- Public acknowledgement gives a rare glimpse into its covert operations
- Was ‘killed with gun hidden inside large box of chocolates’
Israel yesterday admitted it killed Yasser Arafat’s deputy in a 1988 raid in Tunisia.
Two of those involved in the operation now hold high political office – defence minister Ehud Barak and vice premier Moshe Yaalon.
At the time, Barak was deputy military chief, and Yaalon was head of an elite special forces unit.
Israel has long been suspected of assassinating Khalil al-Wazir, who was better known by his nom de guerre Abu Jihad.
He founded the Palestine Liberation Organisation with Arafat and was blamed for a series of deadly attacks against Israelis.
Only now has Israel’s military censor cleared the Yediot Ahronot newspaper to publish the information about his assassination, including an interview with the commando who killed him, at least 12 years after it obtained the information.
‘I shot him with a long burst of fire,’ the now-deceased commando Nahum Lev told the paper.
‘I was careful not to hurt his wife, who had showed up there.
‘Abu Jihad was involved in horrible acts against civilians.
He was a dead man walking.’
Dozens of similar operations have been attributed to Israel over the decades.
But Israel rarely takes responsibility, and this public acknowledgement gives a rare glimpse into its covert operations.
Abu Jihad organised the first Palestinian uprising against Israel, which began in December 1987.
At the time of the raid, the following April, the PLO was based in Tunisia.
Lev – who died in a motorcycle accident in 2000 – told how he killed Abu Jihad at his home in Tunis after posing as a holidaymaker with another soldier dressed as a woman.
He revealed that he carried what appeared to be a large box of chocolates.
Inside it, however, was a gun fitted with a silencer which he used to kill the Palestinian leader.
Another team killed a separate bodyguard and a gardener before entering the expansive villa.
Lev’s partner was the first to fire at the Palestinian leader.
When Lev noticed Abu Jihad reaching for a weapon he shot and killed him.
It was not clear why Israel’s military censor permitted publication of the report now.
The Palestinians have long accused Israel of being behind the assassination.
Nonetheless, Abbas Zaki, a top official in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement, said the Palestinians and Tunisia should now ‘work to bring Israel to justice.’
Fatah is the dominant faction in the PLO.
Mr Wazir’s son, Jihad al-Wazir, who heads the Palestinian central bank, said the family had no comment