Palestinian engineer Fadi al-Batsh’s assassination in Malaysia on April 21 was part of a broader Mossad campaign against Hamas efforts to send experts abroad for technical training and weapons acquisitions, The New York Times reported Wednesday night.
The report was based on multiple unnamed Middle Eastern intelligence officials, who said the wide-ranging Mossad operation against Hamas’s overseas efforts was ordered by the agency’s chief, Yossi Cohen.
There was no official confirmation of The Times’ report, which did not itself cite Israeli sources.
The intelligence officials said Batsh himself, an expert on drones and the nephew of Gaza’s police chief Tayseer al-Batsh, traveled to Malaysia to “research and acquire weapon systems and drones for Hamas,” the Times reported.
Israel has a longstanding policy of not commenting on claims about Mossad operations. There has been no official statement about the killing of Batsh from Israeli officials, with the exception of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman hinting that he may have been a victim of an intra-Palestinian feud.
According to the Times, however, the timing of the killing was no accident. The hit occurred on a day in which Batsh was scheduled to travel to Istanbul, ostensibly for an academic conference. But an intelligence official told the Times that Batsh was to meet a Hamas official in the city, which according to the report serves as the terror organization’s hub for international training programs.
Officials who spoke to the Times said Batsh was also heavily involved in smuggling weapons systems to Hamas, helping to facilitate the sale to Gaza of North Korean technology used in guided munitions.
Hamas has searched for years for more effective ways to continue its fight against Israel, but Israel’s technological prowess has usually stymied these efforts. Hamas’s short-range rockets, which long terrorized towns in Israel’s south, were mostly neutralized with the development of the Iron Dome missile defense system. The terrorist organization’s tunnel project, which sought to enable it to send fighters deep into Israeli territory, was mostly neutralized by other new Israeli technologies for detecting and demolishing the tunnels.
Now, according to the Times, Israel’s Mossad is concerned that Hamas may be directing its energies toward developing unmanned assault vehicles, a far more potent weapon than rockets.