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Mossad’s suspected actions in Dubai may be a crime, but will they help Israel?

18 February 2010

3:08 PM

18 February 2010

3:08 PM

One of Israel’s most potent weapons has been the mixture of awe and fear with which its spy services are held. Now that Mossad is suspected of killing Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, and using fraudulent British passports in the process, newspapers will dredge up stories about the Entebbe Raid, the killing of Black September by Mossad agents and other daring-do acts. The other reaction to the suspected assasination of the arm-smuggling Hamas official will be indignation about the extra-judicial nature of Israel’s action.

But these made-for-Hollywood stories and the West’s moral indignation mask some uncomfortable truths. That Mossad, its domestic equivalent Shin Bet and Israeli commandoes are bureaucratic organisations. Like all public bodies, sometimes they succeed, sometimes they fail. Their staff work 9-17 and have as many bureaucratic problems as Hereford Council. Sometimes their tactical achievements undermine Israel’s strategy – and sometimes their work supports long-term aims. Sometimes, their work does nothing at all to help Israel.


General Meir Dagan has transformed Mossad from the tired 1990s outfit into a more imaginative, ruthless organisation, focused almost exclusively at targetting Iran and its connections with the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah. He has scored many operational successes. Think of the 2007 Israeli attack against Syria’s North Korean-made nuclear reactor. Or the July 2006 destruction of Hezbollah’s cache of long-range weapons. Most famously, Mossad is suspected of killing Hamas chieftain Imad Mughniyah in 2008 in Damascus.

But did these events change the threat to Israel? Probably not. Iran continued its nuclear programme and boosted links to jihadist groups, which in turn grew stronger and more popular.

Dealing with this reality will require that Israel has strategic policy, active diplomacy and close links with key allies – something the current Israeli government seems to be missing. Relying on Mossad’s actions can at times be an important but insufficient part of achieving Israel’s aims. But it can also undermine Israel’s objectives, if it creates serious rifts with allies like Britain. Which category the suspected killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh falls into remains to be seen. But the two standard reactions – hero-worship or indignation – are insufficient. 

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Show comments
  • Occam’s Razorboy

    I agree with an earlier post—Britain’s government (as opposed to individual Brits) is no ally of Israel. If it was, it would have helped with the doctored passports so that no actual Brits would have been used.

  • YA

    So when an Ethiopian national is caught with fake British passport in terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, he’s eventually brought to the UK (for taxpayers’ expense certainly), and declared great British champion of human rights.

    Whe Israelis use the same passport trick when eliminating a confessed murderer and weapons smuggling thug, – Israel is reprimanded for desecrating the very same British passpot.

    That pretty much shows which side British Government is forced to take today.
    Oil, Islam and terrorism.

    Drill, drill oil in Falklands, that’s the only hope against terrorist diktat. Won’t succeed in synthetic hydrocarbons R&D, Brits are too dumb for that.

  • TCN


    Understand your point but I’m not sure that the terrorists have ever needed justification to murder democratically elected politicians. I am sure that if they could get at Netanyahu they would.
    I was not necessarily justifying Israel’s behaviour just forwarding the simple hypothesis that they really don’t care what we think. They are protecting their people and sending a warning. Faux protestations from the ‘international community’ at the death of a known terrorist and arms dealer with very close links to Iran, just because of the sneaky nature in which it is carried out is a perfect example of NuLabour hypocrisy.
    Compared to the numbers of dead civilians that we have left behind in Iraq and Afghanistan you could look at this as a pretty clinical way of fighting a war. perhaps you would prefer it is Israel used airstrikes to take this man out? Or perhaps he should have been left alone to carry out his murderous purpose?

  • Mac Rhodie

    I find it interesting that whilst the British judiciary are busy undermining MI5, Mossad makes a bold international statement in Dubai, “don’t mess with Israel”.
    It must be nice to have all your nationals on the same side.

  • Maggie

    The justifications provided by the apologists for the murder in Dubai would be a perfect fit for anyone who wanted to murder Netanyahu.

  • Vulture

    @Lee @TCN – Spot on. Its giving the finger to the Arabist FO.

    @Huss – Dream on. How many times have you guys tried to eliminate the ‘cancerous state’? – the Jews make tough enemies & they are great survivors. The message of Dubai is : ‘Don’t mess with Mossad’.

  • RL54

    So – you know the person killed is a murderer in that he exhorts his fellows to kill as many Jews as possible because they are Jews.
    Yes, you could have kidnapped him and put him on trial in the Hague unleashing a further murderous campaign by Hamas and all the other clericial Iran inspired organisations or you could have done the deed like this and saved many many people. I call this pretty awful that it is sometimes necessary to assassinate (murder) disgusting people – how the West would have cheered if Saddam Hussein and Robert Mugabe had found this to be their fate. But of course it’s not cricket to steal our biometric passports – perhaps we should have invested in id cards istead.

  • Lee Jakeman


    On reflection, I would say that you are right.

  • TCN


    Ask yourself who the PR is for. Does anyone really think the Israeli’s care if they upset the foreign office for a few weeks. I think given the UK establishments generally anti-Israel bias it shows a dark sense of humour and irony to use British and Irish passports. Netanyahu was carrying out his own information campaign. This was so blatant and ‘in your face’ because the Israeli’s want their enemies to know that wherever they are in the world if you conspire to hurt Israel “we will find you”. I think the message will not be lost on the intended recipients. No doubt they will ignore it but at least they have had an example of what will happen. Those who hate Israel will always hate them, those that truly support them will applaud. No PR disaster here just a very real message sent.

  • Derek

    What exactly is the evidence that this was a Mossad operation?

  • Verity

    Hysteria – Hi! Where y’all been at? Long time no read!

  • radgie gadgie

    A big thank you to Mossad (if it was them) You made my week.

  • Herbert Thornton

    At first I assumed that the appearance of “daring” instead “derring” resulted from the use of a computer spell check function, but since the piece also refers to an “assasination”, perhaps the Spectator employs neither a computer nor a human to check spelling?

  • Lee Jakeman

    I’m sympathetic to Mossad’s objectives, but get the impression they’ve become rather arrogant and careless in their execution.

    Although technically a success, the Dubai operation has all the hallmarks of a PR failure.

    Israel needs to succeed on both fronts.

    They would not have used American passports in this cavalier fashion – they are far too dependent on Americam military aid for that.

    Their use of British passports reveals a certain contempt for Britain. Perhaps this is Israel’s way of getting back at us for the BBC’s pro-Palestinian bias?

  • MaxSceptic

    ” ….if it creates serious rifts with allies like Britain.”

    Would any country in full possession of their intellectual faculties and a healthy sense of self-interest and self-preservation, depend upon an ‘ally’ like Britain? (Especially – as she is, alas, today).

    Melanie Reid in today’s edition of The Times has a better take on this.

  • Hysteria

    and they do all this on the 17th of September? – surely much more efficient that Hereford council.

  • Peter From Maidstone

    In what way is Britain and ally of Israel? It is not necessarily an enemy, but can it be said that we are allies?

  • Michael Booth

    I was the first to comment but my comment has been airbrushed away…

  • Kinglear

    Secure passports? Don’t make me laugh. I can get you a genuine passport from anywhere in Glasgow on a Saturday night for a few quid – in fact these passports used in Dubai strike me as pretty poor replicas…

  • Norman Dee

    Interesting also is the BBC’s reaction, Gavin Essler crying out “it’s murder, however you describe it it’s murder”, one brief mention that he had flown in from Syria, Hamas’s known HQ, it took somone else to say this was the guy that had been buying the missiles from Iran that Hamas launch from Gaza, and never the word terrorist which is effectively what he is.
    So much for impartial, again.

  • DavidDP

    Let’s see – mass retaliation such as Gaza is wrong, individual targeting retaliation is wrong.

    Yup, clearly the only right thing for Israel to to is bend over and take it.

  • Michael Booth

    Much more important than Neathergate…

  • Hawkeye

    How does all this reflect on the super-secure, biometrically tagged European passport scheme?

    According to the Irish, the numbers on the passports where genuine but did not match the names on the passport. In other words, these passports where cobbled together and seemed to work OK

    Now there’s a story for the Speccie!

  • M

    Israel practically has a status of 51st state; therefore they got allies by default or perhaps need none. :))

  • startledcod

    Er, that’s ‘derring-do’ not ‘daring-do’.