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MIDDLE EAST: Any blame for alleged Dubai hit would rest with Israeli premier, ex-Mossad says

February 19, 2010 | 12:59 pm

Unlike other Israeli security outfits, Mossad answers directly to the prime minister. Even the paychecks of employees on the Mossad payroll say, "Office of the Prime Minister."

And when the Mossad carries out a hit against someone, the order also comes directly from the prime minister, says Victor Ostrovsky, a former Mossad case officer and author of the book "By Way of Deception," which is critical of the agency.

And it's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not Mossad chief Meir Dagan or the agents of the wing once called Masada, who should be blamed if it's proven that the agency was behind the killing of a Hamas figure in Dubai last month. The incident is snowballing into an international scandal after allegations that killers used passports based on the identities of European nationals and photos and security footage of the hit team emerged.

"The prime minister is a trigger-happy guy," he said. "He has very little knowledge about these things. He is one of these guys who says, 'Let's get him! Let’s get him!'"

As for the killers themselves,"it’s very difficult for someone to call them assassins," Ostrovsky said in a telephone interview. 

"They’re executioners."

Israel-ostrovsky-facebook

Israel has denied it was behind the operation, but stressed that it would not admit so even if it were. 

If it were behind the killing, Mossad probably decided that blowing their agents was worth getting rid of Mahmoud Mabhouh, a Hamas weapons procurer wanted for the 1989 kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers.

"I think they came to the conclusion that the target was worth the effort and the risk," said Ostrovsky, pictured at left. "And the exposure of these people would not cause much damage."

Still, details of the the operation committed avoidable mistakes in tradecraft that suggest the mission was quickly assembled and ordered -- including the fact that eight out of 11 of the alleged assassins wore the same eyeglasses for their passport photos.

Ostrovksy says a large percentage of the surveillance equipment used in the United Arab Emirates, which includes Dubai, came from Israel.  Dubai authorities are now using reams of security camera footage to assemble the operatives' movements.

Agents should have known what they were up against..

"You see the guys paying attention to the camera," he said. "They’re not professional in the way they behave. They made mistakes on the professional level."

Perhaps Mossad contracted the job out to a private firm, Tsalalim, started by several former agents to provide services to corporations. "These guys were also offering plausible deniablity operations," Ostrovsky said. "They were saying, 'We can carry out operations with assistance, access to embassies and security.' They convinced elements of Mossad to contract out to them."

But Ostrovsky, now an artist and CEO of an Arizona-based website called The Book Patch, had deeper criticisms of Mossad's worldview. 

"Mossad is stuck in a terminology of ‘We’re going to make it work,'" he said. "On the surface, this was a sophisticated operation. But it’s all looked at from a very Israeli perspective. In fact, every time you kill someone you refresh the blood" of Hamas.

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Videos: VIctor Ostrovsky co-narrates "A Death in Lillehammer," which chronicles a botched 1973 Mossad operation against a suspected Palestinian militant in Norway. The target turned out to be the wrong man. Credit: YouTube

Photo: Victor Ostrovsky. Credit: Facebook

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