In the fond belief that the eviction of Israel's security and intelligence presence from the Gulf emirates at the end of 2010 did not apply to business operators, Israeli tycoons, including the Ofer Brothers Group, kept their activities there afloat – even after the acute fallout for Israel's external spy agency, the Mossad, from the killing of Hamas high-up Mahmoud Abdel Rauf al-Mabhouh. (See first item this issue.)
Conscious that in Abu Dhabi, no transactions of any kind can go forward without a nod from the ruling family, the Ofer Brothers therefore set up a connection to the Crown Prince through two prominent Palestinian businessmen, Mohammad Rashid (Yasser Arafat's personal money manager in the early 2000s) and a senior Fatah security official, Mohammad Dahlan (Yasser Arafat's former enforcer in Gaza).
Because of the latter's history, his companies in the emirate were widely suspected of being complicit with the Israeli Mossad in the Mabhouh killing.
Indeed, Ahmade Hasnin, an intelligence operative of the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and Anwar Sheikhaiber, another PA employee, were arrested later in Jordan and handed over to Dubai to face charges of rendering logistical assistance in the killing.
Both former "security officials" worked for the construction company in Dubai owned by none other than Mohammed Dahlan. They were accused of renting cars and hotel rooms for the members of the Mossad hit team alleged to have killed the Hamas official.
A dim view taken of the Ofer-Palestinian connection
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror sources report that the sworn enmity between Dahlan and Hamas goes back years. It is rooted in the Fatah official's history as strongman of the Gaza Strip. He was driven from his home ground when Hamas seized power in a military coup against the ruling Fatah. Ever since then, Gaza's rulers have accused him of a hand in every Israeli operation against Hamas operatives.
The Ofer Brothers' association with the Palestinian pair did not go down well either in Washington or Jerusalem.
The Americans suspect Rashid and Dahlan of making their money by helping Iran cheat international sanctions. Israeli officials judge the connection detrimental to Israeli security and political interests.
They took extreme exception to the decision last month by Israel's main shipping line, the Ofer Brothers-owned Zim, to hold a board meeting in Ramallah, the first major Israeli firm to convene in the Palestinian Authority's capital.
It is therefore not beyond the realm of possibility that the sanctions the US imposed on the Ofer Brothers Group on May 24 for trading with Iran were quietly agreed between Washington and Jerusalem, although this is not admitted.
It is a fact though that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu turned down a request last week from the brothers to intercede with Washington on their behalf against the sanctions.
Jerusalem leaves them to sink or swim
He may have been motivated by reluctance to butt heads with the Obama administration so soon after their run-in when the US President Barack Obama invoked the 1967 lines as the basis for a Palestinian state. But in high government quarters, there is little sympathy for the Ofer brothers. The general feeling is that since they missed the obvious US cue for their exit from the Gulf emirates, the multibillionaires should be left to sink or swim on their own.
In the financial quarters of Tel Aviv, opinions are divided about the company: Some say Washington has given the brothers a yellow penalty card as a warning to watch their step; others believe the sanctions are a red card, meaning that one of Israel's biggest multinational corporate bodies was marked with a large black X and its Gulf operation faces termination like Israel's security contractors in Dubai in early 2010.
How does this tie in with the campaign run by ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan for presenting the prime minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak as dangerously reckless decision-makers on national security, especially with regard to striking Iran's nuclear program?
A spymaster engages in government-building
Our sources report that the former spymaster told friends this week that he is calling off his campaign against the two leaders because it has caused him more damage than it caused them. But he is not giving up on his agenda, which is to refresh the political leadership with new faces as quickly as possible to confront the perils posed by Iran and the Arab Revolt.
Dagan has two candidates for prime minister and defense minister: Yuval Diskin, who recently ended a six-year stint as Shin Bet director, and Gaby Ashkenazi, until recently Chief of Staff of the IDF.
He even has a program ready for them, which is to accept the 2000 Saudi peace plan later adopted by the Arab League and rejected by Israel.
This would entail Israel accepting US President Obama's proposal of the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations on a Palestinian state in the Middle East speech he made on May 19.
Four days later, when he addressed the pro-Israel AIPAC convention in Washington, Obama backed down partially from that point in consideration of the Netanyahu government's sharp rejection.
In Dagan's view the greatest asset Diskin and Ashkenazi have is a common language with US security and military officials in Washington.
Ever since 2000, US officials have often consulted Diskin on one issue or another, while Ashkenazi was a frequent visitor to the US capital at the invitation of the departing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen.
It is surprising to find this mindset in Meir Dagan, a reputed hawk who sparred with the Americans in Dubai less than two years ago. That skirmish may be what changed him.