Ronen Bergman is a reporter for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth and the author of The Secret War with Iran. While I was reading that book a few years ago, I asked around about him and was advised that he has a good reputation as a serious journalist with sources in Israeli intelligence.
GQ has posted Bergman’s intriguing account of the Israeli operation in Dubai last year leading to the assassination of the Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh. (Bergman reports that the Israelis gave him the code name Plasma Screen.)
Bergman relies on unnamed sources in Dubai, Israel, and Europe for his article. He states in a footnote: “The sequence of events described here is based largely on the exhaustive investigation conducted by the Dubai chief of police, Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim. In-depth interviews were conducted with former and current members of the Mossad and with high-ranking intelligence experts in Israel and Europe. The Mossad, in response to the long list of questions submitted formally by GQ, stated that it does not comment on its activities or those attributed to it.”
The article is reflective of the kind of balance one might derive from these various sources. Bergman reminds those who might need reminding that Al-Mabhouh’s death is not rightly to be mourned. Tracing events on the day of the assassination with the help of Dubai authorities, Bergman notes a gap in the timeline that afternoon:
Until now, the authorities have established a clear, detailed timeline. By studying hundreds of hours of closed-circuit security footage, they have meticulously reconstructed the movements of the many characters involved in the unfolding drama. But when Al-Mabhouh arrives at the mall, the river of information suddenly goes dry. What did he do during the next four hours, which were to be the last of his life? Where did he go? With whom did he meet? The official report does not provide even a sketchy outline of the missing hours.
According to Israeli intelligence sources, Al-Mabhouh met with a banker who was assisting him with various international weapons transactions, and with his regular contact from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who flew in to coordinate the delivery of two large shipments of weapons to Hamas the following month. The Dubai police had good reason to gloss over this part of the narrative, if they were indeed aware of it. Providing details of Al-Mabhouh’s contacts would have been highly embarrassing to authorities eager to paint Dubai as a squeaky-clean international business center. It would also have served as a reminder that the victim of this cold-blooded Israeli execution had a fair amount of blood on his hands, raising inconvenient questions about why Al-Mabhouh was there in the first place–questions that the media largely forgot to ask in the furor that erupted after his assassination.
Bergman’s account suggests that the operation was misconceived and draws this moral from the story: “False identities and cover stories are no longer any match for well-placed security cameras, effective passport control, and computer software that can almost instantly track communications and financial transactions.”