JERUSALEM // The Israeli military said yesterday it has warned its top officers to be on guard when travelling abroad following the killing of Mahmoud al Mabhouh, a Hamas commander, in Dubai. Hamas has accused Israel of carrying out an assassination and vowed revenge, hinting it could attack Israeli targets abroad. Hamas has historically limited its attacks to Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Although Israel has not acknowledged any role in the killing, military officials said yesterday they were taking the threats seriously and had instructed senior officers, military attachés and soldiers on study leave to exercise caution when travelling abroad. The officials said the military feared Hamas could try to capture Israeli officers outside the country. Israel also has boosted security measures at its borders and embassies following the killing, Israeli public radio said yesterday.
Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Hamas, hinted that Hamas might reconsider its long-standing policy of only carrying out attacks within Israel, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. "The battle with the Zionist enemy is inside the historic borders of Palestine, and the occupation is trying to change the rules of the game - it should expect anything." Israeli security officials have claimed that al Mabhouh played a critical role in smuggling more advanced rockets from Iran to Palestinian militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Hamas already possesses a formidable arsenal of shorter-range weaponry, and Israeli officials consider these longer-range rockets that could strike cities in central Israel to be an unacceptable threat.
Hamas has been quiet about the reason for al Mabhouh's travels, though a brother said he was on a mission for the militant group. One senior Hamas figure, Osama Hamdan, denied al Mabhouh was on a special assignment or that he was planning to head to Iran. Iran has long been suspected of supplying weapons to Hamas. Israel carried out a broad military offensive against Hamas militants last year. The operation, meant to halt Hamas rocket fire, killed almost 1,400 people, including an estimated 900 civilians, according to Palestinian and international human rights groups.
Yesterday, an Israeli court indicted two suspected Hamas members on charges they plotted attacks against civilian targets across Israel. Israel's Shin Bet internal intelligence agency claims that Marad Kamel, 24, and Marad Namr, 25, were recruited by Hamas while living in Jordan. The targets included central bus stations in Beer Sheva and Jerusalem, a Jerusalem mall, Tel Aviv's hotel district and a military base in the Tel Aviv area, the agency said. The men were arrested on January 3, but there was a gag order on their detention.
The two live in Jerusalem and have Israeli identification cards that allowed them to travel freely throughout Israel. The Shin Bet said it recovered a portable flash drive that contained photos, video and other plans for the attacks.
The men were charged with contacts with a foreign agent, membership in a terrorist organisation, aiding and abetting the enemy during wartime and espionage.
* Associated Press, with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse