TODAY: ‘The Truth About the Mossad’. This piece covers about the history of the aMossad leModi’in uleTafkidim Meyuchadim (full name of the Mossad, translated as Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations) and the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. The only truth is that mere mortals don’t know the whole truth. Here are the possibilities.
1. The Mossad did not carry out the hit, but is allowing the world to think so. The Mossad’s reputation is enhanced (or tarnished) with someone else’s labour. This is the least likely possibility; the Mossad would then have to deal with the organisation that did pull off the hit, either through agreements or…other means. Both of these paths tend to be rather inconvenient, unless worked out well in advance.
2. The Mossad carried out the hit. Due to various reasons (timeline, operational security, political exigencies, carelessness), the mission was probably rushed (killing a man within 24 hours tends to be a rush job, and you don’t kill a man in a hotel unless you have to), the surveillance cameras not detected and accounted for (there are ways to hide yourself from CCTV so effectively you appear to be someone else), and now Israel needs to deal with an international incident. Translation: some mistakes sabotaged the mission. This could be quite likely; intelligence and assassination missions are rather complex and can be disrupted simply by not paying enough attention to the environment. The fact that six of the assassins allegedly used passports cloned from people living in Israel suggests that several mistakes were made along the line — if you don’t want to leave a fingerprint, why clone the passports of someone living in your country?
3. The Mossad carried out the hit. Senior management deliberately ordered the assassins to delay, but not deny, detection and recognition by local counterintelligence. The idea is to fool counterintelligence long enough to do the job and get out before the authorities swoop down on the team. That way, Israel is seen as sending a not-too-subtle message to the leaders of terrorist organisations. This is a bit unlikely, because no shooter in his right mind would want to expose himself to an enemy, real or imagined, longer than necessary. This is especially since Director Meir Dagan of the Mossad was a former undercover soldier himself, and thus knows the physical and political risks of deliberately exposing yourself. If nothing else, it could be part of a high-risk, moderate-payoff psychological warfare campaign.
3A. In addition, news of the hit is sending a message to Israel’s actual targets, such as Iran and Hezbollah. It could be as simple as ‘watch your back, because we can kill you anywhere in the world’. It could also be a feint, letting them think the Mossad is more concerned with Hamas and other Palestinian organisations. I can’t say how probable this is, because I have neither the raw data nor analytical skills to allow me to predict the behaviour of Israel’s enemies following the hit. But I think it’s rather unlikely: Mossad is at the head of their threat list anyway, so it wouldn’t really matter in the long run.
(3) and (3A) may explain the limited Mossad footprint, namely the detection of the assassins and the cloned passports. But this assumes that these were part of the plan, and not mistakes. I would think the cost of an international incident, leading to strained relations with erstwhile friendly countries and intelligence services, outweighs the benefits of killing a senior Hamas operative and the psychological and political advantages derived from the killing. Or maybe something is missing from this picture. Maybe there is a lot that the public is not allowed to see. I don’t know the big picture. There may even be possibilities I haven’t seen yet, and won’t. We don’t know the whole truth.
All I can say for sure, is that the Mossad is in for interesting times.
One final thought: doesn’t anyone read Barry Eisler? In ‘Killing Rain’ his protagonist John Rain explains the problems of surreptitiously killing someone in his hotel room, amongst which are surveillance cameras, lack of multiple escape options, and police response. Apparently the hit team, deliberately or otherwise, failed to surmount these problems. One would think that fiction that depicts assassinations more-or-less realistically should be on the reading lists of real assassins…
Post script: TODAY, most unfortunately, made a mistake in terminology. A ‘double agent’ is an agent who is pretending to gather intelligence on a target organisation on behalf of a controlling organisation, but is in fact working for the target against the controller. This means that ‘double agent’ tends to be used exclusively for intelligence officers working for formal intelligence agencies. The term was erroneously used to describe the informants employed by Mossad in the 1970s, and a pair of Palestinians believed to be part of Hamas who were extradited from Jordan to Dubai after the assassination of al-Mabhouh.
The proper term, as used by Western intelligence agencies and if recalled correctly, is ‘asset’. An asset is someone you recruit, subvert, or compromise within a target organisation in order to gather intelligence, materials, or otherwise accomplish your mission with regards to that organisation. As not all of the informants employed by Mossad were from their targets’ intelligence departments, especially the two mentioned above, the term ‘double agent’ is erroneous.