Everybody loves a good mystery and the alleged murder of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai by Mossad agents is sure attracting a lot of ink or pixels, not the least of which is Ronen Bergman’s Israel and the Dubai Murder Mystery in Friday’s Wall Street Journal. But unfortunately, Mr. Bergman – a senior military and intelligence analyst for Israel’s popular daily Yedioth Ahronoth – makes a major error in the second paragraph of his piece. Can you spot it?
Nearly everyone believes that the 11 alleged members of the hit squad that killed Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh last week in Dubai are Mossad agents. Seven of the 11 identities used were stolen from other Israelis with dual European citizenship.
Well, as it happens, the murder didn’t take place “last week” but on January 19. It was only reported widely last week. I’m not noting that to make fun of Mr. Bergman, obviously a knowledgeable fellow, or the fact-checkers at the WSJ, stressed as they may be, but it does cause you to wrinkle your nose at some of Mr. Bergman’s comments further down the page:
But the real, and so far unappreciated, achievement in this affair belongs to the Dubai police, who were able to integrate all the evidence at their disposal into one clear picture and do so with remarkable speed.
Whoever sent the hit squad to Dubai was not aware that the police and security services had such advanced capabilities at the ready. The investigators managed to put together still and video shots taken in seven different locations and place them on a single timeline together with the cellphone records of the individuals in the footage. Doing this requires sharp analysis and advanced computer skills, and computerized intelligence systems able to cross check information from various sources.
How did the Dubai police manage all this? Did they have help? For now, it remains a mystery. But in any case, misjudging the ability of the Dubai authorities so spectacularly is evidence of a serious intelligence failure on the part of the organization that sent out the squad.
Remarkable speed? Advanced capabilities? Hmm… Besides his timeline being off by nearly a month here, Mr. Bergman (speaking of speed) is not particularly up to speed on technology either. With face recognition software so ubiquitous it comes with a $150 point-and-shoot camera nowadays, a smart high school student could probably put these surveillance videos together on a MacBook in matter of days, if not hours. I don’t know about the expertise of the Dubai police, though at the very least they’ve probably seen a few episodes of “Las Vegas.”
But even if the Dubai police are second cousins to Sherlock Holmes (a big “if” indeed), I wonder if Mr. Bergman isn’t more worried than he should be about something else – the fallout to Israel from their actions in Dubai. (Bergman seems exceptionally nervous that the British will disapprove of Israeli actions.) Of course, he isn’t the only one worried. Hamas is worried as well – and perhaps more justifiably so. In the short time between this post and my previous one on the subject, a Hamas legislator Salah Bardawil made the amusing claim that al-Mabhouh was outed because he booked his travel reservations online. In the Dubai Murder Mystery, Expedia “dun it.” Well, anything to distract from the frightening thought that Hamas itself could have been compromised.
On a far more serious note, the Timesonline (often a conduit for Mossad information) contains a much more extensive account of the incident in its Sunday edition. The Times places the assassination in the context of the ongoing cold war between Israel and Iran and indeed it now appears that Mahboub was en route to Iran’s Bandar Abbas and not China, as previously reported. Read the whole thing, as the saying goes, but I was taken by this particular paragraph:
Yesterday Dhahi Khalfan, the Dubai police chief, said investigators had found that some of the passports had been used in Dubai before. About three months ago it appears Mossad agents using the stolen identities followed Mabhouh when he travelled to Dubai and then on to China. About two months ago they followed him on another visit to Dubai.
Wait a minute. The Mossad had been tracking Mabhouh on two (undoubtedly more) occasions without assassinating him? Why did they finally do it now? I leave that to you, dear reader.
UPDATE: For more of interest see Israel Matzav.