A couple weeks ago I posted an entry about the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. At the time, there was little information available and the details were limited. But now, we have more clues to start piecing together and why.
To recap, al-Mabhouh was a senior member of HAMAS, travelling to Dubai. He was drugged and suffocated in his hotel room on January 20th. The chief of police in Dubai quickly released photos and video of the suspects and blamed the Mossad. There are now 26 suspects, most of whom used fake European passports to get into the country. However, some used the identities of real people, dual UK and Israeli citizens and another man had a genuine German passport. There were also two Palestinians arrested for suspected involvement and indicted from Jordan. Dubai has now decided to institute harsher screening methods before admitting Israeli dual citizens into the country.
But the first question is: who did it? In my previous post I suggested that this assassination was the work of the Mossad. Dubai’s Chief of Police said he is “99 percent, if not 100 percent” sure it was the work of the Mossad. But while Israel has neither confirmed nor denied this accusation, as is their usual policy, they have given us some clues to work with. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said last week that, “The fact that a terrorist was killed, and it doesn’t matter if it was in Dubai or Gaza, is good news to those fighting terrorism.” In addition, former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz also applauded these acts, explaining that they deter terrorists. He also compared al-Mabhouh’s assassination to the assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in 2008, which Israeli has also never admitted to. He said, “When Mughniyeh was killed, it caused immediate damage to Hezbollah. Beyond the direct result of removing a significant man from the game, it sowed fear in the next in line [to replace him.]” All of this seems to me to be as close to an admission of guilt as you will ever hear from Israel.
HAMAS, on the other hand, suspects that another Arab state was behind the assassination. Mahmoud Nasser, a senior HAMAS member, who oversees its relationship with Iran and worked closely with al-Mabhoub, told Al-Quds Al-Araby today that al-Mabhouh was being tracked by Jordan and Egypt. He said that al-Mabhouh was seen as a threat to those that want to end the Islamist resistance. Either way, HAMAS does not appear overly concerned about the death of one its operatives. It has accused al-Mabhouh’s of being sloppy, buying his tickets in advance online and calling his family from his hotel room.
The next question is why? If Mossad was responsible, what were their goals? Al-Mabhouh did not appear to be an immediate threat to Israel. So why now? My guess is that this was a warning to Iran. The timing of the assassination was just weeks before another standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. On February 11, just three weeks after the assassination, Iran announced that it produced its first batch of uranium enriched to 20%. And just over a month later, on February 21, Israel announced that it had created a new drone capable of reaching the Gulf. So maybe this was a warning to Iran? Maybe Israel is telling Iran that it knew about the nuclear developments before it was announced? And maybe it was an attempt to warn them against going any further?
But what is most shocking, and what I think proves that this was a threat Iran and other terrorist groups, is how visible and audacious the operation was. Israel, like the rest of the world, knew that Dubai is a paranoid police state, filled with surveilliance cameras. The suspects, in some instances, even looked directly at the surveillance cameras. Add in the ridiculous disguises (wigs, beards, and old tennis gear) and it seems that the suspects wanted to be seen. They wanted everyone to suspect the Mossad and fear them. As former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said, “These actions deter terrorist organizations, as well as states, who understand the capabilities of Israel’s intelligence.”