Spywatchers pick Mossad signature

By Ben Lynfield

JERUSALEM - Was Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, behind the assassination in Dubai?

Israel had the strongest motive to kill Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, and a series of declarations by former Mossad staff yesterday admiring the "professionalism" of the hit certainly point in that direction.

Mossad, which in Hebrew stands for the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, is in charge of overseas espionage and covert operations.

Its modus operandi has in the past included audacious overseas sting operations such as the plot to seize Mordechai Vanunu, the man who revealed Israel's nuclear secrets to the British press.

An Israeli agent called Cindy was the "honey trap" who lured him on a romantic assignation to Rome, from where he was taken to Israel for trial.

But failures include a bungled attempt to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in 1997, after which two agents carrying forged Canadian passports were arrested in Amman.

A former operative said the Dubai operation appeared meticulously planned and executed.

"This was super-super-professional," he said. "It seems logical that this was a Mossad operation."

Egypt, which shares Israel's animosity to Hamas, might also have been involved, he said.

The former Mossad agent said strangulation could have been used to avoid the risk of bringing a firearm into the country. It was not unusual to have such a large number involved in the slaying. "Considering you have surveillance, security and a rescue force this is a reasonable number."

Yossi Melman, author of a history of the Israeli intelligence service, said: "MI6 or the CIA would do the same. Disguises, fictitious names, arriving from different directions, taking flights in a circuitous way, changing clothes - all these are the trademarks of a professional intelligence organisation."

But another former Mossad agent, Rami Yigal, said it "does not look like an Israeli operation" because of careless shortcuts such as allowing members of the team to be taped by hotel or airport CCTV in Dubai.

Nevertheless, Israel considered al-Mabhouh the key person in the smuggling of weaponry from Iran to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It also had a longstanding account with him since he boasted of killing two Israeli soldiers in 1989.

- INDEPENDENT

NZ PASSPORT SAGA

In 2004, Israelis Uriel Zosha Kelman and Eli Cara appeared in the Auckland District Court charged with attempting to obtain a passport in the name of a wheelchair-bound cerebral palsy sufferer.

The pair were believed by senior Government figures to be secret service agents, and were sentenced to six months in prison for trying to obtain New Zealand passports.

A third man, Zev William Barkan, fled the country. A fourth man was believed to be involved: Tony Resnick, a former paramedic with St John Ambulance (which the cerebral palsy sufferer also belonged to), but he left New Zealand after Kelman and Cara were arrested.

The incident sparked an international incident, which led to Prime Minister Helen Clark imposing diplomatic sanctions on Israel until an apology was made for the activities of the Israeli "citizens".

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