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The Martyr Who Did Not Die

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By REVIEW BY GREG MYRE
Sunday, March 8, 2009; Page B01

KILL KHALID

The Failed Mossad Assassination of Khalid Mishal and the Rise

This Story

of Hamas

By Paul McGeough

New Press. 477 pp. $26.95

Actuarial tables are not kind to the leaders of Hamas. The Israeli security forces reserve a special fury for the radical Islamic group, and it's tough to be taken seriously as a Hamas leader unless you can prove that the Israelis tried to kill you at least once.

The group's most notorious bomb maker was killed by an exploding cellphone in 1996. Its quadriplegic founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, was in his wheelchair on his way home from a mosque when an Israeli missile struck him down in 2004. This past New Year's Day, a one-ton Israeli bomb flattened the apartment building that housed Hamas firebrand Nizar Rayyan, killing him, all four of his wives and 11 of their children.

Given this history, Khalid Mishal, a key figure in Hamas since the group was founded two decades ago, can consider himself very lucky indeed. His brush with death came on the streets of Amman, Jordan, in 1997, when an Israeli Mossad agent squirted an exotic poison in his ear. But the would-be assassin and an accomplice were quickly chased down by Mishal's driver, his bodyguard and some passersby. Outraged that the attack took place on Jordanian soil, King Hussein demanded the antidote from Israel as part of the price for releasing the Mossad agents. Under U.S. pressure, the Israelis reluctantly complied.

This episode made Mishal an instant legend within Hamas. He became a martyr in a group that reveres them and did so without the inconvenience of dying. In "Kill Khalid," Australian journalist Paul McGeough uses the botched assassination as the jumping-off point for a timely and thorough examination of Hamas, highlighting the ways in which Israel has intentionally and unintentionally aided its rise.

Mishal's near-death experience has been well reported in previous books and articles, and this book runs the risk of being as stale as month-old hummus. But in the circular nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the same characters keep coming back around, and this 12-year-old drama couldn't be more relevant today.

Binyamin Netanyahu was the Israeli prime minister who authorized the attempt on Mishal's life. It proved to be a huge embarrassment, and though Hamas wasn't part of the negotiations, the reckless Israeli action was one of a thousand cuts that drained the blood out of the peace process that had begun so hopefully with the 1993 Oslo accords.

So what's new? Well, Netanyahu's Likud party finished a close second in Israel's February elections, and he has been trying to form a coalition government with himself as prime minister. If he succeeds, his most immediate security concern will be Hamas . . . led by Khalid Mishal.


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