The passport photographs of the agents who assassinated Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai were doctored so the agents would not be identified, a Haaretz probe discovered Friday.
The discovery casts doubt on claims that the espionage agency that carried out last month's hit on the senior Hamas operative committed grave errors.
Various features of the people in the photographs, such as eye color or the line of a lip, were changed - slightly enough so as not arouse suspicion at passport control, but still enough that the real agent could not be recognized.
Photos: AP and Reuters
According to the Dubai police, only a few of the agents were caught on security cameras without their disguises. However, it had been assumed until now that publication of the photos of the 26 agents had blown their cover. Now it appears that the Dubai police still do not have viable information about their real appearance.
Mabhouh was known for his disguises and for using various passports to run weapons into the Gaza Strip, according to an associate who lived in Gaza and later spent two years abroad with Mabhouh. The associate told Reuters on Thursday that Mabhouh had several passports, all from Arab countries, and had even undergone plastic surgery recently to narrow his nose.
The associate also said that Mabhouh never revealed his plans to anyone, not even his wife. He said Mabhouh always ordered his plane tickets by himself, over the web or through a travel agent, and had not visited Iran in the past three years.
Mabhouh's brother Fayek also told Haaretz that Mabhouh was very cautious, and on his last trip, he did not even tell his family where he was going. But a senior Hamas leader has intimated that Mabhouh was not careful enough. Fayek said his brother flew to Dubai on a Palestinian passport, but under an assumed name.
Mabhouh's killing has led to a wave of recriminations between Fatah and Hamas and between Hamas and Israel. According to the Dubai police, a senior Hamas official gave Israel information about Mabhouh's flight. Some in Hamas have also criticized the fact that Mabhouh was not guarded.
The Australian foreign minister at the time, Alexander Downer, confirmed to The Australian that his government had warned Israel on at least one occasion not to issue fake Australian passports to its intelligence operatives. And a diplomatic official in Canberra told The Australian that back in the 1990s, Australia also sought assurances from Israel that it would not misuse Australian passports.
On Wednesday, the Dubai police announced that they had identified 15 more people suspected of involvement in Mabhouh's killing, of whom three used forged Australian passports. Haaretz found that at least 10 of the 15 new suspects were carrying passports with the names of Israeli citizens who are also citizens of another country.
In response to the report from Dubai on the forged Australian passports, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith held a clarification meeting Thursday morning with Israel's ambassador to Canberra, Yuval Rotem. Smith said the Australian government condemned the use of Australian passports. He also informed Rotem that the Australian federal police had opened an investigation and that he expected Israel's full and transparent cooperation.
At this point, Smith added, there is no evidence that the three Australians whose names were used on the passports, Adam Marcus Korman, Joshua Daniel Bruce and Nicole Sandra McCabe, were implicated in the affair in any way.
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