Kill Khalid: The Failed Mossad Assassination of Khalid Mishal and the Rise of Hamas has been reviewed in the November issue of Jordan Business.
Here is the review in full.
The assassination attempt, followed by an agonizingly long wait for a death or life outcome, was one that few Jordanians could ever forget. Naseem Tarawnah reviews the book that outlines Khalid Mishal’s life and every gritty, nail-biting detail of the events surrounding that day in 1997.
It happened quickly. On a lazy Thursday afternoon, somewhere in Amman’s Tla Al Alidistrict, Hamas leader Khalid Mishal saw nothing more than a blur of movement as he emerged from his car only to be confronted by two assailants. The sound of an explosion nearby, a tussle of activity, driver Abu Maher’s lurch at the attackers and a whirling sound in Mishal’s ear was all it took.
One of the attackers hurled a Coca-Cola can at Abu Maher before both fled the scene, heading for a getaway car a few meters away. Mishal’s men gave chase, and in what unfolded like a typical plot in a James Bond movie, the amateur would-be assassins were eventually pinned down.
Initially believed to be a failed assassination attempt, Mishal and his men would soon discover otherwise as the Amman-based Hamas leader grew suddenly ill several hours after the attack. He had been poisoned. Mossad’s head at the time, David Yatom, rushed to Amman hours later. As Mishal lay in a hospital bed, Yatom calmly told His Majesty the late King Hussein: “We did it. He’ll die in 24 hours. We sprayed him with a chemical. There’s nothing you can do about it.”
While such a scene may easily be mistaken as the climax of this tale, war correspondent and Australian journalist Paul McGeough cleverly weaves together a story filled with intrigue that would rival the best modern-day thriller novels. The only difference is that this tale is true.
In Kill Khalid, McGeough tells not only the story of Khalid Mishal’s brush with death in 1997, but that of Mishal’s life as well. From his birth in Palestine to his upbringing in Kuwait and the rapid development of his political and religious beliefs during his university years, it is somewhat significant that Mishal’s life is narrated within the context of its single most defining event – one that could have meant his demise but instead became his power chip, elevating him to unprecedented stature in the Middle East political sphere.
McGeough relies on extensive research and access to various sources, including Mishal, to put together the story from all its angles and threads – a difficult task when it comes to depicting a single event that triggered a political crisis of such magnitude. With the streets of Amman as its stage, a tale emerges of a man who lay dying of a mysterious illness, and a formidable Jordanian journalist, Randa Habib, who attempts to pin down a story everyone (except Hamas) is trying to keep under wraps.
Meanwhile, King Hussein and his men, blind-sided, attempt to maneuver through a minefield of anger and frustration shrouding what was then seen as a Mossad assassination attempt on Jordanian soil.
The average Jordanian observer concluded that the Israeli assassination attempt had the support of the Hashemite government – a perception the late monarch saw as tantamount to his downfall. Thus, perhaps unexpectedly, the story of Mishal’s attempted assassination quickly became King Hussein’s race against time to save the Hamas leader’s life, in order to – as he saw it –save his own throne, to say nothing of the faltering peace process.
While such an outcome may appear implausible, if not downright mind-boggling, the unfolding of behind-the-curtain proceedings effectively convince the reader that this single incident would have undoubtedly changed the course of Middle Eastern history. It also successfully sets the stage for the history that unfolded a decade after the event, including the assassination, seven years later, of Hamas founder Sheikh AhmadYassin. Yassin’s release from prison by the Israelis shortly after the failed assassination of Mishal was made in response to demands by King Hussein, who sought to use Yassin’s freedom as an instrument to placate his people.
King Hussein also demanded the antidote from Israel to save Mishal’s life from the mysterious poison he was exposed to. McGeough manages to track down this poison and unveils it as having dubious ties to Israel’s security establishment. The pursuit against the odds to save Mishal’s life is set at a thrilling pace, and with all the various strands of the story finally coming together, Kill Khalid makes for a fascinating read that might easily be mistaken for fiction.
The book, published in both the US and UK, met with wide success in the former but struggled to find ground in the latter. Australian journalist Phillip Knightley pointed to the unwillingness by British literary editors to review the book and subsequently be seen as promoting the organization to which Mishal belongs.
The book’s UK publisher, Quartet Books, even saw its Palestinian chairman, Naim Attallah, issue a stern press release accusing the literary establishment of engaging in “an unspoken tactic to limit the book’s public circulation” due to a decision to “dismiss Hamas within the box of [a] ‘terrorist organization’ without granting serious consideration to its valid aspects as a voice in the debate”.
“Anyone who hopes for peace in the Middle East must surely recognize that Hamas is an integral part of any move towards a peace settlement,” Attallah added. “No progress can be achieved without their involvement.”
In that regard, it is somewhat ironic that the failed assassination of a single man had such a strong impact on Middle Eastern politics, to the extent that even the book depicting this event is shrouded in political controversy. That, in itself, is a testament to the importance of this publication.