An Eye for an Eye The Anatomy of Mossad's Dubai Operation
Part 4: Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010, Afternoon
Mabhouh arrived in Dubai on Emirates flight EK 912 from Damascus. He handed the immigration control officer a Palestinian passport in the name of Mahmoud Abd al-Rauf Mohammed Hassan, which stated his profession as "merchant." At least that was correct.
A Mossad team had expected Mabhouh at the terminal and notified the others, who then followed him to the hotel. The Al Bustan, part of a group called "The Leading Hotels of the World," is especially popular among transit passengers who need a place to stay after a late-night arrival.
Travelers are constantly pulling their trolley cases across the polished marble floors in the lobby, where noise is drowned out by the sound of water in the fountains or muted by thick carpeting. The rooms on the second floor are off a narrow hallway with only one access point, making the area easy to secure and the perfect place to commit a crime.
Two agents carrying tennis rackets and with towels thrown over their shoulders had been waiting in the lobby since 2:12 p.m.
Tamim would later explain that this was their most glaring mistake, because, as he says, no real tennis player walks around with his tennis racket out of its case.
He Knew He Was a Target
Mohammed Haroun, a Palestinian businessman with a German passport, installed the security cameras at the Al Bustan Rotana. "It's funny that the suspects believed that they could hide under a cap," says Haroun, the head of Security Advice Services. "But I know where and at what angle to install the cameras."
The security camera images show Mabhouh looking around as he checks in at the front desk. He looked over his shoulder as he walked out of the elevator onto the second floor. He knew that he was a target of one of the world's most effective intelligence agencies. He didn't seem overly concerned about the two tennis players sharing the elevator with him.
When Mabhouh, an unobtrusive, rotund man with a moustache, stepped out of the elevator, he had five hours left to live.
The two tennis players noted Mabhouh's room number, 230, a non-smoking room, and sent it to Elvinger in a text message. They also sent him the number of the room across the hall, 237, and Elvinger promptly called the hotel to reserve the room. Then he booked his return flight, to Zürich via Doha.
One of the cameras in front of the hotel recorded the mirror image of a white delivery van with tinted windows. A few of the agents walked to the vehicle but then turned around abruptly. They had apparently mistaken it for a vehicle being driven by an accomplice.
A Borrowed Name
This would put the investigators on the trail of a 62-year-old British citizen named Christopher Lockwood. According to the Wall Street Journal, Lockwood had his name changed in 1994 from the name he was using at the time, Yehuda Lustig. But that name, the Journal discovered, also proved to be false, a name borrowed from a young soldier killed in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
At 4:23 p.m., Mabhouh left the Al Bustan. Coincidentally, a Mossad agent was going the same way.
Despite their subsequent eagerness to show off their achievements, the Dubai police have had little to say about what Mabhouh was doing in the four hours before returning to the hotel. "As far as I know," Tamim said at the time, "he had a ticket to China and then on to Sudan -- or the other way around. He may have made a stopover here to unwind."
For a man like Mabhouh, unwinding might include discussing an arms deal for the Gaza Strip, one of the world's most explosive pieces of real estate. According to Israeli sources, Mabhouh met with a banker who had already helped him with a number of international arms deals in the past, as well as with his usual contact with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who had flown to Dubai to coordinate two major shipments of weapons for Hamas in the coming months. It is understandable that the police chief in Dubai prefers not to discuss the issue. Although the UAE has pledged to strictly comply with international sanctions against Iran, implementation is another story. Iran is nearby, and there is a powerful Iranian community in Dubai.