ANALYSIS: Why the Mossad Assassinated Al-Qaeda Leader al-Masri
Daring hit in the streets of Tehran sent a firm message to both Biden and Iran
The Mossad did it again. After carrying out a daring night raid in a neighborhood of Tehran and stealing a large part of Iran’s secret nuclear archive in January 2018, the Israeli spy agency in August of this year was again active on Iranian soil.
On August 7, Mossad agents belonging to the Kidon unit of the Israeli spy agency assassinated Abu Muhammad al-Masri, Al-Qaeda’s second in command, and his daughter Maryam, the widow of Hamzah bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden, in Tehran.
The Mossad reportedly decided to take out al-Masri because he was plotting new terrorist attacks against Israeli or Jewish Diaspora targets.
The New York Times reported that the Mossad killed al-Masri at the behest of the US government, which had offered a reward of $10 million for information regarding his whereabouts.
This seems unlikely, however.
First of all, al-Masri was also wanted by Israel because his men tried to shoot down an Israeli Arkia Airlines plane that departed from Mombasa International Airport with 271 people on board in 2002.
The missiles narrowly missed the plane, which was then escorted by Israeli fighter jets to Ben Gurion Airport, where it landed safely.
Al-Masri was also behind the bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa killing three Israelis and 13 Kenyans, while wounding 80 other people who had just checked in.
In addition, Al-Qaeda was behind an attack on the El Ghriba synagogue in Tunisia in 2002, and tried to do the same with synagogues in Turkey and the United States later.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, furthermore, has called for terrorist attacks against Israeli targets after the Trump Administration recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019.
It is true that al-Masri was also responsible for two bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7, 1998, killing 224 people, including 12 Americans, while wounding 4,000 others. But US President Donald J. Trump would undoubtedly have announced the assassination of the Al-Qaeda leader, while the Mossad almost always keeps mum on its hits and operations.
The Mossad has a long track record of assassinations inside Iran and must have a strong presence in the Islamic Republic.
The Israeli spy agency reportedly killed at least five Iranian nuclear scientists between 2009 and 2012 in the same way al-Masri and his daughter were assassinated, namely by a hit team of two men on a motorcycle.
Secondly, Israel had an interest in leaking the information about al-Masri’s assassination to The New York Times at this particularly moment because the incoming Biden Administration is planning to resume talks with Iran and wants to rejoin the JCPOA, the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between the Islamic Republic and six world powers, among them the United States, which at that time was under the administration of Barak Obama, of which Joe Biden was a prominent member.
The entire Israeli political establishment is opposed to new US engagement with Iran not only because of the fact that the Islamic Republic is trying to advance its nuclear program, as the IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog, reported last week. Israel is also keen to maintain US pressure on Iran to curb the Islamic Republic’s support of regional terrorist organizations.
Although Iran is denying that it had been sheltering the Al-Qaeda leader for the past 20 years, the fact is that it has given refuge to Al-Qaeda terrorists in the past following the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001.
Some pundits now point to the fact that Iran is a Shiite Muslim country and therefore they say it seems unlikely that the Islamic Republic was giving shelter to an Al-Qaeda leader because that organization is Sunni.
Iran, however, is also the main sponsor of Hamas, which is also a Sunni terrorist group. Clearly, Tehran is ready to work with any terrorist organization that can help it achieve its goal to expand the Islamic Revolution across the globe.
The timing of the revelation of the assassination of the Al-Qaeda leader by the Mossad after The New York Times,a paper affiliated with the Democratic Party, was tipped off could have a lot to do with an Israeli effort to cement relations with the incoming US Administration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu apparently wanted to send a message to the incoming administration about the need to continue close cooperation between the US and Israel in the struggle against Iran and its many proxies, and not to start where the Obama Administration left off, namely trying to make the Islamic Republic a “normal nation“.
The news about the Israeli assassination of the number two leader of Al Qaeda, furthermore, sends a new message to Iran that, like Netanyahu said, Israel knows what you are doing and when you are doing it and where you’re doing it.