A report published by French newspaper Le Monde this week revealed that the Mossad's operatives based in Paris planned the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh. The French capital has become a centre for the Israeli intelligence agency's activity along with other intelligence agencies, according to the report.
This story about the assassination of Al-Mabhouh has not been published before and has not yet been officially confirmed by Israeli sources. It was released by the French newspaper under the title "The Mossad's Shadow Hovers Over Paris," according to senior officials in the French intelligence services. The French sources also confirmed that the assassination of Al-Mabhouh was not the only operation that was run from a Parisian hotel, "Paris has rather become a centre of the Israeli Mossad's international activity," they clarified.
According to the same report, "at 5:30 pm on 19 January 2010, the Mossad agents were in a hotel room in the Bercy neighbourhood, Paris, not far from the French Ministry of Finance and the Authority's institutions there. The room was an improvised operations room equipped with computers and encoded phones. The meeting was aimed to activate a group of overseas agents who would carry out the complex operation: the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai."
The newspaper also explained that the Mossad feels comfortable working from Paris. It quoted a French intelligence official as saying: "The city is the Mossad's playground. Although the Chinese and the Russians are our enemies, we must not forget that Israelis and Americans are acting with great hostility."
He went on: "Our ability to react to their actions is limited. They are rushing to play the diplomatic card and filing a complaint to the office of the Prime Minister and the French president." The official insisted that "France's hands are tied" because it has "many issues in common with Israel."
He also said: "The French are not able to prevent certain Jews in France from providing help in planning and logistics."
Although earlier reports claimed that two of the 11 agents who were involved in the assassination had arrived in Dubai on a flight through Air France from Paris, foreign media outlets said that the Mossad operations room was run from Austria or any other European location. However, Le Monde confirms that the Israeli Monitoring and Control Centre has been in the heart of Paris.
The newspaper said that the assassination sparked international controversy and caused a crisis with the UK because of the use of European passports. France also filed a complaint to Mossad Chief at the time, Meir Dagan, because of the use of French passports.
The head of the French Police Investigation Department was quoted as saying that the complaint was a way of conveying a message that the talk about transgression was intolerable.
The newspaper wrote that France's concerns were due to fears that Hamas would suspect that France had been involved in the operation. Therefore, France also sent two senior intelligence officials to meet with Dagan.
According to Yedioth Ahronoth's interview with the journalist who prepared the report, the French had threatened to freeze the information exchange process between the two intelligence services.
The journalist said that senior officials in the French intelligence services considered the use of French passports as a provocation.
The assassination of Al-Mabhouh was not the only operation. The report listed several activities the newspaper claims that the Mossad and other Israeli bodies have conducted in French territory. These operations include a joint Israeli-French attempt to recruit a Syrian agent who tried to buy a chemical weapon, an Israeli company's effort to carry out eavesdropping on the European Council in Brussels, in addition to the activity of the Israeli security company, Black Cube, which have operating offices in Paris.
It also mentioned that the Mossad tried to recruit agents from French intelligence to act as double agents. As a result of this involvement, following which one of the French agents stayed in Israel, France expelled the head of the Mossad Centre in Paris and another employee from the Israeli Embassy.
The newspaper added that the reason behind the Mossad's and other foreign espionage agencies' making of Paris a focal point is the large number of international conferences, the frequent visits of African presidents and the various global communities there.
Le Monde also wrote that while the Mossad continues to operate in Paris in a relative way freely, a source in the French Foreign Ministry says that: "Israelis have become more cautious than before. They are not carrying out assassinations on French territories and receiving less aid from French Jews."