In the second year of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s first term as
prime minister, the Mossad’s botched assassination attempt on Hamas
leader Khaled Mashaal in Jordan caused Netanyahu great embarrassment.
operation, which Netanyahu personally approved, resulted in the arrest
of two Mossad agents, the release from prison of Hamas founder Sheikh
Ahmed Yassin to bring them home, and Mashaal living to order countless
more terrorist attacks against Israelis. It also had a grave political
impact on Netanyahu, who was already losing support to Labor’s new
leader, Ehud Barak.
Now in the second year of Netanyahu second
term, the perception of a foul-up in Dubai, possibly involving the
Mossad, could have triggered a diplomatic crisis with Israel’s allies
and caused Netanyahu similar political problems.
But 2010 is not
1997, Dubai is not Amman, the political opposition to Netanyahu today
is nowhere near what it was back then, and most importantly, Hamas
weapons procurement director Mahmoud Mabhouh is no longer among the
Israel already had strained relations with Jordan at the
time of the Mashaal incident in September 1997, three years after
Israel reached a peace agreement with its eastern neighbor, due to the
turmoil surrounding Netanyahu’s opening of an exit to the Western Wall
tunnel a few months before. In Dubai, there was comparably nothing to
lose, because Israel does not have relations with the United Arab
The potential for diplomatic fallout with Britain
appeared to dissipate following the brief meeting that Israeli
Ambassador Ron Prosor had Thursday with Peter Ricketts, the permanent
under secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. And even if
Gordon Brown’s government was upset about the use of British passports,
he might not be prime minister after the election expected in May.
officials in Jerusalem said that even had Netanyahu known there would
be the amount of fallout from the assassination that there has been so
far, he still would have proceeded with it. It has not gone unnoticed
by Netanyahu’s associates that he has faced no political criticism
whatsoever for the affair, even at the height of the uproar over the
assassins caught on tape and the Israelis whose identities were used.
reason for this is that Barak is now defense minister and not
opposition leader. It also helps that the current head of the
opposition, Tzipi Livni, happens to be a former employee of the Mossad.
Livni has resisted repeated requests to comment publicly about what
happened in Dubai.
Kadima MKs with a background in security did
not want to be seen as attacking the Mossad or helping Israel’s
enemies. For instance, MK Gideon Ezra, a former deputy Shin Bet chief,
said that any comment about it was one too many.
blabbering too much,” Ezra said. “This story might sell papers, but I
think we need to give it time to pass and allow people to forget about
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzahi
Hanegbi of Kadima said that under no circumstances would his committee
discuss the affair.
Although it was initially reported that
Kadima MK Yisrael Hasson, another former Shin Bet deputy chief, had
requested that a hearing be held on the issue, in the end no such
request was filed with the committee.
Kadima MK Nachman Shai
said the reason Netanyahu was not facing criticism was that there was a
consensus in Israeli society that assassinations of terrorist leaders
were necessary and that the Mossad was a sacred cow.
“It’s not a
failure like what happened with Mashaal, because the scoundrel is dead,
no one was arrested, and no terrorists were released from prison,” Shai
said. “The Mossad has an ethos and you don’t hurry to come out against
it. It would look very bad to the public. It’s political suicide to
come out against the Israeli consensus on something like this.”
yet it is possible that the main political fallout from the incident
could be that it would be more difficult for Netanyahu to extend Mossad
chief Meir Dagan’s term beyond the already unheard of eight years he
has already been given in a job normally held for no more than four.
Dagan has his share of enemies and is seen as difficult to work with.
Danny Yatom lost his job as head of the Mossad over what happened in Amman.
When Netanyahu took over, he replaced almost everyone from the previous
Kadima administration. But he insisted on keeping the two men playing
the most serious roles on the Iranian issue, which is by far the most
important to Netanyahu: Barak and Dagan. For that reason, it is
important to Netanyahu that Dagan not become a victim of the incident