Let’s start at the beginning.
Mahmoud Al Mabhouh was no friend of progressive Jews. For all the manifestation of different currents within Hamas, there is nothing on the public record to suggest that he was a moderating influence. And yet there is enough in his assassination to disturb even those among us who are not opposed in principle to extra-judicial killings.
After initial hesitation, those who back Israel unconditionally have opted to justify the assassination by making him sound like a Palestinian version of Osama Bin Laden. No one in this country has emulated Israeli Hasbara (“Public Diplomacy”) Minister, Yuli Edelstein, who said that “we are talking about the worst murderer in one of the worst terrorist organisations.”
The specific accusation is that he killed two Israeli soldiers, hardly the “worst murderer”. But even that he didn’t do on his own. According to the Hebrew Wikipedia, he was one of four members of the unit and not even its commander. If the killing of two soldiers warrants an execution, the question must be asked: how many of Israel’s entire leadership, political and military, have not killed at least two foot soldiers of the other side?
In this country, a different accusation has been pushed.
Writing in the 28 February Sunday Age Sarah Honig of the Jerusalem Post explained: “He crowed about smuggling into Gaza thousands of Iranian-made missiles for the sole purpose of making the lives of Israeli civilians hellish in the country’s heartland, including Tel Aviv.”
Whatever his claims, we know that the vast majority of rockets launched at Israel were home-made and known for their inaccuracy. The much rarer Iranian-made rockets could fly further to hit Ashkelon, but none ever made it anywhere near Tel Aviv. Fortunately the vast majority of rockets were home-made and caused a lot less damage. So regardless of the veracity of allegations of rocket smuggling, he could not have been involved in smuggling thousands of them.
Gerald M Steinberg also chimed in, writing in the 23 February issue of Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal. He had the hutzpah to complain that the Goldstone report made no mention of Mabhouh. But did anyone else mention him? In her litany of charges against him, Honig did not quote anything from her own paper and apparently for a fairly good reason.
Mabhouh was such an important terrorist that the present writer was unable to find any references to him before his death in the Jerusalem Post, Ynet, Ma’ariv or Haaretz. The Australian media was just as reticent with no entries pre-dating the killing. All the references in Wikipedia date from this year. There’s no mention of him in either Khaled Hroub’s Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide (2006) or Azzam Tamimi’s Hamas: Unwritten Chapters (2007). No wonder there is a popular saying in Israel that Palestinians who are killed by the security forces always get promoted posthumously by their killers.
But who killed him? Was it the Mossad? Just because the Dubai Police say the Mossad is the culprit, does not make it true. The official community leadership has argued that point forcefully. Of course they took the opposite stand when the Argentine police accused Iranian and Hezbollah officials of the AMIA Jewish Community Centre terrorist attack, but on that occasion the boot was on the other foot: they were on the side of the accuser, not the accused.
Herein lies an important question of logic. If there is nothing to connect Israel to the killing, why didn’t our community leaders protest when Foreign Minister Steven Smith decided to call in the Israeli rather than, say, the Peruvian Ambassador? It is true; there is no smoking gun. The suggestion that Mossad was behind the killing is therefore not beyond reasonable doubt. But the test that counts in the court that matters is different. In the court of Australian and International public opinion, it is the balance of probabilities that counts, and when you look at it, that balance is overwhelming.
First of all is the motivation. The soldiers that Mabhouh killed were Israeli, not French or British. The rockets he allegedly procured were fired at Ashkelon and Beersheba, not Berlin or Dublin or even Sydney. Of course he was said to have made enemies in the Arab world, but would the Egyptian or Jordanians go to so much trouble? For a start, why would they need foreign passports? Arab people with Arab passports do not draw any attention in Dubai.
Israeli reaction provides another clue to the perpetrator. In a debate in the Knesset House Committee, Likud MK Carmel Shama said, “I would be very sorry if the State of Israel did not carry out this mitzvah (a Jewish good deed).” He later added ” [Mossad Chief] Meir Dagan did good work quietly. He is dear to Israel.” The assassination drew more public approval in Israel than from just hard-line Likudniks, with the Opposition Kadima leader, Tzipi Livni, also applauding it).
Israel is connected to the case. Of the 27 names put forward by the Dubai police, a full 16 match people who live in Israel whose identities, including valid passport numbers, were stolen. Where would the Egyptian or Jordanian secret services get the list of those people? Of course the British, French, German and Australian secret services could have conspired together to set this up. But why?
Then there is the little matter of track record. Israel has a long history of assassinating Palestinians, and not necessarily only high ranking ones. It has also been caught at least twice in the matter of stealing identities and passports, souring relationships with Canada and particularly New Zealand.
Thus it was not only the foreign ministers of Australia, the UK, Ireland, France and Germany who sheeted the blame home to Israel, but also the pro-Israeli Murdoch media such as the Herald-Sun , whose editorial expounded: “While the Government is not officially blaming Israel, there seems little doubt that the culprit is Israel’s spy agency.” One cannot recall the last time in which virtually every self-respecting newspaper in Australia called on Israel and no other country to come clean. Certainly those who defended the extra-judicial killings, such as leading union official Paul Howes, “credited” Israel with the killing.
There is one further matter which should be of concern, and that is the implications for us. A side effect of the kerfuffle has been the disclosure that ASIO has been investigating Australian-Israelis who have changed their names to sound more Anglo-Australian. As a young, articulate friend wrote to me: “I wonder if you found the Age’s front page today as frightening as I did? It really brings up the spectre of ‘dual loyalty’ which, thankfully, has had less popular appeal over recent years, though apparently it is and has been difficult for anyone who has had any Israeli/Zionist dealings to get a gig with ASIO. As far as Australian antisemitism goes, the passport scandal and this latest story are worse than anything an antisemite could have dreamed up!”
Plenty of food for thought.
The ins and outs of the Mabhouh assassination
Let’s start at the beginning.