* Richard Littlejohn: “None of it makes sense outside of the kaleidoscope universe of Middle East espionage. Was this double-bluff, triple-bluff, blind man’s-bluff? I shouldn’t think we’ll ever know. Ultimately, whoever killed him, a notorious terrorist is dead. Works for me.”
* Douglas Murray: “Most people are terrible at keeping secrets, and Jews are no different. So the idea that up to a million of them keep this secret knowledge strikes me as not just one of the most ridiculous, but in the present climate one of the most dangerous, ideas for the BBC to pump into circulation.”
* Alan Dershowitz: “If Israel killed Mabhouh, there can be absolutely no doubt that he was a combatant. He was actively participating in an ongoing war by Hamas against Israeli civilians. Both the United States and Great Britain routinely kill such combatants.”
* Melanie Reid: “All nice people, quite rightly, are adopting the proper moral stance and expressing outrage and disgust at this affront to international law and justice. But the rest of us, well, we simply can’t wait until the movie comes out.”
* Tom Gross: “Mabhouh had five different passports with him in Dubai: there seems to be no media coverage or interest in which countries’ passports he was using.”
* Tom Gross: “It is not even clear that the nine photographs that the Dubai authorities have released to the media actually portray real people. (Have they been heavily retouched, for example? Is each one a composite of several faces?) The photos have been shown repeatedly in news broadcasts and plastered on the front page of newspapers around the world in the last week, but not a single person has come forward to say they recognize any of them, even from high school days, despite front page headlines such as Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper saying ‘If you recognize any of these people, call us’.”
1. Reporting 007: Separating fact from fiction
2. Making things up?
3. Ignoring their own countries’ “murders”
4. Nothing known for certain about Mabhouh’s death
5. “Nice job, shame about the syrups” (By Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail)
6. “BBC blasted for ‘bigoted fear-mongering’” (By Haviv Rettig Gur, Jerusalem Post)
7. “BBC broadcast: ‘One million Jews help Mossad’” (By Douglas Murray, Daily Telegraph)
8. “If Israel killed Mabhouh, did it have the right to?” (By Alan Dershowitz, Hudson NY)
9. “We’re all thrilled by Mossad the movie” (By Melanie Reid, The Times)
10. “A Dubai victory” (By Noah Pollak, Commentary Magazine, Contentions blog)
(This is a follow-up to the Feb. 18 dispatch: Is Israel the only suspect over Dubai death?)
(Please note there is also a third subsequent Feb. 24 dispatch on this here: Only one group could be behind the latest hit -- the Irish Jews.)
REPORTING 007: SEPARATING FACT FROM FICTION
By Tom Gross
We all know that journalists (including some at highly-regarded newspapers) often makes things up, but rarely have we witnessed such a mix of misinformation, disinformation and innuendo passed off as fact, as we have in recent days in the reports dealing with the death of Hamas terrorist Mahmoud Mabhouh. (Some of this admittedly can be attributed to the complete failure of the Israeli government – whether or not Israel had anything to do with the matter – to provide an effective response to the media.)
For example, the story in yesterday’s (London) Sunday Telegraph that British immigrants to Israel had their passports removed and copied at passport control at Tel Aviv airport, is highly implausible. Passports are not taken from immigrants at Tel Aviv airport. This has never been the practice. I have checked with several recent immigrants and they have confirmed that this is not so.
The Telegraph story, written by a London-based correspondent, has all the signs of being planted by anti-Israel elements at the British Foreign Office (of which there are many – witness, for example, the reinstatement last year of Rowan Laxton, a high-ranking diplomat and “Middle East expert” at the British Foreign Office, even after a London court had found him guilty of racially aggravated harassment for saying “F**king Israelis, F**king Jews… they should be wiped off the face of the earth” in a crowded London gym).
But other media lapped up the Telegraph story. For example, Sky News ran it all day yesterday on its ticker tape at the foot of the screen, probably doing great damage to future British tourism to Israel by falsely reporting that British passports would be removed and copied at Ben Gurion airport.
(Among other nonsense published in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday was the claim that “Tzipi Livni, the head of the opposition Kadima Party in Israel, was another Mossad high-flier. She was posted to Paris as a kidon, carrying out ruthless operations against Arab terrorists.” See the second note here.)
MAKING THINGS UP?
Even worse was the story in yesterday’s London Sunday Times by its notoriously unreliable reporter Uzi Mahnaimi, claiming that the paper had evidence that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had personally ordered the hit on Mabhouh, and even providing quotes attributed to Netanyahu when he supposedly gave such orders. The Sunday Times story was then splashed all day as the lead story on the websites of papers like Ha’aretz, which is so full of contempt for the elected government of Israel that it will publish almost anything to paint Netanyahu in a bad light.
A comparable motive is true in Britain in the case of The Daily Mail, who were determined to attack Gordon Brown’s government and thus on Friday published an anonymous story (without any author’s byline, or quoted persons in it) claiming that the British government “knew in advance that Israel was going to use British passports”. The Daily Mail claimed in its story that they had been told this by a serving member of the Mossad. Again, this is virtually inconceivable since serving members of the Mossad do not speak to journalists but The Daily Mail’s report was treated seriously and rebroadcast around the world as lead item by major TV stations.
Even The New York Times and International Herald Tribune got in on the act on Friday, telling readers that Israel has engaged in 40 Dubai-type assassinations in recent years – again claims made without a shred of evidence, and highly unlikely to be true.
The French media have also regurgitated the stories of the British media, leading to French Prime Minister François Fillon, who was in Syria this weekend, to declare – in front of President Assad of all people! – “we are against this form of assassination; whoever orders them should be punished. Like the British and the Germans we have asked Israeli authorities to explain themselves.”
IGNORING THEIR OWN COUNTRIES’ “MURDERS”
At the same time that they blamed Israel, these very same British and American media made very little of the fact that every day last week their own governments killed terrorists in Afghanistan (and elsewhere).
Given the level of censorship they are imposing on their Afghan coverage (censorship that news broadcasters like the BBC fail to tell viewers about), they almost never mention the civilians their armies are killing. (The almost three dozen civilians – mainly women and children – killed by a NATO strike yesterday are being reported in some media, but similar strikes last week were largely ignored by the same media so eager to paint the death of a leading Hamas terrorist as some kind of “master crime”. Preliminary reports indicate that Dutch forces were in charge of the area where the civilians died yesterday, but instead EU foreign ministers are preparing today to condemn Israel, not Holland.)
(Having milked all it could out of its reports in recent days that British citizens’ passports were used, The Times of London’s main online world news headline today reads “Dubai hit squad ‘used diplomatic passports’” – which is the opposite of what The Times was claiming last week.)
Mabhouh had five different passports with him in Dubai: there seems to be no media coverage or interest in which countries’ passports he was using.
NOTHING KNOWN FOR CERTAIN ABOUT MABHOUH’S DEATH
(This next part of the note was sent in a slightly difficult form to some people on my email list on Friday, but not to most of you.)
The governments of Jordan and Egypt (where Mabhouh previously spent a year in prison in 2003) had sought Mabhouh for some time. Some Arab media have reported that the operation against Mabhouh may have been carried out by a rival Palestinian group and the photographed individuals have nothing to do with it.
Indeed it is not even clear that the nine photographs that the Dubai authorities have released to the media actually portray real people. (Have they been heavily retouched, for example? Is each one a composite of several faces?) The photos have been shown repeatedly in news broadcasts and plastered on the front page of newspapers around the world in the last 48 hours [it is now almost a week], but not a single person has come forward to say they recognize any of them, even from high school days, despite front page headlines such as Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper saying “If you recognize any of these people, call us”.
(Even if Israel was responsible for Mabhouh’s death, it doesn’t mean the photos produced by Dubai had anything to do with it. Almost no one is questioning whether this evidence is really evidence at all.)
* Unlike the anti-Israeli elements of the Western media that have rushed to blame Israel (creating a public furor and thereby forcing the hands of the British, Irish and French governments to summon their respective Israeli ambassadors), the Arab media are suggesting that the truth is far more complicated.
For example, the Arab world’s leading and arguably its most reliable newspaper, Al Sharq Alawsat, ran these stories:
* UAE Tipped Jordan of Palestinian Suspects whilst they were in the Air – Sources
* Palestinian Dubai Murder Suspects are Hamas Members – Palestinian Security Official
* This article in al-Hayat (Arabic only) also examines Palestinian involvement (with assistance from Arab and Western intelligence agencies) into Mabhouh’s death.
I have received dozens and dozens of emails as a result of my Dubai dispatch last week and apologize that I don’t have time to answer all of them.
I attach below several articles on the subject, which I believe are all worth reading. They put forward some points of view not found in many other parts of the media, including in the case of The Daily Mail, Times and Telegraph items, in the rest of the coverage inthose same papers. The authors of these articles (Alan Dershowitz, Douglas Murray, Haviv Rettig Gur, Noah Pollak and Richard Littlejohn) are all long time subscribers to this email list. (Melanie Reid is not.)
-- Tom Gross
WAS THIS DOUBLE-BLUFF, TRIPLE-BLUFF, BLIND MAN’S-BLUFF?
Nice job, shame about the syrups
By Richard Littlejohn
Daily Mail (extracts from his column – the rest of the column is about other matters)
February 19, 2010
When it was reported that Mossad had stolen the identities of British passport holders to carry out a covert operation in Dubai, it didn’t add up.
Why would Israeli intelligence implicate British Jews living in Israel? And given that Mossad has access to the most sophisticated assassination techniques in the world, why were the alleged assassins wearing the kind of ill-fitting nylon wigs and comedy moustaches last seen being sported by bank robbers in The Sweeney, circa 1975?
None of it makes sense outside of the kaleidoscope universe of Middle East espionage. Was this double-bluff, triple-bluff, blind man’s-bluff?
Even one of the men who had his identity stolen doesn’t believe it was Mossad. I shouldn’t think we’ll ever know, which suits everyone involved. The diplomatic ‘row’ between Britain and Israel is a dog-and pony show, which will soon blow over.
Ultimately, whoever killed him, a notorious terrorist is dead.
Works for me.
THE BBC “SHOULD EXAMINE THIS DISGRACEFUL TRANSMISSION, APOLOGIZE TO JEWS AND REMOVE FROM ITS ARCHIVE THE SLANDEROUS WORDS”
BBC blasted for ‘bigoted fear-mongering’
By Haviv Rettig Gur
The Jerusalem Post
February 22, 2010
The New York-based American Jewish Committee blasted the BBC on Sunday for airing an accusation that Jews around the world assist in supposed Mossad assassinations.
The AJC said in a statement that it was “dismayed that a guest on BBC Radio 4 was allowed to state unchallenged” that the Mossad relies on Jews for assassination plots.
“This baseless accusation crosses every red line between legitimate public discussion and bigoted fear-mongering,” said AJC executive director David Harris. “In less than a minute, the BBC has cast a shadow on the lives of Jews worldwide.”
BBC Radio 4’s PM program interviewed Gordon Thomas, author of Gideon’s Spies, a book about the Mossad, about the January 20 assassination of Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.
Local authorities and many international media outlets believe that the killing of Mabhouh, who bought rockets for Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip, was carried out by the Mossad.
In explaining the Mossad’s operating methods outside Israel, Thomas told PM host Eddie Mair, “They have a whole backup system called ‘asylum.’ These are people, local residents, Jewish people, who help the Mossad. It is estimated to be in the world about half a million; some people say a million; I tend to say it’s about half a million, all of them Mossad people.”
“Of course, Mr. Thomas is irresponsible in making such unfounded assertions on a radio program heard around the world,” said Harris, “but even more shocking is BBC, a premier public broadcaster with a far-reaching global network. How can the interviewer allow such aspersions to be cast on a community without the reporter calling the so-called expert to order?”
The comments also drew condemnation from observers of the BBC.
“Unfortunately, such ugly and nonsensical statements on the BBC come as no surprise. The BBC often handpicks interviewees who are likely to say such things as part of a wider pattern to demonize the State of Israel,” said Tom Gross, a former Middle East correspondent for The Sunday Telegraph and a Middle East analyst who has long been critical of BBC coverage of the region.
The AJC called on the BBC “to examine this disgraceful transmission, apologize to Jews around the world and remove from its archive the slanderous words.”
Reached for comment, the BBC press office in London said, “This interview was part of a wider piece about the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh which involved contributions from a number of people including Gordon Thomas, an author of a book about [the] Mossad.
“The sentiments expressed by Gordon Thomas were clearly his own opinions. They came at the end of the interview when it was being wrapped up and there was no time to come back on them.”
[Tom Gross adds: Last night, in a speech in London, former senior British army officer Col Richard Kemp, who was a commander in Afghanistan, said international media including the BBC are being exploited by “dark forces” who want to harm Israel and were “motivated by anti-Semitism”.]
“AMID ALL THE EXCITABLE NONSENSE BEING TALKED ABOUT DEAD HAMAS COMMANDER MAHMOUD AL-MABHOUH I THINK THE BBC HAS TOPPED THE LOT”
BBC broadcast: ‘One million Jews help Mossad’
By Douglas Murray
Daily Telegraph blogs
February 18, 2010
Amid all the excitable nonsense being talked about dead Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh I think the BBC has topped the lot. In an interview broadcast on Radio 4’s PM programme last night broadcast (at 17:35 mins) one interviewee explained that up to one million Jews worldwide might be on hand to assist Mossad in executions. That would mean about one in every dozen Jewish people worldwide is a secret assistant to assassins.
Now I must have more than a dozen or so Jewish friends. So which is it? Maybe I know two? It makes you think doesn’t it?
The next time I am at a friend’s child’s bar mitzvah the likelihood is that on at least 10 separate occasions during the day I’ll be helping myself at the buffet beside, or dancing opposite, someone who secretly helps in assassinations. Which will certainly make me more circumspect about my dance moves, not to mention barging in at the buffet queue.
Most people are terrible at keeping secrets, and Jews are no different from anyone else in this regard. So the idea that up to a million of them keep this secret knowledge strikes me as not just one of the most ridiculous, but in the present climate one of the most dangerous, ideas for the BBC to pump into circulation. Yet it typical of the lather nearly all the press have got into with this Dubai business.
If anyone is interested in a more balanced and factual view of things, can I heartily recommend the indispensable Tom Gross here, not least the section “Has Israel been set up?”
Thank you too to all the other journalist subscribers to this list who also linked to my previous Dubai dispatch, such as Stephanie Gutmann on The Daily Telegraph website, and Melanie Phillips on The Spectator website.
“OBVIOUSLY IT WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER TO CAPTURE HIM AND SUBJECT HIM TO JUDICIAL JUSTICE. BUT IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO DO SO, ESPECIALLY IN DUBAI.”
If Israel killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, did it have the right to?
By Alan Dershowitz
February 18, 2010
If Israel killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, Did It Have the Right To? I don’t know whether Israel did or did not assassinate the leader of the Hamas military wing, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. But assuming for argument’s sake that the Mossad made the hit, did it have the right to engage in this “extrajudicial assassination?”
Not all extrajudicial killings are unlawful. Every soldier who kills an enemy combatant engages in an extrajudicial killing, as does every policeman who shoots a fleeing felon. There are several complex legal questions involved in assessing these situations.
First, was the person who was killed a combatant, in relation to those killed him? If Israel killed Mabhouh, there can be absolutely no doubt that he was a combatant. He was actively participating in an ongoing war by Hamas against Israeli civilians. Indeed, it is likely that he was killed while on a military mission to Iran in order to secure unlawful, anti-personnel rockets that target Israeli civilians. Both the United States and Great Britain routinely killed such combatants during the Second World War, whether they were in uniform or not. Moreover, Hamas combatants deliberately remove their uniforms while engaged in combat.
So if the Israeli Air Force had killed Mabhouh while he was in Gaza, there would be absolutely no doubt that their action would be lawful. It does not violate international law to kill a combatant, regardless of where the combatant is found, whether he is awake or asleep and whether or not he is engaged in active combat at the moment of his demise.
But Mabhouh was not killed in Gaza. He was killed in Dubai. It is against the law of Dubai for an Israeli agent to kill a combatant against Israel while he is in Dubai. So the people who engaged in the killing presumptively violated the domestic law of Dubai, unless there is a defense to such a killing based on international principles regarding enemy combatants. It is unlikely that any defense would be available to an Israeli or someone working on behalf of Israel, since Dubai does not recognize Israel’s right to kill enemy combatants on its territory.
If it could be proved that Israel was responsible for the hit – an extremely unlikely situation – then only Dubai could lawfully bring Israelis to trial. They would not be properly subjected to prosecution before an international tribunal. But what if a suspect was arrested in England, the United States or some other western country and Dubai sought his extradition? That would pose an interesting legal, diplomatic, political and moral dilemma. Traditional extradition treaties do not explicitly cover situations of this kind. This was not an ordinary murder. It was carried out as a matter of state policy as part of an ongoing war. A western democracy would certainly have the right and the power to refuse to extradite. But they might decide, for political or diplomatic reasons, to turn the person over to Dubai.
Turning now to the moral considerations, which might influence a decision whether to extradite, the situation is even murkier. The Goldstone report suggests that Israel cannot lawfully fight Hamas rockets by wholesale air attacks. Richard Goldstone, in his interviews, has suggested that Israel should protect itself from these unlawful attacks by more proportionate retail measures, such as commando raids and targeted killing of terrorists engaged in the firing of rockets. Well, there could be no better example of a proportionate, retail and focused attack on a combatant who was deeply involved in the rocket attacks on Israel, than the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Not only was Mabhouh the commander in charge of Hamas’ unlawful military actions at the time of his death, he was also personally responsible for the kidnapping and coldblooded murder of two Israeli soldiers several years earlier.
Obviously it would have been better if he could have been captured and subjected to judicial justice. But it was impossible to capture him, especially when he was in Dubai. If Israel was responsible for the killing, it had only two options: to let him go on his way and continue to endanger Israeli civilian lives by transferring unlawful anti-personnel weapons from Iran to Gaza, or to kill him. There was no third alternative. Given those two options, killing seems like the least tragic choice available.
I leave to others, more expert in these matters, whether if Israel ordered the killing, it was strategically the right thing, or whether they carried it off in an intelligent manner. But as to the legal and moral right to end the threat posed by this mass murderer, the least bad alternative would seem to be his extrajudicial killing.
WHERE WERE GEORGE CLOONEY AND BRAD PITT?
We’re all thrilled by Mossad the movie
Of course we should condemn extrajudicial murder, but I still can’t help admiring Israel’s nerve
By Melanie Reid
The Times (of London)
February 18, 2010
Steven Soderbergh, evidently, was only kidding when he said that there would be no Ocean’s 14. He’s plainly been hard at work filming in a hotel in Dubai, as we can see from the trailers running on News at Ten. With Mossad operatives filling in as movie extras.
Now I know we really, really shouldn’t joke about these things. I should be wearing black and have a long face and be uttering pieties about the disgraceful “extrajudicial” killing of the Hamas military chief Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, apparently by Israeli agents.
All nice people, quite rightly, are adopting the proper moral stance and expressing outrage and disgust at this affront to international law and justice. But the rest of us ... well, we simply can’t wait until the movie comes out. Largely thanks to the blurry CCTV pictures, there is an element to the assassination in Dubai that is appallingly irresistible. What the secret agents did – and, critically, what we saw them do – was compelling and breathtaking in its cleverness.
It was also, in the darkest sense, comic – hence the feeling of Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13.
That the agents were using fake identities, one of them being that of Paul Keeley, 42, a bewildered Kent-born odd-job man who was living in Israel, just added to the sense that this was too good to be true. Where were George Clooney and Brad Pitt? To see the images of tubby tennis players bimbling across the hotel lobby and into the lift with the Danny Devito-like figure of Mr al-Mabhouh, and then following him so that they could note down his room number, was to know that this was an incomparable heist; a case of life imitating art imitating life. That it was a rare glimpse into the shadowy world of international espionage makes it all the more seductive.
Now everything I write, of course, is on the understanding that the Israelis refuse to comment on allegations that they are responsible for the killing. But their motive, it is said, is that Mr al-Mabhouh is rumoured to have played a key role in smuggling Iranian-funded arms to Islamist militants in Gaza, and may have been on his way to Iran. And just because the Israelis haven’t said that they did it doesn’t mean for a minute that they weren’t responsible.
It is an unfashionable thing to say, but I have a considerable admiration for the Israeli way of doing things. They want something, they get it. They perceive someone as their deadly enemy, they kill them. They get hit, they hit back. They don’t waste time explaining or justifying or agonising; nor do they allow their detractors to enter their country and then afford them generous welfare payments. They just act. No messing. No scruples. Not even a shrug and a denial, just a rather magnificent refusal to debate anything.
This absolutism, based on their history, carries its own moral weight; one that is rather electrifying in a Western world grown flabby with niceties. Clearly, the Israelis could defend their policies if they wanted to, but they quite simply can’t be bothered. It’s a waste of breath. One admires them for that, too.
I’ve felt this way ever since the Entebbe raid in 1976, an occasion when the Israelis showed Hollywood a thing or two. After two Palestinians and two Germans had hijacked an aircraft on a flight that had originated in Israel, the Israeli army simply swooped in, killed the hijackers and freed all but three of the hostages. It was decisive, bloody and clever. Lieutenant-Colonel “Yoni” Netanyahu, the older brother of the present Prime Minister, Binyamin, was the only commando killed in the fighting.
They also outdid fiction after the massacre at the Munich Olympics in 1972, when they hunted down 11 Palestinians who were responsible and eliminated them wherever they were in the world. Aided by fake passports and disguises, Mossad agents employed methods including a booby-trapped telephone, a bomb planted in a bed and a raid in Beirut in which the present Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, dressed as a woman. Nobody caught it on CCTV, but on the ground that human nature can never resist this kind of stuff, Steven Spielberg made it into the Oscar-nominated 2005 movie Munich.
Maybe, as the West becomes increasingly gentle and polite, and pays those monthly direct debits to Amnesty International, we need the Israelis to remind us that the world is not made according to our template. Maybe that is why we are drawn towards tales of uncompromising, ruthless derring-do. How else to explain the veneration of the SAS, the worldwide glut of books and movies on covert operations?
One last point. Usually, in comedy heist movies, no one gets killed. Somewhere a family is weeping at the death of Mr al-Mabhouh and no one takes any pleasure from that. But the people who die in Mossad operations tend to be, like the Hamas leader, morally compromised. There’s a side to us that acknowledges that some assassins’ victims may have had it coming to them. So we’re appalled, but not so appalled that we don’t look forward with relish to the sequel. Ultimately, this is less about siding with the Israelis than loving winners.
“IT’S FASCINATING TO WATCH THE WORLD TRY TO TURN THE DUBAI ASSASSINATION INTO A DEBACLE FOR ISRAEL”
A Dubai Victory
By Noah Pollak
Commentary magazine (Contentions blog)
February 18, 2010
It’s fascinating to watch the world try to turn the Dubai assassination into a debacle for Israel – all because the team members were captured on CCTV and the British and Irish authorities are making a momentary stink about the use of forged British and Irish passports.
You, the reader of this post, will be captured on CCTV a dozen times today simply going about your business. The people calling the operation “sloppy” and a “debacle” seem to actually believe that the Mossad is unaware that there are video cameras in airports and hotels today, or that the passport photos of the agents would not be revealed to the public. Really.
More important, the fact of the matter is that the team got into Dubai, rubbed out a bad guy, and got out. No drama, nobody was captured, and nobody knows the real identities of the team or where they are now. Given the extraordinary risk and complexity of the operation, that’s a win in my book. And now the Iranians, Syrians, and their terrorist clients have been given another reminder that their people aren’t safe anywhere – even in the heart of the Arab world.
And as for the people who are whining about “passport fraud” misdemeanors while ignoring the felony staring them in the face: what do you say about the fact that the terrorist in charge of illegally smuggling missiles from Iran to Hamas apparently had an open invite to hang out in Dubai? This isn’t a problem?
The Israelis either deal with high-level terrorists discreetly, or they leave them alone to go about their work, which means more and better arms in Gaza and Lebanon, which means a more destructive war down the road for the Arabs who live in these combat zones. Those who are pretending to be scandalized by the Dubai assassination tend to be the same people who pretend to care deeply about Palestinian civilians. I wonder if they’re aware of their own hypocrisy.