Some say Mossad behind Dubai hit
Spy agency tied to assassination of Hamas leader
JERUSALEM - Israeli security officials said yesterday that they were convinced the Mossad was behind the assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai, and they harshly criticized the spy agency for allegedly stealing the identities of its own citizens to carry out the hit.
Names released by Dubai matched seven people living in Israel, raising questions about why the agency would endanger its own people by using their passport data as cover for a secret death squad.
At the same time, some observers said the Dubai evidence pointed to a setup to falsely blame Israel.
A vague comment from Israel’s foreign minister, who neither confirmed nor denied Mossad’s involvement, only added to the spy novel-like mystery surrounding the slaying of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was found dead Jan. 20 at a luxury hotel near Dubai’s international airport.
“Israel never responds, never confirms, and never denies,’’ Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in Israel’s first official comment on the affair, then added: “I don’t know why we are assuming that Israel, or the Mossad, used those passports.’’
Some senior Israeli security officials not directly involved in the case were less circumspect, saying they were convinced it was a Mossad operation because of the motive - Israel says al-Mabhouh supplied Gaza’s Hamas rulers with their most dangerous weapons - and the use of Israeli citizens’ identities.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a government order not to discuss the case, characterized the operation as a significant Mossad bungle.
If it develops into a full-blown security scandal, that could harm Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu politically.
Some compared the case with another Mossad embarrassment during Netanyahu’s previous term as prime minister, the failed attempt to kill Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in 1997. Two Mossad agents posing as Canadian tourists were captured after injecting Mashaal with poison, and Israel was forced to send an antidote that saved Mashaal’s life. Today Mashaal is Hamas’s supreme leader.
Still, there was praise for the Dubai operation from some analysts who noted the major difference between it and the Mashaal case is that the latter failed and the former achieved its goal - assassination of a Hamas leader.
“Al-Mabhouh is dead and all the partners to the operation left Dubai safely,’’ wrote analyst Ronen Bergman of the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.
Critics slammed the Mossad, not for killing al-Mabhouh on foreign territory but for doing it sloppily and endangering Israeli citizens in the process. A front-page commentary in Israel’s Haaretz daily by defense analyst Amir Oren called for the ouster of Mossad director Meir Dagan.
“What is needed now is a swift decision to terminate Dagan’s contract and to appoint a new Mossad chief,’’ he wrote. “There’s no disease without a cure.’’
Dubai authorities released names, photos, and passport numbers of 11 members of the alleged hit squad this week, saying all 11 carried European passports. But most of the identities appeared to have been stolen, and at least seven matched up with people in Israel who say they are victims of identity theft.
One is a dual Israeli-British citizen who said one of the numbers matched his own passport, but he had never been to Dubai.