The militants of Islamic Jihad vowed Sunday to carry out more suicide attacks against Israel for the killing of its top leader, but analysts said the murder of Fathi Shakaki on the island of Malta severely damaged the organization.
Israel declined to say whether it killed Shakaki - an attack described by Malta police as a “professional job” - but its leaders weren’t unhappy. Said Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin: “I’m certainly not sorry about it.”
Malta police said two men on a motorcycle, carrying a gun equipped with a silencer, fired five bullets into Shakaki’s head Thursday afternoon outside his seaside hotel in Sliema. His true identity didn’t become known until late Saturday because the Maltese initially said the victim was Ibrahim Shawesh of Libya - Shakaki’s alias, according to his family.
In Gaza Strip on Sunday, about 1,000 Islamic militant leaders chanted, “Down with the olive branch, take up arms.” Some burned U.S. and Israeli flags.
Others handed out an Islamic Jihad leaflet that pledged new attacks in Israel: “We … will make every Zionist, wherever they are on the face of the earth, a target to our amazing blasts and our bodies exploding in anger.”
But experts on terrorism said Sunday that while Islamic Jihad might now step up plans for suicide missions, Shakaki’s death would hurt the group operationally and financially. Shakaki, a physician born in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza, freely ran Islamic Jihad only a country away, from Damascus, Syria.
“I think it will have a great effect in demoralizing Islamic Jihad,” said Gabriel Ben Dor, a professor in Middle East politics at the University of Haifa. “It’s taking out the best mind from the leadership. He was a good politician, well established in Syria. He negotiated with Libyans, he had inroads into the United States. He really was their mastermind.”
A European diplomat with close ties to the Palestinian Authority said Shakaki’s death could destabilize the group. “And now with Hamas basically throwing up the white flag and working with the Palestinian Authority, it seems that the peace process is losing some serious enemies.”
Hamas, the main militant Islamic opposition movement against Israel, has begun truce talks with Yasser Arafat’s self-rule Authority in Gaza.