It is only natural for the assassination of Fadi al-Batsh in Malaysia to be attributed to the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency. The target, an engineer formerly employed by Hamas, was shot by assassins on a motorcycle who got away without a trace, in circumstances similar to those of other rumored Israeli hits.
Hamas revealed its ties to Batsh, admitting he had belonged to its ranks and “was characterized by excellence and scientific creativity.”
While Hamas has not said exactly what Batsh was doing in its service, his training as an engineer makes it likely he was helping the terrorist organization with its drone program and working to improve the accuracy of its rockets.
Hamas’ reliance on outside knowledge in these fields stems from a number of factors, including its inability to carry out tests in the Gaza Strip, a lack of resources and a concern that its experts will be assassinated by Israel, as has happened in the past. It could be that Hamas is responsible for Batsh having left Gaza, giving him greater freedom of mobility and research that would benefit the organization.
Kuala Lumpur is a known center of Hamas activity. Malaysia, alongside Turkey and Qatar, is one of the most sympathetic countries to the regime in Gaza. Israeli intelligence has on more than one occasion exposed the transfer of funds to terrorists and the presence of terrorist operatives there. It could be some in Hamas thought sending Batsh to a far-off Muslim country that does not have diplomatic ties with Israel to work as a seemingly innocent lecturer at the British-Malaysian Institute at a local university would protect him.
If Israel is in fact behind the assassination, it probably followed Batsh for a while, via the Shin Bet security agency locally and the Mossad and Military Intelligence Directorate abroad.
Foreign reports have tied the Mossad to extensive activities in the Far East and Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, in the past. In recent years, a number of terrorist attacks have also been thwarted in popular tourist destinations for Israelis, mainly Thailand. Such efforts necessitated strengthening the intelligence infrastructure in the region.
The assassination method is also typical of Israel. Islamic Jihad leader Fathi Shaqaqi was killed in Malta in 1995 and two Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated in Tehran in the previous decade in precisely the same manner. Abandoning the motorcycle in the area from which the shots were fired helps the assassins avoid surveillance, so that by the time the local police begins to put together the pieces, the killers have already gotten away.
Given the extent of the coverage, Malaysia is expected to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the assassination. It will try to use surveillance video to find the killers, but it is unlikely to succeed. Malaysia has failed in much simpler investigations, like the assassination last year of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un’s half-brother at the airport in Kuala Lumpur. It is safe to assume Batsh’s assassins familiarized themselves with the area and made sure to avoid detection, among other things as a result of the lesson learned in the 2010 assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.
Israel may not have taken responsibility for such actions, but Saturday’s assassination follows the 2016 assassination of Mohammed Alzoari, the head of Hamas’ drone program in Tunisia, also attributed to the Mossad.
While Alzoari was a mercenary hired for his expertise, Batsh was a religious man who adhered to Hamas’ ideology and was born in Gaza, where many of his relatives still live. This will put additional pressure on Hamas operatives to exact revenge for his killing.
Hamas, however, is unlikely to give in to this temptation. At this time, the organization would prefer to stick to the supposed civil protests at the border, which have been shown to boost its standing around the world. Moreover, an open military operation would provide Israel with the legitimacy to respond and would reframe Hamas as a leper terrorist organization, the exact depiction the organization is trying to distance itself from.
The assassination in Malaysia also serves as a warning to Israel’s other enemies, chief among them Iran. The Israel Defense Forces last week released information about the Revolutionary Guard officers involved in Iran’s efforts to establish itself inside Syria, thereby sending a message that Israel knows who they are, what they are doing, and where they live. While it is doubtful that any of these officers will chose a different career path following the publication, if the reports from Malaysia reach Iran, they will likely sleep much less soundly at night.