Who was Jamal Mansour?
August 1, 2001
Analysis / A fire's been lit and will rage for a long time
by Amos Harel
An Israel Defense Forces officer with extensive involvement in events in the
territories under his belt claimed last night that the full meaning of the
Nablus operation had yet to be fully digested by Israelis.
"This wasn't just another assassination," he said. "And Jamal Mansour was
not just another wanted man. He was more senior than all the other activists
killed till now. This was, perhaps, the harshest strike by Israel since the
beginning of the Intifada. Seen through Palestinian eyes, the assassination
was even more serious than the killing of Yihye Ayash, the engineer."
According to security service sources, Mansour was the most senior Hamas
operative in the West Bank. Up until a few years ago, he was considered the
number-two man to Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Islamic
movement in the territories. Jamal Salim Damoni, another activist killed in
the attack, was almost as senior as Mansour.
"Someone like Mahmud Abu Hanud [one of the wanted men in the territories]
comes and goes," the security source said. "If you manage to kill him,
others will take his place; but someone like Mansour takes years to
From Israel's point of view, striking at Mansour and Damoni was a way of
tearing the veil of political respectability from the face of Hamas. For the
last decade, the political leadership of the Islamic movement maintained
extensive contacts with the organization's military wing, the Azadin al
Kassam brigades. There was, ostensibly, a clear division of duties: The
sheikhs and politicians appeared at rallies and gave interviews to the
media; the military activists took care of the attacks.
But the Israeli defense establishment has long claimed that the two branches
of the organization are, in fact, one and the same. Yassin's aide, Salah
Shahade, coordinates all the attacks in the Gaza Strip; while in the West
Bank, Damoni and Mansour, in particular, were the ones who had planned the
operations and had also appeared in the media. Neither of them had had blood
on their hands personally, but they had identified the potential suicide
bombers, prepared them for their missions and pointed them at the targets.
Only once before in the current round of hostilities has Israel struck at a
political activists and claimed that he was, in fact, a military strategist
- Dr. Thabet Thabet, head of the Tanzim in Tul Karm.
Yesterday's action is almost tantamount to a possible attack on Marwan
Barghouti, the Fatah chief in the West Bank. Sources in the Shin Bet
security service say the lesson to be learned is clear - individuals
involved in murdering Israelis are now targets. Barghouti knows it, and so
did Mansour. Following the Dolphinarium massacre, Mansour had been
surrounded by bodyguards armed with M-16s and flak jackets. At least one of
his bodyguards was killed yesterday.
The IDF and Shin Bet aren't under the delusion that they can prevent all
terror attacks. Assassinations, together with other operations, are designed
to generate an obstructive effect on the terror groups: Hitting their
leadership hinders the effectiveness of the organizations, while killing
bomb experts prevents professional bomb-making, as illustrated by the failed
car bombs of recent months.
But the Palestinian response is now predictable. After Ayash was killed,
five suicide bombers were sent to Israel, leaving dozens dead in their wake.
This time, many more will be sent; and mortar fire on the settlements around
Nablus won't come as a surprise to anyone.
Last night, a fire was lit in the territories and it's certain to blaze for
quite some time.
Once a moderate
In the mid-90s, Mansour, then 34, and Damoni, then 36, initiated a move to
transform Hamas into a political party that would take part in mainstream
Palestinian politics, seeking seats in the legislative council and around
the cabinet table. As part of this effort, the two asked to be interviewed
In the October 1994 interview, they voiced moderate views and spoke of
negotiating a truce between Israel and Hamas. They also called on the
Israelis and Palestinians to avoid attacks on civilians and prevent
bloodshed, saying: "The need to reach mutual understandings in the area
requires us to prevent attacks on civilians on both sides."
They did not, at the time, want to go on record as Hamas members, fearing
they would be arrested - Nablus was still under Israeli control. Off the
record, however, they said that they were among the leadership of the
political movement of the Islamic organization and explained that they
wanted to turn Hamas into a political party.
Asked at the time if he supported the military arm of Hamas, Mansour
replied: "I believe in the definition of terror as it appears in Benjamin
Netanyahu's book - a military action against civilians with a political
goal. That is terror, unless the civilians are fighters bearing arms and
there is a state of war between the nations ... The problem is the harming
of civilians. I am opposed to harming civilians because I believe such
actions are against Islamic law. I am opposed to it, unless it is a
reaction, as is the case between Hezbollah and Israel."
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