Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dubai Assassination of Al-Mabhouh Followed Failed Attempt by Same Team

Via (Threat Level) -

The successful assassination of a high-ranking member of Hamas early last year in Dubai followed an unsuccessful attempt by the same hit team two months earlier, according to a magazine story out this month.

The elite team suspected of orchestrating the kill tried to poison Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in November 2009 in Dubai, according to GQ magazine. The unknown toxin, possibly slipped into a drink or placed on fixtures in a hotel room, left al-Mabhouh mysteriously ill but not fatally so. Al-Mabhouh recovered from the illness without knowing he’d been poisoned, only to be killed by the same team about two months later on Jan. 19, 2010.

The article, written by Ronen Bergman, an Israeli investigative journalist and author, leaves no question that Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency was behind the attack. The agency’s code name for al-Mabhouh was Plasma Screen.

Most of the details in the article have been previously reported, but the piece does add some new information.

Israeli spies, for example, had been monitoring al-Mabhouh’s e-mail and online activities via a Trojan horse planted on his computer, and therefore knew when he’d be arriving in Dubai, according Bergman. They did not, however, know which hotel he’d be staying at, which forced the well-prepared hit squad to improvise a bit.

Surveillance teams staked out every hotel their target was known to have stayed at during previous visits to Dubai, and another team waited at the airport and followed him to the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel, where he ended up taking a room. As previously disclosed, in order to kill al-Mabhouh, who was reportedly in Dubai to arrange shipments of weapons to Hamas, the team reprogrammed the electronic lock on his hotel room door while he was out for a four-hour meeting.


But most important, Bergman writes, they failed to anticipate the meticulous and efficient way Dubai authorities would piece together hundreds of hours of surveillance camera footage to identify more than two dozen suspects and track their movements throughout Dubai over many months.

“The laughable attempts of the Mossad operatives to disguise their appearance made for good television coverage, but the more fundamental errors committed by the team had less to do with cloak-and-dagger disguises than with a kind of arrogance that seems to have pervaded the planning and execution of the mission,” he writes.

Their activities were tracked in part through transactions on prepaid debit cards, which made connecting them to each other fairly easy. Several of the team members used the same type of card issued through MetaBank in Iowa. The payroll-style cards were issued by the U.S.-based company Payoneer, whose CEO, Yuval Tal, is an Israeli-American businessman and a former Israeli Special Forces commando.


Although none of the operatives has been captured or identified by a real name, most members of the team suspected of masterminding the attack belong to a secretive Mossad unit known as Caesarea, Bergman writes.

Caesarea, also known as Kidon, reportedly consists of only about 30 members. According to Bergman, they’re trained in a separate facility from other Mossad operatives to protect their identities and are “forbidden from ever using their real names, even in private conversations.”

“If the Mossad is the temple of Israel’s intelligence community,” a longtime member of Caesarea told Bergman, “then Caesarea is its holy of holies.”

“Holy of holies” refers to the inner sanctum where the tablets containing the Ten Commandments were said to have been stored in the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.


But the mistakes made by the Dubai hit team — such as using forged passports from Britain and other Western countries to enter Dubai — brought political repercussions to Israel. Last March, Britain expelled an Israeli diplomat over the passport fiasco. [Meir] Dagan [head of the Mossad] was replaced last month by Tamir Pardo, the Mossad’s deputy director for the last three years.

He reportedly opposed the use of forged British, Irish and Australian passports for the assassination, but his protests were ignored by Dagan.

Although Israel has never acknowledged or denied responsibility for the assassination, Pardo reportedly planned to apologize in private to British authorities for the hit team’s use of British passports and intended to promise that Israeli agents would never use fake British documents again.

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