Yaakov Lappin
The Jerusalem Post
June 28, 2012 - 12:00am

Israel was most likely not behind the assassination of Hamas operative Kamal Ranaja in Damascus, Israeli security experts told The Jerusalem Post Thursday.

Ranaja was found dead in his Damascus area home on Wednesday, and Hamas quickly pointed a finger of blame at Israel. Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Army Radio on Thursday that Ranaja was not “one of the righteous men of the generation.”

Former senior Mossad member Rami Igra said, “Practically, it’s not reasonable that Israel or a Western country would settle accounts with a man like this, at this stage, in Syria. He’s not big enough.

“He’s not important enough. To assassinate him would be a very complicated, dangerous operation, and it would be taking a huge chance. I don’t see Israel or any Western country willing to take this risk,” Igra said, noting the unstable Syrian situation.

On the other hand, “it would not be a problem for any gang in Damascus, maybe one for Assad, to do this,” Igra added. “With certainty I can say, it was not Israel.”

Dr. Ely Karmon, a senior terrorism expert from the Interdisciplinary Center’s Institute for Counter-Terrorism, agreed.

He said the most likely entity behind the killing was the Syrian regime, since Ranaja may well have been “involved in smuggling weapons to the Syrian opposition,” particularly to the Muslim Brotherhood.

“If he really was an aide to Mabhouh,” Karmon said, referring to reports that Ranaja was the aide of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the late Hamas arms smuggler assassinated in Dubai, “then he had to weapons smuggling.”

“The Muslim Brotherhood is in a state of crisis with the regime. There is a reasonable chance that he provided arms to the opposition,” Karmon added.

A second possibility is that Hamas itself killed Ranaja after suspecting him of pocketing given to him to pay for weapons, ships and smuggling teams.

“We saw this happen with Fatah, when Arafat killed his own operatives in Europe for stealing cash,” Karmon noted.

The third and least likely explanation is that Israel was behind it, though it is highly doubtful that Jerusalem “would take the chance of sending a team to Damascus, which is under security,” Karmon argued.

“Even journalists can’t get in to Damascus,” he added, and the price of failure would be enormous for Israel. It was also possible, though most unlikely, that a proxy team of Palestinians hired by Israel carried out the hit, Karmon added.

“The fact is, Israel is unlikely to take such a dramatic chance for mid-level operative,” Karmon concluded. “I don’t believe Israel did this.”

Most weapons entering Gaza today for Hamas are coming from Libya, not Iran or Syria, he continued, doubt on the centrality of Ranaja’s role as an arms smuggler.

“Hamas is the Muslim Brotherhood, and it has not forgotten the massacre perpetuated by the Assad regime against the Brotherhood [in Hama in 1982],” said Karmon.

On its official website, Hamas said it was unknown who killed Kamal Ranaja, also known as Nizzar Abu Mujhad.

However, a senior Hamas official later told AFP, “According to our information, [the] Mossad was behind the assassination.”

The statement on the Hamas website added that Ranaja died “in the of his cause and his people,” vowing that his blood would “not be wasted.”

The senior Hamas official said “a group of people” carried out the murder. He identified Ranaja as a former deputy of Mabhouh.

A Hamas in Gaza said “there were marks of torture” on Ranaja’s body. The organization, which rules the Gaza Strip, did not disclose his role in the movement but said he “spent his life working for the sake of God” within its ranks.

Foreign media has reported that Israeli agents were behind the killing of Mabhouh in his Dubai hotel room.

In February 2008, senior Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh was killed by a bomb in his car in the Syrian capital, an attack the terrorist group blamed on Israel.


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