More questions about Mossad’s Dubai debacle

Israeli military analyst Ronen Bergman had an interesting contribution in yesterday’s WSJ about the almost-certainly-Mossad killing of Hamas operative Muhammad al-Mabhuh in Dubai last month. (HT: Phil Weiss.)
It’s true, Bergman seemed clearly to be condoning the concept of Israeli hit squads roaming the earth, killing whomsoever they please in a completely lawless (= extra-judicial) way.
But he did also ask these questions:

    did Mabhouh constitute an immediate threat? Was eliminating him worth violating international law and risking the ire of so many states at a time when the international community seems to have finally gotten serious on Iran?
    … [S]uch acts need to be extremely rare. In the case of Israel, such operations require the explicit approval of the prime minister, and they are authorized only after the political risks are carefully weighed. In the case of Dubai, it seems that this did not occur. Either the risks were not explained to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, or he made a serious miscalculation.

He also wrote this:

    the real, and so far unappreciated, achievement in this affair belongs to the Dubai police, who were able to integrate all the evidence at their disposal into one clear picture and do so with remarkable speed.
    Whoever sent the hit squad to Dubai was not aware that the police and security services had such advanced capabilities at the ready. The investigators managed to put together still and video shots taken in seven different locations and place them on a single timeline together with the cellphone records of the individuals in the footage. Doing this requires sharp analysis and advanced computer skills, and computerized intelligence systems able to cross check information from various sources.
    How did the Dubai police manage all this? Did they have help? For now, it remains a mystery. But in any case, misjudging the ability of the Dubai authorities so spectacularly is evidence of a serious intelligence failure on the part of the organization that sent out the squad.

Personally, I would say that putting together video and stills footage from surveillance cameras doesn’t seem like a terrifically tough job. I mean, they’re all time-coded anyway.
I think what the Mossad people misread was not the capability of the Dubai police but their intentions, namely, their willingness to investigate this crime quickly and with an apparently high degree of honesty and thoroughness.
I think the Israelis– from Netanyahu on down– most likely assumed that, regardless of what the capabilities of the Dubai police were, the Dubai authorities would be happy to bumble or cloud the investigation in an attempt to keep their undoubted continuing links with Israel untouched by the affair.
That was also the key mistake of arrogance that Netanyahu made when he authorized the Mossad’s 1997 assassination attempt against Khaled Meshaal in Amman, remember. On both occasions, it seems to me, Netanyahu and his security advisers, committed not one but two serious mistakes of arrogance:

    1. In both cases there was probably an assumption that Mossad ‘tradecraft’ was of a high enough caliber that these agents– who turned out to be Keystone Cops type assassins, in the event– could perform their task undetected.
    2. In both cases, there was also an assumption that, even if evidence about these assassins’ doings and identities should emerge, the local government would be happy to sweep the whole affair under the rug in the interest of keeping its relations with Israel and its western backers in good order.

Of course, there is also an underlying arrogance in all such cases, too. Namely, that it’s quite okay to go round the world killing anyone you want just based on some suspicion of something.
But back to #2 above. In the case of Jordan 1997, Netanyahu and his advisers seriously under-estimated the willingness of King Hussein to kick up a huge fuss when the bumbling would-be killers’ antics came to light. Yes, Hussein doubtless valued the relationships he had with the Israeli government (and its US backers) at the time. But he was also subject to non-trivial internal pressures from Hamas– an organization with which, anyway, he had had a lengthy previous relationship.
Netanyahu seemed not to understand that, back in 1997. And he seemed not understand this time round that, for all the services that Dubai offers to the western governments and their armies of consumers– and doubtless also to Israel as well, in many respects– nevertheless its government also has a longstanding relationship with Iran as a key entrepot for that country’s traders, and government leaders also have a great degree of sympathy for Hamas.
Also, Dubai’s whole reputation as a ‘free-wheeling entrepot’ type of place, like Singapore or whatever, depends on its being able to safety and security to all kinds of visitors from other countries. Having the Israelis violate this norm is not something that any of the city-state’s managers would be happy about, at all.
Netanyahu and his people seem also to have mis-forecast the responses of two other actors in this drama: the western governments, especially the British government, and those Israeli citizens of European origin whose identities the Mossad blithely chose to steal/forge, and whose names are therefore now about to be posted on every Interpol warning around the world.
Previously, those Israeli citizens could have been expected to comply with a kind of nationalist vow of omerta about the fact of the identity theft. But now, it seems, no. Some of them have been outspoken in their criticism of the security agencies misuse of their identities. That’s new. And another significant aspect of this case.

28 thoughts on “More questions about Mossad’s Dubai debacle

  1. colindale

    Welcome to the wonderfully brave New World of SSK (state-sponsored killing).
    Wherever you happen to be – at the Regency West One Hotel by London’s Hyde Park or the International Columbia on Florida’s Miami Beach – you might just catch a glimpse of a limp body wrapped in a blood-stained blanket being carried into the elevator escorted by two burly men in wigs and carrying tennis gear.
    In the brave new world of extra-judicial killing where courts have been abolished in favor of summary justice dealt out by non-accountable bodies with a nod from the Prime Minister of the day, dissidents need to be very wary about where they sleep, eat, walk, shop or go to the washroom.
    This new paradigm has saved such states, who have embraced the new-style methodology of approved murder – many thousands of dollars by dismantling the old style judicial system of judges and trials, which took an inordinate amount of time, by a quick process that leaves foreign states to clean up the often bloody mess.
    It has been estimated by an American think-tank that just 17 extra-judicial killings could save 3 million shekels per annum – a sum that could usefully be redirected to purchasing cluster-bombs and white phosphorus from US arms and chemical weapon manufacturers that badly need the business.
    Now that UAE has been tainted by last month’s amateurish electrocution of a suspected dissident in a luxury airport hotel in Dubai, the State-Sponsored Killing Directorate (SSKD) met this week in closed session to determine alternative cities suitable for liquidation and disposal of the next batch of political victims who are critical of illegal land expansion and settlement.
    It is understood that London and LA were initially proposed but rejected on the grounds that to ‘defecate in the hotel gardens’ of those countries who constitute major trading partners and financial backers, would be inappropriate.
    The meeting concluded with no firm recommendations other than to instruct the SSKD to use alternative methods of liquidation in the future, such as injecting the victim’s genitals with sharon-fruit juice in a syringe connecting to the hotel power socket.
    The British and American governments have already considered, and rejected, proposals (by a powerful political lobby) to set up their own SSK Departments, on the grounds that such summary killings would be contrary to natural justice, against all principles of democracy, an incitement to war and a powerful terrorist-recruiting tool.

  2. Jack

    It is also very interesting to watch the British government squirm on this one. From the British papers it appears that at least MI6 was informed in advance of the use of forged British passports; exactly when this happened, whether the information went to the very top, whether there was more cooperation than just a information “courtesy call”, are all unanswered questions. As is the issue of whether some forged Irish, French, and German passports were thrown in just so the Brits wouldn’t look to conspicuous when and if the operation was uncovered. Millbank seemed genuinely distressed by the news, Gordon Brown not so much. Regardless of the victim’s past or ongoing allege4d crimes, extra-judicial killing is murder in Dubai and all other civilized nations. And this seems to, at least temporarily, squelch any chance of Britain changing its law so Tzipi Livni and other Israelis involved in the Gaza assault can visit Britain without fear of arrest for war crimes. Always fun to watch the British squirm.

  3. colindale

    You’re a little unfair on the UK, Jack.
    There are at least 150 British MPs and a similar number of British MEPs who are determined that ex ministers Olmert, Barak and Livni should face trial at the ICC for authorizing the killing of hundreds of non-combatants, including dozens of children, in a successful strategy to terrorize the civilian population, during their attack on Gaza.
    It would be preferable if they would voluntarily face the Court to give evidence in their own defense rather than to be apprehended by a European or other state, on these alleged war crimes.

  4. bevin

    As clear a case of first degree murder-with kidnapping and torture thrown in-as we are likely to run across.
    And there is no mystery about whodunnit either: there are masses of good photographs of the gang and we know that the government of Israel (true to its fascist character) has their names and addresses on the payroll.
    That makes it very easy: either these suspects are put on trial publicly or the government which saves them from justice should be treated, internationally, like lepers were of old.
    This is, after all, just the latest in a long string of mysterious deaths, and disappearances, of Iranian Scientists, Palestinian patriots and Lebanese politicians. Is the world going to except Israelis from the common prejudice against murder, kidnapping and other serious crimes? It has done so, for several decades now; we have seen the government actually honour those who set off bombs in Cairo, blew up the King David and, of course, massacred villagers and shot prisoners.
    Time is running out, there are no excuses now: is there to be a law or are we, in defernce to the purchased scoundrels who infest our north American legislatures, to snigger guiltily and look the other way when 18 man teams pick off victims, one at a time?
    And then there is the matter of the involvement of Washington’s favourite Arab, Mr Dahlan, in this business, and the probability that he did not defy his CIA bosses by acting independently. Which makes one wonder whether Obama OK’d this ‘hit’. Or whether Rahm did it for him. And how much the Congressional ‘oversight’ committees know.

  5. Murphy

    I agree completely with Helena. Arrogance – and sheer, racial contempt – is the key here, just as in Jordan in 1997. Those dumb Aye-rabs will never be any the wiser where hte mighty Mossad is concerned, and if they are, well hey, Israel is just too big and bold for them to dare get on the wrong side of us, right?
    Wrong.
    It’s itneresting to see how many in Israel are now talking up the capabilities of the Dubai police force, since they feel that takes some of the embarrasment off this botch job. Desperate attempt at damage limitation. I also think the story that the Brits knew about this in advance may be Mossad disinformation but I can’t say for sure.
    I must say, though that the reaction of the Brits has been enfuriating, though not surprising. If it were 99% certain that Iran had stolen British passports to murder a man in a Dubai hotel room, the Iranian ambassador would long since be back in Tehran and the word ‘sanctions’ woudl be the least of it. Instead we have talk of ‘offering Israel the chance to clarify things’ – which it seems, they did not do. Appears that Miliband et al are waiting for the furore to die down and plan to take no action whatsoever against the Israelis. Typical

  6. Murphy

    bevin,
    Personally I doubt Washington knew about this (or London for that matter). We’re talking about a case which involves violating the territory of an ally (the UAE) and abusing the passports of several key allied nations. Mabhou does not seem to me an important enough target for that to be justified in Washington. I doubt Netanyahu would even pause to consider what ramifications his thuggery would have elsewhere and he certainly would not feel the need to clear it with Washington. He didn’t in 1997, though in the end it was Clinton who forced him to back down.

  7. Alexno

    I agree with Murphy that it is far from certain that the Brits knew about this in advance.
    However, it is true that the intelligence services in Britain are so far outside even government control, that they may have known and not passed it on.
    The leak is more an attack on the Britain-Israel partnership. I didn’t think the Israelis are so desperate, as to need to weaken their few remaining alliances, in order to defend themselves. But perhaps they are, or they are so arrogant that maintaining relations with Britain is thought to be unimportant.
    However, the main point I wanted to make, is that it is all very nice for Israel to go outside the law in order to achieve an aim which is supposedly ‘good’. But the law is there for a reason, that human beings should manage to survive together, though it’s imperfect.
    Israel’s going outside the law plays well in the United States, where there’s a strong tradition of lynch mobs. Don’t bother with a trial, string him up from the nearest tree. I’ve seen it a thousand times in comments on this subject.
    In Europe, it doesn’t go so well, as Europeans have had a longer and sadder experience of having to live together. The comment threads are not such useful evidence there, as many of the English language ones are actually dominated by Americans, and anti-Islamic feeling is stronger. But the fall of the Dutch government yesterday is not a bad indicator, though not directly related.

  8. Salah

    New World of SSK (state-sponsored killing).
    NO…. is not “state-sponsored killing”
    Its Terrorest States and a state-sponsored Terrorestts.

  9. bevin

    You may be right Murphy. But what about the Fatah connection? I find it very hard to believe that the use of two of Dahlan’s men in this operation was not cleared with the people who co-ordinate Security on the West Bank.
    The fact is that when, as in the West Bank, the goverment is a puppet it must be assumed that the puppeteer knows what is happening, if not in detail then in general terms.
    It seems to me incredible that Mossad assassinations in which Fatah are involved, and this is not the first of them, are not cleared by the Americans directing the Saudi-Hariri-Jordanian networks.
    In other words, my guess is that the United States was directly involved in this affair and in others, such as the disappearance, in Turkey of an Iranian officer, the death, in Mecca last year, of an Iranian scientist, the killing of a Hamas (I think; maybe Hezbollah) military leader in Syria and the car bomb killing, a few weeks ago, in Iran.
    It seems to me that the tipping point has been reached and the US no longer cares to conceal its commitment to illegal kidnapping, torture and killing far away from any battlefield.
    The implications of this are appalling. When vice no longer considers virtue worthy of tribute things are very bad.

  10. Murphy

    bevin,
    I’d say it’s highly likely that Fatah was involved in some say, though at how high a level is hard to know. There may also have been some Hamas double agents involved. In any case, it’s very hard to see how a hit of this nature could be carried out without some Palestinian informers – possibly high level ones.
    I’m still not convinced that Britain and/or the US was given advance warning of this. Firstly, as i say, because the Israelis never feel the need to deign to inform their supposed allies about such matters. Secondly, it’s one thing knocking off Mugniyeh in Syria, but to abuse the territory of an ally and to steal the passports of several European allies would seem to me a step too far, even for supine pro-Israel nations like the UK and US. If the target had been Nasrallah or Meshael, maybe, but for a relatively low-profile person like Mabhou, I really don’t think so.
    alexno,
    Yes, I do think it’s arrogance. But sad to say, that arrogance might not be entirely misplaced as far as Britain is concerned. Their reaction thus far has been muted, to say the least. That may change if further evidence comes to light implicating Israel, though the case against them is pretty solid as it is, so I doubt it. Seems the Israelis gambled on the belief that the Brits woudl make a few token complaints and then quietly drop it. Sad to say, they may be right. In the long term, however, I do think this incident will add to the cumulative feeling among Europeans that it’s all take and no give with Israel. I dont’ think it will be forgotton as quickly as the likes of Miliband hope.

  11. Jack

    It is curious that the killers chose to use passports from various European allies, but not its two strongest allies, the US and Italy. Looks like a high level decision to me; or maybe they were just worried that Italy might do a real investigation after convicting the CIA folks in the rendition case. And the US probably vetoed the use of its passports since we already have enough problems. Britain, on the other hand, could be counted on to either cooperate or just go through the diplomatic protest motions. Ireland? Just unimportant?

  12. Murphy

    Jack,
    France (under Sarkozy at least), Germany and Britain are all solidly pro-Israel, and so unlikely to make more than a token fuss. As for Ireland, it may have been chosen because, as you say, it’s unimportant. But there are those who say it may have been chosen becasue Ireland (the people, not neccessarily the government) are seen as being among the most hostile towards Israel in Europe, and this might be a good opportunity to get a ‘dig’ in at them, knowing that Irealnd is pretty much powerless to retaliate in any meaningful way. Not sure I buy this theory, though, I’d imagine they didn’t much care which passports they had, as long as they wre from countries which did not requrie UAE visas and would be regarded with no suspicion there.

  13. Alexno

    No, I don’t think France is solidly pro-Israel. Sarkozy has not been as free as he would like. He would like to very pro-American, but French policy has not been that.

  14. Jack

    As for Britain, while the government is solidly pro-Israel, the majority of the British people appear not to be. Britain is the home the academic boycott and other actions that threaten Israel economically, culturally, and diplomatically. So Gordon Brown has to make a big show of going through the motions to keep his people satisfied, especially with elections coming up.

  15. Murphy

    Jack and alexno,
    My point was that Sarkozy’s France is solidly Zionist – but yes, I agree that the French political class as a whole does not always share his views. I also agree that the British people are not at all pro-Israel as a whole – the political class are biased towards Israel not because of any ideological bias towards Zionism (usually) but because of the influence of pro-Israel groups in Westminster. The British people will not be at all pleased that, while the Israelis demand that British laws be changed to suite their alleged war criminals’ travel plans, they are rewarded with having their passports thieved.
    BTW the Dubai have said that a Hamas informer may have been involved.
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/killing-blamed-on-hamas-traitor-as-passport-showdown-looms-1906486.html

  16. Alexno

    My point was that Sarkozy’s France is solidly Zionist
    Murphy, I know what you think, but it’s not right. Sarkozy is frequently thought to be unFrench, and he has had to trim his sails a lot from the programme he set out with.
    It might be more correct to say that the French detest Jews and Muslims equally. But even that would be an excessive generalisation. Jews live much more separate lives, and haven’t succeeded in infiltrating the corridors of power in the same way as in the United States.

  17. kassandra

    So correct, those Izzies should read more Greek tragedies. It was hubris that did the Greeks in and its hubris at work on the “chosen people”. If one believes that “God gave them the land”, it’s only a short hop to believing in your own exceptionalism, believing that you can do no wrong. Remember those Merkava tanks in Lebanon? Their own hubris will destroy them in the end, just like it always destroyed the hero in the Greek legends.
    On the other hand, most of those individuals whose passports were used were dual citizens. Remembering articles written on the Mossad, it has not been uncommon for Israelis to freely offer their passports to the Mossad. One solution would be to declare dual citizenship illegal.

  18. hmmm

    Paraphrasing somebody on the radio, if they asked him to volunteer his identity to nail a master terrorist he would be honored. I know I would give my US ID for Bin Laden.
    All in all a pretty classy operation, unlike the NATO drones or the islamic bombings, no collateral damage, no civilians nor innocents hurt even, and for all I read a legitimate target that could not have been brought to justice through Interpol I guess.
    If the US had done it Obama would be making speeches about it and pumping his chest.
    How about some discussion on the terrorist fake passports? Or maybe they are officially issued and not fake at all…

  19. Alexno

    All in all a pretty classy operation
    Quite the opposite, Hmmm. It has added to Israel’s reputation as a pariah state, a state that doesn’t obey the law. We have seen every detail in the video, clearly laid out. That was unexpected, and not good for Israel. Illegal acts have to be done in secret.
    I am not surprised that Lieberman and the rest of the Israeli government are distancing themselves from the event. If it was good propaganda, there would have been hundreds of “retired” officials associating Israel with the act, but there aren’t.

  20. hmmm

    Alex, the operation was classy. In-Out, no innocent victims, nobody caught. What else do you expect? Not classy is what Russia did in London with the radioactive slow death murder of a dissident.
    I know you are hard to please and other than national suicide I cannot imagine any action you would praise. It wasn’t probably done for propaganda, only muslims kill for propaganda purposes, like Mr. Abdulladulla whatever Zazi caught in NY a day before blowing up the subway, or Balestinian Major Hassan in Fort Hood.
    Day and Night Alex, only a blind or biased observer would confuse them.

  21. Salah

    Some like the above still give their nonsense comments in regards to Israeli terrorist acts like the one in Dubia.
    Let go back to ask the above nonsense guy, Dr. Yahiya Al-Mashhad killed by Israelis Mosad in 1981 in Praise is he innocent or NOT?
    Mossad targeting and killing a dozen innocent Iraqi scientists before 2003, are they innocents or NOT?
    So let talk in differently, if Hammas or other targeting Israeli scientists and kill them so what will be your views?
    May pick your attentions to refresh your short memory Olympiad drama when Israel sport team high jacked and killed in Munich? What the differences from Israelis Mossad killing oprations?

    The United Arab Emirates has identified four more suspects who carried British and Irish passports in the Dubai killing of a Hamas commander

  22. Salah

    How about some discussion on the terrorist fake passports?
    Well…well So now” the terrorist fake passports”!!!
    well hope Helena bring it on here or in new post.
    Did your short memory knew the Israelis caught using “the terrorist fake passports” Canadian, New Zealand passports?

  23. bevin

    We’re in Purple Gang territory when we start discussing the proficiency of murderers.
    Far from being a ‘classy’ killing, this was murder and kidnapping with torture added for good measure. It is illegal under every form of law and it so for the very good reason that this slope is very slippery and very precipitous. Once you have justified this action, you are half way to the sort of assassination programmes the US regularly condones in places like Honduras and El Salvador where ‘thought criminals’ are killed so that their ideas are not spread.
    The real significance of this crime is that it shows us how quickly and deeply has been the decline in public morality, so that people now shrug as they pick their way around the corpses strewn about us, pretending not to notice the blood dripping from their representatives’ hands.

  24. Alexno

    Obviously, hmmm, I don’t reply to personal abuse, nor imputations of ideas that I do not hold.
    There is good reason why the Dubai assasination was a failure.
    Firstly these things should be kept secret. In fact all the details have been exposed, and the Dubai police dept. has yet more to say. Israel’s illegality has been exposed. Even if many in the west approve that, nevertheless it is a cumulative black mark to add to Gaza. And there will be consequences.
    OK, Britain’s Foreign Secretary has made a soft response to their passports being cloned, but the Australian response has been quite vivid. Certainly the difference has nothing to do with the fact that Britain’s Foreign Secretary is Jewish, at a moment when Israel is calling for foreign Jews to support the homeland.
    Secondly, we now have 26 Israeli agents involved in the attack, identified by photo. 26 expensively trained agents who cannot be used again, including some, I am sure, who are central to Mossad operations. Mossad does not have that many agents. A considerable loss.

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