatom, the then head of the Mossad, who masterminded the attempt to kill the Hamas leader, and who later fled to Jordan with the antidote that saved Meshaal’s life.

Part two:

The second part of the film shows events following the failed assassination attempt, including behind-the-scenes discussions during the diplomatic struggle involving Jordan, Israel and the US.

Retired Major-General Ali Shukri, who was the manager of the office of Jordan’s King Hussein back in 1997, played a key role in managing the crisis that ensued following the Israeli attack on Meshaal.

“King Hussein called President Clinton and informed him of what had happened. Clinton listened with astonishment. He couldn’t believe that could happen in Jordan. By the end of the conversation Clinton was angry and said: “That man is impossible!”, referring to Netanyahu.

“King Hussein informed Clinton of his demands – the antidote and the nature of the [toxins] used against Meshaal. He told him the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel would be over if Meshaal died.”

At the same time, Danny Yatom, then chief of the Mossad, immediately travelled to Amman to meet King Hussein, who was reportedly furious with Yatom.

The aim of Yatom’s trip: To contain the situation.

With tensions running high, King Hussein ordered his security forces to surround the Israeli embassy in Amman, where other members of the Mossad assassination squad were believed to be hiding.

Meanwhile doctors at the Hussein Medical City hospital were struggling to diagnose Meshaal, who already lay in a coma.

After expert consultation the doctors concluded that a large amount of an opiate-like drug had been administered to Meshaal. Tests showed it was a drug similar to morphine, which if administered in high doses, would have the effect of disabling the body’s respiratory system.

On September 27, Meshaal came out of the coma, appearing to return from the dead.

The media knew nothing of the secret negotiations between Jordan and Israel, or King Hussein’s demand for the antidote, until later.

The Israeli government and the secret service came under Israeli media fire for a double humiliation – of failing to kill the Hamas leader without being caught and of being forced to release the founder of Hamas from jail in a prisoner exchange deal.

Kill Him Silently is the story behind Mossad’s bungled bid to assassinate Meshaal and the part the operation played in the Palestinian group’s rise to power.