Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Usual Suspects

When a senior Hamas official was assassinated in Dubai a few weeks ago, Israel was immediately blamed for the hit.

Indeed, the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh seemed to have all the trappings of a Mossad operation. Al-Mabhouh was drugged, then suffocated by assassins in his hotel room. And the hit team, traveling on stolen passports, made a clean get-away. By some estimates, more than 20 agents were involved in the operation, one of many high-profile assassinations (allegedly) carried out by the Israeli intelligence over the last four decades.

But was the Mossad really behind the killing of the terrorist leader? While the western media (and so-called "experts) have been blaming Israeli agents, Hamas is offering a different explanation. Mahmoud Nasser, a member of the group's political bureau, believes that his colleague was targeted by an Arab government, probably Egypt or Jordan. As Reuters reports:

Nasser told the Al Quds-Al Araby newspaper that al-Mabhouh was likely being tracked by agents from Jordan and Egypt prior to the January 19 killing. Nasser said he had been given information regarding such efforts to kill Mabhouh, adding that the evidence indicated that the assassination was carried out earlier than the alleged agents had planned. According to Nasser, Mabhouh was in possession of "dangerous" information seen as dangerous to particular Arab elements seeking to topple Islamist resistance.

Nasser oversees Hamas' ties with Iran and worked closely with Mabhouh, sometimes referred to as his deputy. Hamas raised these accusations after a prelimary investigation immediately following the murder, and match early suspicions raised by Dubai as well.

It's rather interesting that Nasser continues to blame Egypt and Jordan, while Dubai authorities are still pursuing the Israeli angle. According to the same Reuters dispatch, authorities in the UAE have asked the FBI to look into claims that the hit team used pre-paid Visa cards, issued by MetaBank, a regional U.S. financial institution. The cards were reportedly used to pay for hotel rooms and airline tickets used by the assassination squad.

While the Israelis can't be ruled out as suspects, the Egypt/Jordanian connection bears scrutiny as well. Despite their official "support" for the Palestinian cause, Hamas is viewed as a threat by leaders in Cairo and Amman. Given the opportunity to take out a senior terrorist leader, both the Egyptian and Jordanian intelligence services would be more than willing to expend the necessary resources.

Besides, claims of Israeli involvement provide the perfect cover for such an operation. While Dubai authorities disclose more details about the "Israeli" hit team, Egyptian and/or Jordanian operatives can cover their tracks, making it more difficult to follow any trail that leads back to Cairo or Amman. Blaming Israel also allows Dubai to avoid the political and diplomatic headaches that come with pinning the assassination on a friendly Arab government.

At this point, no one is really sure who killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. But the Egypt-Jordan "theory" makes sense, for at least two reasons. First, if the assassination was a Mossad operation, it was a rather bloated and messy affair. By Israeli standards, the hit team was huge (at least 27 members), with all sorts of loose ends that could help identify the operatives.

For example, there is an extensive closed circuit television system in the hotel where the hit was carried out. Members of the team were photographed both before and after they donned disguises, making it easier to identify individuals involved in the operation. It's hard to believe that the Mossad would fail to detect--or compensate for--CCTV surveillance in the hotel. Not exactly the level of professionalism observed in past Mossad "jobs."

Likewise, the use of poorly-forged European passports is also evidence of sloppy tradecraft. Making matters worse, many of the assassins traveled under the names of recent emigres to Israel, putting those individuals in potential danger. Why didn't the Mossad--with its ample resources and vast experience--simply create false identities for its team, with high-quality travel documents and credit cards that would be more difficult to trace?

We find it rather telling that Hamas is still blaming Egypt and Jordan, despite all those revelations about the Israeli hit squad. The terror group clearly knows its enemies, and has no reason to "protect" Israel. Moreover, Hamas also knows how the political game is played in the Middle East and the willingness of Arab governments to use Israel as a convenient bogeyman in virtually any circumstance.

That's why Dubai's fixation on the Israelis is vaguely reminiscent of the film Casablanca, and Captain Renault's famous order to "round up the usual suspects." Obviously, the authorities in Dubai haven't arrested anyone for the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. But the Mossad does provide a rather convenient scapegoat, allowing Dubai to ignore other regimes who had their own reasons for killing the Hamas leader.


Storms24 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Storms24 said...

It does seem a bit clumsy for an Israeli hit. From the sketchy reporting, it seems nonsensical that he would have been attacked in his hotel room, injected with a drug overdose, burned with the electrical wiring from the bedstand light and then smothered to death? All in span of "less than 12 minutes" according to the chief investigators? (Even more dubious: the original reporting claimed that his briefcase was opened and the contents photographed - not sure what forensic tool was able to pick up that little clue? Seems like something only an inside man would know about.)

It is also important to remember that al-Mabhouh was a weapons broker and that kind of career carries its own hazards as well. Whether there is an Egyptian or Jordanian connection remains to be seen but it is equally likely that this may have been retribution for a deal gone bad. Maybe he was caught skimming profits? Maybe he took the money but failed to make the delivery (I can think of at least two very large seizures in the last six months)? Someone is owed a large sum of money... Perhaps al-Mabhouh pushed a "All Sales are final" policy a bit too far?

Unknown said...

Sure, Egypt contacted Isrel interior ministry for those british, irish, and Aussie passport information, and while doing so israel offered them great deal on pre loaded credit card