Two intersecting scandals are rocking Israel and its governing bodies.
One has arisen from the loquacity of the once taciturn ex-Mossad Director Meir Dagan and his relentless broadsides against the heads of government. The other from the shock of the sanctions the United States imposed on the Ofer Brothers Group of Israel on May 24 for trading with Iran.
Since he retired some months ago, Dagan has made a habit of publicly voicing strong doubts about the competence and fitness of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak for making the decisions necessary for handling crises, such as the ongoing Arab revolt.
Wrong decisions, he predicts, could land Israel in a regional war in which Iran would have to be confronted.
He launched his no-confidence campaign with the assertion that an air strike against Iran's nuclear facilities would be the height of "stupidity."
For Israeli politicians, especially those in power, ferocious criticism and controversy are all in a day's work. Earlier this year, the row over a forged letter denigrating the government's candidate for army chief – which the Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, then Chief of Staff, improperly kept sitting on his desk in for months – was termed by the defense minister "an attempted military putsch" and became the subject of an investigation.
The Offer brothers, whose fortune is estimated at $10.3 billion, are listed by Forbes in 79th place among the 400 richest men in the world. The group owns one of the biggest global shipping empires.
(One of the brothers, Sami Ofer, died this week aged 89 after a long illness.)
US sanctions impair Israeli security as well as business interests
The American sanctions have hurt not only the company's multiple businesses but Israeli security and its reputation as one of the leaders of the international campaign against an archenemy dedicated to destroying the Jewish state.
There was no apparent link between the Dagan and Ofer affairs until the former Mossad chief made the connection on Monday, May 30. He said the uproar over the Ofer brothers' "alleged business interactions with Iran" was "exaggerated."
Three days later, he said: "I'm not defending the Ofer family and they don't need my protection, but not everyone is familiar with the law. There's a question if they broke the law by transporting goods to Iran. That is not a breach of the international sanctions. There is no boycott on Iran."
He warned the sanctions against the Ofers could have "wide reaching effects," but then refused to elaborate.
Dagan's comments sparked lively speculation in Israel and overseas suggesting that during his nine-year stint as Mossad director, he used the Ofer group's far-reaching business activities to spirit agents into Iran for covert attacks on its nuclear facilities scientists from within, rather than an outside attack, objections to which he has voiced since becoming a civilian.
That's as maybe. But the arena of Dagan-Ofer connection which DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources reveal here was the emirate of Abu Dhabi. It was there that Israeli intelligence, business interests and politics came together and also stepped on some powerful and hyper-sensitive international toes.
The Mabhouh killing in Dubai enters the scene
Those toes then began kicking hard, taking advantage of a timely event.
On Jan 19, 2010, Mahmoud Abdel Rauf al-Mabhouh, a high-ranking Hamas commander and founder of its armed wing, the Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was found dead in his room in the five-star Bustan Rotana Hotel in Dubai.
The local police said he was drugged and suffocated with a pillow by Israeli Mossad assassins. Meir Dagan was still director of the Mossad at the time.
Initially, the Dubai authorities assumed he had died of natural causes, but a preliminary forensic test found he was first paralyzed by an injection of succinylcholine (suxamethonium), a fast-acting muscle relaxant before he was suffocated with a pillow.
Accusations of Mossad culpability were leveled most vocally and relentlessly by the Commander-in-Chief of Dubai Police, Lt. Gen. Dhai Khalfan Tamim. He called one news conference after another to exhibit evidence, including forged passports and a list of agents he accused of complicity in the murder.
On Feb. 18, 2010, he had the photographs of 11 of the suspects added to Interpol's most wanted list.
In early June 2010, prosecutors in Berlin announced that at their request Poland had arrested a suspected Mossad agent who went by the name of Uri Brodsky and was thought to have played a role in the Dubai assassination.
The suspect, described by some European intelligence sources as Mossad's senior agent on the continent, was extradited to Germany where a court eventually released him on bail. The only charge which held up was involvement in obtaining by fraudulent means a German passport in the name of Michael Bodenheimer which one of the suspects of the Mabhouh killing used when he entered Dubai.
"Brodsky" left Germany and has not returned since.
One Israeli secret agent after another busted
The Dubai police bombarded the US, Britain, France, Australia, Ireland and Germany with requests for assistance in its investigation backed by fat dossiers. Three – Britain, Australia and Ireland – expelled Israeli diplomats, including Mossad station chiefs whom they suspected of obtaining or forging passports for the Dubai killers.
The United Arab Emirates asked the US for assistance in tracking down "cardholder details and related information for credit cards reportedly issued by a US bank to several suspects."
Washington denied receiving this request. But in 2011, Wikileaks released a cable of refusal sent from the US consulate in Dubai.
The Mossad and Dagan suffered hard times during 2010. Lashed by the incessant fallout from the Mabhouh killing, Israel's external security agency and its director were accused of going too far – despite their success in putting away a wanted Hamas kingpin.
Dagan never once uttered – even after one secret agent after another was exposed and busted.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report that the general premise at the time – which is still held by Israeli insiders – was that certain American security interests engineered the affair's embarrassingly high exposure by feeding Dubai's police commander Gen. Tamim leads to the members of the hit team and their whereabouts as fodder for discrediting the Mossad internationally.
Israel security firms – out; American firms in
Those interests, it is believed, were bent on ousting Israeli security firms from Abu Dhabi and taking over the oil emirates' domestic security themselves for the following reasons:
1. Washington was averse to Israeli security firms, and through them its external and military intelligence agencies, gaining a foothold in the largest oil emirate in the Persian Gulf after Saudi Arabia:
2. Abu Dhabi, and especially Dubai's network of sea and air ports, serves sanctions-ridden Iran as its main gateway to the outer world. Most Iranian traffic, whether passenger or goods, goes through Dubai outlets. The Americans frowned on Israel owning a controlling clandestine presence in this Iranian hub;
3. Like in any other sensitive security or financial center in the world, American undercover agencies prefer to retain American security firms rather than foreigners.
The direct consequence of the Mabhouh affair therefore was the egress of Israeli security firms and the ingress of American companies in their stead.
US sanctions punctured the Ofer Brothers' assumption of business as usual
It was only as recently as this month that the full scope of the control US security contractors' exercise in Abu Dhabi saw the light of day on home ground in America.
In letters to US lawmakers and Obama administration officials, Michael Roumi, president of Abu Dhabi-based Reflex Responses (R2), asserted that Mr. Prince "has no ownership stake whatsoever" in his business.
This was a reference to an executive of Blackwater Worldwide, the former US contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan, which faces civil lawsuits, criminal charges and congressional investigations around charges of murder and bribery.
The R2 letter of May 18 was sent in answer to inquiries by members of the House of Representatives after the New York Times reported that the UAE had signed a $529 million contract with R2 to build the foreign battalion which the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi hopes to use to put down "unrest in the country" and defend the UAE from terrorist attacks.
This was exactly the mission for which Israeli security firms were commissioned by Dubai and Abu Dhabi in late 2009. it was performed until those contractors and the Mossad presence were displaced by American Reflex Responses.
Nonetheless, even after the Dabhouh balloon went up, the Ofer Brothers continued to be active in the oil emirates, assuming that as a business rather than a security interest, they could carry on undisturbed. They only discovered how wrong they were this month, when US sanctions landed on their heads.
The next article reveals some of the Ofer Brothers' operating methods in the strategic Gulf region.