One very public assassination

As Israel launches a public relations campaign to try and improve its damaged international reputation, its own spy agency Mossad is at the centre of a diplomatic row following a high profile assassination of an enemy of Israel in a Dubai hotel

Oops, looks like Mossad has done it again… and this time it is more than the New Zealand Government on the Israeli spy agency’s bumbling tail. Britain, Australia and a number of EU countries are decidedly unhappy with the very strong indications that Israeli spies have used the passports of Brits, Aussies and others to aid in covering their identities while carrying out the ‘successful’ assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel.

Top Israeli politician Tzipi Livni [corrected] has praised the killing, caring not whether it took place in Dubai or Gaza, but the former Mossad agent turned politician won’t say if it was at Mossad’s hands. Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has accused his accusers of having watched too many James Bond movies. Perhaps however his own Mossad agents could benefit from a few nights at the movies and learn some of 007’s tricks, rather than leaving a trail of ineptitude that now seems to be their hallmark. Think back to the 2004 theft of a wheelchair bound kiwi’s passport.

As a former CIA field officer Robert Baer told the Wall Street Journal, that the Mabhouh assassination had “all the hallmarks of an Israeli hit…” and from all accounts the number of stolen passports involved has ballooned to the high twenties. He says such a big team signals a hit that was carried out “according to the book”. All except an outdated knowledge of the new world of technology – the cameras and international financial links and such which have produced not only a trail of evidence but pictures!

Israel is trying to shrug off the whole Dubai hotel affair – seen frame by frame around the world – with reassuring words about how responsible Israel is. Its ‘friends’ like Australia are doing the diplomatic finger wagging at the Israeli ambassador which is the official smoke signal that the government is not amused.

But this tale of assassination, politics, spies and the use of passports from countries Israel is supposedly friends with has huge implications for Israel’s battered international image, and it has serendipitously coincided with a massive public relations exercise to turn around that bad image… but more on that a little later.

Governments take very seriously the sovereignty of passports they issue to their own citizens, which of course remain official government property even though we are allowed to take them home.

Add to the outrage expressed from Downing St to Canberra that of an extremely peeved U.A.E. No country likes the idea of a hit squad fooling their security with passports that don’t even resemble those carrying them, popping off one of Israel’s enemies and departing the scene of said crime. Well, it’s a little embarrassing isn’t it?

Now you’d need to be from another planet – one where the sun always shines and fairy dust is sprinkled with largess – to believe that various governments from around this world are not involved in less than savory actions. Think Rainbow Warrior.

Targeted killings are not however considered rational reactions – at least not in a world that has any moral compass. 'Live by the sword, die by the sword' is not a justification for assassination. Otherwise think of the number of officials who sanction unnecessary war and the like who could be equally subjected to such extra-judicial actions. Hit squads will not solve any of the issues that plague the Middle East. Arguably they perpetuate other clichés – violence begets violence, lie with dogs and you get fleas, and all that.

For Israel – with its long list of known targeted assassinations and attempts, and retributive killings from Golda Meir’s ‘Wrath of God’ operation on – there’s still no peace, only more moral confusion.

Amidst all the coverage indicating Mossad’s fingerprints would deliver a C.S.I. team a dream run in solving the Hamas killing whodunnit, was the revelation that Israelis who travel are being asked by their government to tell the world Israel is a modern, sophisticated, peace loving nation. The official government website shows foreign media portraying Israelis as lacking in the development department – riding camels for transport, cooking outdoors for lack of kitchens, and of course living with constant explosions. The videos then correct such “myths”.

The campaign doesn’t deal with the probable reasons for Israel’s bad rap – for starters thumbing its nose at UN resolutions and the rules governing the ownership of nuclear weapons, waging a one sided war in Gaza, continuing occupation of Palestinian lands, annexing Jerusalem holy sites as important to Muslims as to Jews, and building a wall that makes life hell for many Palestinians.

The government’s own surveys show 91% of Israelis believe their image abroad is bad. What ever was going through its head when it decided to turn that around by taking the very things the Palestinians have been subjected to – lack of modern transport, lack of building facilities, lack of electricity and water, and being victims of war – and elevating Israel by laughing at any suggestion that is the way of life for Israelis?

At the same time as the assassination story broke, the elite of the Israeli diaspora represented through the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity published full page adverts in international papers calling on world Presidents and Prime Ministers to end the “outrage” in Iran.

Ah excuse me, while the world is indeed outraged by the crackdown from the Mullahs on their own people, so too is it outraged by the plight of the Palestinians.

It seems a tad disingenuous that this foundation for humanity is concentrating on the “brave people of Iran” who are being subjected to “human rights violations”, thousands of the “regime’s political adversaries are being arrested, imprisoned…”, “the military police continue to fire indiscriminately on unarmed, peaceful demonstrations” when many of the brave people of Palestine are being subjected to human rights violations, being imprisoned in Israeli jails for political beliefs, being fired at with white phosphorus under the guise of war – some armed, many armed with rocks and even more not armed at all? Should not the outrage in the occupied territories be addressed by such an august body?

What Israel’s advertising gurus may wish to contemplate is that painting a rosy veneer over the current crisis by having happy travelers embark with a toolbox of tips to quash criticism will not turn around its negative statistics. What they are missing is that it is not Israel the country and its people per se that are the problem.

It is the government’s policies, a coterie of extremes who don’t seem to want peace, and a sheer inability to acknowledge it is a massive part of the problem in the (lack of a) peace process. It is also the government’s perfected instinct to lash out at anyone who questions it, labeling them anti-Israel or anti-Semite, and should people speak out in support Palestinian rights as writer Naomi Klein and Canadian filmmaker John Greyson did recently, they are attacked for trying to de-legitimise Israel.

If it is found that Mossad was indeed involved in the assassination of one of its Palestinian political rivals, Israel will have some more high level answering to do not only to those it has promised it is serious about making peace with the Palestinians, but also to ‘friendly’ countries whose trust and sovereignty it has abused.

Chances of Mossad being involved = very high; chances of those whose identities have been misappropriated remaining on no-fly lists or even worse retribution lists = very high; chances of an apology = nil. And all for what? So one man, judged to be a terrorist without even seeing a courtroom, can be popped off. It is a fair bet he will be easily replaced as events in the Israeli-Palestinian disaster continue to provide the contemporary recruitment incentive so regularly seen in this part of the world