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2 Mar, 2010 05:29

Was "bungled" Dubai assassination a setback for Mossad – and Israel?

Authorities in Dubai suspect the murder of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was the work of Mossad, which some argue is a blow to the secret service’s reputation.

Forensic experts say Al-Mabhouh was killed in his hotel room by attackers who drugged and then suffocated him with a pillow. A team of at least 27 people were involved in the plot in Dubai, using forged British, Irish, French, German and Australian passports. Dubai police say that the killing shows all the hallmarks of a Mossad operation.

Israel never comments on the work of Mossad, and while some politicians in the country have congratulated the agency, the government has remained mostly silent on the issue. But many in Israel and elsewhere are expressing surprise that so many agents of the country’s traditionally very secret service were captured on multiple video cameras; Dubai authorities then beamed the images around the world.

Ronni Shaked, terrorism and security correspondent for Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper says even the mighty Mossad makes mistakes, but the professionalism of its agents should not be in doubt:

“Mossad is very strong, that’s no doubt, it’s not the first operation, it’s not the last operation,” Shaked told RT. “As far as we know Mossad was in Syria, in Lebanon, Egypt, in Jordan. Of course when you are doing something, sometimes you are making mistakes, you are human being, only God does not make mistakes.”

Fake passports mess

Original reports said the assassination team arrived in Dubai on forged passports. But as it turned out, the documents were not entirely fake – some were exact replicas of ones held by real people, but with the photographs changed.

British passport holder Paul Keeley, who was named in a report put out by the Dubai police, was shocked to discover that his identity had been stolen by the killers. Keeley is a private man who lives in the country in Israel; he has nothing to do with the secret service.

“In the beginning, I laughed about it with my wife,” Keeley said. “But then it’s a shock when you get all the phone calls, it’s very strange…Why me, I’m a simple man, why did it happen to me?”

Keeley becomes visibly emotional. “I don’t know what it says about me. If someone is stealing your identity, what does it say about you?”

David Ben Asher, international consultant in ID theft, explains how the fraud has become possible.

“It’s an epidemic actually in the last twenty years. I would call it the swine flu of economic fraud,” Asher explains. “There’s no face-to-face interaction, people give their information over the internet without…making sure that the person who actually gets it is supposed to get it.”

Mossad’s trace

Sabakh Al Mukhtar, a member of the Arab Lawyers association, says there is mounting evidence that Mossad is behind the killing, and says it should be punished for the crime.

“Intelligence service in principle should be for the protection of the nation. But this act must be within the confines of the law. Every time any intelligence service steps out of the boundaries of the law then it’s simply a criminal act,” Al Mukhtar told RT. “This is how we are spreading terrorism because countries are using double standards.”

Although many Israelis do not seem to care whether Mossad was involved or not, what is important is that an arch-enemy of Israel, who allegedly smuggled arms for Hamas, is dead.

International reaction

But on the international stage, the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh could prove to be an expensive hit for Israel. So far it has offered no information in response to questioning by the EU states whose passports were forged, although the police from several foreign states, including the UK and Australia, are in Israel to question the individuals whose names appeared on the tainted passports. Australia has reacted with fury, saying abusing its passport is not the act of a “friendly nation” and is threatening “retaliation.”

The EU also strongly condemned the use of forged passports, although without making direct reference to Israel.

Dubai demands new arrests

Meanwhile, Dubai's police chief, Dahi Khalfan Tamim, claims he is certain Israeli agents were behind the killing. Now he is seeking the arrest of the Israeli prime minister and the head of the intelligence agency Mossad.

The police chief says he will ask state prosecutors to issue arrest warrants.

Dubai also wants the FBI to investigate charges that a U.S. bank issued credit cards to the suspects, who used them in the course of the operation.

In mid-February, Interpol issued eleven arrest warrants for those allegedly involved in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

In keeping with its policy, the state of Israel has not confirmed or denied the involvement of its intelligence agency in the high-profile assassination.

US credit cards

Investigators now say that those involved into the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh paid bills in Dubai by credit cards issued by America's Meta Bank.

“It seems that American system to track suspicious money flows failed”, Wayne Madsen, an investigative journalist, told RT.

According to Madsen, it all was a chain reaction. The cards were not purchased at a retail outlet of Metabank, but were procured through the so-called an employment payment program. The banks didn’t file suspicious activity report. The financial crimes enforcement network did not pick up on the matter.

Possibly, if this was an Islamic bank involved more suspicion would have been raised and actions would have been taken.

“But in this case we see absolutely nothing coming from the United States government, from the Treasury Department, from US Intelligence agencies and from the FBI”, adds Wayne Madsen.