February 17, 2010

Israel's Self-Inflicted Wounds: The Dubai 11

One by one the pieces drop into place, but the picture was revealed the moment Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s body was found in his hotel room.

Ksenia Svetlova writes in The Jerusalem Post, “Articles in the local Gulf press and far beyond – not to mention the welter of talkbacks and blog posts – leave no ostensible room for doubt: It was the Mossad, possibly in collaboration with the Palestinian Authority, that did the deed, its operatives hiding behind false European IDs.”

The Jerusalem Post also called the assassination "another blow to the axis of evil.”

Who, though, are the blows really being inflicted upon? al-Mabhouh will be replaced, his target more of personal value; he helped commit the first known Hamas murders of Israeli soldiers. While we can’t say his loss will be of no military consequence, his overall value leaves Israel on the short end.

The Mossad may have cut Hamas once by killing al-Mabhouh, but Israel cut itself 11, 17, or however many operatives and associates are eventually pegged for his murder.

Two days ago Dubai’s police chief Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim released a photo of 11 suspects, all of whom carried European passports: six British, three Irish, and one each from France and Germany. Tamim suspected what many also did, including Israel - that the passports were likely forged.

Stolen too.

While Ireland said the three Irish passports were forgeries rather than stolen identities, The London Times reports, “The Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed that the identities used by six members of the 11-strong hit squad were those of real British passport holders living in Israel.”

Everything was bound to blow back in the end. No other state or non-state actor would have gone through so much trouble to kill al-Mabhouh, and few could match his assassins’ skill. He goes back to Operation Wrath of God, when Mossad officials began seeking not just ordinary but brutal killings to terrify the Palestinians.

al-Mabhouh was strangled, electrocuted up to six times, and possibly poisoned.

As we wrote several weeks ago, Israel’s predominance of military power has become a source of weakness in the age of fourth generation warfare. Technology and firepower have their place, but diplomacy, media, and social war neutralize overwhelming military force by fighting on other battlefields.

Israel’s overall strategy has no future in combining diplomatic and military aggression because it will obtain no political solution. The status quo, as everyone realizes, is unsustainable. An unstable two state status or a foreboding solitary state both seem to favor Palestinians more, if only because Israel has more to lose.

Israel isn’t inflicting 1,000 cuts on Hamas, but on itself.

The reaction in the media helps demonstrate the reality of Dubai. With the Jerusalem Post going wild on one side the Haaretz has done its best to keep up with the blitz. Here’s a headline: Dubai assassins used Mossad methods to kill Hamas leader.

How about a tennis story that begins with al-Mabhouh’s assassins disguising themselves as tennis players? The coincidences are a little uncanny, but this is like ESPN opening a hard fought NFL game with a report from Afghanistan.

And as CNN points out, “Israeli security sources have told CNN that al-Mabhouh was a key link between Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas and he was involved in smuggling arms to Gaza. The same sources also point out an arms dealer could have many enemies, not just Israel.”

Clearly Israel is generally pleased with the whole affair, The government is, since it ordered the strike. The media has fallen in line and is keen to toy ambiguously with the Mossad. This attitude corroborates even further that Israel doesn’t get it.

The notion that a lack of evidence leaves Israel in the clear lays bare the antiquated mindset that it fights war with.

One of the above Haartez report claims, “In any case, if the police in Dubai manage to receive the information from Interpol regarding the suspects' passports, they will reveal fictitious names and possibly forged passports. Therefore the information will do little for the investigation.”

Another insists Israel has nothing to worry about, concluding, “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.”

Unfortunately for Israel, the Mossad’s capabilities stop when its targets stop breathing. It has no positive effect on political negotiations with the Palestinians or Arab states, nor has Hamas weakened after the many assassinations it’s suffered. The Mossad cannot ensure peace by eliminating an arms contact.

Only a two-state solution can do that, and the Mossad is useless here.

The Mossad is likely to cause trouble for Netanyahu than he bargained for. Already a propaganda defeat in the Arab world, the Arab world may come looking for him.

Lt. General Tamim told The National, “Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, will be the first to be wanted for justice as he would have been the one who signed the decision to assassinate [Mahmoud] al Mabhouh in Dubai. We will issue an arrest warrant against him."

Evidence or no evidence, the threat itself casts a pall over the region. Perception doesn’t require solid evidence, and a warrant could throw all sides into disarray.

Borzou Daragahi also blogged for the Los Angeles Times, “Experts say even Al Qaeda considers the carefree Dubai off-limits to the limits to the kind of bloody, no-holds-barred political violence that characterizes other parts of the Middle East. So it's not clear why Israel would risk relations with the U.A.E., a staunch U.S. ally and potential friend in any fight against Iran, by carrying out an attack against a relatively obscure figure on its soil.”

Because it values the military above all else.

But Britain and Ireland have expressed concerns with Israel’s actions and have come knocking, morphing an assassination into an international dispute. Additional evidence will create more conflict. The sum of all these events is legal warfare that Hamas can easily exploit.

Now Israel must fight a politico-legal battle, in the media, after completing its military objective, negating total success. Hamas, conversely, didn’t fight much of a battle in either arena nor does it have to. Killing al-Mabhouh allowed Hamas to leach onto Dubai’s legal system, another Israeli miscalculation.

Relying almost exclusively on military force to achieve security will bleed itself dry, a realization Israel still has not reached.


  1. Why is this not considered a state sponsored act of terrorism?
    Mossad is the master of control through chaos. Their aim is not to have a two state solution. If there were peace then Mossad would not have the power that they have. They strive for continued chaos.

  2. It is being considered an act of state sponsored terrorism. The real question is whether Dubai will actually act on its threat to issue a warrant for Netanyahu and whether America will intervene. We keep coming back to this enigma don't we - whether the chaos is truly controlled or whether it's just trying to be. The chaos caused by al-Mabhouh's death will blow back on Israel rather than achieve any level of control. It's a general law of warfare that most powers fall by their own hands.

  3. Yes, but how will America intervene? Which countries will acknowledge that it was an Israeli sponsored act of terrorism. Chaos can be "just trying to be" or go along just to get along. But I do believe that some times chaos is pushed, especially when it comes to Israel. Israel believes it can not control Hamas.

  4. That certainly is a bind for America isn't it, caught between Israel and the Gulf States it needs to help contain Iran. We're very curious for this affair to sort itself out because it looks like we have a long way to go. Maybe the Gulf States will somehow leverage al-Mabhouh with Netanyahu, force him to give into Palestinian demands? If only Arab states were that organized.

    I was thinking Israel futilely believes that it can control Hamas, but maybe it's striking out of fear that Hamas cannot be controlled. Killing al-Mabhouh does smack of desperation, not intimidation. But if you want to get down to it, are you thinking this could be a trap to bait Hamas into another incident, which could then justify a war? We are.

  5. As long as there is the Shia/Sunni divide with in Islam it will never be organized. Right now their mind set is "the enemy [West] of my enemy Shia/Sunni is my friend". Once this changes to "the enemy of my enemy is my enemy". Then everything changes drastically.
    No, I do not think this is a trap to bait Hamas into a war. I think this is just another example of how arrogant Israel is. Thinking they can do what ever, and where ever, as they please. They are always [probing] to see what they can get away with. If they want to justify another war with Hamas it will come through the West Bank. My fear is that they will go into Lebannon before the summer is out. This could be their bait for Iran.

  6. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/LB18Ak01.html


  7. It goes without saying that striking Iran would be disastrous for world stability, let alone regional peace, but I'm not ready to say Israel or US have ruled out the possibility. If sanctions and the threat of military force don't deter Iran from creating a nuclear weapon, the odds seem near zero that the West, Israel, and various Sunni states will simply watch Iran develop a nuclear weapons program. This whole situation is a ticking time bomb going into the next three years.