I WAS in Dubai at the weekend. Nice enough place if you like that kind of thing: glitzy, a bit soulless, but after the weather we’ve been having at home, who’s complaining?
Well, some of the people who live there without any say in the way it’s run actually. But if you ask no questions, the Emiratis won’t ask you any either. You get the picture.
That’s why Mahmoud Mabhouh dropped by presumably. No one quite knows why he was there. Some say he was also just passing through; others that he was buying arms. He was one of the military leaders of Hamas, after all. We don’t know. Nor do we know which of his five passports he was travelling on.
Only one thing is for certain: he left his hotel room in a body bag. Much of the Irish media, without much in the way of evidence, has jumped to the unreserved conclusion that his assassination was a Mossad operation.
Certainly, RTÉ’s Primetime last Thursday behaved as though it were an open and shut case. Maybe it was: the Israelis, as usual, are not commenting one way or the other. They are just glad he’s gone.
That’s hardly surprising. Mabhouh’s crimes date back at least as far as 1989 when he masterminded the kidnapping and murder of two young Israelis.
In more recent years, he played a key role coordinating the smuggling of missiles and other weapons from Iran to Gaza. These have been used to kill and maim dozens of civilians.
But looked at from the perspective of the Middle East, rather than Donnybrook, it seems a whole lot of people – not just the Israelis – wanted Mabhouh out of the way.
Hamas themselves don’t seem sure who killed Mabhouh. Some of their officials are pointing the finger at one or other of the Arab governments. He was wanted by the authorities in Jordan and Egypt, for instance.
Some Arab media have reported that the operation against Mabhouh may have been carried out by a rival Palestinian group; others that Dubai’s intelligence services tipped off the Jordanians. There has also been speculation that (Sunni) Saudi Arabia has an interest in limiting the regional power of (Shia) Iran and its proxies.
Who knows, perhaps his untimely death was due to a split within Hamas? They, presumably, knew his whereabouts and his plans at all times, as did the Iranians. The Syrians too – he had flown in from Damascus. Frankly, any Arab government trying to avoid a repeat of last year’s war in Gaza had an interest in bumping off Mabhouh. But, rather than keeping an open mind, governments in Europe have been egged into behaving as though only Israel is in the frame. The Israeli ambassador was invited by Iveagh House for a (not very enlightening) chat and, for sure, just because the Israelis have not said that they did it doesn’t mean for a minute that they weren’t responsible.
As political commentator Tom Gross points out, the Dubai authorities themselves have not actually provided any forensic evidence that points to Israel, just a series of photos and videos of random hotel guests.
Besides, the persons shown in these images are not shown committing any crime. Nor has anyone come forward and said they recognise any of these people. To be honest, finding and adopting the identities of a few Israelis would not be very difficult. Any government’s intelligence arm could have done this in the hope Israel would be blamed and attention diverted away from the true perpetrators.
Still, you can understand why the Dubai authorities are not happy about the killing of a Hamas senior military commander in one of their hotel rooms. The United Arab Emirates tries to stay out of the Arab-Israeli conflict. There, money is all and it doesn’t matter whose it is: unlike most Arab countries you can fly in with an Israeli stamp on your passport.
But it does make you wonder. There is an almighty stink about “passport fraud”, but no western government has much to say about the fact that the terrorist in charge of illegally smuggling missiles from Iran to Hamas apparently had an open invite to hang out in Dubai. Funny that, isn’t it?
Given the degree of rumpus you could be forgiven for thinking Mabhouh was some UN official or a foreign statesman. On the contrary, he lived by terrorism. He could hardly complain when a hit squad brought his life to a swift end. To say he had it coming is an understatement.
Yes, Dubai needs to carry out its investigations and the issue of passport security needs to be looked at, but is such a fuss strictly called for?
Mabhouh was on a mission to acquire Iranian weapons for use against civilians. He was a combatant. Unlike his victims, he was fair game for whoever crept into his hotel room that night.
In fact, as a combatant he would even have been fair game for Israel if they had killed him by means of an air strike on Gaza. It does not violate international law to kill a combatant, regardless of where the combatant is found, whether he is awake or asleep and whether or not he is engaged in active combat at the moment of his demise.
But Mabhouh was not killed in Gaza. He was killed in Dubai. It is against the law of Dubai for any foreign agent to kill a combatant while he is in Dubai. So the people who engaged in the killing presumptively violated the domestic law of Dubai.
Obviously, it would have been better if Mabhouh could have been captured and put on trial. But so long as he stayed out of Israel proper, what chance was there of that?
WOULD the Irish, British, French or Australian governments – let alone any Arab government – have issued arrest warrants and extradited Mabhouh to Israel? With what consequences for their own security? This case is merely the latest example of the failure of the international legal system and the UN to provide a remedy to mass terror.
The world is full of cold-blooded murderers but international law provides no means for stopping the likes of Mabhouh.
So, if Israel took him out it’s because they had just two options: turn a blind eye to his murderous activities or kill him, preferably without harming any of the civilians around him. That’s ‘proportional’.
If Israel was responsible – and that allegation has to be treated with plenty of caution – it would be an indication of how strongly Israel feels it was between a rock and a hard place.
All the governments have in effect told the Israelis they cannot defend themselves when attacked by missiles from Gaza so perhaps they decided they had no choice but to try and prevent those missiles reaching Gaza in the first place.
Whoever wiped out Mabhouh, it was a daring operation. True, they got filmed but they got into Dubai, killed Mabhouh and got out. No drama, nobody captured, and nobody knows who the team were or where they are now.
And Hamas has been shown that their people aren’t safe anywhere – even in the heart of the Arab world. A sloppy miscalculation? I’m not so sure.