I tell ‘ya, this story just gets weirder and weirder. Apparently, trying to implicate as many western nations in the Dubai assassination as possible (thinking that if they all were embarrassed they’d leave Israel alone??) the Wall Street Journal reports that two of the assassins traveled to the U.S. immediately after the killing. There is no record of their exit, though that may mean they left using other identification especially given that the assassination was discovered presumably while they were still in the country.
Now, the FBI has even less reason to shrink from pursuing this case in a muscular fashion. Until now, the many threads of the case that reached the U.S. were curiously avoided by government officials who made no public comments whatsoever. They still have not done so (“A U.S. State Department spokesman declined to comment”). Though I hope that will change soon given that the new twist is that fraudulent passports were used to enter and exit this country by assassins who violated international law and are now wanted by Interpol.
The Australian government is alleging that the Mossad used Australian passports to enter Syria, Iran and Lebanon in the recent past. Three Australians who made aliyah to Israel within the past ten years applied to change their names from Jewish-sounding, to Anglo-Saxon sounding names. One suspect applied to change his name twice and another did so three times. One of the suspects also has British citizenship and did the same with his British passport:
ASIO is investigating at least three dual Australian-Israeli citizens who they suspect of using Australian cover to spy for Israel. The investigation began at least six months before last month’s assassination of the Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh…
The new passports have been used to gain entry to a number of countries that are hostile to Israel including Iran, Syria and Lebanon. All three do not recognise Israel and forbid Israelis from entering. Israel also forbids its citizens from travelling to those countries for security reasons.
The Herald understands that the three Australians share an involvement with a European communications company that has a subsidiary in the Middle East. A person travelling under one of these names sought Australian consular assistance in Tehran in 2004.
The Herald has contacted two of the men, both of whom emphatically denied they were involved in any kind of espionage activity. Both men confirmed they had changed their surnames, but said that the proposition they had done so in order to obtain new documents to travel throughout the Middle East were, in the words of one, “totally absurd”.
“This is a complete fantasy,” said the man when contacted in Israel. “I have changed my name for personal reasons.”
The other man, who was not in Israel when contacted, expressed shock at the suggestion he was under any kind of surveillance and said that he had also changed his name for personal reasons. “I have never been to any of those countries that you say I have been to,” he said. ”I am not involved in any kind of spying. That is ridiculous.”
That’s just what I’d expect a Mossad agent or someone assisting the Mossad to say. But this passage really made my antennae shoot up:
In January the Herald visited the offices of the European company that connects the three men. The company’s office manager confirmed to the Herald that one of the men being monitored by ASIO – the same man believed to hold a British passport – was employed by the company but was “unavailable”.
The company’s chief executive later emphatically denied that this man was ever employed by his company, and totally rejected that his company was being used to gather intelligence on behalf of Israel.
I’d like to know how the CEO reconciled his claim with that of the office manager. Was his manager daydreaming, making it up? In this case, the first response seems far more credible than the second.
And given the fact that the Mossad has been quite active in all three countries in covert operations involving assassinations and military assault, especially in Syria, makes the story all the more intriguing.
If anyone hears any reports including the names of the suspects or the telecommunications company please let me know.
To give you an idea of how insular and uncritical the latest Israeli thinking about this assassination is, consider this statement from minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer:
“What is there to criticise? Right now all I’m interested in from this tsunami is one simple thing. Is he dead or alive? And the answer to that is clear.”
He added: “The [Hamas] organisation knows one thing – there is no one who cannot be caught up with or who cannot be reached. For me, this is deterrence.”
But is it really? How hard will it be to replace al-Mabouh? And if Israel kills the next ten al-Mabouhs, how hard will it be to find another 10 or 20 or 100? In fact, they’ll be lining up in Gaza or Damascus to do so. Robert Baer, a former CIA agent, wrote a sharp op-ed for the Wall Street Journal asking whether the al-Mabouh hit was worth the cost for Israel:
…Was Mr. Mabhouh worth it? Other than taking revenge for killing the two Israeli soldiers, he will be quickly replaced. Arms dealing is not a professional skill, and as long as Hamas’s militants are at war with Israel they will find people to buy arms and smuggle them into Gaza. In short, it’s looking more and more like Mr. Mabhouh’s assassination was a serious policy failure.
In cold prose, it sounds inhuman, but there should be a cost-benefit calculation in deciding whether to assassinate an enemy. With all of the new technology available to any government who can afford it, that cost has gone up astronomically. Plausible deniability is out the window. Obviously, if we had known with any specificity 9/11 was coming, we would have ignored the high cost and tried to assassinate Osama bin Laden. And there’s certainly an argument to be made that we should have assassinated Saddam Hussein rather than invade Iraq. The bottom line, it seems to me, is that assassination is justified if it keeps us out of a war. But short of that, it’s not. The Mabhouhs of the world are best pursued by relentless diplomatic pressure and the rule of law.
On a related matter, Dubai released autopsy reports on the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabouh which indicated he was paralyzed with a muscle relaxant before being suffocated by his Mossad assassins. Ironically, the drug they used is the same drug used in some U.S. executions and notable murder cases. That seems fitting for the Mossad to use a drug favored by executioners, though at least in the case of U.S. executions a trial precedes carrying out the sentence. Israel apparently dispenses with those niceties.
The National article also indicates that Mossad had attempted to kill al-Mabouh at least twice prior to his assassination.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.