The Sunday Times reports:
In early January two black Audi A6 limousines drove up to the main gate of a building on a small hill in the northern suburbs of Tel Aviv: the headquarters of Mossad, the Israeli secret intelligence agency, known as the “midrasha”.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, stepped out of his car and was greeted by Meir Dagan, the 64-year-old head of the agency. Dagan, who has walked with a stick since he was injured in action as a young man, led Netanyahu and a general to a briefing room.
According to sources with knowledge of Mossad, inside the briefing room were some members of a hit squad. As the man who gives final authorisation for such operations, Netanyahu was briefed on plans to kill Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a member of Hamas, the militant Islamic group that controls Gaza.
Mossad had received intelligence that Mabhouh was planning a trip to Dubai and they were preparing an operation to assassinate him there, off-guard in a luxury hotel. The team had already rehearsed, using a hotel in Tel Aviv as a training ground without alerting its owners.
The mission was not regarded as unduly complicated or risky, and Netanyahu gave his authorisation, in effect signing Mabhouh’s death warrant.
Haaretz has learned that German officials are examining the identity of Michael Bodenheimer, the name that appeared on a genuine German passport allegedly used in last month’s assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. The authorities in the city of Cologne, where the passport was issued, began a probe, and federal authorities are now considering a move of their own.
According to German weekly Der Spiegel, Bodenheimer, an Israeli, applied for a German passport from the Cologne authorities. Bodenheimer presented documents that proved German lineage, including his grandparents’ marriage certificate. He also showed his Israeli passport that was issued to him a year earlier in Tel Aviv.
The German passport was issued on June 18, 2009. That document was used by one of the assassination suspects in Dubai on January 19, a day before the killing.
According to Der Spiegel, Bodenheimer does not live in Cologne, as he had claimed in his application, and no other person by that name lives there. The magazine claims a man by that name lived in Herzliya until June last year.
Haaretz has learned that a Michael Bodenheimer lives in Bnei Brak. His wife told Haaretz in a telephone interview that “he has no German passport and he never asked for such a passport. He never visited Germany, except perhaps in transit on the way to the United States.”
His wife added that the ultra-Orthodox family does not have any family in Herzliya and that even though Bodenheimer’s grandparents were born in Germany, they emigrated to the United States, from where he immigrated to Israel 30 years ago.
“We are quiet people and are not used to so much attention,” she told Haaretz yesterday. “The past week since the news of this story broke has been difficult for us. The fact that someone is using his name does not make him involved in this story.”
Bodenheimer studies at a kollel, a yeshiva for married men. He has said he was astounded to see his name on the list of suspects, supposedly belonging to a German citizen.
“At first we didn’t understand what everyone was talking about,” Bodenheimer’s daughter said. “The picture that was published doesn’t look like him at all. He is always busy with Torah study,” she said, adding that he holds no citizenship other than Israeli and American.
The German media have reported that the intelligence services of the country are certain that the Mossad was involved in the killing and that the foreign minister demanded that Israel explain why it used a German passport.
Israel’s ambassador to Berlin, Yoram Ben-Ze’ev, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry, where he was asked about information that can shed light on the killing of Mabhouh.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said yesterday that he does not expect relations between Israel and European countries whose passports were used in the assassination to deteriorate as a result of the incident.
“I do not expect a crisis in relations because there is nothing linking Israel to the assassination. Britain, France and Germany are countries with shared interests with Israel in countering terrorism,” Ayalon said, naming three of the four countries whose passports were used. At least three of the suspects used Irish passports.
Meanwhile, Hamas blamed Israel again yesterday for the hit. At a press conference, Salah al-Bardawil, one of the group’s Gaza-based leaders, said he does not suspect that the Palestinian Authority was involved in the killing and that the entire affair was the responsibility of Mossad.
However, the Hamas official said that the two Palestinians arrested in Dubai in connection with the killing are former officers in the Palestinian security services and were employed in a firm owned by a senior member of rival Fatah.
The London-based newspaper Al-Hayat reported that this company is owned by Mohammed Dahlan, formerly a Fatah strongman in the Gaza Strip before its takeover by Hamas two and a half years ago.
Bardawil said that Mabhouh had put himself at risk by booking his trip through the Internet and risked a security breach by telling his family in Gaza by telephone which hotel he would be staying at.
Also yesterday, the daily newspaper Al-Bayan reported that Dubai police had new evidence implicating the Mossad in Mabhouh’s assassination, which included credit-card payments and suspects’ phone records.
“Dubai police have information confirming that the suspects purchased travel tickets from companies in other countries with credit cards carrying the same names we have publicized [from the passports],” Al-Bayan quoted Dubai police chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim as saying.
Meanwhile, a Qatar news agency reported that Egyptian officials promised Dubai counterparts that they would try to persuade Israel to officially apologize for the assassination of Mabhouh in their country.
Egyptian diplomats told the newspaper Al-Arab that Dubai has asked Egypt to formally reprimand Israel for the hit.
On the issue of how Israel stole the identities of the individuals whose names were used by Mossad operatives, The Daily Telegraph says:
According to British sources, the Israelis got hold of the real passport details of six UK citizens living in Israel by taking their passports for “examination” as they passed through Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, copying the details and returning the original passports after a few minutes. The six fakes, along with German, French and Irish passports, were used to leave Dubai.
You failed to note that the Sunday Times article is by Uzi Mahnaimi, a well-known composer of puff-pieces for Israel, and indeed outright transmitter of stories directly from official Israeli sources, some of them completely fictional. This piece was intended to make Mossad look good. I wouldn’t guarantee the facts in it.
This operation was probably approved at the highest level of Mossad, just as Mahmoud Mabhouh’s missions to Dubai to meet Iranian arms dealers were by the highest levels of Hamas. Somehow, either through infiltration of Hamas, or more likely through security breaches by Mabhouh himself, Mossad gained knowledge of Mabhouh’s itinerary. Hamas itself admitted that Mabhouh booked his flight online, using a false identity and then phoned his family in Gaza from Damascus, informing them in which hotel he would stay and the name in which he had reserved the room. Mossad had already been known to have compromised the Lebanese, and presumably Syrian, internet and phone systems. They could monitor the phone lines and e-mail accounts of significant Hamas operatives, in contrast to the “vacuum cleaner” approach used by the N.S.A. to monitor millions of Americans. That information was sufficient to connect the dots.
In time of war, any subterfuge in the interest of defeating the enemy will be adopted and used. The digitization of passports is just another technical obstacle to be overcome and with today’s cyber-security weaknesses, it is certain that passports will be “cloned,” just as easily as credit cards are by those who successfully “phish” for and obtain others account numbers and passwords. As each nation creates its own database of passport holders, other citizens and legal residents, under such schemes as the U.S. “Real I.D. Act,” such databases will in time be penetrated and biometric data compromised and altered to fit those operatives for whom such passports are “cloned!” The C.I.A., Mossad, Russian F.S.B. and Chinese intelligence services already have this capability. It will come down to a race between cyber-security experts, who try to seal security breaches, and hackers who exploit security holes and create “back-doors” through “malware and other means to invade national databases!
Suppose it’s true that the man snuffed out at the Dubai hotel was a Hamas agent seeking Iranian weapons to smuggle into Gaza. And suppose it’s true, as some Israeli officials are now openly saying, that his death was not murder but combat because those weapons would jeopardize Israel.
Then suppose that some members of the US Congress decided not to vote in favor of the billions of dollars in weapons annually given to Israel. Wouldn’t their behavior also jeopardize Israel?
Whenever Benjamin Netanyahu comes to America and wishes to address Congress, he receives an invitation and a standing ovation. Must the members now worry that Mossad operatives in his entourage will be taking careful note of any who do not automatically leap to their feet and join in the applause and cheers?