Friday, February 19, 2010

murder inc.



Guardian | With its cloned foreign passports, multiple disguises, state-of-the-art communications and the murder of alleged arms smuggler Mahmoud al-Mabhouh – one of the few elements of the plot that was not captured on the emirate's CCTV cameras – it is a riveting tale of professional chutzpah, violence and cold calculation. And with the Palestinian Islamist movement now vowing to take revenge, it seems grimly certain that it will bring more bloodshed in its wake.

The images from Dubai follow the biblical injunction (and the Mossad's old motto):"By way of deception thou shalt make war." The agency's job, its website explains more prosaically, is to "collect information, analyse intelligence and perform special covert operations beyond [Israel's] borders."

Founded in 1948 along with the new Jewish state, the Mossad largely stayed in the shadows in its early years. Yitzhak Shamir, a former Stern Gang terrorist and future prime minister, ran operations targeting German scientists who were helping Nasser's Egypt build rockets – foreshadowing later Israeli campaigns to disrupt Iraqi and (continuing) Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear and other weapons.

In western countries, including Britain, there was widespread anger at the 1,400 Palestinian casualties of the Gaza war. Barack Obama has declared the occupation "intolerable". Netanyahu heads the most rightwing coalition in Israel's history; his famous quip that the Middle East is a "tough neighbourhood" no longer seems to justify playing dirty.

Yet Israelis, and not just those on the right, worry that their very existence as an independent state is being de-legitimised. And, judging by the jobs section of the Mossad website, there are still plenty of opportunities for Israel's wannabe spies: challenging positions are available for researchers, analysts, security officers, codebreakers and other technical work. Speakers of Arabic and Persian are invited to apply to be intelligence officers.The work involves travel abroad and a "young and unconventional" environment.

It is a novelty of this episode that ordinary Israeli citizens are angry that their identities appear to have been stolen by their own government's secret servants – one reason why the Mossad chief Meir Dagan may find his days are numbered. But it is hard not to detect an undercurrent of popular admiration for the killers of Mabhouh. The day after the sensational CCTV images and passport photos were shown, the Israeli tennis champion Shahar Pe'er reached the quarter-finals of a major international competition in the emirate. "Another successful operation in Dubai," the Ynet website headlined its story.

Ofer Kasti, Haaretz's education correspondent, did not have his passport cloned, but he does bear a striking resemblance to the hit-squad member named as Kevin Daveron. "My mum rang and asked gently if I'd been abroad recently," he wrote. "Friends asked me why I hadn't brought back any cigarettes from the duty free shop in Dubai. I thought I sensed admiring glances in the street. 'Well done,' said an elderly woman who came up to me in the supermarket and clapped me the shoulder. 'You showed those Arabs.'"