How the Dubai Assassination Is and Isn't Like a Spy Novel

Forged passports, electrocution, and a dead Hamas leader

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The murder last month of a Hamas leader in his Dubai hotel room has been followed by weeks of ever-stranger revelations. The dozen or so assassins were costumed, some wearing wigs or fake beards. They were caught on tape, video of which is above. Their Irish and British passports were fraudulent or stolen from Britons living in Israel. The victim, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, was involved in the 1989 murder of two Israeli soldiers. Dubai has issued warrants. Just what is going on here?

  • Was Israel Behind It?  The New York Times' Robert Worth says what everyone is thinking. "Because the victim, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, was a senior Hamas official, many have suspected that Israel was behind his assassination. Hamas has accused Israel and vowed revenge. Israeli officials have not confirmed or denied the Hamas accusations. The Dubai police chief, Dahi Khalfan al-Tamim, did not accuse Israel, but said it was possible that a foreign government had ordered the killing."
  • Was Very 'Mossad Style'  Haaretz's Yossi Melman sees the Israeli spy service's fingerprints. His evidence? A spy novel. "The bits of information and the camera images suggest methods used by the Mossad that Mishka Ben-David wrote about in detail in his novel 'Duet in Beirut.' Ben-David, who served as the intelligence officer for the Caesarea operations branch of the Mossad, insists that his novel is a work of fiction. However, it is obvious to all that the experience he accumulated in the Mossad over the years appears in his book."
  • If Mossad, They Blundered Big Time  The Guardian's Rory McCarthy writes, "Some Israeli commentators delivered the first criticisms of Mossad today , saying the operation was beginning to look like a blunder. One even called on the Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, to resign and suggested the incident could provoke a diplomatic row with Britain over the use of forged British passports."
  • Non-Israeli Possibilities  The Guardian's Brian Whitaker reminds us a Hamas assassin has many enemies. "Mabhouh was also involved in the weapons business – a murky world where deals that go wrong can sometimes have fatal consequences – and there may even have been other governments that wanted him out of the way. In short, there's still a lot that we don't know about the murder, so it's unwise to jump to conclusions."
  • Conspiracy Theory: It's About Iranian-U.S. Cold War  The U.K. Independent's Robert Fisk goes there. "Many Dubaians believe that the collapse of the emirate's economy last year was the revenge of Western banks – spurred on, of course, by the Americans – to punish them for allowing Iranian shell companies to use Dubai as a sanctions-busting base during the cold-hot war between the US-Israeli alliance and Iran." He also makes a very confused argument about Ireland getting its revenge for centuries-old British colonialism.
  • Passport Forgeries Raise Big Questions  Newsweek's veteran investigative reporter Mark Hosenball zeroes in on the "expertly forged U.K. passports." He notes that the Dubai police chief has been careful to say that, although it would probably take a government office to make fabrications this convincing, Israel's is not the only spy service in the world. The Irish passports appear forged as well.
  • On the 'Hot Girl Assassin'  Gawker commenter Squeakel surveys passport photos of the suspected killers. "Look how normal most of them look! I love that there's a hot girl assassin. I wonder if she was used to gain entry to the victim's room?"
  • 'Electrocution and Suffocation'  It's not the usual set of murder weapons. "The detail that leaps out at me is the alleged method of assassination: electrocution and suffocation," muses The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan. "It's like some bizarre novel."
  • Doesn't Sound Like My Spy Novels!  Conservative blogger John Hinderaker applies the national security expertise he developed by reading spy novels. "Lately I've been reading Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon books. I like them a lot; unfortunately, there is only one left I haven't read. Based on news reports, this does look like the kind of operation the 'Office' carries out, at least in fiction." The Office is Silva's fictional Israeli spy service.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.