Yesterday, in a joint operation conducted by the Shin Bet and the Israeli Air Force, Israel killed 27-year-old terrorist Mohammed Namnam, identified by the Jerusalem Post as “a top operative with the Army of Islam, a radical Palestinian terror group affiliated with al-Qaida and involved in the 2006 abduction of Gilad Shalit.” IDF spokeswoman Lt.-Col. Avital Leibovitz called Namnam, who had been an active terrorist for years, a “ticking bomb”: intelligence indicated that he was preparing assaults on American and Israeli targets in the Sinai.
Two elements of this assassination are intriguing. One is the suggestion of consultation between Israel and the Americans about it ahead of time. The IDF spokeswoman, asked directly about this, said rather coyly that “[w]ithout getting specifically into more details, I can tell you there is very good cooperation between us and the Americans.” There’s also some interesting subtext to Hamas’s unhesitating — and as yet uncomplaining — identification of the dead man: he was a senior aide to Mumtaz Dughmush, commander of the Army of Islam and top dog of the Dughmush clan, which has been fighting an undeclared war with Hamas pretty much non-stop since Hamas seized power in the Strip. The Dughmush clan is al-Qaida’s local branch in Gaza and as such is a rival to Hamas. They kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in 2007 as well as many other foreign nationals, and they regularly attack Palestinian targets, including Christians. They take no notice of Hamas directives regarding the timing and constitution of violent confrontation with Israel and act on their own initiative, come what may. The enmity between them has led to ample intra-Palestinian bloodletting.
(The Dughmush connection could very well explain, by the way, why Gilad Shalit is still locked in a cellar in Gaza, four years after his abduction, without the slightest movement forward towards his release: if Hamas isn’t holding him, they can’t free him. And the conditions of Shalit’s captivity are so far beyond the pale — not so much as a single Red Cross visit to confirm he’s in one piece or even a letter from his own mother to comfort him in four years — as to suggest that it is indeed the al-Qaida freakshow that unfortunately is holding him and not the relatively more mainstream Hamas freakshow, which has in fact battled the Dughmush clan in the past specifically to get them to release kidnap victims.)
I expect we’ll hear less of the usual “Israel, with her insatiable lust for blood, has slaughtered another innocent Palestinian civilian” this time around (at least from within Gaza; we’ll surely get it from the usual suspects in Europe). We will never know who Namnam’s next target was to have been — Israelis, Americans, or Europeans; Jews, Christians or Muslims. We can all breathe a little easier today, at least for the moment. And to Khaled Mashaal, leader of Hamas, on behalf of the IDF: You’re welcome.