Give me lucky generals, Napoleon Bonaparte used to say. The emperor did not trust skill or training or brains. He didn't really know why some generals won and some seemed to lose. He just chose the lucky ones.
Napoleon surely would not have chosen Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the luckiest Israeli leader. Ill fortune appears to have dogged him on the security and diplomatic levels – certainly in his bumpy relations with American presidents.
On September 25, 1997, during his first term as prime minister, the Israeli Mossad security service targeted Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal for assassination on the orders of Netanyahu and his security cabinet.
An agent came up behind Meshaal as he walked into his office in Amman and shot a lethal nerve toxin into his left ear.
The incident ended badly for Israel. Jordanian officers caught two Israeli agents before they could escape and the prime minister was confronted with a demand from King Hussein to turn over the antidote to save the terrorist's life.
Netanyahu demurred at first but when the incident blew up into a major furor and US President Bill Clinton intervened, Israel was compelled to comply with Hussein's demand.
Meshaal recovered and set up shop in Damascus, from where he rules Hamas ever since as Bashar Assad's honored guest.
Operation against another Hamas heavyweight incurs excessive diplomatic fallout
The January 2010 assassination in Dubai of another Hamas heavyweight, its money courier with Tehran Mahmoud Abdel Rauf Mabhouh, caught Netanyahu wrong-footed in his second, current, term as prime minister. According to our intelligence sources, the intention was to stun – not kill – Mabhouh, and hold him hostage against the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit whom Hamas has held in total isolation for four years.
The target apparently died prematurely of an overdose of the drug administered him.
Although Israel never acknowledged this operation and the assassins got away, the diplomatic fallout for the Netanyahu government has been painful and unending. Mossad officers were expelled from Israel's embassies in Britain, Australia and Ireland. In June, a suspected Israeli agent was arrested in Warsaw on a German international warrant to face the charge of forging a document used by one of the Dubai killers.
Wednesday, July 7, a Polish court ordered his extradition to Berlin.
Rotten luck continued to dog Netanyahu's trips to the US.
On May 30, he had just met the Canadian Prime minister Stephen Harper and was about to travel to Washington to meet President Barack Obama on June 1, when disaster struck, forcing him to return home. He had to cancel his meeting with Obama, important because it was intended to repair the damage of his humiliating reception at the White House in March.
However, an Israeli commando raid to halt a Turkish flotilla aiming to break Israel's Gaza blockade had just gone badly wrong, resulting in 9 Turkish activists dead and 37 wounded, with 11 Israeli soldiers injured in a clash that was never supposed to have happened.
A major assault on Israel's legitimacy
What should have been a smooth, calm operation turned unexpectedly violent when Turkish activists aboard the Mavi Marmara turned on the Israel raiders. In the wake of this incident, Israel's longstanding strategic, military and economic ties with Turkey fell apart in a crisis that rolls on up to the present. It was accompanied by a jarring chorus of international condemnation. Israel's legitimacy had never been questioned from so many quarters.
Tuesday, July 6, when Netanyahu finally got together with Obama in the Oval Office for their public fence-mending encounter (more about which in a separate article), the lavish compliments traded between the smiling, relaxed leaders were rudely interrupted by word of a desperate hunt by US and Israeli security officials for a lost suitcase holding the side-arms, four Glock 9mm, of the prime minister's bodyguards.
The piece of luggage, which was made of steel with coded locks, came in aboard the prime minister's chartered El Al plane which landed at JFK Airport in New York early Tuesday morning, July 6.
It was apparently taken off the jet to be cleared by Transport Security Administration inspectors and shipped under seal to Washington – but never reached them.
The suitcase eventually turned up at Los Angeles International airport – without the guns.
Investigation of the incident was forced to conclude that someone at JFK had advance knowledge of the top-secret security arrangements set up by the elite Shin Bet unit guarding Benjamin Netanyahu for his trip. The thief – or thieves – managed to get past the four layers of security surrounding Netanyahu and his plane: the ring of bodyguards around the prime minister's person, the EL AL security system at New York airports, the FBI and the US Transportation Security Administration -TSA at Kennedy airport.
Someone at JFK knew what to steal and when
All four missed the removal of the case to some hidden location in the airport, where it was rifled and the handguns taken. They also missed noticing an empty piece of tagged luggage that had been broken into and should have caught the attention of any passing airport staffer, least of all security officers, either before or when it was put aboard a flight to Los Angeles..
The suitcase reached LAX with all its original tags still attached.
The claim that American Airlines had inadvertently put the suitcase aboard a flight to LA does not account for the way this incident developed, which was more likely the work of a sophisticated gang working among JFK personnel for gain or bribes from nefarious elements, such as terrorists.
It may be that the time has come for Binyamin Netanyahu's luck to change.
But, aside from the possible carelessness of his bodyguards, the problem of security in New York City and its airports, which cast an unwanted shadow on his otherwise successful US trip, was certainly present before he even landed there.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counterterrorism sources note the suitcase incident indicated the presence of a highly-knowledgeable element in the big international airport, with proficiency in beating the security checks at the various terminals and sneaking luggage aboard flights without their being screened.
No one has accounted for the Times Square's attempted car bomber, Faisal Shahzad's ability to pass through JFK security inspections on May 3 and board Emirates Flight 202 to Dubai – even though his name appeared on no-fly lists as a dangerous terrorist and he was the target of a manhunt.
Nor has any answer been forthcoming on now, 10 days later, on May 12, a passenger was able to board an Egypt Air flight from New York's JFK to Cairo International Airport, carrying a metal box containing two 9mm handguns, 250 bullets, several swords, daggers and knives. The Egyptian-American man was not intercepted at New York and only arrested when he arrived in Cairo.