September 28, 2004
In the Mideast hierarchy
of hatred, the collaborator occupies a place of particular, perhaps
In a region where ancient tribal ties have flourished amid satellite television and the World Wide Web, the commandment of denying one's enemy aid and comfort bears primal weight.
Collaborating with Israel has often been called the most serious crime a Palestinian can commit, especially in the considerable number of cases in which a militant commander has been assassinated after his betrayal by a family member blackmailed or bought by Israeli intelligence agents.
Thus it is, that the sentence for many a Palestinian suspected of collaboration has been public humiliation followed by public execution, formally and personally approved by Yasser Arafat.
And thus it was this week, that when Iz a Din al-Sheikh Khalil's white SUV exploded into flame and smoke a few meters from his Damascus home, killing the senior Hamas official, the suspicions of one of Khalil's colleagues turned to treachery.
Israel, widely suspected of responsibility, has neither officially admitted the act nor made strenuous efforts at denial.
Two days before the Sunday blast, the London-based Al-Hayat daily reported that an Arab state had supplied Israel with highly detailed intelligence on Hamas leaders living in Damascus, Beirut, Tehran and Khartoum.
According to the paper, the intelligence service of the unnamed Arab country passed on the information response to a request by Mossad chief Meir Dagan. Dagan's appeal came in the wake of a Hamas suicide bus bombing that left 16 dead in Be'er Sheva last month.
The intelligence reportedly included personal data - down to supper preferences - covering a number of the officials at the top of Israel's most-wanted lists, headed by the ranking "diaspora" Hamas figure Khaled Mashal, his deputy Moussa Abu Marzouk, and others.
"We were not convinced initially," said Osama Hamdan, Hamas chief in Lebanon, of the accuracy of the Al Hayat account. If true, he said, "This would be treason for an Arab security apparatus to be involved in this."
However, he continued, the Sunday assassination had prompted Hamas to view the report in a new light.
"Now, because of what happened yesterday or through other information, there are indications that this may be case," Hamdan said.
Give and take between Israel and Arab intelligence
Haaretz commentator Yossi Melman, an authority on international intelligence, dismisses the Al-Hayat report as likely false. But he notes that cooperation between Israeli secret services and its Arab opposite numbers does exist.
"It is reasonable to believe that there is certain cooperation between Israel and some Arab intelligence bodies, above all Jordan, which is not a secret, Egypt to a very limited degree, Morocco and Tunisia to a small extent, and the United Arab Emirates," Melman says.
The contacts between Israeli and Arab intelligence agencies are largely based on encounters at the "diplomatic-intelligence level," Melman says. "Once you have these sorts of relations, they are based on give-and-take, one back scratching the other."
As for what Israel can offer the Arab countries, Melman notes that in the past, the Jewish state helped Arab regimes with intelligence on planned assassination attempts against their rulers, dissidents, and terrorist plots
"Israel, for example, several times warned King Hussein of attempts on his life. In 1961, Israel provided [French leader Charles] de Gaulle of a plot on his life by the OSS, the French 'mitnahalim' [settlers] in Algeria."
The Al-Hayat report appears to be another matter, he concludes. "I don't buy the story. I see it as part of psychological warfare, that someone planted the story in order to create havoc, and a 'divide and rule' atmosphere."
Asked if the information detailed in the report might have been planted by Israel, Melman replies, "Could be."