Source: Sydney Morning Herald 20 Feb. 2010
The author, Paul McGeough, is the author of 'Kill Khalid: Mossad's Failed Hit … And The Rise Of Hamas' (Allen & Unwin).
THAT same old feeling for Benjamin Netanyahu must be excruciating. And it is probably cold comfort for the Israeli Prime Minister that his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, is likely to suffer along with him.
When Netanyahu last was his nation's leader, Mossad served up a dish of malodorous failure when it bungled the attempted assassination of a future leader of Hamas. That was in 1997, when the spy agency's plan to inject a mysterious poison into Khalid Mishal's ear turned to farce in the streets of Amman in Jordan.
Twelve years on, Netanyahu has again let Mossad loose and as a result he now presides over a diplomatic and PR nightmare in the wake of an otherwise successful hit on another senior Hamas figure who the Israelis claim was about to close an arms deal in the United Arab Emirates.
As is often the case in the Middle East, this one has percolated slowly - the body of the arms dealer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was found in Room 230 of the plush Al Bustan Rotana Hotel on January 20.
But it was not until this week - with Mabhouh long in the grave and seemingly forgotten in the wider world - that the whole business erupted as a media sensation for Netanyahu.
Had Mossad's indiscretion been to offend just the Dubai sheikhs, already on their knees financially, Israel might have fobbed them off - possibly enlisting Washington to back-channel a half-hearted apology.
But in an operation that almost certainly required a personal sign-off by Netanyahu, Israel has given deep offence in London, Dublin, Paris and Berlin - because the Mossad team used these governments' passports as cover for its hitmen in Dubai.
But this story has more. The passport abuse is the cause of official offence in the capitals of these robust democracies - where opposition politicians, pressure groups and the media routinely put the squeeze on governments to help them overcome any reluctance to investigate such matters.
The capturing of virtually every move by the Mossad team on the emirate's ubiquitous closed-circuit TV cameras has made this an electrifying story around the world. Their antics at Dubai airport; at the hotel - some of them entering and leaving the room in which they killed the Hamas man; and Monty Pythonesque moments as others darted into rest rooms to emerge minutes later in new wig and/or beard disguises have provided near-voyeuristic images to go with an otherwise po-faced yarn about passport abuse.
And just to kick along the Israelis' sense of embarrassment, those damnable Dubaians have cleverly taken their mountain of CCTV footage and edited it down to a 27-minute clip so crisp that it warms the cockles of the hearts of editors at newsdesks around the globe.
Therein lies the silliness of the Mossad planners. Had they had just half an ear to the wall-to-wall coverage of a celebrated murder in Dubai - when an Egyptian billionaire had his lover, the Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim, eliminated in 2008 - they would have been aware that local authorities had cracked the case by falling back on the same CCTV cameras that they used to piece together Mossad's madness.
Back in 1997, when Mossad tried to take down Khalid Mishal, who today heads Hamas, King Hussein of Jordan had Netanyahu firmly by the cojones because one of Mishal's quick-witted bodyguards managed to capture two of the Mossad agents - thereby forcing Israel to trade prisoners. Netanyahu's humiliation was complete when the then US president, Bill Clinton, forced him to hand over samples of the poison and an antidote to Jordanian doctors fighting to save Mishal's life.
In the case of the January visit to Dubai by Mossad, this sense of acute embarrassment at the capture of one's associates may fall to Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah, Hamas's arch-rival in the contest for Palestinian hearts and minds, and who is buttressed as head of the Palestinian Authority by the US and Israel.
Details remain sketchy but Jordanian officials have delivered to their Dubai counterparts two Palestinians who reportedly had fled to Amman from Dubai in January after helping the Mossad team that murdered the Hamas arms dealer. In previous incarnations, both are said to have served in Abbas's Fatah-dominated security forces in Gaza, where their duty was to wrong-foot and nobble Hamas.
It is par for the course for Abbas's critics to ridicule the extent to which he is propped up by the US and Israel, helping to manage the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. But things could become very ugly for Abbas and Fatah if, as a result of events in Dubai, he is accused of collaborating with Israel in the killing of a Hamas leader who, if only because of the manner of his parting, will be revered as a true soldier for Palestine.
One of the admirable performances in all these curious circumstances is the performance of the Dubai authorities. They were entitled to be affronted by the behaviour of the Israelis, but they waited for a full month before announcing on Thursday that they were 99 per cent certain in their belief that Mossad dumped this mess on their doorstep.