Hamas senior operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's death in Dubai on January 19 had three objectives, all of which were attained:
1. It eliminated the Palestinian extremist Hamas' most able and resourceful manager of weapons and munitions procurement who had expanded its network of world suppliers.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror sources reveal that Mabhouh landed in Dubai last month on the first leg of a trip to China and Sudan. In Beijing, he had appointments with unofficial Chinese military contacts to negotiate Hamas' first ever purchase of Chinese weapons. They would have been consigned to Hamas training camps in Sudan which Mabhouh founded and supervised in person.
It was he who arranged and executed the secret conduits for transferring weapons from Iran to Hamas units in the Gaza strip and Lebanon via Sudan.
The weapons convoy route he set up between Sudan and the Sinai Peninsula was bombed three times in early 2009 by the Israel Air force. It was then that he resorted to Iranian merchant ships as an alternative arms-smuggling route to Gaza.
In his five years as supreme gunrunner, Mabhouh carved himself the position of liaison officer between Hamas and Tehran.
His exceptional industry and talent placed the key Hamas operative at the top of Israel's hit list.
2. The Israeli Mossad found it necessary to post a clear message at a point in time when the Middle East appeared to be veering ever closer to a major conflict, one which threatened to pit Israel against Iran for the first time and force the Jewish state to stand up and fight Tehran's allies, Syria, Hizballah and Hamas, on several fronts.
The message was this: It is in the power of Israeli undercover agents to reach any corner of the Middle East, including Iran, expertly carry out their missions and return home unharmed.
Dubai police spills data to trip Israel into an admission
This show of bravado was intended to give Iranian leaders and their allies pause to consider whether it is truly in their best interests to carry on an unconventional arms race of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons against Israel, at the risk of having their military, technological and intelligence machines sabotaged and their top executives knocked off.
3. Dubai was targeted as the established stamping ground for Iran, Hizballah, Hamas, al Qaeda and a host of radical and fringe groups. The emirate has become a de luxe hub for facilitating their covert movements around the world and their nefarious transactions. Its services have thus far helped Iran sidestep international sanctions, imposed by the UN Security Council for its nuclear violations, to the point that Dubai's banking system, international airport, free trade zone and big port have been swallowed up and integrated into Iran's military logistical system.
The Mabhouh operation was also meant to prove to Tehran that Dubai and its rich facilities were now accessible to Israel's long arm and squarely within its sights.
All three of these objectives were fully achieved without leaving a scrap of proof implicating Israel in the death of the Hamas commander.
Dubai Police Commander-in-Chief Lieut. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan published a wealth of video material from the security cameras posted around the emirate, showing the twenty-six suspects moving freely in and out of Dubai's international airport and shopping centers and switching hotels.
The police chief also released details of the British, Irish French, German and Australian passports they carried in the names of innocent Israelis of dual nationality.
The hit team controlled Dubai's security cameras
By his apparent openness, Lieut. Gen. Khalfan hoped to compromise Israel's ties with the governments whose passports were used or faked (as though this is not standard tradecraft for all the secret services of the governments concerned) and trip Israel up into admitting responsibility for the assassination.
Nonetheless, the police chief held back an important detail.
The CCTV cameras tracked the death squad's members leaving room 237 of the Bustan Rotana luxury hotel – directly opposite Mabhouh's room – at 20:24 on January 19. They were filmed opening the door-lock to his room with a special electronic gadget. The cameras followed Mabhouh as he came up from the hotel lobby and stepped into his room – and a death trap.
At that point, the clip breaks off until 20:43 when the killers leave room 230, using their gadgets to lock the door and shoot the bolt from the outside to simulate a classical locked-room murder mystery.
The Dubai police were thus left short of the vital 19-minute segment of tape during which Mabhouh was done to death. He seemed to have died of natural causes. There were no signs of violence on the body.
Members of the hit team were in a position, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources, to control the security cameras posted at the points they passed in Dubai because the local CCTV network was Israel-made and installed.
They had the means to switch the cameras off at will or let them capture their own movements and those of their target. This provided visual evidence of their freedom to come and go at will and at all times, while leaving the Dubai police without clues for the investigators to work with. There was nothing in the video footage to fix the identities of the suspicious characters flitting on and off-screen as Mossad or any other hit-persons – or even the same people who killed Mabhouh.
Non-existent assassins move freely within Iran itself
In any case, the video-clips and the passports are useless as leads for another reason: All 26 men and women tabbed as suspects were disguised from head to toe. The faces shown to the security cameras or taken from fake passports were fabricated by makeup artists. The suspects themselves expertly switched identities every time they moved from one venue to another.
The way they departed the emirate was pure brass. While twenty-three flew out by air to their various destinations, the three Australian passport-bearers chose to exit by sea. They took the ferry plying the Dubai route to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, which is also home to Revolutionary Guards headquarters. From there, they caught a domestic flight to the Ayatollah Khomeini international airport of Tehran and boarded a flight to Bangkok.
In other words, three of the men suspected of eliminating the high-value Palestinian agent who managed the links between Iran and a key Middle East terrorist group, demonstratively entered Iran itself and reached its capital.
They arrived and left with Iranian intelligence none the wiser until after the event, thereby informing the Islamic Republic that it was as vulnerable as any other country to penetration by alien agents armed with high-quality intelligence tradecraft.