The assassination of senior Hamas official, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on the 19th January in a Dubai hotel room has sparked an international row with Israel at its centre. Al-Mabhouh had been linked by Israel to the abduction and murder of two Israeli soldiers in 1989, he is also a prominent member of the militant party which continues to hold political control in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has refused to confirm or deny accusations of Mossad’s involvement, stressing his country’s “policy of ambiguity” regarding Special Forces operations. Several of the false passports linked to the assassination squad by Dubai police are registered with individuals currently residing in the Israeli state. This, together with Israel’s significant motivation, has led the chief of police in Dubai to assert his 99% certainty of Israeli involvement, and to demand an Interpol warrant for the arrest of Mossad chief, Meir Dagan.
In an interview with the Qatar based media source, Al-Jazeera last year, al-Mabhouh confessed to the 1989 murders and stated that, “To the Israelis, my hands are stained with blood, but to God? This is what matters.” Analysts argue that although this was a probable cause of the official’s death in playing against Israel’s pride, more important are accusations of his role in the arms smuggling. These centre on links with the state of Iran and the use of tunnels to transport tactical equipment (most importantly rockets) into the Gaza Strip. International speculation on this latter subject has always been intense, with many questioning the strength of relations between the Shi’te state and the militant Sunni party.
Although the row with Arab states has inevitably focused on the operation of Israeli forces on their home soil, many Western governments having also professed anger at the logistical details of the assassination. The use of forged passports from several European countries by the squad has led to demands for explanations from Israel and appears to continue Israel’s notable habit of making life difficult for its friends.
6 British passports, as well as 5 from Ireland and a further few from France and Germany have already been linked to the investigation. The UK passports in particular appear to have been clones, replicating the identity of British citizens currently resident in the Jewish state. British Foreign Secretary David Milliband and his European counterparts have already lodged their stern disapproval and demanded answers from Israel.
Despite the international furor, official and civilian responses in Israel have however been fairly relaxed. Although recognizing that Israel was almost certainly responsible, most press sources have expressed their certainty that the scandal will blow over. The columnist Eitan Haber, of Israel’s largest newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, described al-Mabhouh as a “master terrorist” and that Israel had achieved its objectives in eliminating him; he predicted that the foreign headlines would “be gone in a day or two.”
After revelations by the UK’s “Daily Mail”, Israeli opinion has become particularly impatient with the international reproach it has been receiving. In a special expose on the incident, the paper quoted an unnamed diplomatic source as reportedly confirming that Britain had received advance warning of the use of its passports, and that Israel would simply receive a “slap on the wrist.”
Despite the international press headlines there is considerable evidence that media and government are merely completing the necessary overtures, and that Israeli conviction of the incident “blowing over” is indeed correct. Despite expressing their concern and condemnation, diplomatic comments have been significantly vague. The UK’s Gordon Brown has demanded, “a full investigation into this,” but conceded that, “it is necessary for us to accumulate that evidence before we can make statements.” The characteristic technique of using “proper procedures and channels” will likely yield the desired time for both parties.
The format of international press coverage is perhaps best represented by the “NY Daily News”, which features a poll in which readers can express their opinion out of two available options:
“Take our Poll: Hamas big executed
What do you think of the assassination of Hamas guerrilla Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai?
- It’s a disgrace: The hit ignored international laws.
- It’s great: That’s one less terrorist to worry about.”
It is significant that neither option questions the guilt of al-Mabhouh, but rather the procedure of the operation. Indeed the paper pertinently adds that, “Much of the European uproar is because the killers used British, Irish and other European passports,” rather than because they murdered an official in the government of a foreign state.
With the near universal condemnation of Hamas in official circles there has been predictably little comment on this model of the extra-judicial killing of a foreign official. Investigation into the murder has, however, implicated the involvement of two Palestinian individuals who are former officers of the Palestinian security services. Their current employment is with a private security firm owned by Mohammed Dahlan; a senior member of Hamas’ rival, Fatah. Dahlan was a former strongman in the Gaza Strip and was given assistance by both Israel and the U.S. in an attempt to topple the Hamas government following their election victory. After the 2007 failed coup attempt, Dahlan, along with other Fatah members, was expelled from the territory and has since established himself in the West Bank. The logistics of this operation would appear to implicate Fatah once again in assisting Israel with its security concerns.