Cold War intrigue is back, a la Israel.

Feb 19, 2010
*Special to asia!

People often ask me why they should care about Israel. The conflict is dreary, the Israelis and Palestinians can't seem to find a way of living together and even mighty President Obama seems to have all but given up on peace in the Middle East.

Well a fresh new answer came to me this week.

Amidst the repetitious and tedious meanderings of the Middle East peace process, once in a while, you get a story like this that should impress even the best of the spy novelists.

This week, headlines all over the world screamed out the alleged murder of Hamas' top military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh by the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad, in Dubai. Things haven't developed this fast since the Dubai bubble collapsed with the economy crisis.

Everyday, there was a new development. Foreigners were involved. Wait, they were Israelis using fake foreign passports. There were two Palestinians who ratted al-Mabhouh's whereabouts to the Israelis. One of the men alleged to have been involved was recovering from a quadruple bypass when it happened.

Fast and furious they came. Former Mossad operatives, Israeli academics, Middle East experts, editors, Middle East correspondents were being trotted out to commentate. Israelis were themselves a little red in the face, though it should also be pointed out that more than a few wearing a Cheshire grin of the cat that got caught with the cream on its face.

This was afterall, possibly the ultimate in chutzpah-dom.

Flashback to the dusty memories of the Mossad's covert capture of Nazi war criminal or “Architect of the Holocaust” Adolf Eichmann hiding out in Argentina in 1960, and the rescue of the Air France flight hijacked by Palestinian terrorists in Entebbe in 1976, just to name a few. Now, an assassination by the feared Mossad of one of Israel's greatest enemies in the hostile territory of Dubai. (Pat on the back)


danger of death

Story of Israel


Outside of Israel though, the reaction has been rather different. Britain hasn't been too impressed by this Bond-like stunt allegedly pulled off by the Israelis, particularly since six of the 11 suspects are Britons.

Many analysts seem to think that the Mossad really screwed up this time. But did they?

Did the Israelis get caught killing al-Mabhouh, or did they mean to be nabbed red-handed? As the diplomatic intrigue unfolds, you have to wonder though: When the chambermaid enters to find a dead Hamas commander, are people really going to think he accidentally smothered himself to death in his sleep?

Even if it took place in Dubai where Israelis are banned from going, it was far from being a good cover. If anything, it was probably more a case of operating-where-they-cannot-be-extradited-in-case-they-get-caught mentality. (The United Arab Emirates and Israel do not have diplomatic relations.)

And the issue (no pun intended) of the fake passports. In the post-9/11 world of security clampdown, their covers would have blown in the time it took them to fly back to Tel Aviv. There, possibly just a convenient means to an end.

At the end of the day, it is a little hard to believe that an intelligence agency responsible for some of the world's most stunning covert operations has evolved into what some commentators like the the Los Angeles Times are calling “bumbling”.

The logical conclusion: They must have known they were going to get caught. Within days, Dubai's police chief was “99%” sure that the Israeli spy agency Mossad was behind it.


To Israel's credit, at least its usually-tactless foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman didn't quite deny it. His actual words: “Israel never responds, never confirms and never denies.”

But that's just about allegations. There are many things Israel will respond to, and loudly at that. One of them is the killing of its nationals.

“Score settled with man behind death of soldiers Avi Sasportas and Ilan Sa'adon”

This was the first line in the Israeli newspaper report on the assassination of al-Mabhouh's death. The two IDF soldiers were kidnapped and killed by Hamas back in 1989, and al-Mahbouh was one of the top brass of the Palestinian militant movement.

One thing you can trust Israel to do is retaliate against aggression or attacks on its people. Just ask the people who live on the Lebanese-Israeli border. Each time Hezbollah sends a hostile missile across, they can be sure there will be something coming over in return.

This may work to deter attacks against Israeli nationals, but ultimately, with the continued impasse over the Palestinian issue, it can only be a stop-gap measure. Israelis will still be vulnerable to attacks from terrorists hostile towards their country, and the Mossad will not be there to protect them in their favourite vacation spots as they continue to flock in droves to the beaches of Goa, Thailand or South America.

The Jewish Chabad House was not targeted by chance in the Mumbai attacks in December 2008.

This is the better reason to give a toss about what happens in Israel/Palestine. It is a flashpoint that will explode and take the rest of us non-Jews down with it.



dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi