The involvement of six British passport holders in the killing of senior Hamas official, Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, last month in Dubai was described in the Guardian today as "an extraordinary tale of modern-day espionage." The Brits in question have denied any part in the assassination and have proclaimed their innocence stating that their passports must have been forged, a line of argument that the British Foreign Office seems to be supporting. Prime Minister Gordon Brown today promised that a full investigation will be launched into the connection of the British passports with the murder. His intervention, viewed by some as belated, demonstrates the gravity of the situation and the serious diplomatic and international ramifications that may now stem from this one event.
All the hallmarks of a Mossad assassination
Whether or not these particular individuals were actually involved is yet to be seen but what is clear is that when such a high profile Hamas figure is murdered, there is really only one logical culprit; Mossad. For 21 years this individual had eluded the Israelis. Who else stands to gain from the death of Mabhouh to such a degree that they would employ an assassination squad of at least 11 killers? The Telegraph today confirmed that "in the past year, Al-Mabhouh had moved to the top of Mossad's list of targets." Mossad already has a well established record of assassinations and botched operations against high profile senior Hamas officials, the attempt on the life of Khaled Meshaal in 1997 being just one example. That failed attempt was carried out on the watch of then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and it looks as though under his watch Mossad may be implicated once again.
Mossad agents also have a track record of using passports from other countries to circumvent the obvious obstacle they would face when trying to enter an Arab country with an Israeli passport. This has been a clearly documented Mossad tactic. Author Paul McGeough gives some examples in his book "Kill Khalid – The failed Mossad assassination of Khaled Meshaal and the rise of Hamas" when he discussed the case of the would-be assassins of Khaled Meshaal.
"Shawn Kendall and Barry Beads, whose identities had been assumed by the Mossad agents arrested in Amman, were Canadian Jews living in Israel who had been asked if their passport details might be "borrowed" by one of the Israeli security services. These were not isolated cases. A former Canadian kibbutznik emerged to reveal that Israeli agents had gathered up passports on a kibbutz where he had worked in the late 1970s and early 1980s. A Canadian diplomat in the region would explain later that the Israeli authorities had proved adept at extracting current or expired passports by pressuring Canadian passport holders living in Israel to view their willingness to lend their identities to the authorities as a test of their loyalty to Israel."(p.222)
Similarly he also recounts how
"In 1974, about fifty blank Canadian passports disappeared from a vault at the Canadian Embassy in Vienna. In Nicosia a year later, Cypriot authorities seized the kit of a Mossad team after a hotel bombing in which a Palestinian guerrilla leader was killed. The passport used by one of the Israeli hit men bore a number that revealed it to be from among the fifty stolen in Vienna."(p.221)
The murder of Al-Mabhouh certainly bears many of the hallmarks of a Mossad attack, but what does this mean for Britain and what are the implications this murder has for our country in terms of our relationship with Israel and the larger Arab world?
Scenario One – Mossad are compromising the safety of British citizens
There are two likely scenarios. The first scenario is that the dual British-Israeli citizens are telling the truth, are wholly innocent and had nothing to do with the murder, in which case the killers somehow managed to steal their identities and obtain their passports via forgery, theft etc.. If, as the British Foreign Office are claiming, their passports were forged then this raises questions relating to the British Home Office and their security measures regarding the identities of its citizens. How was this allowed to happen?
It raises serious concerns relating to the laxity that the government has previously shown towards the personal information of its citizens. To give just a few examples, in 2008 alone Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, had to admit that CDs with the private details of 25 million child benefit claimants and their parents had "gone missing" in the post; Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary, announced that a hard disk containing the private information relating to three million learner drivers had gone missing; and Jacqui Smith confirmed that a private firm had downloaded the details of thousands of criminals held on a memory stick. Such breaches in security relating to the way our private information is held becomes more ominous when events like this occur and we are forced to ask, into who's hands does such "lost" information fall and for what nefarious purposes can it be used.
Scenario Two – British citizens involvement in the operation
The second is that the British people in question are involved, in one way or another, as the Dubai authorities claimed after revealing their passport details. Such involvement may entail them having provided genuine passports as was the case in the failed assassination attempt of Khaled Meshaal by two Israeli-Canadian citizens. If that is so, and it remains to be seen whether that is in fact the case, taking into consideration that the Israeli-British citizens deny any knowledge or participation in this operation, it falls on the British authorities, as in any other crime involving its citizens, to launch a full investigation into the facts. It is not enough to take protestations of innocence at face value in a high profile case such as this, one which could become the catalyst for sparking off more international tensions in an already inflamed region. A thorough investigation is certainly required. No stone must be left unturned. If it materialises that they are involved, in any way, it raises serious questions as to why British citizens were doing Israel's dirty work in the first place.
Furthermore, in light of the special relationship that exists between Israel and Britain and shared intelligence resources, were the killers acting with the knowledge and complicity of persons within the British establishment or were they able to operate under the radar of British intelligence? As Robert Fisk rightly asks, why did the British government not react immediately after the Dubai authorities informed them about these passports six days before they made it public? In all cases, this is an issue of grave concern for all British citizens and a matter of serious widespread implication for our government.
What is striking about the media coverage thus far is how easy it has been for the dual Israeli-British citizens involved in this saga to shift attention away from themselves. The press largely seem to have taken their explanation at face value and have run with the stolen identity angle raising no other possibilities. It begs the question that if these were British Muslim defendants who had been identified as assassins through their passports, would the media be quite so forgiving before a throughout investigation had been launched? Unlikely.
It should also raise a serious red flag for the British government if one of their staunchest allies, without their knowledge or complicity, stole and used the identities of British citizens to enter a foreign land and commit a murder which has now put the lives of those citizens, and indeed the safety of all Brits travelling abroad, in serious jeopardy.
Furthermore, it is well known that, if Mossad carried out this act, which seems to be entirely plausible, then they did so with the full knowledge and approval of the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who would have signed off on the mission. The Telegraph today cites Meir Amit, the ex-Director of Mossad who said "Each execution must be sanctioned by the incumbent prime minister. Any execution is therefore state-sponsored." If that is indeed the case, then once again, Britain must surely revaluate its relationship with Israel, a country whose military has not only been found to have committed war crimes but also does not hesitate to send out its own agents disguised as British citizens to carry out extra-judicial killings, murders, in foreign lands.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell and current member of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee this morning called on the Foreign Office to demand an urgent explanation from the Israeli authorities. "If the Israeli government was party to behaviour of this kind it would be a serious violation of trust between nations," he said. "If legitimate British passport holders were put at risk it would be a disgrace. Given the current speculation, the Israeli government has some explaining to do and the ambassador should be summoned to the Foreign Office to do so in double-quick time."
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.