17 Feb 2010

Israel's Mossad secret service, more formally known as the Institute for Espionage and Special Tasks, has a long history of carrying out clandestine operations, including several spectacular assassinations. Much remains secret but cases that are documented have involved large teams of agents using false or stolen passports to disguise their Israeli origins.

The Mossad's assassination unit has been known at different times as Caesarea and Kidon (Bayonet). Women agents have often been involved – there was reportedly one in the Dubai killing.

Israel's official silence does not mean that it cannot be heard trumpeting its success. "The intelligence [about Dubai] was reliable and accurate," ­commented the respected national security specialist Yossi Melman in the newspaper Haaretz earlier this month. "Even though Mabhouh knew Israeli intelligence had him in its sights and took stringent precautions they still managed to get him."

Information released by Dubai shows the professionalism of the suspected assassins and their methods, Melman commented today, citing a novel written by a former Mossad officer, Mishka Ben-David, the plot of which bears a close similarity to the abortive poison attack on the Hamas leader Khaled Misha'al in Jordan in 1997. That case caused huge political embarrassment when two agents using false Canadian passports fled to the Israeli embassy in Amman.

Israel's isolation in the Middle East meant an early reliance on secret operations. The Mossad's victims over the years – some avowed, others not – have included German scientists working on Egypt's rocket programme in the 1960s, Iraqis working on nuclear projects in the 1980s, and, it is assumed, Iranians who are thought to be doing the same today. Mossad agents also carried out the kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann, the fugitive SS officer and architect of Hitler's "final solution," in Argentina in 1960. Eichmann was abducted and smuggled back to Israel, where he was tried and hanged.

Other key killings include that of the PLO military chief Abu Jihad in Tunisia in 1988 and an Islamic Jihad leader in Malta in the mid-1990s. The Mossad was also held responsible for the assassination of the military chief of Lebanon's Hezbollah, Imad Mughniyeh, in Syria two years ago, but Israel has never formally avowed it. Most Mossad operations, like those of most intelligence agencies, have taken place in the shadows only to emerge in a blaze of publicity and political embarassment after the event.

So it was when Golda Meir ordered the agency to hunt down and kill the Palestinians who massacred 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972 in the name of the Black September group. Eleven Palestinians were eliminated in a Mossad operation known as Wrath of God in killings in Rome, Cyprus, Paris, Beirut, Athens, Rome and a small town in Norway where an innocent Moroccan waiter was mistaken for Ali Hassan Salameh, the alleged planner of Munich. Salameh was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 1979.

Motives of revenge and deterrence appear to go hand in hand. "We tried not to do things just by shooting a guy in the streets, that's easy – fairly," said Dave Kimche, a former deputy head of the agency, talking of one assassination carried out by a bomb planted in a telephone. "By putting a bomb in his phone, this was a message that they can be got anywhere, at any time and therefore they have to look out for themselves 24 hours a day."

Mabhouh was apparently targeted because of his role in the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989 at the end of the first Palestinian intifada. But some question the sense, if not the morality, of such assassinations. "Every terrorist, no matter how senior, is soon replaced, sometimes by someone even better or more professional," Melman wrote in Haaretz.

SOURCE: The Guardian


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