The circumstances surrounding Thursday’s killing of Mohammed Al-Zoari, a Tunisian aviation scientist and engineer who was a member of the Palestinian terror group Hamas, are becoming clearer — and more and more elements point the finger at Israel’s Mossad.
Tunisian newspapers rushed Friday to blame Mossad for the killing of Zoari — who was shot dead at point-blank range in his car outside his home in the Tunisian city of Sfax — and on Saturday, Hamas officials gave this claim more weight.
This is what we know so far: Zoari was an aviation engineer who specialized in unmanned aircraft. He was considered to be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia, known to be rivals of the local government. His ties to the group compelled him to leave for Syria in 1991, only returning after the overthrow of former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. (Tunisia’s Brotherhood-inspired Ennahda Movement issued a statement of condemnation and mourning after Zoari’s killing.) Zoari is known to have instructed would-be drone pilots near his home in the southern city.
On Saturday afternoon, Hamas officials confirmed he was a central figure in its weapons development, calling him a pioneer in developing its unmanned drones.
A senior court official in Sfax, Murad a-Turki, said police had found two pistols, silencers and four cars apparently used in the killing. “According to our initial investigation, we found a connection to other elements who are now outside the country,” he said.
Those are the facts that can be agreed on. After that, matters become more murky.
An associate of Zoari, Karim Abed a-Salam, told Tunisia’s Channel 9 TV that Zoari had visited the Gaza Strip several times in recent years, entering through the tunnels that run under the Gaza-Egypt border. He said that Zoari served as a liaison between Hamas and the Iranian and Syrian governments. It is currently unclear whether there is any truth to these claims.
The Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper reported Saturday that Zoari had also assisted Lebanese terror group Hezbollah in the development of drone technology in the past.
The Mossad has been accused in the past of eliminating those who supply Palestinian and Lebanese terror groups with advanced technology, as well as having assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists.
The most high-profile case was the death of Hassan Lakkis, who was the head of Hezbollah’s weapons research and development. He was shot and killed south of Beirut in 2013. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah blamed Israel, but Jerusalem denied any involvement. Then, as now, no one was able to present clear proof that Israel was responsible.
It’s also worth exploring the possibility that other hands may have been behind Zoari’s killing. Could disgruntled supporters of former president Ben Ali have been involved? That seems unlikely: Why would they target an aeronautical engineer instead of, say, a senior member of Ennahdha or a well known politician?
Or perhaps it was simply a criminal incident. But then why would the killers use silencers and multiple vehicles?
To this speculation one may add the sudden and unexplained resignation of the head of Tunisian national security, Abd Belhaj Ali, mere hours after the killing of Zoari.
For now, there are many questions and precious few answers in this mysterious death.