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Sunday, February 21, 2010

What the Mossad was after in Dubai

It's hard to keep up with all the reports coming out of the investigation into the liquidation of Hamas terrorist and arms dealer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. I'll try to catch you up a bit.

Over the weekend, some new details have come out about the liquidation. Among those are the fact that Mabhouh may have put himself at risk by booking his reservations online and by telephoning his family in Gaza to tell them he was in Dubai. The second claim has been denied by the family (and seems unlikely to have had an effect even if true given that the hit squad was apparently in Dubai before Mabhouh was).

Another report claims that the hit squad's tickets were booked using credit cards bearing the same false names that were on the liquidators' passports - a fact that should not be all that surprising.

A third report claims that the German passport that was used was 'real' and not 'fake' like the others.
According to the findings of German federal investigators, in June 2009 an Israeli man named Michael Bodenheimer - who shares the name of an alleged member of the Dubai hit squad - came to immigration officials in Cologne with the pre-World War II address of his grandparents.

Bodenheimer acquired German citizenship on the basis of this data.

After his name was listed as one of the suspected members of the Dubai assassination squad, Bodenheimer, who lives in Bnei Brak and is of American origin, said that he did not know how his identity was stolen.


Bodenheimer, who immigrated to Israel from the United States more than 20 years ago, studies at a kollel, a yeshiva for married men. He said he was astounded to see the UAE list contained his name, supposedly belonging to a German citizen.

"At first we didn't understand what everyone was talking about," Bodenheimer's daughter said. "The picture that was published doesn't look like him at all. He busies himself with Torah study," she said, adding that he holds no citizenship other than Israeli and American.
What's left unsaid here is whether Bodenheimer did have a grandparent who lived in in Cologne and whether someone else impersonating him claimed German citizenship last June. Interesting thought.

For purposes of this post, I will assume, as is commonly assumed throughout the world, that Israel's Mossad was behind the hit. The Mossad had both the motive and the means of carrying out the liquidation, and most of the world believes it did so. Indeed, it is hard to attribute credibility to the notion that either Hamas or Fatah has the capability to pull off such a clean hit. So let's assume the Mossad did it.

If the Mossad did it, the Mabhouh liquidation can only be called a smashing success. Let's look at why the Mossad might have done it.

Mystery writer Roger Simon, who finds himself fascinated with the efficiency with which the hit was pulled off and is looking for clues everywhere. Here's what he's found.
The first notable clue is those “eleven” agents. Why send eleven for an assassination when two or three would do? Why not just knock the Hamas man off with a bombing or cell phone some place? It would be far less risky. And the Israelis clearly had remarkably precise advanced knowledge of al-Mabhouh’s itinerary. The Hamas leader had only left Damascus that morning, supposedly, according to some reports, en route to China via Dubai [China or Sudan? CiJ]. And yet the Mossad had a minimum of eleven people in place, waiting for him. No wonder Hamas was so shocked that, when they learned of his “murder” on January 19, they immediately announced terminal cancer had over taken their leader. Hamas itself must have had something closer to a heart attack. To have this much warning of al-Mabhouh’s itinerary, the Israelis must have permeated them pretty thoroughly. The embarrassment alone, not to mention the internal finger-pointing and suspicion, must have been extreme.


Nevertheless, the Israelis still must have had some motive for employing so many agents for a hit. After checking into a blacked out room at the Al Bustan Rotana hotel that day, al-Mabhouh went missing for four hours – and this may provide some clues. A meeting with an Iranian official has been reported and denied, also some Palestinian group. In any case, he was doing something and there was information to be gleaned from this man, most probably key information regarding Hamas and its allies (Iran, Syria, etc.) that certainly accounts in part for the elaborate assassination. In a world rapidly becoming nuclear one can only speculate what that information is, but we can be sure it’s not particularly appetizing. It’s also worth considering what al -Mabhouh wanted to obtain from the Chinese. The Mossad was out for al-Mabhouh’s knowledge even more than the revenge that is commonly reported. (al-Mabhouh was responsible for the killing of two Israeli soldiers, but that was years ago and the Hamas leader has been in Israeli custody since and released.)

The information grabbing intent also accounts for the multiple agents with varied expertise – from photography to “exotic” drugs. It may also account for the differing initial reports of the cause of death, which range from electrocution to suffocation. The time of death, always difficult to ascertain, is also in question. How long were the agents with al-Mabhouh and did they get what they wanted? Was his death untimely or – and here’s a wild speculation – is he dead at all? Do we have DNA of the body? Nothing so far from the Dubai police. All we know is this, again from Gulf News:

Dubai police has denied that it had intended to bury the body of Mahmoud Al Mabhouh, a Hamas leader in Dubai. The police also added in a press release that they held the body of the deceased for one week to finish the investigation procedures, and then handed it over to Al Mabhouh’s son who came to the UAE after the death of his father.

Habeas corpus anyone?

As of Feb 19, no photos of al-Mahbouh’s corpse in any form turn up on Google images. Perhaps there are videos, but none that identify the body in anything near a definitive way. Yes, I know this is strange, but it is remotely possible that al-Mahbouh was kidnapped. Dubai is, after all, a port, providing a means for escape. The Dubai police are promising that we will know all soon, but they have been promising that for a while now.

I don't believe that Mabhouh was kidnapped. But we do know a couple of facts that shed light on why Israel might have gone after Mabhouh and what he might have done during those four hours. Caveat: If Simon classifies himself as an amateur (which he does in the article I just quoted), I'm a pure speculator.

We know, for example, that the last person who saw Mabhouh alive other than his killers was probably Muhammed al-Massoud, a Hamas commander who is reported to have met with Mabhouh in Dubai and who was subsequently arrested. My guess is that the real target of the Mossad was not Mabhouh himself, but documents that Massoud gave him in their meeting. Simon alludes to this, but doesn't follow it through. After all, we know that Israel had Mabhouh in its custody in the past and released him. It seems unlikely that they suddenly wanted so badly to kill him now that they would have taken the risks that they took with this operation just to kill him.

Those documents, which likely related to Iranian weapons being supplied to Hamas, were photographed by part of the assassination team according to reports. That's likely why the team was so big.

So was the operation a success or a failure? Haaretz's Avi Issacharoff says that the hit was a smashing success.
Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was one of Hamas' key men, a central cog in the weapon's smuggling trail leading from Iran to Gaza, if not in the entire machine itself. The assassination represents a mortal blow to Hamas and its image, a fact which may explain the panic visible within the organization in recent weeks. At a rally in Gaza on Wednesday, organizers showed a videotaped speech by the head of Hamas' political wing, Khaled Meshal, who could become the next target. While Meshal boasted that "the time for talk is over, and the time for action has come," he understands that if the assassins were able to get to al-Mabhouh, they can also get to him.

This panic could provide an answer to Israelis' questions about whether the assassination was a success or a woeful failure. The bottom line is that the hit, regardless of which organization was responsible for it, proved that the Hamas leadership was transparent and could be infiltrated and hurt by international intelligence agencies.

Efforts by the organization and al- Mabhouh himself to keep his identity secret failed. The foremost impetus for the assassination, as far as the country responsible for it is concerned, was to hurt the Gaza arms smuggling ring. When he was killed, Mabhouh was en route to Sudan - where, according to foreign reports, Israel once bombed an arms convoy headed for Gaza.

Now, before Hamas can resume its smuggling, it must find out where and how some intelligence agency penetrated its smuggling network and whether this network can be rehabilitated now that it has been exposed. Moreover, the operation serves as a deterrent which possible effects in the diplomatic arena. Israel (probably) is sending Hamas a clear message that the setback in completing a prisoner exchange deal that would see the release of Gilad Shalit will cost the organization the lives of its top men. In addition, the killing has a deterrent effect - Hamas' boasts of its military prowess will now be taken with a grain of salt by the people in Gaza.
YNet's Ronen Bergman, writing in the Wall Street Journal, disagrees.
The mission was technically successful. The target was eliminated—allegedly smothered by a pillow in his hotel room—and the operatives left the country within hours. But it has turned into a diplomatic nightmare for Israel. The sovereignty of Dubai was violated, and the passports of four European countries were used for the purpose of committing a crime. Several rows Israel can ill-afford are currently brewing with England, Germany and France.

Israel, assuming it was behind the assassination, had good reason to want Mabhouh permanently out of the picture.


But even so, did Mabhouh constitute an immediate threat? Was eliminating him worth violating international law and risking the ire of so many states at a time when the international community seems to have finally gotten serious on Iran?

No country that faces the threat of foreign terrorism on the scale that Israel does can afford to entirely renounce the use of targeted assassinations, despite the ethical and legal problems that such executions raise. But such acts need to be extremely rare. In the case of Israel, such operations require the explicit approval of the prime minister, and they are authorized only after the political risks are carefully weighed. In the case of Dubai, it seems that this did not occur. Either the risks were not explained to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, or he made a serious miscalculation.


Whoever sent the hit squad to Dubai was not aware that the police and security services had such advanced capabilities at the ready. The investigators managed to put together still and video shots taken in seven different locations and place them on a single timeline together with the cellphone records of the individuals in the footage. Doing this requires sharp analysis and advanced computer skills, and computerized intelligence systems able to cross check information from various sources.

How did the Dubai police manage all this? Did they have help? For now, it remains a mystery. But in any case, misjudging the ability of the Dubai authorities so spectacularly is evidence of a serious intelligence failure on the part of the organization that sent out the squad.
I'm more inclined to Issacharoff's view than to Bergman's. Even Bergman might agree if I am correct that the key here was the photographs and not Mabhouh himself. In any event, so long as no Israeli is directly tied to the murder, I believe this will blow over in time and that those documents will save Israeli lives.

By the way, Issacharoff raises a concern that the two 'Palestinians' under arrest in Dubai may give away the Mossad agent's identities. I doubt they know they were working with Israelis - let alone who those Israelis really are. But here's another curious fact. Hamas has claimed that the two defectors from Hamas to Fatah who were arrested in Dubai were working for a real estate company owned by none other than Mohamed Dahland, Fatah's former Gaza security chief. On January 19, the day Mabhouh was killed, Dahlan decided not to go to Gaza to his mother's funeral. Coincidence? Hmmm.


Welcome Roger Simon - Pajamas Media readers.


I was right about Bodenheimer above.
Der Spiegel also reported on Saturday that the German passport used in Dubai was not forged, and that German authorities had issued a passport for Michael Bodenheimer in 2008.

Bodenheimer, a haredi rabbi who lives in Israel, said he had no connection to the case.

“While it’s true that my parents were born in Germany, I was born in the United States, and that’s where I have my passport from,” he told Ma’ariv. “I never asked for a German passport, nor have I ever possessed one. This entire story has nothing to do with me.”
So someone went to Germany posing as Bodenheimer, and said that their parents (or grandparents) were born in Germany and took out German citizenship (which is completely legal in Germany - so long as you're not impersonating someone else). Then they got a real German passport and participated in liquidating Mabhouh. Hmmm.


At 4:38 PM, Blogger BernardZ said...

I think you are reading too in the numbers, in the Lillehammer affair the Israeli hit squad was nine.


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