Israel Faces Growing Fallout Over a Hamas Hit

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Hamas' Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, front, is shown being followed by his alleged killers in this closed-circuit TV image provided by Dubai police

It's always possible that someone besides Mossad carried out the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a top Hamas military commander, in a Dubai hotel in January. Israel has refused to comment; on Monday Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman explained the silence by saying there is "no proof" Israel was responsible. But the Dubai police insist they are "99%" certain that Israel's famed intelligence agency did the deed. The Dubai authorities say they caught the 11-member hit team on videotape moments before and after they allegedly smothered Mabhouh with a pillow in his hotel room — some reports have it as an injection of a chemical that induces a heart attack — and also at the airport as they left the country immediately afterward. But since Israel is well known to have carried out such daring targeted killings in the past, most observers in the region — including in Israel — have come to the same conclusion.

But unlike such assassinations in the past, this one could have serious diplomatic consequences for Israel. It would appear that whoever was responsible underestimated Dubai's security capability. The city-state used sophisticated computer programs to quickly sift through its massive pool of security-camera footage and pinpoint the movements and travel documents of the alleged killers. More embarrassingly, the Dubai authorities are claiming that the hit team stole the identities of Israeli dual-national citizens, and traveled into Dubai using false British, Irish and French passports. Now the governments of those countries are promising swift investigations into the matter, while the European media — especially in Britain — are asking whether or not those governments were forewarned of the operation. Meanwhile, Dubai is demanding that Interpol issue an arrest warrant for the chief of Mossad. While such an action is unlikely, the moderate Arab city-state's commitment to pursue the case will be hard for its Western allies to ignore.

Israel's intelligence establishment — and some of its press — are predicting that the shock and outrage surrounding the case are overdone and will blow over. All countries fighting foreign terrorists, they say, have to engage in the occasional bit of wet work, and the Hamas commander — apparently the man in charge of taking weapons into Gaza — was a legitimate target in such spy games. "Past experience shows that disputes in this area tend to be treated as belonging to the special, sealed-off category of 'national security,'" wrote Jonathan Spyer in the Jerusalem Post. "Where states have good reasons to maintain healthy ties with one another, such incidents are rarely allowed to muddy the waters for long."

But such a view miscalculates the degree to which Israel's relations with its Western allies are changing. Israel's unilateral security and military actions — as justifiable and as effective as they may be — are souring world opinion against the Jewish State. Israel's role in the Western press is less and less that of embattled David and more and more the reckless Goliath: from the ongoing siege of Gaza to the intentionally disproportionate responses during both the war in Lebanon against Hizballah in 2006 and the war in Gaza against Hamas in 2009. Such views are stronger in Europe than in the U.S., which is why the scandal surrounding Mossad's alleged use of European passports could gain momentum there.

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