In the second year of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s first term asprime minister, the Mossad’s botched assassination attempt on Hamasleader Khaled Mashaal in Jordan caused Netanyahu great embarrassment.
Theoperation, which Netanyahu personally approved, resulted in the arrestof two Mossad agents, the release from prison of Hamas founder SheikhAhmed Yassin to bring them home, and Mashaal living to order countlessmore terrorist attacks against Israelis. It also had a grave politicalimpact on Netanyahu, who was already losing support to Labor’s newleader, Ehud Barak.
Now in the second year of Netanyahu secondterm, the perception of a foul-up in Dubai, possibly involving theMossad, could have triggered a diplomatic crisis with Israel’s alliesand caused Netanyahu similar political problems.
But 2010 is not1997, Dubai is not Amman, the political opposition to Netanyahu todayis nowhere near what it was back then, and most importantly, Hamasweapons procurement director Mahmoud Mabhouh is no longer among theliving.
Israel already had strained relations with Jordan at thetime of the Mashaal incident in September 1997, three years afterIsrael reached a peace agreement with its eastern neighbor, due to theturmoil surrounding Netanyahu’s opening of an exit to the Western Walltunnel a few months before. In Dubai, there was comparably nothing tolose, because Israel does not have relations with the United ArabEmirates.
The potential for diplomatic fallout with Britainappeared to dissipate following the brief meeting that IsraeliAmbassador Ron Prosor had Thursday with Peter Ricketts, the permanentunder secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. And even ifGordon Brown’s government was upset about the use of British passports,he might not be prime minister after the election expected in May.
Diplomaticofficials in Jerusalem said that even had Netanyahu known there wouldbe the amount of fallout from the assassination that there has been sofar, he still would have proceeded with it. It has not gone unnoticedby Netanyahu’s associates that he has faced no political criticismwhatsoever for the affair, even at the height of the uproar over theassassins caught on tape and the Israelis whose identities were used.
Onereason for this is that Barak is now defense minister and notopposition leader. It also helps that the current head of theopposition, Tzipi Livni, happens to be a former employee of the Mossad.Livni has resisted repeated requests to comment publicly about whathappened in Dubai.
Kadima MKs with a background in security didnot want to be seen as attacking the Mossad or helping Israel’senemies. For instance, MK Gideon Ezra, a former deputy Shin Bet chief,said that any comment about it was one too many.
“People areblabbering too much,” Ezra said. “This story might sell papers, but Ithink we need to give it time to pass and allow people to forget aboutit.”
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman TzahiHanegbi of Kadima said that under no circumstances would his committeediscuss the affair.
Although it was initially reported thatKadima MK Yisrael Hasson, another former Shin Bet deputy chief, hadrequested that a hearing be held on the issue, in the end no suchrequest was filed with the committee.
Kadima MK Nachman Shaisaid the reason Netanyahu was not facing criticism was that there was aconsensus in Israeli society that assassinations of terrorist leaderswere necessary and that the Mossad was a sacred cow.
“It’s not afailure like what happened with Mashaal, because the scoundrel is dead,no one was arrested, and no terrorists were released from prison,” Shaisaid. “The Mossad has an ethos and you don’t hurry to come out againstit. It would look very bad to the public. It’s political suicide tocome out against the Israeli consensus on something like this.”
Andyet it is possible that the main political fallout from the incidentcould be that it would be more difficult for Netanyahu to extend Mossadchief Meir Dagan’s term beyond the already unheard of eight years hehas 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 previousKadima administration. But he insisted on keeping the two men playingthe most serious roles on the Iranian issue, which is by far the mostimportant to Netanyahu: Barak and Dagan. For that reason, it isimportant to Netanyahu that Dagan not become a victim of the incidentin Dubai.