Thursday, February 18, 2010

Assassination and Intrigue in Dubai

The recent assassination of Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, has all the hallmarks of a Jason Bourne movie – except it was real. Last month, the Hamas arms-dealer was found dead in his Dubai hotel. The alleged story depicts eleven assassins slipping into the country using fake passports, trailing the target in an assortment of costumes, and finally killing the man via electrocution and suffocation. All of this has supposedly been documented by video clips from an assortment of closed-circuit televisions. In a stunning display of police legwork, the authorities in Dubai have also released the names and pictures of all eleven alleged assassins.

Hamas has been quick to blame the elite Israeli spy agency, Mossad, for the assassination. The Israelis, who take no responsibility, certainly do have motive. Al-Mabhouh was a well known terrorist who helped channel Iranian arms to Hamas and Hezbollah fighters. He already spent time in Israeli jails for a variety of transgressions. However, as the story unfolds, questions about Mossad’s involvement are becoming significant.

Mossad, which has successfully executed assassination plots before, is world renowned for its skill. The fact that it could be behind such a bungled operation, although possible, is dubious. Some Israelis, such as Rafi Eitan, a former Mossad official and government minister, completely deny that Israel could have had a role in such a sloppy plot.

First, the numerous gaffes made do not appear to be the work of an elite assassin team. Current reports indicate that the passports used were forgeries. The six British nationals, as of now, seem to be victims of identity theft. However, it is ironic that all six Brits have immigrated to Israel in the past few years. Why would the Israeli government, in an attempt to disguise its operatives, use the identities of individuals living within Israel? Likewise, the alleged assassin allowed themselves to be readily filmed by security cameras, something that helps move a movie plot along, but seems unlikely to be allowed by an elite team. Additionally, it is astounding to think that Dubai’s authorities could put together the entire web of the plot in such a short amount of time. Such incredible police-work could only be the product of a extremely sloppy execution, uncharacteristic of Mossad.

Second, while Israel certainly had motive there were indubitably other parties who would desire to see al-Mabhouh dead. As an arms dealer he undoubtedly had unsavory friends, any of which who could have been responsible. Alternatively, insiders within Hamas or other anti-Israeli groups or governments have motive to frame Israel. While ANR has not seen any evidence to point to any group, it is prudent to be aware of other possibilities before Israel gets blamed.

Unfortunately, that seems to be what is already happening. Hamas has vowed revenge. While Hamas’s power to bring severe harm to Israel is limited, this nevertheless could end the current truce and slide the region backwards into fighting. This may, regrettably, be the intentions of some.

It may be a long time before the truth is revealed, if ever. The story seems too staged, too made-for-TV, for it not to be deeper than what meets the eye. Governments throughout the world should be careful to avoid hastily pointing fingers and sparking renewed conflict in the Middle East.


  1. Josh--

    Nice post, and I commend you on being skeptical. As for upsetting the so-called "truce" between Hamas and Israel ... is there such a cease-fire, or are the memories of OCL in which Israel pummeled Hamas and made its human shields/sympathizers in Gaza even more wary of supporting the group the real cause of such a relative peace over the past year?

    Changing the subject slightly, I think you'd find Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic an interesting read. Here's an excerpt from one of his latest posts (

    "If anything, Israel may wind up the victim of murder-suicide. The long and brutal strategy of Arab Muslim extremists is to keep up the pressure on Israel until it makes a fatal mistake (the Gaza invasion, many believe -- and I do, on some days -- was an example of a non-fatal, but pretty damn serious strategic mistake) or until Israelis simply give up. This strategy, of course, means the sacrifice of generations of Palestinians (Saudi Arabia could build every Palestinian in Gaza a villa with a couple of days of oil revenue, if it so chose, but, for obvious reasons, the Palestinians' brother-Arabs find it useful to keep Palestinians in refugee camps.)


    [I]t is vital for Israel to establish permanent, internationally-recognized borders that more-or-less adhere to the 1967 border.


    But the reality remains: It will be very dangerous for Israel to engineer this pull-back, but it will be, over time, fatal for it to stay in the West Bank."


  2. Karl~

    I think you are right that Cast Lead had an immense affect on Hamas support and ability to successfully attack Israel. Despite the global opprobrium, which occurs no matter what Israel does, I would argue that it was a success.

    I do think Goldberg raises some interesting points, but he seems to be a bit too critical of Israel in the process. Just because the Muslim and Arab leadership use their people as a ploy to attack Israel politically and physically, does not mean the Jewish state should concede. These leaders do an amazing job at stoking anger against Israel when, as pointed out, they could easily ameliorate the Palestinian plight. Goldberg is right that finding a solution will alleviate Israel's pariah status, but I think it is only worthwhile if Israel is achieving peace and security in the process. Israel has proven itself to be confident enough in its 'rightness' and strong enough to avoid succumbing to international pressures. At the end of the day I prefer the moral high ground over conceding to an international community that either willingly or ineptly continues to pin the blame on Israel.

    In this light I do support continued assassinations (whether al-Mabhouh was done-in by Mossad or not). But assassinations are only smart if the costs are vastly outweighed by the benefits. I think Israeli leadership understands this, which is why the sloppiness of this assassination raises doubt in my eyes as to Israeli involvement.


  3. Josh--

    If you read his work, I think you'd find Goldberg a touch more conservative than today's post, but that's beside the point.

    There's a disturbing tendency in the neocon worldview that any concessions Israel makes translates to preferring weakness over strength. In your case, you refer to Goldberg as "criticizing" Israel, when in fact he's simply questioning the current wisdom of the Netanyahu regime. Not being able to have an honest discussion of Israeli policy is not just poisonous, but is decidedly against the intellectual foundation that unites us as a culture.

    I agree with Goldberg in that I regard the status quo as unsustatinable, and that ultimately, a two-state solution will be necesssary. Here we have the merging of the "moral high ground" with strategic security for Israel, provided that the PA is able to demonstrate its effectiveness and commitment to peace -- distant prospects at the moment.

    But it's true that if the U.S. is to appeal to mainstream Muslims of the Middle East -- a necessary objective of the so-called War on Terror -- then a two-state solution is unavoidable. Israel's doubling of settlements in the West Bank since the 1990s is consciously done to remove the flexibility of the Jewish state in conducting negotiations on this front, and I think that's dangerous.

    As for OCL's success: it has largely stopped rocket attacks, though not completely. And while several of the tactics used were severe, it does seem to have accomplished its basic goal of providing a substantial deterrent, at least as of one year later (if attacks continue in, say, another year, the "success" of the operation will be much less clear).

    And it goes without saying that Israel should continue its assassinations, particularly as a means of disrupting future terror attacks.

    Meanwhile, I assume you've heard of the capture of the Taliban's military leader -- a major development in the Afghan war that Drudge, naturally, buried the other day. Are neocons truly interested in fighting the war on terror, or just delegitimizing Obama no matter his achievements?


  4. Karl~

    I think Israel has two main policy objectives that it delicately has to balance. First, ensure security and a viable state for its citizens. Second, pave the way for a peace with the Palestinians. Any peace however will only be accomplished when the ideologies permit it. In other words, the second task needs Israel to win "hearts and minds".

    However, as I am sure you are feeling at this moment, these two tasks can often come into conflict. The settlements are a prime example; building them doesn't win hearts and minds, however they help ensure a viable state by giving the Israelis something to negotiate away. Past governments have foolishly given concessions and gotten nothing in return except for a new starting ground that disavows earlier concessions.

    I think it is obviously a difficult balance, but one that is necessary. I don't think a two-state solution is viable in the short-run, not at least until groups on both sides see it in their best interest and cease to view the other as an existential threat. This won't happen if the Palestinians continue to be brainwashed by Arab/Muslim propaganda and if the Israelis don't feel secure (or feel that an agreement will give them secure borders).


  5. Josh--

    The problem with the settlements is that it's nearly impossible to "negotiate them away," as you write. There was massive domestic opposition to the Gaza pullout in 2005, and after the resulting rocket attacks, it's inconceivable that any Israeli politician will be able to convince Israelis to pull out of the West Bank settlements now or in the near future, particularly with Tel Aviv within rocket range of Judea and Samaria.

    Surely you realize this, and recognize that when people like Palin, Bachmann, Inhofe, etc., in cryptically Christianist language, speak of flourishing settlements in the West Bank, they are explicitly moving to forever close the two-state option. We are in firm agreement that a two-state solution is not viable in the short-term; but flexibility is critical in any high-stakes negotiation, and it's flatly ridiculous to believe that settlement building gives Israel more, not less, room to work with when dealing with Palestinians.

    Still, most Israelis, especially after the horrors of the past decade, don't want to reignite the peace process, so U.S. or Israeli attempts are futile, at least for the moment. I posted several thoughts along these lines a little while back (

    The main tragedy is this: we have an American president who doesn't fully appreciate or understand the gulfs between the two sides in this conflict, and an Israeli prime minister who openly mocks U.S. attempts to move the process along. As the military dictatorship of Iran gains nuclear capabilities -- via methods nearly impervious to military assault -- Israel will need the support of the United States as greatly as perhaps any other time in its history.

    In this context, Netanyahu's intransigence on the settlement issue, coupled with an American neoconservative movement that wants nothing less than open war with Iran, could not have come at a worst time as the Middle East enters a new and frighteningly uncertain era.


  6. Karl~

    I can't say that I agree. Gaza is a stark example of how Israel can and will be able to remove itself from settlements if deemed necessary. The main problem with Gaza, which presumably won't be a problem in the West Bank, is that it was unilateral. If Israelis believe they are getting a true peace accord when they inevitably withdraw from the West Bank I can only guess that it'll be politically easier for any government (despite settler resistance). Let's also note that Netanyahu is not building new settlements but only building within existing onces. It is illogical to argue against such construction.

    I do agree though that any peace process now is futile. No peace will be stable if both sides do not want and accept it. There is such a culture of brainwashed hatred on the Palestinian side that the Israelis will not, in the foreseeable future, see any grounds for a settlement. Obama, to say the least, doesn't have a clue how to handle anything in the Middle East and Netanyahu is wise to look after his own skin.

    As to Iran, if you listen to the newest reports, the new director of the IAEA is now drastically changing the tune as to Irans nuclear program.



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