A killing in Dubai
On Thursday, Julian Assange told reporters that WikiLeaks would be releasing State Department cables concerning the assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January, and he has made good on the promise with a couple of short dispatches from the U.S. embassy in Abu Dhabi. They don’t offer any more insight into the ...
On Thursday, Julian Assange told reporters that WikiLeaks would be releasing State Department cables concerning the assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January, and he has made good on the promise with a couple of short dispatches from the U.S. embassy in Abu Dhabi. They don’t offer any more insight into the still-unsolved killing, but they do paint a picture of the diplomatic conundrum the incident posed for the United Emirates and the United States.
Mabhouh, a Hamas military commander who had orchestrated the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers and was suspected of smuggling arms into the Gaza Strip, died in his room at the Al Bustan Rotana hotel in Dubai on Jan. 19, after being injected with the muscle relaxant succinylcholine and then suffocated. Although Israel
has denied it won’t confirm or deny it, the list of people who don’t believe that Mossad agents did the job is vanishingly short. The hit squad had deftly plotted and executed the assassination, using encrypted cell phones and passports from half a dozen countries, and quickly scattered themselves from Hong Kong to Paris once their work was done. Their one mistake, however, was a big one: failing to account for the hotel’s CCTV cameras, which caught their faces on tape.
The story was first reported 10 days later by Reuters, and as it happened, U.S. Ambassador Richard Olson was at a social event with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed when it broke, according to one of the two embassy cables, signed by Olson. An unnamed UAE media advisor, Olson reports in the Jan. 31 cable, “after making a few calls reported back that the UAE’s public posture was being discussed between Dubai Ruler Mohammed bin Rashid and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. The two options discussed were to say nothing at all, or to reveal more or less the full extent of the UAE’s investigations.”
The UAE was no friend of Hamas — the emirate’s discontent with Hamas patron Iran is a recurring theme in the WikiLeaks corpus — but its government was, of course, not exactly eager to be seen as enabling an Israeli incursion on the sovereignty of an Arab state, either. The cable describes the UAE officials’ reasoning, and decision:
Saying nothing would have been perceived as protecting the Israelis and in the end, the UAE chose to tell all. The statement was carefully drafted not to point any fingers, but the reference in the document (see below) to a gang with western passports will be read locally as referring to the Mossad.
American officials had their own decision to make about where their loyalties were — one documented in the second cable, signed by Olson deputy Doug Greene, several weeks later. Greene reports that UAE officials requested the embassy’s help in acquiring account data for credit cards, issued by a bank in Iowa, that investigators had linked to suspects in the assassination. The request was apparently turned down, and as Haaretz reports, the State Department denied at the time that any requests had been made. “By not accepting the request,” Haaretz‘s Yossi Melman writes, “the Obama administration harmed the Dubai investigation efforts and assisted Israel instead.” The U.S. government did eventually assist in the investigation, however, identifying American companies that may have been used to finance the operation.