News & Current Affairs

February 20, 2010

Dubai killing awakes ghosts of assassinations past

Dubai killing awakes ghosts of assassinations past

CCTV footage of alleged assassination team
Mossad has form. Assassination has been one of its specialities since the time that Israel was killing Nazis in the 1950s

Jeremy Bowen assesses the fall-out in the Middle East from the alleged assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh by Mossad agents in a luxury Dubai hotel.

“Shame you are not filming on a Friday,” said a local resident.

Jimmy, the BBC cameraman, was trying to get some decent pictures of the Dubai skyline, but there was a haze that was not helping.

“Why Friday?” we asked.

“Well, there is less building on a Friday,” he said, “so the air is not so dusty.”

Even with Dubai’s well-advertised economic problems there is still a lot of construction going on, by the standards of most places.

This is my first proper trip to Dubai since the late 90s and it is unrecognisable.

Back in the 1960s, according to my uncle who was here with the British army, the runway lights at Dubai airport were barrels of burning tar.

Burj Khalifa
The long war, the century or so of conflict between Arabs and Jews, cannot be defeated by property developers

When I was here first, on my way to Afghanistan in the late 80s, a fairly compact city was surrounded by a sweep of open desert, which just is not there any more.

They must have poured tens of millions of tonnes of concrete to build this sprawling city state.

As I write, I can see a burnt orange sun setting behind the Burj Khalifa, the new skyscraper that is the world’s highest building. It is extraordinarily tall.

Acres of gardens and golf courses in Dubai are green and lush, in a place with almost no rain, thanks to hugely expensive desalination plants.

The climate is wonderful right now, but in the summer it is appallingly hot and humid.

Never mind, everywhere is air-conditioned, especially the indoor ski slope, where they make real indoor snow and have a black run for experts.

‘Unobtainable dream’

Love it or hate it, they have tamed nature to build an incredible city.

Perhaps they never thought they could tame the Middle East too, though minds that could conceive the Burj Khalifa are not short of ambition.

But if not tame it, they were hoping to insulate this place from its dark, violent ways.

The assassination of the Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh proves that was one unobtainable dream.

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh

It is assumed Mossad is behind Mr Mabhouh’s death

The long war, the century or so of conflict between Arabs and Jews, cannot be defeated by property developers.

Its capacity to generate and export violence is unparalleled in today’s world.

Was Mr Mabhouh killed by Mossad, the Israeli secret service?

I do not know. But there is circumstantial evidence that he was.

Bloody hands

And he was an enemy of Israel, according to the press there, involved with arms shipments into Gaza.

In the kind of phrase Israelis use, he had Jewish blood on his hands.

Hamas gave him a hero’s funeral.

Mossad has form. Assassination has been one of its specialities since the time that Israel was killing Nazis in the 1950s.

If Israel was behind the assassination, then its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might well be troubled by the ghosts of assassinations past.

In 1997, during his first stint as prime minister, he authorised a Mossad hit on an up-and-coming man in Hamas, a Palestinian called Khaled Meshaal.

Two Mossad agents approached Mr Meshaal as he was walking down a street in Amman, the Jordanian capital.

Map of United Arab Emirates

They sprayed poison into his ear, but they bungled their escape and were found to be carrying false Canadian passports.

King Hussein, who hadn’t long since signed a peace treaty with Israel, was outraged. For him, it wasn’t just a breach of trust.

Rumours started that he was somehow complicit in the attack. With Mr Meshaal close to death, King Hussein demanded that Israel gave his doctors the formula for the poison and the antidote.

To get their two captured agents back, the Israelis was forced to release dozens of Jordanian and Palestinian prisoners.

They included the spiritual leader of Hamas sheikh Ahmed Yassin. He was a thorn in Israel’s side until he too was assassinated in an air strike in Gaza in 2003

Khaled Meshaal survived and is now the most senior political figure in Hamas, living behind heavy security in Damascus.

Netanyahu’s ‘fiasco’

So it was not a good time for Mr Netanyahu.

King Hussein refused to see him when he went to Amman to apologise and the then head of Mossad was forced to resign.

Israelis viewed the affair as a costly fiasco. It was one of the factors that contributed to a comprehensive defeat of Mr Netanyahu in an election two years later.

Benjamin Netanyahu [File pic]

Benjamin Netanyahu lost an election after a Mossad killing

There is one very significant difference between then and now.

In Amman in 1997 the would-be assassins were apprehended, along with their false Canadian papers.

This time round the alleged assassins’ faces have been published, along with their assumed names.

If they are Israeli agents, or freelance killers, then their identities have been blown.

But they are not in custody and that makes it much harder to prove that Israel did it.

If Israel had nothing to do with the killing, or with the theft of the identities of six British-Israelis for the alleged assassins’ passports, then Mr Netanyahu, now in his second term, has nothing to worry about.

But if Mossad is responsible, and that is the assumption in Israel as well as here in Dubai, then he has some sweating to do in the next few weeks.

September 10, 2008

Somali MP assassinated at mosque

Somali MP assassinated at mosque

Somali MP Mohamed Osman Maye

Mr Maye had publicly expressed his concern about the worsening violence

Somali MP Mohamed Osman Maye has been shot dead outside a mosque in the town of Baidoa, the seat of parliament.

He was thought to have been an ally of President Abdullahi Yusuf.

He is the first MP to have been assassinated since Ethiopian forces helped the interim government oust Islamists from power in December 2006.

Meanwhile, Islamist militants who took over the port town of Kismayo last month have imposed a curfew following the assassination of several residents.

“The curfew started on Monday night and will go on until we secure the town,” Abdurrahman Ali Mohamed, who is charge of security in the town, told BBC.

Insurgents of the al-Shabab group seized control of Kismayo in August after a three-day battle in which an estimated 70 civilians were killed.

Somalia’s third city, is strategically important because it serves as a port for the south of the country.

He says it is the biggest city the Islamists have seized during their 20-month insurgency.

Al-Shabab, a radical wing of the Union of Islamic Courts which ruled much of southern Somalia in 2006, has refused to participate in a UN-backed peace initiative taking place in Djibouti.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in fighting which has been worst in the capital, Mogadishu.

Earlier this week, Mr Maye gave a speech to parliament, expressing his concern about the worsening violence.

“He was shot in the head outside a mosque where he had attended evening prayers,” MP Amir Shaketi told the AFP news agency.

Somalia has been without a functioning national government since 1991 and has suffered ongoing civil strife.

August 14, 2008

Lebanon chief mends ties in Syria

Lebanon chief mends ties in Syria

The Lebanese and Syrian presidents have been holding talks in Damascus, where they formally confirmed a move to establish full diplomatic relations.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman was given a red-carpet welcome by President Bashar al-Assad, the first such visit after a turbulent three years.

Tension has been high since the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Many Lebanese blame Damascus for the killing, but it denies involvement.

The two leaders were meeting in the Syrian capital a month after a summit in Paris, where they agreed to establish diplomatic ties and open embassies.

“The two presidents… have instructed their foreign ministers to take the necessary steps in this regard, starting from today,” said Buthaina Shaaban, an adviser to President Assad.

The Arab neighbours are set to normalise relations for the first time since the Arab neighbours gained independence from France in the 1940s.

Hours before Mr Suleiman flew to Damascus for the two-day visit, a bomb exploded in the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, the scene of fierce street fighting between pro- and anti-Syria supporters since May.

Lebanon’s pro-Syrian parliament speaker Nabih Berri said the timing of the attack was meant “to prevent the improvement of Lebanese-Syrian relations”.

Syria’s foreign ministry called the attack a “criminal act” and voiced support for Lebanon “in the face of all those who are manipulating its security and stability”.

Tough issues

The BBC’s Bethany Bell in Damascus says despite progress in relations between the two nations, potential stumbling blocks remain – not least over the international tribunal into the death of Mr Hariri.

Past international investigators said Syrian intelligence and its Lebanese associates had played a role, although the report of the latest prosecutor – Daniel Bellemare of Canada – spoke of a criminal network without saying whether it had political motives.

Syrian officials have consistently and strenuously denied any Syrian role.

Syria kept a large military and intelligence presence in Lebanon after the civil war ended in 1990, but it was forced to withdraw after the Hariri assassination because of massive public pressure in Lebanon with strong international support.

Settling relations with Syria is a top priority for the new government in Lebanon.

The unity coalition was formed after the Qatari-mediated Doha accord which ended months of deadlock and bouts of violence between pro-Syria factions and supporters of the Western-backed government.

The Doha accord also allowed the installation of former army chief Mr Suleiman as president, a candidate deemed acceptable on both sides of the political divide.

Other issues for discussion in Damascus are likely to be demarcating the mountainous Lebanon-Syria border and determining the fate of Lebanese detainees in Syria.

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