On October 15, a large roadside bomb was detonated under an easily recognisable US convoy escorted by Palestinian security in the Gaza Strip. The huge explosion tore through the vehicle, leaving three of its occupants dead and one injured.
An anonymous call to Agence France Presse came from someone claiming to represent an umbrella organisation, the Popular Resistance Committee (PRC), and saying they were responsible for the attack. As soon as this claim became public, the PRC leadership denied any knowledge of it and disassociated itself from the attack.
“From the very beginning we have denied responsibility for what happened today,” PRC head Yassir Zanoun told the Times. Unusually, no other group or individual has claimed responsibility, leaving a question mark over who the culprits are.
However, much of the media decided to throw caution to the wind and point the finger of blame in one direction. “Palestinians bomb US convoy” was the front page headline of The Guardian the following day. “Palestinian guerrillas blew up a US diplomatic convoy” claimed the Daily Telegraph, which also allowed itself to indulge in some of the worst misinformation available in the mainstream media: “It may well be that Hamas or Islamic Jihad employed the flag of convenience of ‘Popular Resistance Committee’…there is no doubting the common ideological well-spring from which all these groups drink. Young people in the occupied territories are indoctrinated from an early age into the Wahhabist version of Islam that so inspired Osama bin Laden.” Most were a little more sober with their wording, but clearly implied that it was only a question of which Palestinian faction.
Many cited the US veto of the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s construction of the barrier through occupied Palestinian territory, and recent bloody raids in Gaza, as Palestinian motives for the attack. Neither of these, however, were landmark events which would alter the cross-factional position not to widen the conflict and especially not to target the US.
Cracks in this representation began to quickly appear. The day after the above-mentioned Guardian headline, the same newspaper reported: “One man [at the bomb scene] who claimed to be a member of Palestinian military intelligence said the bombing could only have happened with the knowledge of the Israelis.
“‘For the first time in three months, the Israelis positioned a tank 100 metres from where the bomb was placed the night before the explosion. What do you think they were doing there?’ he said.
“It is a commonly held view in Gaza that only Israel could have carried out an operation so damaging to Palestinian interests.”
The article goes on to quote Hussan Abu Assi, chief prosecutor in the Gaza Strip, as saying: “An investigation committee has been formed and the Americans have asked us to keep all details of the investigation secret. We are investigating who knew about the [US] delegation and following all the leads.”
The same preliminary questions apply in any criminal investigation: Who had the opportunity? Who had the motive/who benefited? Who has a history of similar actions?
The Palestinian factions may have had the opportunity, but since they are the principal political losers and have always refrained from expanding the conflict, it is difficult to see either a motive or history. Another theory presented by some in the media is that it must be the work of a Palestinian splinter group, but given the size of the explosion and especially since any such group would probably desire the publicity and claim responsibility, this seems unlikely.
However, in light of the positioning of an Israeli tank close to the scene –” as reported in The Guardian –” it is clear that Israel had the opportunity and capability to plant the bomb. It would also have had prior knowledge of the US visit.
In terms of motive, almost no credible Middle East analyst doubts that Israel is the only political beneficiary from the attack. As the Daily Telegraph points out: “Its most immediate effect will be to reinforce the widespread belief in America that Palestinian violence should be treated as an integral part of the war on terrorism.”
The Daily Telegraph also predicts that the US investigators will be asking: “Who hates America?” A more likely question will be: “Who will benefit from such an attack?” And Abu Assi’s claim that America has asked him to keep his findings secret might indicate that they already have a fair idea.
With such clandestine operations as the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty in 1967 as historical precedent, the Gaza attack looks like small-fry.
Reports also emerged that Israel had hampered any investigation, with their tanks opening fire to disperse Palestinian police as they tried to secure the blast scene.
Of course none of this proves Israeli involvement, but since suspicions are widespread these questions should be aired by the media and premature assumptions avoided.