Mission accomplished

At his third attempt, Yigal Amir killed Yitzhak Rabin. It was, in a sense, an act for which he was born and bred.
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The Independent Online
At 8.45 last Saturday evening Yigal Amir, a slight, curly haired law student took bus 284 from his home in Herzeliya to a peace rally in Tel Aviv which was being addressed by Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister. Before leaving home he loaded a 9mm Beretta pistol which belonged to his brother with dum-dum bullets.

It was all easier than it should have been. There were 700 police and security men mingling with the 100,000 demonstrators in Kikar Malchei Yisrael square. Their main concern was that there would be an attack by a suicide bomber from Islamic Jihad, the militant organisation whose leader Fathi Shkaki was assassinated - reportedly on Mr Rabin's orders - ten days before.

Mr Rabin's armour plated car was in a small parking lot close to the square. Amir, 27-years-old with an easily forgettable face, had no difficulty in finding where it was parked. According to Israeli police minister Moshe Shahal "he stood around to give the impression that he was one of the politician's drivers."

He did not have to wait long. He was hoping that Mr Rabin would leave the platform together with the Israeli Foreign Minister. Amir would then have within range both the chief Israeli architects of the peace process. In the event Mr Peres left first and the gunman decided to bide his time and wait for the bigger target.

At 9.50pm Mr Rabin left the platform still clutching the songsheet for the Song for Peace which had closed the meeting. The prime minister walked into the small, dark parking lot where he was surrounded by police and a television crew.

Amir stepped forward and from just five feet fired three shots. Two hit Mr Rabin and one hit his bodyguard. The dum-dum bullets caused massive damage to the prime minister's spine, spleen, lungs and the tissues around the heart. His bodyguards grabbed Amir, who made no attempt to escape, while others rushed Mr Rabin, in his own car, to Ichilov hospital 500 yards away. Amir spoke to his captors with an almost surreal calm. When the news came that Mr Rabin was dead the gunman expressed a bald satisfaction.

The police were later to try to defend themselves by saying that if they had persuaded Mr Rabin to wear a bullet proof vest he might have survived. In the event Dr Motti Gutman, the senior surgeon who treated him, said: "If he had been a 20-year-old man, maybe he would have a chance of survival, but even that would have been very unlikely." At 11.15 the doctors pronounced him dead.

Yigal Amir, the assassin, who yesterday confessed in a Tel Aviv court, came from a family and political background which was likely to nurture a religious extremist. Born 27 years ago the son of Israelis who came from Yemen he grew up as a member of a large religious family - he is reported to have between seven and nine brothers and sisters - which sent him to a religious school, then to a Yeshiva college and, finally, after his military service as a combat soldier in the Golani Brigade, to Bar- Ilan university near Tel Aviv. He briefly worked for the Israeli Foreign office as a messenger and even taught Hebrew in Latvia.

Students recall that he tried to recruit them to spend week-ends at militant Jewish settlements on the West Bank which was seized from the Palestinians in 1967. These settlements have been the focus of much friction between secular and religious Jews who have in recent times begun to interpret ancient traditions about Jerusalem, which were originally focused upon the Temple there, as legitimising far wider territorial claims.

It was clear whose side Amir was on. Among the books police found in his home was one praising Baruch Goldstein and his attack on the Palestinians of Hebron. He made clear his motives when he appeared in court yesterday still wearing the clothes he had worn on Saturday night when he killed Mr Rabin. "I acted alone but maybe with God," he said, claiming that he said he shot the Israeli leader because he was handing over land to Palestinians.

Amir was a regular attender at right-wing protests on such land. Most weekends he hitch-hiked from university to an illegal new settlement called Maale Yisrael. In June there he gave an interview in which he said: "Peres and Rabin are snakes. Cut off their heads, and the snake will lose its way. Gouge out their eyes, and they are in the dark. They should both be killed because one pushes the other. They are the root of evil." Observers thought it was just fanatical talk. Then in July he was arrested during violent protests by Jewish settlers on the occupied West Bank. In September he was ejected from a public meeting for heckling Mr Rabin.

During that time, he has now confessed, he was stalking the prime minister - lying in wait at the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial as long ago as January (Mr Rabin cancelled his appearance at the last moment for security reasons) and at the opening of a new highway interchange in September.

Among Yigal Amir's other belongings police later found a copy of the "Day of the Jackal," Frederick Forsyth's account of how a professional assassin repeatedly outwits the intricate precautions of the French police in order to try to assassinate President De Gaulle. But Yigal Amir did not need anything so elaborate. All he required was a bus ticket and the knowledge of where the prime minister's car would be parked.

The ease with which the killing was carried out is now likely to cause a massive controversy in Israel. Most of the questions being asked are obvious. Why, for instance, was the parking lot not sealed off and made secure before Mr Rabin came down the steps from Tel Aviv City Hall? Even if people were allowed through the outer ring of security men why was Amir not asked for identification? Somebody did ask him who he was but he said he was a driver. Above all, how was the killer able to get so close to Mr Rabin and his car?

The security forces are now throwing their efforts into discovering whether or not Amir was part of a more organised plot. The Shin Bet security service asked the court to hold the assassin for 15 days while the investigate his links to an illegal organisation called Kach, an anti-Arab party founded by the extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, or one of its offshoots known as Eyal, members of which have gone into hiding.

But such efforts, many suspect, are a cloak to draw attention from Shin Bet's true blind spot. For the truth is that the Israeli secret police was not psychologically prepared for an attack by a Jew rather than an Arab. Secret agents were concentrating on intelligence that Mr Rabin had been targeted by Arab fundamentalists in retaliation for the killing, of the Islamic Jihad leader Fathi Shkaki. Though his usual two or three bodyguards had been increased, by up to 20 according to some reports, and he was riding in a new bomb-proof Cadillac, his protectors were looking for danger from elsewhere.

One Tel Aviv police officer was yesterday quoted as saying, in justification: "Our arrangements were just as they are at any large rally." But this was not just "any large rally". It happened just as the event most dreaded by the extreme religious right - the Israeli army pull out of the main Palestinian cities on the West Bank - was beginning. The mood among the small fanatical groups, like Kach and Eyal, with which Yigal Amir was associated, was becoming desperate.

Potential violence from the extreme right has an increasing fact in recent months. Mr Rabin had almost been roughed up when he attended a meeting of Israelis of Anglo-Saxon origin a few weeks ago. Other Cabinet ministers were also threatened in recent weeks, requiring extra bodyguards and armoured cars. Housing Minister Binyamin Eliezer was trapped in an angry crowd, Education Minister Shulamit Aloni was punched in the stomach and Environment Minister Yossi Sarid's car was forced off a highway.

So why had the police and Shin Bet not taken it on board? At the deepest level they probably did not expect an attack from an Israeli. One of the most important engines driving Israeli politics since the foundation of the state has been the friction between religious and secular Jews. But it has been one of the myths of Israeli nationalism that the communal solidarity of Jews would always prevail. Twelve years ago there was deep shock when a right wing extremist threw a grenade into a Peace Now rally protesting the invasion of Lebanon, which exploded killing one person. That a Jew does not kill another Jew was one of the most ingrained taboos.

The television pictures showed that as Mr Rabin walked to his car his bodyguards appeared to be looking at the prime minister rather than at those around him. With the horror of hindsight it is like an awful metaphor. When the assassin struck the hawk eyes of one of the world's most celebrated security institutions were peeled. But they were looking in the wrong direction.