He was, by some accounts, paralyzed with a muscle relaxant, shocked in the head and suffocated. The killing of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a posh Dubai hotel room was riveting news, further intrigue from a mysterious region. But who would have thought that one more Palestinian death could make such a difference?
The Mossad’s assassination of the senior Hamas figure and the revelation that many of the 26 agents involved were traveling on the forged passports of friendly countries has sparked an international furor at the worst possible time for Israel.
With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu locked in a dangerous dispute with his country’s most vital ally and Israel’s reputation yet to recover from the devastation of Gaza, we may well be witnessing the death knell of the old narrative, that of Israel as the righteous bulwark of civilization against the Middle East’s barbarian hordes.
The long-standing narrative that has endeared them towards the West is shifting as the moral double standards become clearer and more people begin to see Israeli intransigence and aggression as the main obstacle to peace. Zvi Bar’el wrote recently in Haaretz that to the world, “Israel is no longer an exotic citron, but has been exposed as just another lemon.”
It is no coincidence that Netanyahu is presiding over this transition period. After all, the public relations disaster echoes another stemming from a 1997 assassination attempt that Netanyahu is said to have personally ordered during his first term as Prime Minister. Like the Dubai operation, Mossad agents traveled to an Arab country using the forged passports of a friendly nation to kill a senior Hamas leader.
Two Mossad operatives who had arrived in Amman on false Canadian passports approached then Hamas Jordanian branch chief, Khaled Mishal, as he entered his office building. They succeeded in spraying him in the ear with a lethal nerve toxin but were pursued and arrested soon thereafter.
Jordan, one of the few Arab countries to sign a peace treaty with Israel, threatened to close the Israeli embassy in Amman and an enraged King Hussein called the attempt a “reckless betrayal.” Canada recalled its ambassador from Israel in protest at the use of Canadian passports and President Clinton was quoted as saying of Netanyahu, “I cannot deal with this man. He is impossible.”
As bad as that experience was for Israel’s image abroad it does not compare to the perfect storm brewing today. The UK, a key strategic ally, recently expelled an Israeli diplomat thought to be Mossad’s London station chief and Australia has voiced uncharacteristic anger over the use of their country’s passports in the operation.
“Michael Ross” is a Canadian citizen who spent 13 years in the Mossad as a deep-cover officer. He defends the Dubai operation. “Spies are law-breakers and broachers of sovereignty no matter how you dress them up,” he says.
Perhaps the assassination itself should not be especially surprising, after all extrajudicial killings in foreign countries have always been one of the Mossad’s specialties. But what followed next demonstrates a newfound level of arrogance and recklessness.
The Israeli UK embassy joked openly about the killing on its Twitter page writing, “@israeluk You heard it here first: Israeli tennis player carries out hit on #Dubai target.” Though it linked to a story about an Israeli tennis player’s victory in a Dubai tournament, the tweet was a thinly veiled reference to the fact that several of the Mossad agents who stalked Mabhouh were dressed as tennis players. Soon after that an Israeli supermarket parodied the killing with an ad mimicking the CCTV footage of the Mossad hit team. The commercial ended with the line, “we offer killer prices.”
While Ross described the UK embassy tweet and spoof ad as “crass,” he believes “Israel could cure cancer, malaria, and solve the world's energy needs and still fail miserably PR-wise.”
Recent actions are not helping their cause in the battle of the narrative. As the double standards grow more blatant Israel risks becoming just another Middle Eastern aggressor in the eyes of the West. If Israel loses the moral superiority it has enjoyed for decades, one has to wonder how the world would react if Hamas started coming for Israeli officials in foreign hotel rooms.