Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas’ political bureau chief Khaled Meshaal have been going at it for 17 years. The saga began during Netanyahu’s first term (1996-99), as a young Israeli prime minister. After a long quiet spell, Hamas started rearing its head, conducting suicide bombings in Israel proper. Netanyahu looked for ways to carry out a “low signature” strike at the organization. Being his usual self, Netanyahu abhorred head-on confrontations, real wars or forceful moves that might have rattled his seat. He preferred to operate under the radar. Back then, Meshaal was relatively anonymous — a senior Hamas militant residing in Jordan, thought by the Israeli Shin Bet and Mossad to be one of the “heads of the snake.”
Netanyahu instructed the Mossad to assassinate Meshaal “quietly.” The operation took place in September 1997, but Meshaal survived the assassination attempt. His standing skyrocketed, making him the most prominent leader in the organization under Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. When the latter was assassinated by Israel in 2004, Meshaal became the landlord. It is uncertain whether that would have been the case had it not been for this earlier assassination attempt.