Targeted Killing in Dubai: A Mossad Operation Gone Awry?

The assassination of Hamas functionary Mahmoud al-Mabhouh is widely believed to have been the work of the Mossad. But why would Israel's legendary intelligence service allow the identity of its agents to be compromised? The affair looks set to damage the Mossad's reputation -- and unleash more bloodshed. By SPIEGEL staff.

It could have been Dubai's unofficial entry in the Berlin International Film Festival: A 27-minute reality thriller, edited from footage shot with two dozen surveillance cameras, with constantly shifting settings, close-ups and freeze frames, with subtitles artfully entering the frame from the edge and colorful hand-drawn circles à la Jean-Luc Godard. It was also a film that was significantly more suspenseful than most of the other entries in this year's festival.

What Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, the 58-year-old police chief of Dubai, showed the public on Monday of last week was a previously unknown insight into the practice of "targeted killing," the hit squad-style murder of a political and military enemy. In this case, it was the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the presumed chief weapons buyer for the radical Islamist group Hamas, in a Dubai luxury hotel by a team of professional killers.

Photo Gallery

8  Photos
Photo Gallery: How the Dubai Hit Was Carried Out

It was undoubtedly a premiere. Never before has an intelligence operation been documented with such detail and so soon after the act. Documented, that is -- but not cleared up.

'The Trickiest Case of My Career'

On Jan. 20, at 1:30 p.m., hotel employees opened the door to room 230 in the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel. The guest, al-Mabhouh, had not responded to a number of telephone calls. He had been seen walking through the lobby on the previous evening, carrying a bag containing a pair of shoes he had just bought. The door to room 230 was locked from the inside.

The guest was found dead. According to the death certificate issued by a doctor at the Rashid Hospital, al-Mabhouh had died of a brain hemorrhage. But it would soon become clear that the doctor's conclusion was somewhat premature.

Al-Mabhouh was murdered. The coroner, Dr. Fawzi Bin Omran, the head of the forensics department of the Dubai police and a man with 27 years of experience, took nine days to prove that al-Mabhouh's death was a crime. "It was the trickiest case of my career," he says.

Now, four weeks after the killing, the case is becoming really tricky, particularly for the leadership of the country where it now seems highly likely the killers are from. It is an assumption based on circumstantial evidence, although that evidence is very strong. According to SPIEGEL's inquiries in Israel, the elite Kidon unit of Israel's Mossad foreign intelligence agency conducted the operation. Initial reactions in Israel also suggest that this is the case. While the government in Jerusalem, true to form, has neither confirmed nor denied the allegations, the Israeli press celebrated al-Mabhouh's killing. Haaretz called the operation "professional," while a former member of the legendary Mossad called it "super-super professional."

Identity Theft

But now the costs of the consequences of the spectacular operation are becoming apparent, and its impact on domestic and foreign policy is becoming clear. The faces of the 11 killers (out of a total of 18 members of the hit team), which the Dubai police chief presented in his video, are now known to the public. And now the agents, 10 men and one woman, can "not even go shopping without being recognized," says Ronen Bergman, an expert on Israeli intelligence.

At least six of the agents misused the passports and identities of Israeli citizens, who were completely unaware of this abuse. They are shocked and are demanding an investigation. By Wednesday of last week, the celebratory mood in Israel had evaporated. The daily Haaretz even called for the resignation of Mossad chief Meir Dagan.

Because these victims of identity theft are all people with dual Israeli and European citizenship, the governments of Britain, Ireland, France and Germany have also been drawn into the affair. Based on their almost unanimous reactions, it seems clear that they hold Israel responsible for the operation carried out by the "Dubai 11." London summoned the Israeli ambassador to appear at the Foreign Office. Member of Parliament Menzies Campbell said that "the Israeli government has some explaining to do," while Foreign Secretary David Miliband called the Dubai killing an "outrage."

Ireland was next, followed by France and, on Thursday, Germany, where Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle used unusually frank language when he said: "In light of the information revealed to date, I believe that a thorough investigation into the circumstances of the death of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh is urgently needed."

Germany avoided summoning the Israeli ambassador, but Westerwelle's Middle East envoy, Andreas Michaelis, demanded that Jerusalem's envoy provide him with all information that could help shed light on the circumstances of the killing.

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1. Israel Tv Show In Dubai-go Israel, Go!
jewboy 02/23/2010
Zitat von sysopThe assassination of Hamas functionary Mahmoud al-Mabhouh is widely believed to have been the work of the Mossad. But why would Israel's legendary intelligence service allow the identity of its agents to be compromised? The affair looks set to damage the Mossad's reputation -- and unleash more bloodshed. By SPIEGEL staff. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,679764,00.html
"The events in Dubai were not a failure, as some Germans claim, but rather, the first assassination in the reality TV era. After all, the thought that our finest guys were photographed in Dubai by mistake and were involuntarily exposed is insulting and mostly outdated. They clearly wanted to be exposed, and rightfully so! It is for good reason that the photos from the Dubai hotel seemed almost staged, just like celebrities who invite the paparazzi to “unexpectedly” photograph them this afternoon at some trendy Tel Aviv street. It was also no coincidence that the makeup and wigs used by the “assassins” at the Dubai photo shoot were reminiscent of comedy skits on Israel’s Comedy Channel. We may soon find out that they also have a profile on Facebook, and that we can chat with them through our cell phone this afternoon. There is also no reason to worry about the implications of the operation’s exposure on the future of the participants. After their identity had been compromised, the stars of the clip may no longer be able to continue working for Mossad, yet like any reality show refugee they would be able to leverage their fame and experience for much nobler goals: Leadings advertising campaigns, launching cosmetics products, and with the help of a good agent even hosting some lifestyle show on RTL. in light of the latest success story, Mossad Director Meir Dagan’s contract should be extended for another term."
2. ws
symewinston 02/24/2010
I saw the footage of the security video cameras, the superbly edited version of it that the Dubai authorities made public and it was so funny; it reminded me of the shambling antics of the Keystone cops. However, the Mossad agents are literally deadly, not only deadly funny. Isn't significant that the British authorities were up in arms not about the assassination itself but the use of British passports by the Mossad operatives? Israel is rogue state, founded on the dispossession of the land of the Palestinians. A state which began its existence with terrorist acts against the British authorities in Palestine and now engages in state terrorism. Chao, WS
3. Israel And The Dubai Murder
jewboy 02/24/2010
Zitat von symewinstonI saw the footage of the security video cameras, the superbly edited version of it that the Dubai authorities made public and it was so funny; it reminded me of the shambling antics of the Keystone cops. However, the Mossad agents are literally deadly, not only deadly funny. Isn't significant that the British authorities were up in arms not about the assassination itself but the use of British passports by the Mossad operatives? Israel is rogue state, founded on the dispossession of the land of the Palestinians. A state which began its existence with terrorist acts against the British authorities in Palestine and now engages in state terrorism. Chao, WS
Why is it that the Brits always shed tears for terrorists? Even when your country is a terrorist target and was attacked by Islamo-fascists! Muhammad al-Mabhouh admitted on Al Jazeera that he abducted and killed 2 israeli soldiers. Militant Islam is at war with the Western democracies and killing al-Mabhouh was a victory in that war. The left wing Europeans see this as a crime. What Dubai did was a crime-it allowed the Hamas terrorist to move freely in the Gucci Kingdom instead of arresting him. Do you really think the UAE would cooperate with Israel and extradite al-Mabhouh to face trial in Jerusalem? Or perhaps Mossad should notify the authorities in Dubai about a forthcoming move on the terrorist? Mossad clearly did not inform the Argentinian government when Nazi murderer Adolf Eichmann was captured and abducted to face trial in Israel. Did Israel have the right to kill al-Mabhouh? Yes! He was a combatant, planning and committing acts of terror against Israel. UK and USA routinely kill enemy combatants, most recently by using drones to assassinate islamist in Afghanistan and Pakistan and there has been no criticism in the West. Why Israel should be treated differently for using similar measures? According to the Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz if the Israeli Air Force had killed Mabhouh while he was in Gaza, there would be absolutely no doubt that their action would be lawful. But al-Mabhouh was in Dubai and Israel had 2 options: to let him continue his war against the Jewish State, or kill him. If Israel did it- kudos! It is a victory in the war against terrorism which Europe wants to turn into a crime.
4. Targeted Killing
Insulaner 02/24/2010
Zitat von symewinstonI saw the footage of the security video cameras, the superbly edited version of it that the Dubai authorities made public and it was so funny; it reminded me of the shambling antics of the Keystone cops. However, the Mossad agents are literally deadly, not only deadly funny. Isn't significant that the British authorities were up in arms not about the assassination itself but the use of British passports by the Mossad operatives? Israel is rogue state, founded on the dispossession of the land of the Palestinians. A state which began its existence with terrorist acts against the British authorities in Palestine and now engages in state terrorism. Chao, WS
Of course the only thing a NATO-member can complain about is the abuse of passports. I do not see much differences to the "targeted killings" in Afghanistan. Except that the Mossad (or whoever was responsible) did a better job with less collateral damage. So far it seems they only killed their target person and not surrounding civilians. Apart from the advantage mentioned above I find such assassinations inacceptable. I also found the German bombing in Afghanistan inacceptable, which of course had by far worse consequences, and delievers a good argument for the German officials to remain as silent as possible. (I guess the motivation of the British authorities to remain more or less silent is similar). Before a capital punishment can be executed an open and transparent legal procedure has to be run. I expect a country like Israel (or any other country) to accept this minimal requirements, because that would make the difference between terrorism and a modern constitutional state. And of course capital punishment is not acceptable. Regards Insulaner
5.
rafko 02/24/2010
Yes, I keep forgetting; targeted killing, when approved by Israeli Government, is a key ingredient of Democratic Society, called Israel. How the hell I cannot get this through my head. Washington does, Berlin does, or do they! The World does, or does it! Hmm. Is this generation going to live long enough to comprehend that the term DEMOCRACY deserves a much better usage then "democartic" government of (i)srael.
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