Another story of manufactured enemies and regional destabilization operations by covert agencies hitting the mainstream media. It’s increasingly clear this is standard operating procedure in this rarefied, self-righteous environment. The Star even mentions the term ‘false flag’, which is huge news in and of itself. And as for Ottawa – if their only concern was to recover the passports used by Mossad and no substantial diplomatic censure was used, it really gives one the impression that CSIS played an enabling role in this operation. Indeed, this question was raised at the time by none other than the former Canadian ambassador to Israel and editor of the Jerusalem Post, Norman Spector. Mr. McGeough is to be commended for his investigative efforts.
Mitch Potter, Toronto Star
February 28, 2009
Book sheds new light on Israeli spy service’s attempt to assassinate Hamas leader in 1997, Hamas ascendency linked to Israeli and US actions
WASHINGTON — He drilled down to the very heart of Hamas, spending 50 hours in a Syrian bunker with its leader. He went just as deep into the inner workings of Israel’s famed spy service, the Mossad, with the most embarrassing of questions.
But could author Paul McGeough penetrate the layers of secrecy in Ottawa to get the rest of his riveting inside story of global espionage involving fake Canadian passports?
Yes, but it was difficult — more difficult even than unearthing all that he found in the Middle East itself.
“Canada, I discovered, is a place where information held by the government appears to be deemed the property of the government, rather than the property of the people,” McGeough, one of Australia’s most respected journalists, told the Toronto Star.
“Even 10 years after the fact, trying to glean answers to the most basic questions from the Canadian foreign ministry, it was like throwing a bomb. There was a lot of anxiety. But ultimately I managed to get the inside Canadian account from, well, some very good sources.”
The result — excerpted exclusively in today’s Star — is the newly published Kill Khalid: The Failed Mossad Assassination of Khalid Mishal and the Rise of Hamas, an unsurpassed telling of how Israeli spies masquerading as Canadian tourists all but ignited a Mideast war in 1997.
The audacious Israeli plan was to spray deadly nerve gas into the ear of the then-middling Hamas operative. This, they managed — but as the stricken Mishal took ill in the Jordanian capital of Amman, the “Canadians” were captured. And that is when all hell broke loose.
McGeough’s gripping account spares no detail, providing a fly-on-the-wall vantage of the rising diplomatic panic that sent shudders through world capitals.
In a span of hours, the story went from empathy — one Canadian diplomat went so far as to fetch one of her husband’s shirts for the battered “tourists” — to outright fury, as Jordan’s King Hussein ordered his troops to rotate the guns defending the Israeli embassy, putting the Israelis in the crosshairs.
Kill Khalid also provides startling new detail on the anxieties in Jean ChrÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©tien’s Ottawa, where government mandarins were in a frenzy to get their hands on the forged passports. McGeough takes us inside the king’s palace for the clandestine handover of the crucial documents to Canadian officials — and how Canadian intelligence officials mounted a near-military operation to get them home to Ottawa, braced for counterattack at every stage of the journey.
Hold that thought, because McGeough has more to say on the Canadian dimensions of this saga. But for now, let us proceed to the larger, arguably more provocative, theme of the book — that Israel’s botched assassination was the best, but by no means the only, example of how Hamas owes its success to a succession of errors by both Israel and the United States.
“If you stand back and look at these last 10 years, circumstances have been created again and again, by the Israelis and by Washington, to make Hamas a fait accompli,” said McGeough. “Hamas has survived and thrived on the mistakes and the bad reasoning — principally of the Israelis but also of Washington. When Hamas wasn’t being directly encouraged, the other Palestinian movement (the late Yasser Arafat’s) Fatah, was being propped up, even though it was a corrupt and venal regime — snout-in-trough at its worst.”
The masterstroke for Hamas, said McGeough, was wholly Washington’s fault — the Bush administration’s permission, against Israeli objections, to allow Hamas to stand for election in the Palestinian territories in 2006.
“Suddenly you had an armed resistance movement standing for election in an occupied territory. It was quite spectacular, and it again locked Hamas into the centre of the crisis at a time when it could have been pushed to the fringe.”
McGeough, former managing editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and author of three books on the Mideast, is braced for heavy debate when Kill Khalid hits the stands.
“I expect the Israeli view will want to challenge elements of what I’ve written. But if you go through the footnotes you will notice a lot of sourcing for the entire story is Israeli,” he said.
“That is one of Israel’s great strengths. We talk a lot about beacons in the Middle East — and one of them undoubtedly is Israeli openness. Israelis are fantastic debaters and those who’ve been through its system are remarkably willing and happy to talk about it and debate it publicly.”
Drilling into the Jordanian regime — and then into Hamas headquarters in Damascus — was a far greater challenge. After repeated entreaties to Mishal, McGeough was able to spend 50 hours of interview time inside the notorious Hamas leader’s concrete vault in Damascus. There were no pre-conditions. McGeough was allowed to ask anything, and Mishal was denied the opportunity to vet the manuscript.
What McGeough encountered was a remarkably savvy militant boss. Mishal put up a wall against the most difficult questions. “If you came at him from six or seven ways, as a journalist is trained to do, he would block you at every turn.”
On Mishal’s bedside table was the memoir of former CIA director George Tenet a tome from former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.
“I was struck by how precisely attuned Mishal was to the reality of his situation. He was reading Carter, but at the same time he knew Carter’s book would not be highly regarded by the people that make the key decisions on Middle East diplomacy.
“You talk to people at think tanks who have met Mishal and they say similar things. They are surprised they can sit with him repeatedly and he never once mentions the Qur’an. He does not indulge in the flowery, poetic rhetoric that often confuses Westerners when they come in contact with Arab society. He is very clear and precise in his view of the world and of Israel.”
Clear and unbending. And having now emerged as the overall leader of Hamas in the years since Mishal’s near-death experience from Israeli nerve gas, there is an even greater irony approaching in the weeks ahead — Mishal’s arch-nemesis, Benjamin Netanyahu, is about to again become Israel’s leader.
The hawkish Netanyahu was a largely unrepentant prime minister after Mossad blew the killing in Jordan 12 years ago. Only once since then has he stood in proximity to Mishal — the two men both attended King Hussein’s funeral in what McGeough calls “a significant accomplishment on the part of Jordanian security to keep them apart.”
Whatever stock some may place in U.S. President Barack Obama’s plans for the Middle East, McGeough says the “combination of Mishal and Netanyahu leading the two sides fills me with dread.”
But, McGeough adds candidly, “I came to the conclusion some time ago that both sides are incapable of achieving a peace on their own. The only peace I can see for Palestinians and Israelis is one that somehow or other is imposed externally. I’d love to see it become a United Nations protectorate. It’s probably the only way to resolve the crisis — but I don’t see it happening soon.”
Returning to the Canadian threads in the 1997 affair, McGeough said he is “staggered that there was no real response from Ottawa to what Israel did.
“The thought that Israel could just manufacture Canadian passports and use them in the most horrendous of circumstances was bizarre. But the limp-wristed Canadian response was equally bizarre.
“The ambassador was brought home for a few days — big deal. As one of the diplomats I spoke to said: What Mossad was doing in Jordan could have resulted in someone in Winnipeg opening their door and being shot — just because they had the same name as appeared on one of these passports.”
There is no evidence Mossad has used Canada as a false flag for operations in the decade since this saga exploded. New Zealand, on the other hand, has had diplomatic spats with Israel over passport issues.
None of which surprises McGeough, who said his eyes were opened wider by the experience of putting the botched assassination in its larger context.
“It was a spectacular failure and a riveting espionage drama. But what really drew me to this story is that it encapsulates how broad the Middle East crisis really is — how it seeps over borders and through barricades and just grips the entire region. It didn’t have to be this way. But it is.”
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