Who Carried out the Dubai Assassination?

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For those familiar with the stellar reputation of Israel’s clandestine services, the recent hit on a Hamas operative and arms dealer in Dubai seems oddly atypical. It was, to the outside observer, an embarrassingly sloppy effort: The agents who allegedly carried out the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh  in his luxury hotel room made what appear to be a series of rookie mistakes, for instance allowing themselves to be caught on video surveillance cameras and using the stolen passports of Israeli citizens. Hardly the kind of work one would associate with the Israeli Mossad, whose efficiency in covert operations is the stuff of cloak-and-dagger legend.

Indeed, even Hamas is starting to have doubts. Having initially pointed the finger at Israel, Hamas now suspects that the security services of another Arab state – possibly Jordan or Egypt – could have been behind the assassination.

Hamas suspects the security forces of an Arab state were behind the assassination of a senior group operative in Dubai earlier this year, the Al-Quds Al-Araby daily reported on Tuesday.

Mahmoud Nasser, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, told the newspaper that slain commander Mahmoud 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.

That tracks with the reporting of the Washington Times’ Eli Lake, who noted last week that despite widespread assumptions about Israel’s role in the assassination

…some details have emerged that do not track with traditional Israeli intelligence tradecraft. The Dubai authorities this week said two of the operatives fled to Iran.

Michael Ross, a retired officer for the Mossad’s covert-operations division, said it would be a breach of Israeli protocol for an operative to flee to another target country like that after an operation.

He also said that it was unlikely that Israel would use 26 people for a job that would require far fewer people. “The Mossad believes if two people can do something instead of three people, then send two.”

I’m not sure the last point is a strong one. As former CIA field officer Robert Baer pointed out in the Wall Street Journal last weekend, 26 people is just about the right number for this kind of operation. The logic is that it takes a lot of people to provide the reconnaissance and observation required for the hit to succeed without alerting the authorities. Nevertheless, the abject failure of those involved in the assassination scheme to cover their tracks while bringing almost immediate scrutiny to bear on Israel may well be the strongest reason to question whether Israeli intelligence was in fact responsible. After all, Hamas has long been on the receiving end of Israel’s superlative ability to carry out clean and precise assassinations. If even they are having their doubts about Israel’s involvement, the emerging conventional wisdom about what really happened in Dubai may yet be proven wrong.

  • L1α

    The stellar reputation of the Mossad, like when they assassinated the "Red Prince" and didn't even budge in the direction of the PLO commander who actually claimed responsibility for Munich? Please.

    "Hamas has long been on the receiving end of Israel’s superlative ability to carry out clean and precise assassinations."

    You do realize that they had already tried to assassinate this guy at least twice and failed in a superlative fashion, right?

  • Joy

    Whatever. A good Hamas operative is a dead Hamas operative. Next?

  • Rick Geiger

    It was Iran and Hamas that killed this guy.

  • Patrick

    Who was the guy that the Mossad sprayed the chemical in his face and had to send an antidote when it didn't work out? Anybody? Bueller? I'm not criticizing the Mossad for heavens sake, they have to carry out myriad operations since they are surrounded by people who want them dead ( or pushed into the seas ). I'm sure there are going to be some operations that don't go according to plan but I would be hesitant to bet against them

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/eerieSteve eerieSteve

    Apologizes for being one of the sheep who jumped to the conclusion many bigots did; however Arab spies are quickly becoming a parody of themselves, like the Chinese fire drill.

    This definitely deserves a twitter.

  • Frank(ly) M'Dear

    When the number "26" is being claimed as the "number of people" involved in the "hit", you can be fairly certain that it isn't a MOSSAD operation.

    No more than six MOSSAD operatives would have ever been assigned to such a hit.

    This operation sounds like it was "pulled off" by Islamic Jihadi highschoolers intent on showing Daddy how it's done. It would be funny if it wasn't so stupid.

    "There is no FUN in Islam," said the Ayatollah. Frankly, with so much "Islamic stupid" to spead around, "fun" might be superflous anyway.

  • David

    Jacob Liskin you should go to sleep. The hyper-professionnalism of this operation with commando with european faces against one of the worst enemies of Israel can be carried only by the great Mossad. There were NO MISTAKES ! the operation was ultra clean and the goal of the operation was reached. So don' t play with the arab propagand and learn your job better

  • TopCat

    I love Horowitz but the fact that he is featuring this bit of progandist nonsense on his site makes me question his judgment. Israel clearly did this hit, did it quite successfully and rid the world of a terrorist, so what's the big deal?

  • Raymond in DC

    "As former CIA field officer Robert Baer pointed out in the Wall Street Journal last weekend, 26 people is just about the right number for this kind of operation."

    26 may be "the right number" for the CIA, but the Mossad is far smaller (small country) and far more efficient (it has to be). The failed Meshal hit in Jordan involved only a half-dozen people on the ground. The fact that the only folks thus far arrested are Palestinians and that several suspects fled to Iran suggests this was an Arab hit.

    Israel is not disavowing responsibility because there's benefit in the enemy not knowing who in their circle they can trust.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/elixelx elixelx

    Is there any…ANY…possibility that the Inspectorate in Dubai is run by a near and dear relative…son, perhaps? nephew, maybe?…of that paragon of sleuthing skills, that most private of public eyes, that pride and joy of the International police—Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Doggwood Doggwood

    Perhaps it was clumsy by the standards of professional assassins; I couldn't say. You expect (rightly or wrongly) professionalism from Mossad. On the other hand, we expect (rightly or wrongly) an Israeli or Western operation to be surgical, whereas an Arab/Islam operation to be ham-fisted (e.g., blow up the entire hotel, or maybe the city block). But what would I know about these things? All I can say is, from the tone and volume of the complaints being filed, you' d think it had been Mother Theresa got bumped off and not some genocidal maniac.

  • doc

    'You do realize that they had already tried to assassinate this guy at least twice and failed in a superlative fashion, right? '

    Precisely, that's why a joint op with Arab countries who also happen to loath Hamas is entirely possible. It'd be a first I grant you but things are a bit desperate in that part of the world at present and Hamas and its intractable militants – and very dangerous military leaders like al-Mabhouh – are prime targets for frustrated governments like Israel, Egypt and Jordan.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Israelrocks Israelrocks

    Why is the world crying for this Hamas terrorist operative? I have a post on Israel insider called What about Sderot? that talks about this insanity.

  • Popeye

    Some years ago when former Russian KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko was murdered by radiation poisoning in London, some writers made credible points that the Russians intentionally made the hit messy. I'm not saying that Mossad did or would do the same thing, but it's not beyond consideration.