Black Hand" terrorist group, the first modern day Muslim terrorist group in Israel, which murdered Jewish farmers and tried to launch an uprising in order to create an Arab-Islamic in place of Israel. The good Sheikh worked together with the Mufti of Jerusalem, who went on to help Hitler to carry out the Holocaust. Qassam never had the chance to do the same, as he was killed in 1935 while hiding in a cave after the murder of a Jewish police officer.
The only difference between Mahmoud al-Mabhouh and his inspiration Sheikh Al-Qassam, is that the latter met his end in a cave and the former in a hotel room. Both men were committed and fanatical Islamic terrorists who plotted to drown the region in blood in the name of their Jihad. Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's presence in Dubai was no casual vacation trip. Mabnouh had become a key figure in the weapons smuggling network between Hamas and its Iranian backers. Meanwhile Dubai has become an vital link in the chain of international terrorist operations. Its global import-export connections combined with the support of UAE leader Sheikh Zayed for Hamas, and Dubai's proximity to Iran make it a mecca for terrorist smuggling operations.
If you want to do business with Iran, the best way is to use a proxy in Dubai. This makes Dubai a perfect center for Iranian links to terrorists around the world. Dubai is a legitimate business destination that will raise the fewest suspicions of just about any Middle Eastern destination. The UAE rulers are very friendly to Iran and to such groups as Hamas. Last month Sheikh Zayed met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who had also been the target of an Israeli assassination attempt. Dubai serves as one way for Iran to move money and goods over to Hamas through front organizations that are actually Iranian run, through banks that do business with Iran while pretending to do business only in Dubai, and through ports controlled by Dubai Ports World, which is itself a subsidiary of the government.
Mahmoud al-Mabhouh who had received linguistics training in Syria, possessed an engineering background and had spent much of his adult life living in different Arab countries and forming radical contacts there was the perfect man to oversee a regional weapons smuggling network. And Dubai was the perfect place for him to do business. That confluence in turn made Dubai the perfect place for al-Mabhouh's assassination, not simply because he was there, but because it was meant to send a message. The very visible nature of the operation demonstrated that Dubai was not a safe zone for terrorists, despite its distance from Israel and a terrorist friendly government.
The publicity accompanying the assassination was a feature not a bug. Sheikh Mohammed is being sent a message that at a critical time when Dubai needs foreign investment, he has to choose between backing terrorists and stabilizing his economy. The killing of al-Mabhouh creates the very association between Dubai and Islamic terrorism that it would like to avoid. Dubai would like to be thought of as representing fun in the sun and a growing business environment, even as the UAE funds Islamic extremism. The assassination shines light on the Islamic dark side of Dubai and it will create nervousness among visiting business executives. A British newspaper article wonders if the German executives of firms who produce parts for Iran's nuclear reactors will also be subject to assassination. Of course they won't be, but having them worry about it may keep them out of the Iran business and out of Dubai.
This isn't just about Hamas, though al-Mabhouh's presence on Israel's Most Wanted list and his murder of Israelis would have certainly provided enough incentive on its own. As does his place in the smuggling network that moves weapons from Iran to Israel, where they are used to murder Israeli citizens and bomb Israeli villages. It's about Dubai and the UAE. While Egypt and Saudi Arabia, despite their own hostility toward Israel, have gotten into the Anti-Iran camp, the UAE and Dubai in particular is Iran's connection to the rest of the world. Dubai has built up its position in international business in no small part because it is a convenient access point for companies looking to do illegally business with Iran. If Israel can't get Dubai out of the Iran business by pointing out the danger it faces from Iran's growing power, a danger that the Saudis and Egyptians have already recognized, then it can force Dubai to choose between being a mecca for international trade, or being Iran's stooge. And the al-Mabhouh demonstrates the dangers of being a front for Ahmadinejad.
And that too is part of the bigger picture, because it isn't just about Iran as a country, but the ruling clique currently running Iran and fighting off the opposition in bloody street riots. The issue at the top is not Islam, as all the major factions among the Iranian elite have a similar understanding of Islam, but money and power. Most political alliances and conflicts in the Muslim Middle East boil down to family, whether it's rural tribal clans or urban political elites. Power is vested in prominent families. Those families use their positions to siphon off money by taking a cut off everything which they reinvest abroad. That includes money earmarked for terrorist operations as well.
The Iranian elite currently fighting a bloody battle to stay in power has an easy conduit to funnel its investments into legitimate banks through Dubai, by way of the same network of businesses that they use to conduct their terrorist operations. These connections require key point men they trust to take care of their money. Because while it's easy enough to find terrorists loyal to the Jihad against the infidel, finding one you can trust not to rip off your family stash or cut a deal with your rivals is much trickier.
Iran at the top is a snake's nest with a small tangle of families fighting for control over key industries. A family's fallback plan requires having access to their foreign investments, so they don't have to beg for spare change or become too dependent on their former backers. Iran's Supreme Ayatollah may have sent his family to Russia, but he isn't stupid enough to turn over his fortune to Putin's banks. Maintaining that rathole means finding someone you can trust, who isn't beholden to anyone else, to protect your finances. There's no way to know if Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was that man, but if he was, then the extensive resources that Israel committed to this operation become all too clear. The money will still be there, if the Mossad hasn't gotten to the bank accounts through whatever papers were in Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's briefcase, but Iran's ruling families will need to find a new man to protect their financial rear ends. And that may weaken them terribly, particularly if information about those accounts is quietly leaked to the Iranian opposition.
In summary, a major Hamas terrorist leader and a key figure in the transfer of Iranian weapons to Hamas is dead. England and Dubai are outraged, but their outrage amounts to nothing. But the UK and Dubai have been playing footsie with terrorists for too long, whether it's freeing the Lockerbie bomber for an oil deal with Libya and then going on a shooting party with his son, or funding Hamas and providing a haven for a terrorist smuggling network. Using the identities of Brits in Israel makes it at once obvious who was behind the killing, while at the same time leaving enough plausible deniability to avoid any serious diplomatic repercussions. The sensational nature of the assassination has people talking, which was the objective all along. Not simply to kill al-Mabhouh, but to send a message by doing it.
There are of course no final answers, and there may never be. The Emirates police are just a hired bunch of thugs whose job is to keep order for the ruling families. They are not a police force in the First World sense, their usual tactic is to grab the likeliest suspect who isn't too well connected, and beat a confession out of him or her. If it's a foreigner, so much the better, because foreigners are less likely to be connected in the tribal sense, than Emiratis. Hamas itself put out numerous contradictory statements about the death of al-Mabhouh. Their only point of agreement is that they will kill Israelis, which is a given on any day when dealing with Hamas.
Israeli ministers meanwhile are giving the matter their best winking denial, which is not in and of itself proof of anything, because it's a standard response to just about any question about Israel's intelligence operations, and because it's likely that neither Landau or Lieberman would even be briefed about a Mossad operation before or afterward. A few years from now a retired Mossad chief may stick it as a footnote in his biography. Or maybe a week from now there will be a torrent of new answers. Most likely though the full truth will never be known. As is the case with much of the shadow war of counterterrorism against the infrastructure of terrorist groups.
But there is a final footnote to the story. On February 16, 1989, Avi Sasportas was a 21 year old soldier hitchhiking, as soldiers commonly did back then, and sometimes still do despite many warnings to the contrary. He disappeared into a beige Subaru and was never seen alive again. Two months later his body was finally found under several feet of dirt. It bore the marks of the brutal torture he had undergone. In those two months his mother Rachel Sasportas spent every day waiting for news of her son.
“I have no news for you,” the defense minister kept on telling her 21 years ago. “Your son’s body has not yet been found.” And she, Avi’s mother, listened to every word attentively, as if looking for a hidden treasure, and only said: “I know. I’m certain that the IDF and other security forces are making every effort to find Avi. I trust you.”
She would also say something else: “If Avi is not alive, and I believe that he is not alive, do not trade living terrorists for his body.” She would say this, get up, and leave.
Her noble figure, distancing from us down the long corridor of building number 22 at the Defense Ministry, has remained etched in the memory of many of us. Her whispering voice still resonates among many of us. Yet there would never be tears in her eyes, as if she ordered herself to refrain from crying.
In the meantime Gaza Arabs made prank phone calls to a hotline searching for tips on his whereabouts.
Avi Sasportas' funeral, combined with the recent rape and murder of 13 year old Oren Brahami, occasioned riots against Arab terrorism, as outraged Israelis demanded that their government do something. An attitude that has sadly faded to numbness long ago.
In 2001 the sister of Ilan Sa'adon, the other soldier whose kidnapping and murder al-Mabhouh took part in, said; "I very much hope they find them and kill them, just as they did to my brother."
Twenty-one years later, a long outstanding debt has finally been paid.