In the firing line: Israel admits killing Arafat deputy in 1988

Portraits of Khalil Al Wazir (L) and Yassir Arafat (Reuters / Yannis Behrakis)
Israel has de-classified an interview with a military commando about the 1988 assassination of Khalil al-Wazir, better known by his nom de guerre Abu Jihad. The candid interview has given a rare insight into how Israel conducts its special ops.

­Israel was long suspected – and accused by the Palestinians – of killing Yasser Arafat's deputy in a Tunis raid in 1988. But keeping in line with Tel Aviv's  'neither confirm nor deny' policy, the raid became just another covert operation shrouded in mystery – until, nearly 25 years later, top military brass cleared an interview with the commando who allegedly pulled the trigger on Abu Jihad.Nahum Lev, the officer in charge of the special operation which eliminated Abu Jihad, died in 2000. But long before that he spoke to Yedioth Ahronoth's investigative reporter Ronen Bergman – and that interview has finally seen the light of day.

Ronen Bergman, an investigative reporter for Yedioth Ahronoth, interviewed officer Nahum Lev about operation ′Show of Force′
Ronen Bergman, an investigative reporter for Yedioth Ahronoth, interviewed officer Nahum Lev about operation 'Show of Force'

­Lev was the first religious officer in the elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal. He earned a reputation as a tough and demanding commander and was appointed deputy of the elite unit under Moshe Ya’alon (later the IDF’s chief of General Staff and today Israel’s deputy prime minister). Their task: leading the top-secret Abu Jihad operation, code named “Show of Force,” which combined Mossad and special forces units.

Lev and another soldier, who dressed up as a woman for the attack, pretended they were a vacationing couple. Lev reportedly carried what appeared to be a large box of chocolates in one hand, in which he concealed a gun with a silencer that he was holding in his other hand.

Lev told Bergman all about the operation, the 26 officers involved, the boat journey to Tunis, eliminating the bodyguards inside and outside the house, his recollection of Abu Jihad having a weapon in his hand moments before he was killed – and shooting him dead.

“I read every single page in the intelligence folder we had on Abu Jihad. He was involved in a lot of horrible things against civilians,” Bergman quotes Lev as saying.  “He was a dead man walking. I shot him without hesitation. I was careful not to hurt his wife, who had showed up there. He died. The extra forces came and verified his death.”

Dozens of similarly brazen operations have been attributed to Israel over the decades, but Israel rarely acknowledges responsibility. This apparent confession gives a rare glimpse into the country's covert operations.

Abu Jihad founded the Palestinian Liberation Organization with Arafat and was blamed for a series of attacks against Israelis.