An Eye for an Eye The Anatomy of Mossad's Dubai Operation
Part 5: Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010, Evening
The actual kill-team entered the hotel at 6:34 p.m. There were two pairs of agents, all four of them broad-shouldered men wearing baseball caps and carrying backpacks and shopping bags. The two reconnaissance teams already in the Al Bustan were withdrawn, to avoid attracting attention, and replaced with two others. One of the teams was disguised as British tourists wearing sun hats.
At 8 p.m., the six agents took up their positions in the hallway outside Mabhouh's room. A specialist manipulated the electronic lock to the door of room 230 so that the key card from the room across the hall would also work.
Gail Folliard and Kevin Daveron were assigned to secure the hallway. Both had already changed into new disguises at other hotels in the area, and both were wearing wigs. Daveron was wearing a false moustache and the uniform worn by Al Bustan employees. Just as the agents were working with the door lock, a man walked into the hallway, unable to find his room. Daveron, posing as a hotel employee, managed to divert the man away from the hallway.
At 8:24 p.m., Mabhouh returned to the hotel through the revolving door in the lobby. Carrying a plastic bag with new shoes, he took the elevator to the second floor. He didn't notice the man with the moustache, wearing a hotel uniform, or the woman in the dark wig who had been pacing back and forth across the patterned brown carpeting for half an hour.
Under the Mattress
Mabhouh went into his room. It is unlikely that his encounter with the four killers waiting behind the door lasted very long. The only signs of a struggle were the few broken slats of the bed frame that were later found under the mattress.
While preparing for the operation, the team had agreed that they wanted Mabhouh's death to look as natural as possible. Anything else would have resulted in a massive police effort. The airport would have been closed, making it impossible for the commando unit to safely leave the country.
The investigative report states that the victim was injected with succinylcholine, a drug that causes muscle paralysis in less than a minute. Mabhouh was then suffocated with a pillow, according to the investigators.
The truth is that it is still unclear how exactly the Hamas officer was killed. Succinylcholine is easily detected in the body of a dead person, and the injection site should also be visible. And as anyone familiar with TV crime dramas knows, violent suffocation produces clear marks in the face, including areas of compression, tiny burst blood vessels in the pupils and cracked lips.
It is hard to imagine that a technically sophisticated intelligence agency like the Mossad would resort to such simple methods -- and certainly not in an operation on hostile territory.
By 8:46 p.m., the first two perpetrators were standing in front of the elevator that would take them down to the lobby. In the videos taken with the security cameras, it seems obvious that the men are pumped up with adrenaline, as they shift their weight back and forth, from one foot to the other, like boxers. One is still wearing a rubber glove, unusual for a hotel guest.
On a Plane to Paris
The members of the team left the Al Bustan in groups of two and took taxis to the airport. Folliard left the hotel holding the arm of another agent and with a plastic bag in her left hand.
Daveron secured the elevator. He was the last to leave room 237, talking on his mobile phone and pulling his trolley case behind him.
A short time later, Daveron and Folliard were sitting on a plane to Paris, while two others were on a flight to South Africa. The body of "Plasma Screen" had not yet been discovered and was still lying in room 230.
Everything had gone according to plan, at least up to that point. It would take almost a week before Tamim learned of the death of the senior Hamas weapons negotiators, who was killed practically within view of police headquarters.
JAN. 24 or 25, 2010
The Hamas leadership in Damascus noticed that something was wrong when it didn't hear from Mabhouh. A man who had worked for Mabhouh was sent to the morgue in Dubai. After that, Hamas officials put in a call to Dubai police headquarters from Damascus. Yes, they admitted, they had allowed one of their senior members to travel to Dubai under a false passport, and they had neglected to notify Tamim, the super cop, in advance, and now something had gone wrong, very wrong.
According to eyewitnesses, Tamim then flew into a rage and shouted into the phone: "You can pack up yourselves and your bank accounts and your weapons and your fake passports and get out of my country."
Tamim had a problem. Despite being equipped with the most sophisticated surveillance system in the Arab world, he had no idea that an Israeli commando operation had been executed successfully in Dubai, under his very eyes. He had been blind.
This explains his fit of rage. And it also explains the massive investigation he was now ordering his troops to undertake. He may have been unable to prevent the killing, but now, at least, he would get his revenge, in the form of the investigation. And he would ensure that the investigation itself would become a personal triumph -- Lieutenant General Tamim, the supercop of Dubai.
Tamim had his team compile a list of everyone who had entered the country shortly before the killing and left soon afterwards. The names were compared with those of people who had traveled to Dubai in February, March, June and November 2009, the months in which Mabhouh was also there.
Some Hollywood Film
The names on this list, in turn, were compared with the hotel guest lists and the videos taken by well over 1,000 surveillance cameras. Tamim had the surveillance systems of hotels, malls and the airport analyzed. The process soon yielded an image corresponding to every name on his passenger and hotel guest lists, so that he was now able to compare the images with the Al Bustan security camera videos.
The other members of the commando unit were identified once Tamim's agents had analyzed the Payoneer payments and the conspicuous calls to the numbers in Austria.
All of this took much longer than the "24 hours" Tamim mentioned in his first press conference. Nevertheless, it did enable him to portray the Mossad operation like some Hollywood film.
Two Palestinians were also arrested in Jordan and extradited to Dubai. Anwar Shaibar and Ahmed Hassanain, men believed to be associated with the Palestinian Fatah movement, had allegedly helped the team book hotel rooms and reserve rental cars. Investigators later changed their assessment of the Palestinians, concluding that Hamas had fabricated the story to implicate its political rivals in the case.
At first, Tamim had refused to believe that the Mossad had conducted an operation on his doorstep. "We thought, until the very last minute, that another Palestinian group had killed him," says Tamim. "We never thought of the Mossad. Only after we had gathered together all the faces and all the disguises on the surveillance images did we realize that they weren't Palestinians -- that they couldn't be."