Yesterday at NRO Daniel Foster posted video accounts painstakingly cataloging the sequence of events that led up to the January assassination — by smothering — of a Hamas terrorist and weapons smuggler in a swanky Dubai hotel. It is not yet clear who performed the operation.
The Hamas man — Mahmoud al-Mabhouh — had been in Israel’s sights for the murder of two IDF soldiers in 1989 and for his continued arms smuggling. It is widely assumed that Israel’s Mossad carried out the operation. Tom Gross nevertheless urges caution in drawing this conclusion. The Jerusalem Post quotes one Israeli diplomatic official making the perhaps equivocal statement that there was no diplomatic crisis with the UK “because there is nothing to connect this with Israel.”
Based on the videos in his post, Foster asked if the operation had been performed by Murder, Inc. or the Keystone killers? It’s a good question. Was the operation’s tradecraft laughable?
“Looking at the incident in perspective,” Yossi Melman writes in Haaretz, “a senior Hamas figure responsible for the deaths of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers and a key contact in the group’s arms smuggling is dead.” As for the tradecraft, Melman observes: “Both Hamas and the authorities in Dubai took 10 days to realize that the death was not of natural causes. All the operatives managed to escape unscathed. This is not a modus operandi only of Israel’s intelligence services, but of any professional organization.”
AFP’s account of the operation highlighted the “elements of a top spy thriller after the Dubai police said late Monday that the militant was killed by a hit squad of 11 Europeans — six with British IDs, three with Irish ones, and one each with German and French papers.” The AFP account also pays respect to the tradecraft of the operatives: “Dubai police said the suspects, who include a woman who reportedly got Mabhuh to open the door of his hotel room letting the killers in, left the emirate within hours of the murder and used no weapons, credit cards or local phone lines during their stay.” The (London) Times has more details on the operation.
in a column on the morality of the operation, historian Michael Burleigh adds to the picture: “Four teams of assassins – from Paris, Frankfurt, Rome and Zurich – flew into Dubai and tracked their victim to his hotel. Using sophisticated short-range communication devices to time their strike to perfection, the death squad murdered senior Hamas terrorist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh with clinical efficiency.”
Paul Mirengoff wrote hilariously in “Murder most incorrect” about some of the public indignation growing out of the assassination of the Hamas operative. Paul cited the lack of “diversity” among the operatives as a ground of complaint. Paul also cited the passport fraud and identity theft used in the operation, a purported source of concern to British Prime Minister Brown. Brown protested that “the British passport is an important document that has got to be held with care.” Putting the sanctity of the British passport to one side, who will speak up for poor old al-Mabhouh?
Paul’s concerns to the contrary notwithstanding, the operation may in fact have been admirably “diverse.” This “diversity” adds context to the operation. The Guardian has reported that a “key security operative of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas was under arrest in Syria tonight on suspicion of having helped an alleged Israeli hit squad identify Mahmoud al-Mabhouh before he was assassinated in Dubai[.]”
Our man in Damascus may not just have been a token. He appears to have been in good company. According to the Daily Mail, “[i]intelligence sources say al-Mabhouh was lured to a meeting in Dubai by two men who had worked with him in Hamas in Gaza.” Haaretz identifies the two Palestinians as Ahmad Hasnin, a Palestinian intelligence operative, and Anwar Shekhaiber, an employee of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. The Daily Mail suggests that al-Mabhouh “did not realise they had defected to the more moderate Fatah, bitter enemies of Hamas, and were secretly working with the Israelis.”
The latest word from Dubai included more evidence of the operation’s tradecraft: “The director of the Dubai Police forensic medicine department revealed yesterday that finding the cause of al-Mabhouh’s death had been the most difficult post mortem he had ever done. British-trained Dr Fawzi Benomran said the killers had put his body in bed and covered it, to make it appear he had died in his sleep.”
According to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, Dubai police said Wednesday that they hold retinal scans of the suspected assassins. Given the volume of evidence, the story may yet resolve itself together with the weirdly misplaced indignation that surrounds it. And yet, one senses, such a resolution will not be conducive to a happy ending.
UPDATE: Roger L. Simon offers extremely interesting speculations on the operation.
MORE: Leon de Winter comments on the operation in “Six degrees of assassination.” Also of interest is Avi Issacharoff’s “Media failed in Dubai hit, not Mossad.”
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