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The Great Dubai Murder Mystery

Did Mossad kill Hamas’s main weapons man?

Marc Tracy
February 18, 2010

Let’s do this with a timeline, okay?

•January 19th: Mahmoud Mabhouh, a Hamas military commander living in Syria who played a crucial role in smuggling weapons to the group (including from Iran), arrives in Dubai. Unusually, he has no bodyguards and is not traveling under an alias; reportedly, his bodyguards couldn’t get plane tickets. No, really, that’s what some reports say.

• January 20th: Mabhouh is found dead in his hotel room (we will subsequently learn that he was killed the night before). I’ve seen reports that he was shot and that he was asphyxiated and electrocuted.

• January 20th: Hamas announces that Mabhouh is dead … from cancer.

• By February 1st, some Hamas officials have suggested that Mossad was behind it. The main focus at this point, however, is whether Mabhouh’s death is likely to slow the flow of arms into Gaza. The consensus: probably, but not definitely.

• February 2nd: After an investigation, Hamas believes that Mabhouh died at the hands of an Arab government (he was wanted by Jordanian and Egyptian authorities).

• Even so, on February 3rd Hamas suspends (already severely stalled) negotiations over kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in protest of the alleged assassination.

• February 4th: Dubai’s police chief pledges to get a warrant for the arrest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if it turns out that Mossad was indeed behind the killing.

• February 12th: Reneging on past proclamations from his group, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal insists that Mossad was behind Mabhouh’s death.

Okay, so to recap: Mabhouh, a Hamas weapons guy, is killed in Dubai, but Hamas wants the world to think he died naturally; when that becomes untenable, Hamas wants the world to believe that Mossad or some Arab government killed him. In fact, Mossad, any number of Arab governments, Fatah, and God knows who else would have had reason to want him dead.

Buckle up: now’s when things really start to get crazy.

• February 15th: Dubai releases some information, including photos, on 11 suspects: all of them carried European passports.

• February 16th: it becomes clear that at least some of the passports identified with the suspects are fake. Less clear is what that could possibly mean.

• February 17th: we learn that Mabhouh was at the top of Mossad’s target list. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman issues a classic non-denial denial when asked if Mossad was involved. Of course, since it isn’t really his purview and since he probably shouldn’t be trusted anyway, there is no reason to think anyone would have told Lieberman anything, no matter what.

• February 17th: the passports of the six “British” suspects are all fake, and bear the names of Israelis who are known not to have been involved in the killing. More than ever, signs point to Mossad. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledges an investigation and calls in the Israeli ambassador; Germany and France, whose passports were also used, are also pissed.

• Oh, my. Is that footage of the assassins checking into Mabhouh’s hotel the same day Mabhouh did? They trailed him from the airport and stayed in the room directly across from him? And they were wearing fake beards? This is nuts!

• Today, February 18th, this story is the talk of Israel, with most assuming that Mossad killed Mabhouh. Folks are calling for the Mossad chief to step down (“Mossad is Supposed to Gather Intelligence, Not Sow Death”). They are also angry at the thought that Mossad may have implicated innocent people in the incident with those faked passports. Naturally, and as always, Mossad will neither confirm nor deny involvement.

So that’s where we are.

And now, the real question: did Mossad do it?

It certainly looks that way. Hamas still maintains yes. So does the Dubai police, at least publicly. However, one Hamas official believes Fatah is involved. Hell, there’s even a Hamas agent reportedly under arrest in Syria for aiding Mossad in the assassination. Neal Ungerleider has a great discussion of whether or not it was Mossad:

The Israeli intelligence agency certainly has the motives and the means. The modus operandi also fits prior Mossad operations. However, certain facts don’t add up. … what security agency would implicate their own citizens [with the fake passports]? Additionally, there is always the possibility of a false flag operation—where a foreign intelligence agency killed al-Mabhouh for their own purposes, while making it look like a Mossad killing.

Put it this way: you would find it difficult to get me to put money on it being anyone other than Mossad. Although one theory has, so far, gone un-suggested, so allow me to be the first:

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.