Exclusive: Intelligence Failure in Mabhouh Assassination

Published: February 24th 2010

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh
Pic: Hamas Website


The assassination of senior Hamas terrorist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in January 2010 in Dubai is to be considered by Intelligence analysis a remarkable achievement in the operational aspects and a total failure in avoiding leaving traces which may lead to the perpetrators and their dispatchers. Dubai Police has recently published pictures and names of 26 suspects suspected of involvement in Mabhouh’s assassination, most of whom entered Dubai with false European passports and bearing names of innocent Israeli citizens. The international media as well as the Israeli media attribute directly or indirectly the operation to the Israeli Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations also known as the “Mossad”. Israel did not affirm the allegations, but supplied incriminating information on Mabhouh, who commanded the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers in the late 80’s and in recent years was the key link between Hamas and Iran for smuggling Iranian-made rockets, weapons and explosives to the Gaza Strip and organizing the routine dispatch of Hamas operatives to military training in Iran. Despite the official denial the piled circumstantial evidence shed the light mostly on Israel.


Any Intelligence operation, and undoubtedly one such as the Mabhouh assassination, requires intensive and extensive information gathering on the target and the scene. Marginal details become crucial to the success or failure of any such delicate operation. An investigation revealed that Mossad agents failed in their attempt to assassin Hamas senior terrorist Khaled Mashaal in 1997 in Jordan, due to (amongst other reasons), their lack of experience in operating in Arab countries and their heavy Israeli accent that could not support their cover story [1]. Three years earlier, an operation to rescue a kidnapped Israeli soldier held by Hamas, went wrong because of inaccurate information. The explosive charge used by the Israeli special unit to break through an iron door was too faint, abolishing the surprise factor of the attackers and giving Hamas terrorists enough time to kill the Israeli soldier.[2]


The Achilles heel of the Mabhouh assassination were the security cameras, installed in all premises of the Al-Bustan Rotana hotel, which tracked and documented the perpetrators. It can be assumed that the operation’s planners were not aware of the specific locations of the surveillance cameras, otherwise a totally different modus operandi would most probably have been adopted including cancelling the operation or choosing another more secure scene. On this basis, it should be asked why the unit responsible for Intelligence gathering did not alert the team of the potential risk posed by the sophisticated security system installed in the hotel? The answer to this question lies in open source materials. If they were thoroughly reviewed they may have sounded the alarm for further precautionary measures. 


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