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February 24, 2010

Killing in Dubai

Reuel S. Amdur

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On January 20, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's body was found in a hotel room in Dubai. Al-Mabhouh was a Palestinian leader who was involved in actions against Israel, including the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers. So Israel had a motive, but did anyone else?

n been an Iranian angle suggested, as Iran has killed anti-régime figures outside the country.  Fatah and Hamas have exchanged accusations about the killing, and two Palestinians with Fatah affiliation have been handed over by Jordan to Dubai, it being alleged that they provided tactical support.

Let’s look at the Israeli possibility.  First the negatives.  A number of the participants in the killing carried passports with the names of Israelis.  Would Israel want to implicate its own citizens?  Yet, it soon became clear that the real persons named were not those who carried out the deed—at least for those so far described in the media.  Second, it has been argued that an organization as sophisticated as the Israeli Mossad would not have slipped up to the extent of missing the fact that there were hidden cameras in the hotels used, cameras that caught some of the team changing clothes and donning false beards.

As to the second point, no one is perfect, not even the Mossad.  They may not have thought of the cameras.  That leaves the issue of the names.  Using the names might be counterintuitive.  That is, if it was Mossad, the use of Israeli names might be a way of trying to throw the blame somewhere else, as the photos of perpetrators did not match the actual appearance of the people named. 

Before going to the reasons that suggest it might be Mossad, we should outline briefly what happened.  Reports said that 18 people were involved in the operation, 11 most directly.  Now Dubai is claiming another 15!  Al-Mabhouh arrived in Dubai with a false passport on January 19.  For some reason, his contingent of bodyguards was not with him.  He booked into a hotel and then went out.  Before he returned, the hit team set up shop in the room directly across from his.  Either the assassins were waiting for him in his room, having somehow gained entrance, or they entered on his return.  When he returned, he was killed.  Evidence of strangulation and electrocution were allegedly found at the site.  The secret agents then scattered and quickly departed on flights to various places.

Why suspect Mossad?  Israel makes it a practice to kill those responsible for terrorist and political deaths.  As an example, in retaliation for the Black September massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Mossad tracked down and killed eight members of that group by 1979.  Mossad has a list of spectacular operations to its credit, including the freeing of the captives at Entebbe Airport in Uganda and the capture and transfer of Adolph Eichman from Argentina and Mordechai Vanunu from Italy to Israel.  Vanunu is the one who blew the whistle on the Israeli atomic bomb.  Mossad killings have occurred across Europe, throughout the Middle East, and in Africa.  Five took place in France alone.  Of course, several have happened in the Occupied Territories.

Mossad does not always get it right.  In 1973, Mossad agents using phoney Canadian passports entered Norway, looking for Ali Hassan Salameh, a Black September leader.  However, by mistake they killed Ahmed Bouchiki, a Moroccan waiter.  Canada was not pleased, to say nothing of Norway.  Then in 1997, Mossad poisoned Khaled Meshal in Jordan, but the agents were captured and Israel was forced to supply the antidote.  They again used Canadian passports, creating another diplomatic dust-up.  Israel promised not to do it again.  In 2004, Mossad tried to obtain New Zealand passports, creating another furor and ending up in six month jail sentences for two of the agents.  The other two managed to get away.

Let us assume that Mossad did the job.  Gordon Thomas, who wrote a book about Mossad, calls the assassination “a classic example of how Mossad goes about its work.”  To cite one little detail, he commented that the “Do not disturb” sign on the victim’s door is a typical Mossad touch.  What are the implications of this operation?  First, with the Emirates.

Dubai police are issuing arrest warrants for 11 people, but it is not clear for what names.  Photos have been released, some wearing disguises such as glasses and wigs.  Police Chief Dahi Khalfan Tamin says that, if it turns out that Mossad was responsible, “Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, will be the first to be wanted for justice as he would have been the one who signed the decision to kill al-Mabhouh in Dubai.”  According to Gordon Thomas, Tamin is correct: “Each execution must be sanctioned by the incumbent prime minister.”  Netanyahu was prime minister when the attempt on Khaled Meshal was made. 

Israel has been quietly engaged in business and diplomatic activities in the United Arab Emirates.  If the Mossad tie is established, the killing throws a spanner into the relationships.  And if Mossad is indeed caught out, then it follows that the killing was sufficiently important to Israel to risk its relationship with the UAE.

Then there is the issue of the false passports.  In 1987, Israel was caught using fake British passports and promised not to do so again.  In response to the current usage, Great Britain is assigning its Serious Organized Crime Agency to investigate.  Her Majesty is not amused. Counterfeit passports were also used bearing Irish, German, and French nationality.  They are also unhappy.

Finally, there is the matter of the people whose names were on the passports.  Pictures on the passports did not match, and there were some pieces of information on the documents were incorrect.  Yet, those whose names were used are far from pleased.  Paul John Keeley, a British-Israeli kibbutznik, complained to Ha’aretz newspaper, “From the moment I heard about it I was very worried.  I’m worried for my family.”  Another British-Israeli, Melvyn Adam Mildiner, was “angry, upset, and scared.”

If Israel is found to be responsible for the killing, the consequences for the country and for Netanyahu personally do not look pretty. 

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