Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mission: Impossible - Dubai



Go to the URL if you want to watch video captured in Dubai.  Kagiso, Max


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February 19, 2010, 8:54 pm

Mission: Impossible — Dubai


The Thread is an in-depth look at how major news and controversies are being debated across the online spectrum.


dubai, Hamas, Israel, mossad, murder

Wanna see the best spy thriller of the year? Here’s the trailer:

And, if you have half an hour, the feature (it’s worth the time investment, trust me):

This astonishing, and disturbingly bloodless, look at international espionage comes courtesy of Dubai’s security services, who are trying to piece together exactly how the military commander of Hamas, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, was assassinated in room 230 of the Al Bustan Rotana hotel on Jan. 20. But the identity of the murderers (and how they managed to get out of the room with the inside latch hooked up) is not the overrriding mystery here. Rather, there are three pertinent questions raging in the blogosphere: Did the killers (and most bloggers and news accounts assume they were Mossad agents) “botch” the job by being caught on surveillance cameras? If Israel is proved responsible, was the intelligence coup worth the diplomatic price it seems about to pay because some of the killers used falsified United Kingdom passports (with the names of living British citizens) to enter and leave Dubai? And, as we step back and remember that a human life was ended just off-camera, what is the morality of these sorts of targeted murders? (This question is all the more relevant to an American audience given the fact that, as I discussed two weeks ago, the Obama administration claims the right to assassinate Americans suspected of involvement in terrorist plots.)

Will a cloak-and-dagger operation against a Hamas leader get Israel into diplomatic hot water?

Before we search for answers, let’s find out a bit more about the late Mr. Mabhouh and how the Mossad goes about its deadly work. “In the past year, al-Mabhouh had moved to the top of Mossad’s list of targets, each of which must be legally approved under guidelines laid down over half a century ago by Meir Amit, the most innovative and ruthless director-general of the service,” reports Gordon Thomas of The Telegraph. “Mossad is one of the world’s smallest intelligence services. But it has a back-up system no other outfit can match. The system is known as sayanim, a derivative of the Hebrew word lesayeah, meaning to help … Any of these helpers could have been involved in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Mossad has recently expanded its network of sayanim into Arab countries.”

A Haaretz report adds more details, and more mystery: “A Hamas source yesterday told Haaretz that Mabhouh had been imprisoned in Egypt for almost a year in 2003, and that he was wanted not only by the Israelis, but also by the Jordanians and the Egyptians and did not lack enemies … After Mabhouh’s body was discovered the next morning, January 20, it was taken for examination. Burns from a stun gun were found under his ear, in his groin and on his chest. Pathologists discovered his nose bled before death; blood was found on a pillow they believe was placed over his nose and mouth to suffocate him.”

The editorial writers at The National, the English-language daily out of Dubai’s sister-city, Abu Dhabi, thinks that this time the Israelis went over a line.

Israel has some explaining to do, but not the sort that the country’s foreign ministry is contemplating. It thinks that Israel’s increasingly negative image can be countered with better public relations, that negative stereotypes of Israelis can be reversed by having more people tell Israel’s side of the story. But sometimes public diplomacy falls short. The murder of Mahmoud al Mabhouh has yet to be conclusively tied to Israel but the evidence of its guilt is swiftly building. Israel cannot continue to stay silent on the issue; questions must be answered …

It is past time that Israel abandoned its blind determination to kill its enemies. Surely it must be obvious that the political cost outweighs any potential benefit. Unfortunately, it is not. Israel appears to be so single-minded in its purpose that it ignores the self-destructive nature of its behaviour.

“The drama is both hypocritical and unusual,” adds Larisa Alexandrovna of at-Largely. “All spy agencies have these types of operations – not this elaborate necessarily … The reason this drama is so unusual, however, is that the hit team got fingered by an unfriendly (to them) and very publicly so. They also committed crimes against citizens of an allied nation by stealing their identities to accomplish the mission. The latter has left the UK with no choice but to act shocked (shocked I tell you) about Mossad’s alleged (but obvious) involvement in the assassination of a Hamas leader.”

Robert Fisk of The Independent, with characteristic humility, thinks Israel will pay a dear price.

Intelligence agencies — who in the view of this correspondent are often very unintelligent — have long used false passports. … But the Emirates’ new information may make some European governments draw in their breath — and they had better have good replies to the questions. Intelligence services — Arab, Israeli, European or American — often adopt an arrogant attitude towards those from whom they wish to hide. How could the Arabs pick up on a Mossad killing, if that is what it was? Well, we shall see.

Collusion is a word the Arabs understand. It speaks of the 1956 Suez War, when Britain and France co-operated with Israel to invade Egypt. Both London and Paris denied the plot. They were lying. But for an Arab Gulf country which suspects its former masters (the UK, by name) may have connived in the murder of a visiting Hamas official, this is apparently too much.

Steve Clemons of the Washington Note thinks the killing is a tragedy for the peace process, but that Hamas will finally get the respect it deserves:

Hamas has been trying to diversify its relationships and adjust its posture to potentially join a unity government in Palestine that could negotiate with Israel and various Arab and Western stakeholders in the region. while Mabhouh was a victim

Ironically, the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh — whose picture will no doubt be added now to a wall of pictured martyrs from the Hamas movement in the headquarters of Khaled Mashal (in fact the wall of martyrs is to my left in the video interview I did above with Khaled Mashal) — may create such international frustration with Israel for disrupting efforts at regional stabilization and negotiations that there may be a real push to now end the international isolation of Hamas.

“The very public response to the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh killing, as well as certain details like the involvement of the Palestinian Authority, is sure to bring some interesting scrutiny on our own practices,” writes the liberal blogger Emptywheel, who also thinks the security camera footage was unanticipated. “Did the clowns who botched the Abu Omar rendition in Italy teach this Mossad squad tradecraft? Or did they just misjudge Dubai’s willingness to play host to assassinations?”

The Jerusalem Post, however, thinks things went off without a hitch:

Irrespective of who carried out the January 19 assassination of senior Hamas terrorist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, the operation was meticulously planned and successfully executed, and despite a surprisingly impressive investigation by Dubai police, the hit cannot be considered a botched job …

Unlike the failed 1997 Mossad assassination attempt on Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Jordan, local security forces in Dubai were unable to capture the assassins. Today, there are no urgent and massive potential repercussions for diplomatic relations with an Arab state that is regionally vital to Israel, as was the case in 1997, when Jordanian-Israeli relations were strained nearly to the breaking point.

What about this reaction from Britain? “David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, has described the use of fake British passports in the assassination as an ‘outrage’ and has said he remains determined to ‘get to the bottom of’ the affair,” according to The Telegraph. “The identities of six Britons living in Israel were stolen by members of an alleged hit squad which killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January … Mr Miliband denied that the UK Government was merely ‘going through the motions’ of asking questions about the incident.”

Nothing to lose sleep over, says Jonathan Spyer of The Jerusalem Post. “The warnings of major diplomatic fallout are probably overblown. While the British government (and the governments of France and Ireland, whose passports were also reportedly used in the operation) will be understandably angry, past experience shows that disputes in this area tend to be treated as belonging to the special, sealed-off category of ‘national security.’ Where states have good reasons to maintain healthy ties with one another, such incidents are rarely allowed to muddy the waters for long.”

And, if the most recent scoop from The Daily Mail can be believed, the waters were crystal clear the whole time:

MI6 was tipped off that Israeli agents were going to carry out an ‘overseas operation’ using fake British passports, it was claimed last night. A member of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, said the Foreign Office was also told hours before a Hamas terrorist chief was assassinated in Dubai. The tip-off did not say who the target would be or even where the hit squad would be in action. But the claim from a credible source that the Government had some prior knowledge of the abuse of UK passports will strengthen calls for ministers to come clean about what they knew and when.

Commentary’s Noah Pollak takes aim at those who feel the operation was compromised. “The people calling the operation ’sloppy’ and a ‘debacle’ seem to actually believe that the Mossad is unaware that there are video cameras in airports and hotels today, or that the passport photos of the agents would not be revealed to the public,” he writes. “More important, the fact of the matter is that the team got into Dubai, rubbed out a bad guy, and got out. No drama, nobody was captured, and nobody knows the real identities of the team or where they are now. Given the extraordinary risk and complexity of the operation, that’s a win in my book. And now the Iranians, Syrians, and their terrorist clients have been given another reminder that their people aren’t safe anywhere — even in the heart of the Arab world.”

He also has thoughts on the morality of the act: “And as for the people who are whining about ‘passport fraud’ misdemeanors while ignoring the felony staring them in the face: what do you say about the fact that the terrorist in charge of illegally smuggling missiles from Iran to Hamas apparently had an open invite to hang out in Dubai? This isn’t a problem?”

Because today’s thrillers can never have enough plot twists, we almost should have been expecting Friday’s odd bit of news. “The arrest of two Palestinians suspected of being involved in the assassination of a senior Hamas official in Dubai, as well as the publication of video clips depicting the assassins, has reignited the finger pointing between Hamas and Fatah,” reports Ali Waked of YNet. “Hamas claimed Tuesday that the two arrested men, who served in the Palestinian security forces, are proof that the Palestinian Authority played a role in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on January 20. The PA denied the allegations. ‘If they want, Hamas can reveal the identity of the suspects.’ challenged the PA.”

“The loose end at which people will be most tempted to pull will be the cloning of the passports of actual British residents in Israel,” responds Alan A. at the smart Britblog Harry’s Place. “Not only did that put these poor fellows’ lives at risk: it would also be a crime under Israeli law. Israeli commentators are very unhappy. So are the individuals whose identities were stolen.” I smell a conspiracy theory …. and Alan obliges:

We now enter the realms of reverse 9/11 Troof. Just as it is commonly believed in the Arab world that “Arabs are not sophisticated enough to fly planes into towers”, one might advance the argument that just about the stupidest thing that Mossad could do would be to clone the passports of actual identifiable citizens, living in Israel, of one – and only one – of its allies. Including one chap with a rare name and (until a couple of days ago) an open Twitter feed! Could Mossad really be that stupid?

Yes, of course it could be. That conclusion will sit uncomfortably with the widely held conception that Mossad is fiendishly clever, however. In which case, no doubt, it will be argued that the spectacular incompetence of the choice of cloned passport-holders its itself evidence that forces unknown are either trying to frame Mossad or force Israel to break its “no comment” policy.

O.K., so some unidentified party both eliminates one of Israel’s top enemies but also frames the Mossad for the job? I doubt Alan A. really buys that. But after watching that surveillance tape again, I’m ready to believe anything.

·                                 Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company


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