It seems suspicions are narrowing in on Israel. Israeli citizens with dual citizenship, who emigrated from Britain a long time ago and whose names and identities were used for an operation that led to the assassination of a senior Hamas figure in Dubai, are justifiably feeling they were pawns in a much larger game.
From now on, they'll have to explain to the British consulate in Tel Aviv and the British Home Office that they were not in Dubai, had not participated in the assassination and had not misplaced their passports.
However, a deeper look into the matter suggests this will not be too difficult for them to prove. The governments of both Ireland and the United Kingdom already announced yesterday that the passports used by the suspects in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh were forged.
The Mossad has used forged passports on a number of occasions in the past, or used the names of real people on fake passports with photographs of its agents.
Agent Sylvia Rafael, from South Africa, was arrested in an assassination attempt in Norway that ended in tragedy, as a result of the mistaken identity of a Moroccan waiter in July 1973. She was traveling with the forged identity of a Canadian photographer by the name of Patricia Roxburgh.
Her colleagues on that mission were arrested with the forged or borrowed identities of British and French citizens. In 1979, according to the Times of London, an Israel Military Industries' courier left British passports in a public telephone booth in Bonn, meant for agents on a secret negotiation for the supply of arms to China prior to the existence of diplomatic ties between Israel and Beijing. The Mossad had provided the documents.
In 1997, Mossad agents were arrested in Jordan following the failed attempt on the life of Hamas politburo leader Khaled Meshal. They were carrying Canadian passports. Following that incident, Ottawa demanded clarifications from Israel and received promises that Canadian passports would not be used in future operations.
It turned out that at least one of the passports belonged to a Jewish Canadian who had arrived in Israel to study and said that certain people contacted him and asked to make use of his passport for a short period of time in the service of the State of Israel. He later denied this version of events, claiming the passport had been taken without his consent.
Several years later, two Mossad agents were arrested in New Zealand attempting to acquire real passports using the name of a local quadriplegic youth, who was highly unlikely to apply for a passport to leave the country. In this case, too, Israel was forced to apologize and promised not to violate the sovereignty of New Zealand in the future.
As such, we can point to a modus operandi in which Israel was forced to use foreign passports for operations involving assassinations of enemy targets.
In the New Zealand operation, a great deal of effort was put into acquiring one or possibly more passports - suggesting that the Mossad is in need of genuine passports. Indeed, intelligence agencies always prefer to use original documentation and only when they have no choice do they forge passports or borrow other peoples' identities.
The future will be even more difficult thanks to biometric measures that will be included in travel documents - with Israel being one of the countries leading this effort. Forged passports will be impossible to use, as it is impossible to forge fingerprints or irises.
Still, many of the countries whose passports were allegedly used do not like Hamas; and the government of Dubai, despite its impressive investigation, does not really want to get to the bottom of this. Dubai would like to continue giving off the impression that it is a safe country, all of whose visitors are there for only business or tourism.
There are other Arab countries who do not consider Hamas a friend and who are in a secret war - no less bitter than Israel's - against the Islamist organization. Jordan is one of them, as is Egypt.
As part of the investigation two Palestinians were arrested in Dubai, suspected of aiding the assassination team, and it is not impossible that the whole story is another example of the sort of psychological warfare against Hamas that would have the organization become even more suspicious of flawed security within its ranks.
Looking at the incident in perspective, a senior Hamas figure responsible for the deaths of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers and a key contact in the group's arms smuggling is dead.
Both Hamas and the authorities in Dubai took 10 days to realize that the death was not of natural causes. All the operatives managed to escape unscathed. This is not a modus operandi only of Israel's intelligence services, but of any professional organization.
As such, unless dramatic evidence is found to definitively prove an Israeli connection, it is likely that the State of Israel will emerge from this affair unblemished and the Mossad will continue enjoying a reputation of fearless determination and nearly unstoppable capabilities.
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