Salah Mesbah Khalaf (Arabic: صلاح مصباح خلف), also known as Abu Iyad (أبو إياد) (1933 – 14 January 1991) was deputy chief and head of intelligence for the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the second most senior official of Fatah after Yasser Arafat.
Khalaf has been described as "of medium height and sturdy build, undistinguished in a crowd." When Christopher Dobson, hoping for an interview, was introduced to him in Cairo in the early 1970s, Khalaf made "so little an impression" during the brief encounter that Dobson did not realize until later that he had already met Israel's most-wanted target.
Khalaf was born in northern Jaffa in 1933, close to Tel Aviv. His father, who came from Gaza, ran a grocery in Carmel Market, where half of his clients were Jewish and he spoke Hebrew, which his son also picked up from companions among Sephardic Jews. One of his uncles was married to a Jew. He dates his first feelings of animosity towards Jews to an incident in 1945, when he was taunted by Jewish youths for being an Arab while riding over to visit relatives. They smashed his bicycle, and, on returning home, he learnt that Jewish friends had falsely reported that he had knifed Jews in Jaffa, at a time corresponding to the bicycle incident. He was arrested, aged 11, by British police, beaten up and sentenced to a year of house arrest. On expiry of the sentence, he joined the 'lion cubs' of the Najjada militia founded by his school principal Muhammad al-Hawari, which inculcated a rejection of racism, bigotry, and parochial loyalism, and taught him how to retaliate to violence with violence. His family abandoned Jaffa by boat for Gaza on 13 May 1948, as part of a general flight inspired by news of the Deir Yassin massacre and a sense of Jewish military superiority. They fully expected to return as an expected tide in the fortunes of war changed, enabling the Arab armies to drive back to Zionists. He moved to Cairo in the early 1950s, enrolling in the Dar al-Ulum teacher's college. There he became a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. In 1951, he met Yasser Arafat at the al-Azhar University—where he studied literature—during a meeting of the General Union of Palestinian Students. He returned to Gaza in 1957 with a combined degree in philosophy and psychology, and a teacher's certificate from Ain Shams University, where he was assigned to teach at Al Zahra, a girls' school, a position that was, in his memoirs, allocated in order to make him a pariah in the city. The posting lasted six months, after which he was transferred to teach in a makeshift school for poor refugee boys in the Gaza desert. Responding to a call from Arafat, he left for Kuwait and, together with Arafat, Farouk al-Qaddum, Khaled al-Hassan, Abd al-Muhsin al-Qatan and Khalil Ibrahim al-Wazir, founded Fatah - a name meaning "Conquest" composed from the reversed initials of Harakat al-Tahrir al-Watani al-Filastini (Movement for the National Liberation of Palestine).
He was accused by Israel and the United States of having founded the Black September organization. As a result, Khalaf was arrested by the Jordanians and then released after he appealed to his comrades to stop fighting and to lay down their arms. Dobson reports that, according to the Jordanians, Khalaf "was subjected to such ridicule by the guerrillas who had fought on that he reacted by turning from moderation to the utmost violence." According to Said Abu Rish's biography of Yasser Arafat, Arafat had used the fact Abu Iyad negotiated with King Hussein of Jordan to deflect criticism from himself over the conduct of the fighting between Palestinian guerrillas and the Jordanian army in 1970-71, portraying Khalaf as weak. Khalaf then felt the need to restore his reputation within the Palestinian community, and became one of the foremost advocates for the terror campaigns conducted by PLO fighters and others during the early 1970s.
He met with U.S. officials as part of the U.S.-PLO dialogue. He was a man "who had been instrumental in bringing about the shift of PLO policy toward greater pragmatism."
Khalaf opposed Arafat's alliance with Saddam Hussein, actually going as far as to express disagreement with the Iraqi leader in face to face meetings, and vouched to stay neutral during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. He was assassinated in Tunis in the same year by unknown operatives. Possibly at the behest of Abu Nidal.
Views of Zionism
My Home, My Land: A Narrative of the Palestinian Struggle, Abu Iyad with Eric Rouleau, New York 1981, ISBN 0-8129-0936-4
Salah Khalaf, "Lowering the Sword," Foreign Affairs, Spring 1990, pp. 91–112.
- Elizabeth F. Thompson, Justice Interrupted: The Struggle for Constitutional Government in the Middle East, Harvard University Press, 2013 p.245.
- Steve Posner,Israel Undercover:Secret Warfare & Hidden Diplomacy in the Middle East, Syracuse University Press 1987 p.57.
- Steve Posner,Israel Undercover:Secret Warfare & Hidden Diplomacy in the Middle East, Syracuse University Press 1987 p.57
- Steve Posner,Israel Undercover:Secret Warfare & Hidden Diplomacy in the Middle East, Syracuse University Press 1987 p.58
- Steve Posner,Israel Undercover:Secret Warfare & Hidden Diplomacy in the Middle East, Syracuse University Press 1987 pp.58-9
- Aburish, Said K. (1998). From Defender to Dictator. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 1-58234-049-8.
- Library of Congress – Federal Research Division The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism
- William B. Quandt, Peace Process (Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2001), page 297.
- Seale 1992, pp. 312–316.
- Elizabeth F. Thompson, Justice Interrupted: The Struggle for Constitutional Government in the Middle East, Harvard University Press, 2013 p.260.