Hamas commander Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh was allegedly murdered in his room at the Al Bustan Rotana hotel in Dubai on January 19 2010 by Mossad agents. There are varying reports of the number of agents involved, possibly around thirty, but there is little dispute that a large number were involved since these agents were caught on security cameras following Al-Mabhouh around the hotel, with and without disguises. Even more embarrassing for Israel is that its agents used foreign passports of Israeli citizens who have dual nationality. This has given rise to a diplomatic furore which has countries such as the UK, Ireland, Australia etc. demanding an explanation from Israel.
Israel has a history of carrying out such covert killings and Al-Mabhouh would in (Israeli eyes) have made a justified target since he was allegedly the mastermind of the capture and killing of two Israeli soldiers, Avi Sasportas and Ilan Saadon, in 1989. However, allowing twenty odd agents to be seen on security cameras isn’t really covert. It almost seems to be an attempt to draw attention to itself. Is it possible that Mossad intentionally allowed its agents to be seen on camera, in order to send a message to Hamas? Very unlikely, since this operation has blown the cover of so many operatives. The only plausible answer seems to be that Mossad carried out this operation in Dubai as it would have done in say Beirut or Amman. But Dubai just isn’t Beirut. It is cosmopolitan and it is easy for foreigners to blend in, but it is a developed country crisscrossed with security cameras. Heck, it is practically impossible to over-speed in Dubai without being caught on camera. In July 2008, famous Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim was found murdered in her flat in Dubai. Dubai police managed to find the killer using clues (a shoe) left behind and security camera recordings. Today, the murderer and the tycoon who paid for the murder to be carried out are facing death by hanging in Egypt.
It seems incredible that the legendary Mossad could have committed so many lapses in a single operation. Of courses, this is not to say that Mossad hasn’t made blunders in the past, despite the halo it carries. In 1954, Operation Susannah, also called the Lavlon Affair, went disastrously wrong. Israeli agents were meant to bomb American, British and Egyptian targets in Egypt in order to put the blame on Muslim Brotherhood and local communists and cause the West to lose faith in Egypt’s Nasser. The agents were caught. One committed suicide in prison, two were hanged and four got long prison sentences. After 11 Israeli athletes were killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Mossad hunted down the killers one by one as shown in the movie Munich (minus the melodrama). By mistake, in July 1973, Mossad agents killed a Moroccan waiter in Lillehammer, Norway mistaking him for Ali Hassan Salameh, one of Yassir Arafat’s aides. To make matters worse, Mossad’s agents were caught and jailed in Norway. A few months later, Egypt and Syria initiated the Yom Kippur war which caught Israeli security services napping. In September 1997, Mossad agents carrying Canadian passports got captured in Amman after they tried and failed to kill Khaled Meshal a Hamas leader. Posing as Canadian tourists, Mossad’s agents injected poison into Mashaal's ear. After the agents were apprehended, an outraged King Hussein let them go in return for an antidote which saved Mashaal's life.
Even the usually pro-Israel Wall Street Journal concedes that Al-Mabhouh’s assassination, though ‘perfectly framed’, was an error of judgement, with the cost outweighing the benefits.
This incident has caused Haaretz, one of the most sensible voices that emanate from Israel, to call for greater supervision of Mossad. For the rank and file Israeli on the street, this is a victory to be celebrated and Mossad has become even more popular.
However, the world is changing rapidly. Israel is no longer seen as a David fighting the Arab Goliath. From building settlements in the West Bank to showing total unwillingness to negotiate, Israel has been making it more and more difficult for its friends and allies to support its actions. Al-Mabhouh’s ‘public’ assassination has only made it even more so.