One of the comments I have seen a number of times across a number of different news sites is that it the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai last month couldn’t have been carried out by Mossad because the assassins made too many mistakes.
This belief in Mossad’s infallibility, however, is largely myth, built up by spy novels, films and TV shows. Instead, like most intelligence agencies, Mossad are thuggish and persistent rather than particularly brilliant. Sure, there’s been a number of well-publicised successes in hunting down “legitimate” targets over a long period of time—firstly Nazi war criminals and later terrorists (and the odd national security threat like supergun inventor Gerald Bull)—but there were just as many mistakes along the way including wrong targets, botched jobs, and being caught using foreign passports.
In the Dubai assassination, there is also an underlying racist assumption at work in the argument that Mossad couldn’t have been involved, namely that there is no way a bunch of Israeli uber-spys could be rumbled by a rabble of uncivilised, tent-dwelling camel jockeys.
Let’s for a moment, however, assume that Mossad was responsible and ask ourselves what mistakes were actually made by these assassins.
Well, arguably there was only one and that was underestimating the local police, both in terms of ability and resources. When the Dubai police refused to believe that al-Mabhoub’s death was from natural causes and investigated further, then the secrecy of the entire operation started to unravel very quickly. This point is also taken up by Time:
It would appear that whoever was responsible underestimated Dubai’s security capability. The city-state used sophisticated computer programs to quickly sift through its massive pool of security-camera footage and pinpoint the movements and travel documents of the alleged killers. More embarrassingly, the Dubai authorities are claiming that the hit team stole the identities of Israeli dual-national citizens, and traveled into Dubai using false British, Irish and French passports.
If the Dubai police had accepted the death, then all of the operatives would have disappeared back into the woodwork and the people whose identities where used on the forged passports would have been none the wiser.
So, to finish up, a couple of thoughts on what this Dubai incident revealed to us about Mossad spycraft.
Firstly, stealing the identities of unsuspecting Israelis with dual passports is a tactic I suspect Mossad has used successfully for years. Now it’s been busted, can they use it again?
Secondly, only forgeries of old-style passports were used in the operation, indicating that new generation passports containing biometric data might be posing a few problems for spy agencies.
Finally, if we can believe that the assassination team was comprised of 26 members, then Mossad have a bigger travel budget than the national soccer team.