Israel blamed in Hamas figure's slaying; Dubai wants warrant

Eleven people are suspected to have been involved in the killing of Mahmoud Al Mabhouh, the Hamas commander who was assassinated in a Dubai hotel last month. These images appeared on the official Dubai police Web site.
Eleven people are suspected to have been involved in the killing of Mahmoud Al Mabhouh, the Hamas commander who was assassinated in a Dubai hotel last month. These images appeared on the official Dubai police Web site. Dubai Police

JERUSALEM — Dubai's police chief said Thursday that Israel's Mossad spy agency was almost certainly responsible for the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al Mabhouh in the Gulf city-state last month and called for an Interpol warrant to be served against Mossad chief Meir Dagan.

If there were any doubts about Israel's responsibility, Britain, France and Ireland put them to rest Thursday by publicly asking asked Israel to explain the fraudulent use of their passports to smuggle the killers into the Gulf city-state. Germany and Austria are also investigating apparent use of their territory to help plan the assassination.

David Miliband, British Foreign Secretary, described the cloning of six British passports in the suspected Mossad assassination as an "outrage."

Then there's the fact that al Mabhouh, who was killed in his room at the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel in Dubai on Jan. 19, had been identified by Israeli officials as a key figure in the kidnapping of several Israeli soldiers, making him a completely plausible target for an Israeli hit squad.

Israel is confirming nothing — and denying nothing. Dubai isn't playing along.

"Our investigations reveal that Mossad is involved in the murder of (Mahmoud) al Mabhouh. It is 99 percent, if not 100 percent, that Mossad is standing behind the murder," Police Chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim told the Emirates-based The National newspaper. He added that Dubai police now believe that the assassination team comprised 18 members, and that they used a location in Austria as a "command center."

Tamim's statement and the indirect confirmation from European governments sparked anger in the Arab world, and charges that Israel had gone too far.

Now, a number of countries have said they will re-visit suspect cases that have emerged during the eight-year tenure of Mossad chief Dagan.

Only months after Dagan assumed his post in October 2002, senior Hezbollah and Hamas operatives began to die under murky circumstances. Most notorious was the death in February 2008 of top Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyah, who's since become a hero for militant Palestinian groups.

The following year, in December, a "tourist bus" carrying Iranian officials and Hamas members exploded outside Damascus, Syria. While an official report by Syria concluded that a tire had exploded, photographs surfaced showing completely charred remains of the bus, which experts said could only have happened through a bomb.

"These were incidents that we let pass quietly, but it has become too much," said a senior Palestinian diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject. "But Israel is overstepping their boundaries. Other countries don't want to become a killing field for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said in Syria Thursday that he holds Israel responsible for al Mabhouh's death, and vowed to seek revenge.

An Egyptian diplomat, who also spoke anonymously because of sensitivities involved, said that his country was looking more closely at "four to five" cases in the region that it has deemed suspicious.

"There were things we let pass quietly, that we felt could be Mossad. Now, this is getting too big and the public is demanding answers," he said.

At the same time, questions are being raised about the tradecraft of Israel's Mossad spy agency, which allegedly carried out the killing. Every move they made in public spaces including Dubai airport and in Mabhouh's hotel were being monitored on closed-circuit television.

However, a Mossad field agent who recently left his post disputed the assertion that Mossad agents were "sloppy" in allowing themselves to be caught on CCTV. He said Israel had "excellent intelligence on Dubai and certainly knew about its monitoring system."

"They would not have shied away from cameras, as that would have made them more suspicious . . . . Trust me though, these guys — whoever they are — look different now and wouldn't be easily recognized on the street," said the former agent, who couldn't be named because of the nature of his employment.

In Israel, there were calls for the resignation of Dagan, especially after Dubai police called for an Interpol warrant to be issued for his arrest.

Interpol should "issue a red notice against the head of Mossad, as a killer in case Mossad is proved to be behind the crime — which is likely now," Tamim said.

Dagan has dismissed calls for his resignation, while those who know him said that doing so would be seen as an admission of guilt he could never make.

"He is a determined street fighter," said Amir Oren, a military correspondent for the Israeli daily Haaretz.

(Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent.)


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