The assassination of Abu Iyad (Salah Khalaf), together with two others, in Tunis in mid-January, was unquestionably an event of great moment for the PLO and for the historic leadership of Fatah which has dominated the organization for over two decades. Abu Iyad was the fifth of the 15 members of Fatah’s Central Committee elected in 1980 to be assassinated — the others being Abu Jihad (Khalil al-Wazir), Majid Abu Shahrar, Brig. Abu al-Walid (Saad Sayil), and Abu al-Hawl (Hayil ‘Abd al-Hamid), who was killed together with Abu Iyad.
Abu Iyad was the prime political strategist inside Fatah and the PLO in recent years, playing a crucial role in winning the Palestine National Council over to a diplomatic strategy in its 1988 meeting in Algiers with his eloquent speeches and his back-room political skills. After the assassination of Abu Jihad in 1988, he was also the only person in the entire PLO leadership with the personal stature, political backing and human relationship to Yasser Arafat to be able to stand up to him over weighty matters of policy.
Abu Iyad was responsible for heading the most serious effort by any intelligence service to combat the Abu Nidal group, which the PLO has long seen as its mortal enemy. This is because it is honeycombed with individuals working for the intelligence services of the PLO’s enemies, and has carried out many murderous attacks on the PLO, as well as on European and Jewish civilian targets. This effort led to the splitting of the group last year. It was thus not surprising that the assassin had connections to the Abu Nidal group, as well as to Israel, according to the PLO. The question remains as to which of the states which have manipulated this group in the past was responsible for these assassinations. In any case, they were a severe blow to the PLO, to its political strategy, and in particular to the generation of leaders who several decades ago relaunched the Palestinian national movement. Abu Iyad will be sorely missed by the Palestinian people to whom he devoted his life.