It can take months, or even years, for a man like al-Mabhouh to be added to the Israelis' hit list. Former Mossad agent Aaron Klein describes the decision-making process in his book "Striking Back," about the killing of the masterminds of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics:
First of all, Mossad, acting as a kind of unofficial public prosecutor, gathers information about terrorists who are personally responsible for the deaths of Israeli Jews. If the head of the Mossad believes that there is sufficient evident to justify liquidation, he notifies the prime minister and an informal group, previously known as "Committee X" in intelligence jargon, meets. In addition to the prime minister and the Mossad chief, the group usually includes the defense and foreign ministers, occasionally the interior minister and the head of the domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet, and often the prime minister's adviser on terrorism.
Each case is handled individually and apparently not all cases are simply waved through. In fact, decisions have to be unanimous. Someone who once took part in the procedure likens it to a trial, with the Mossad chief in the role of prosecutor and the others acting, if not as defense attorneys, at least as skeptics.
After the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, legendary Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir announced a guideline to the Israel parliament, the Knesset, that would shape the country's future approach. Wherever an attack was being prepared, wherever people were planning the murders of Jews and Israelis, she said, "that is precisely where we must strike." In other words: worldwide, including in Europe. And it was in Europe -- in Rome, Paris and Cyprus -- where many of the Munich attackers were later killed.
Some prime ministers are said to have been very quick to issue death sentences. Others, like Yitzhak Rabin, took their time.
Spectacular Successes and Mistakes
The Mossad thrived on its legend, as long as it was achieving spectacular successes, such as in 1956, when it smuggled a famous secret speech by Soviet party leader Nikita Khrushchev, in which he criticized the crimes of Josef Stalin, out of Russia; in 1966, when it kidnapped a MiG 21 fighter jet out of Iraq; or in 1981, when it did the reconnaissance work for Israel's bombing of the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq.
But the Mossad has also made some spectacular mistakes. As far back as the early 1950s, the service disgraced itself with the so-called Lavon Affair, a series of fire-bombings of cinemas and post offices in Egypt. The attacks were intended to destabilize the Egyptian regime, but the operation backfired completely. On July 21, 1973, agents killed a Moroccan waiter in front of his pregnant wife in Lillehammer, Norway. They had believed, erroneously, that he was Ali Hassan Salameh, one of the leaders of the Palestinian organization Black September.
Despite such failures, the Mossad was long able to preserve its standing as the best intelligence agency in the Middle East. The recklessness with which it apparently proceeded in Dubai could thoroughly damage this reputation, however.
The Woman in the Dark Wig
The actual killers entered the hotel at 6:34 p.m. They came in two teams, each consisting of two agents. All four agents were broad-shouldered men wearing baseball caps and backpacks, and carrying shopping bags. The two reconnaissance teams already in the Bustan were pulled out, to avoid raising suspicion, and replaced with two other teams, one disguised as a tourist couple wearing sun hats.
Gail Folliard and Kevin Daveron were supposed to secure the hallway. Both had changed into their disguises earlier, in different hotels in the vicinity. Both were wearing wigs, and Daveron was wearing a fake moustache and the uniform worn by Bustan Hotel employees. At 8 p.m., shortly before the killing, he was approached by a guest who couldn't find his room. Daveron managed to stall the man and warn another team, which was in the process of breaking open the door to Mabhouh's room.
All door locks in the Bustan are secured by a sophisticated card system that records all attempted openings. At exactly 8 p.m., the system recorded an attempted opening by an unknown card that was inserted into the lock of room 230.
At 8:24 p.m., Mabhouh returned to the hotel, entering it through the revolving door in the lobby. He was carrying a plastic bag containing his new shoes, and he took the elevator to the third floor. He failed to 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 carpet for the last half hour.