Even among Israelis who welcomed news of the assassination of the Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, there must have been growing disquiet that the faces of so many Mossad operatives would have since become so widely known. So much exposure for a clandestine operation has to be bad, doesn’t it?
It now appears that Mossad has enrolled the services of Haaretz in order to do some damage control.
The Israeli newspaper reports:
The passport photographs of the agents who assassinated Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai were doctored so the agents would not be identified, a Haaretz probe has discovered.
The discovery casts doubt on claims that the espionage agency that carried out last month’s hit on the senior Hamas operative committed grave errors.
Various features of the people in the photographs, such as eye color or the line of a lip, were changed – slightly enough so as not arouse suspicion at passport control, but still enough that the real agent could not be recognized.
According to the Dubai police, only a few of the agents were caught on security cameras without their disguises. However, it had been assumed until now that publication of the photos of the 26 agents had blown their cover. Now it appears that the Dubai police still do not have viable information about their real appearance.
In an era where investigative journalism has largely become a thing of the past, it’s hard not to scoff when one reads that a newspaper has conducted a “probe”. Some intrepid reporters dug deep and pulled out the truth and now they can proudly display their discovery.
In this case, I would counter that there is more to be discovered by reasoning than revelation.
I’ll start with this — a wild piece of conjecture in which I have absolute confidence: the “espionage agency” that Haaretz stuck its probe into was Mossad — no other spy shop would dole out sensitive information to Israeli reporters.
Secondly, the idea that Haaretz actually discovered that there were discrepancies between the appearances of the Mossad agents and the images on their passports is absurd. (I don’t care how careful an analysis of the CCTV images might be it ain’t going to pick up differences in eye color and the like.) Such discrepancies may exist in reality, but there seem to be only two ways Haaretz could know about them. Either, in a friendly meeting with a Mossad officer the newspaper was shown two sets of photographs: one being the ones used in the passports and the other showing the undoctored appearances of the operatives — but I have my doubts that Mossad would be that candid. Much more likely was a friendly phone call from a trusted source inside the agency, saying: you know those photos of all our guys plastered over all the newspapers? We doctored them. Our guys are safe. No one will be able to recognize them. The intrepid Haaretz reporters would not have been so impertinent as to ask for some proof.
In sum, what we can reliably infer from this report is that Mossad is busy working the media. Its cover may or may not have been blown but at the very least it wants to reassure concerned Israelis that the much praised and feared agency remains rock solid.
Meanwhile, while one thrust of Mossad’s PR drive is pushing the message that its operatives identities are well protected, another thrust is actually promoting their images — as “young, pretty and dangerous“. The message: assassination is sexy and it doesn’t have to interfere with an Israeli woman’s plans to start a family. “Rumors that women are used by the Mossad mostly as [sexual] bait are greatly exaggerated,” Ynet reassures its readers.