Some perspective – I: The world has not been impoverished by the death of Mahmoud Mabhouh.
was the self-confessed murderer of two Israeli soldiers, Ilan Sa’adon
and Avi Sasportas, in two separate kidnap-slayings which he perpetrated
with another Hamas terrorist within three months in 1989. He was a
founder of Hamas’s Izzadin Kassam terror gangs. And since fleeing Gaza
to escape the Israeli-imposed consequences of his actions, he had
relocated to Damascus to oversee the transfer of Iranian missiles to
Hamas for firing across the border at Israeli civilians.
Some perspective – II: The operation to kill Mabhouh was not botched.
we are to believe the reports that the Mossad was responsible, this is
no recurrence of the 1973 Lillehammer fiasco, when Mossad agents in
Norway, assigned to avenge the Black September killings of Israeli
Olympians at the Munich Games the previous year, killed an innocent
Moroccan waiter, Ahmed Bouchiki, whom they had mistaken for Palestinian
terror chief Ali Hassan Salameh.
And again, if we are to believe
the reports that the Mossad was responsible, it is no rerun of the 1997
Amman debacle, when Mossad agents, seeking to assassinate Hamas leader
Khaled Mashaal, were apprehended after pouring toxins into Mashaal’s
ear, and the fallout from a failed Israeli hit conducted in broad
daylight on the streets of the Jordanian capital threatened to scupper
the three-year-old peace treaty. Political relations between Israel and
Jordan were already strained, and it was the quiet security partnership
that had formed the bedrock of bilateral cooperation. When the Mashaal
mess destabilized that partnership, there was no warm political
relationship to soften the blow, and ties were only salvaged when
Israel supplied the antidote to save Mashaal’s life and released
Hamas’s bloodthirsty founding ideologue Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in order to
secure the return of its captured agents.
In Dubai last month,
Mabhouh was killed – and killed in such a way that it was not
immediately obvious his had been an unnatural demise.
His assassins, furthermore, safely made their escape, dispersing to a variety of distant destinations.
perspective - III: It is a reflection of how amateurish
aspects of the Dubai hit now appear that some “experts” are theorizing
that it could not possibly have been a Mossad operation. In these
analyses, Israel’s famed intelligence service, for all its occasional
screw-ups, simply would not have green-lighted a mission that would
have compromised a dozen or more key operatives – their smiling
features on their false passports immortalized in every global
intelligence database, and caught on closed-circuit camera after camera
meandering along hotel corridors and slipping in and out of disguises
en route to Room 320 at the Al-Bustana Rotan.
analyses, however, are being promulgated with hindsight – now that the
Dubai authorities have proved themselves to be some distance from the
ostensibly bumbling incompetents who, until the last few days, might
have been relied upon in some quarters to fail to pick up the trail of
Until recently, for more than three weeks after
the Mabhouh strike, leading Israeli politicians were winking and
smiling as apparently unconfirmable accusations of Mossad involvement
swirled around the region. Cats who had swallowed the cream, they gave
the smug collective impression of having so much that they wanted to
tell us, if only they could. This mood of self-satisfaction permeated
parts of the Hebrew media, where Mossad head Meir Dagan was hailed as
an intelligence chief par excellence, who had revived the service and
taken bold action where predecessors had been unwarrantedly cautious –
a man who had dared and won.
Now, though, we have lurched from
self-congratulation to castigation. Even as official Israel, true to
the traditional policies of ambiguity, chooses neither to confirm nor
deny responsibility for the assassination, the suddenly roused critics
are asking bitterly whether, 13 years later, the same prime minister
under whom the Mashaal affair had played out, again failed to ask the
necessary questions, impose the necessary amendments, take the
And master spy Dagan, last week’s hero,
is this week’s villain. Now he is depicted as a man who runs a
dictatorship. A man who has fired a series of deputies and failed to
cultivate a successorship so that none of his division chiefs is
currently deemed capable of taking over from him. A man who has been
too long in the job – six years, seven years, eight years – when the
sensible norm for heads of such hierarchies is four or five, before the
hubris and the over-confidence and sense of omnipotence set in. A man
who now ought to go.
But just as the mood of self-congratulation was exaggerated, so too, now, is the opprobrium.
dangerous killer, who was engaged in activities certain to have cost
further innocent lives, was stopped. As with the still-unresolved
killing of Hizbullah’s terror chief Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus two
years ago, the organization for which Mabhouh worked, Hamas, was found
vulnerable, and its masterminds will have to move about still more
carefully from now on – inhibiting their capacity to wreak harm.
agency carried out the hit, with whatever cooperation from elsewhere,
it achieved its critical goals – the target was eliminated, and the
squad made its escape. The fact that it was eventually recognized that
Mabhouh had been killed rather than dying of natural causes – Mashaal,
too, in the botched 1997 plot, was supposed to have died a mysterious
death – was a failure, indeed, but one that would have fallen well
within the parameters of acceptable scenarios. The fact that the Dubai
authorities proved so astute in compiling and reconciling data to
identify the hit team may have somewhat surprised the planners but,
again, would not have fallen beyond the parameters of possible
Similarly, the use of forged foreign passports was a calculated risk.
may have considered that the obvious discrepancies between the genuine
Israeli immigrants from the West and the operatives pictured in the
false passports bearing their names would ensure that the hapless
immigrants would quickly be able to demonstrate their innocence. They
might have calculated that the use of British passports, even if
exposed, would cause only transitory potential damage; the current
Gordon Brown-led Labor government will shortly be facing general
elections it is widely expected to lose. There might have been a “davka
aspect to the choice of countries whose passports were abused –
Britain, where universal jurisdiction means alleged Israeli war
criminals dare not enter; Ireland, where Israel’s name is routinely
dragged through the mud. Not all of these considerations would have
been the preserve of the security service; some would have been in the
bailiwick of the politicians.
Again, these may or may not have
been some of the calculations and considerations. Whatever they were,
one repercussion is fairly certain: The prospects of Brown’s government
amending Britain’s universal jurisdiction legislation have not been
With Britain electing to formally investigate the
affair, Ireland angrily entering the fray, and every possibility that
the Dubai authorities will produce further information, those
calculations will now be tested. If Britain insistently demands
explanations and answers from Israel – and there has been a fascinating
mix in the influential British media of sanctimonious criticism of
rogue Israel and awed admiration for the Mossad’s perceived daring –
then explanations and answers there will have to be.
There is no
dogma for handling matters such as this, no fixed rules of practice.
Does one tell the full truth, half the truth, lie brazenly? Everything
is a function of the particular circumstance, the nature of
relationships, other areas of cooperation, internal politics – these
and a host of other factors.
When the Mashaal affair exploded,
then-Mossad chief Danny Yatom immediately came clean to the Jordanians,
and other experienced Israeli operators helped mop up. If, yet again,
we are to believe the reports that the Mossad was responsible for the
Mabhouh assassination, are those expert hands available now? Will they
be necessary? Does today’s Israeli security apparatus have the skills
to ride out this rumpus smoothly?
We are about to find out – remembering, one last time, that this was no
Mashaal fiasco; it was, for all the fallout, a mission accomplished.
perspective – IV: There is no such thing as a foolproof operation.
Every such endeavor has its vulnerabilities, its weak points.
Infallibility is for the pope.