Let's suppose the Dubai assassination project had worked out well. Mahmoud al-Mabhouh would have received his kiss of death, the assassins would have returned safe and sound to their bases, and no Israeli would have run into identity complications. And then? Mahmoud's place would have been taken by Mohammed, who also would have tried to kill Israeli soldiers and smuggle Iranian arms into Gaza. Perhaps the heir would even outperform his predecessor, as has happened in several previous liquidations.
We eliminated Abbas al-Musawi? Well done, Israel Defense Forces. We got Hassan Nasrallah. We killed Ahmed Yassin? Well done, Shin Bet security service. We got a Hamas many times stronger. Abu Jihad was eliminated? Well done to the Sayeret Matkal special forces unit - of course, according to foreign news reports. We killed a potential partner, relatively moderate and charismatic. As a bonus, we got revenge attacks like those after "the Engineer" Yihyeh Ayash was slain. We also got the danger hovering over every Israeli and Jew in the world each anniversary of the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, which was also blamed on Israel.
Let's suppose the Dubai operation had worked out well and the suspicion that the Mossad had a hand in it proved correct. Do we really want to live in a country that has death squads, that sends the cream of its youth to suffocate people with pillows in hotel rooms, that has a man who craves adventurous actions as head of its intelligence organization and a man who approves them as its prime minister?
What do these liquidators tell their children when they get home safe and sound? That today they killed someone with a pillow? That they dressed up as tennis players, just like in the movies? And what do they say to themselves when they look in the mirror? That all's fair and right in the war on terror? That they have made a contribution to the state's security?
And what would have happened if they killed the wrong guy? It does happen. It happened in Lillehammer in 1973, for example. And what if their operation endangered Israelis and got the country into a mess?
Although assassinations are neither effective nor legal and sometimes not moral - when the target is a political leader or someone who could have been detained - we have not only awarded the assassins a kashrut certificate but also an aura of heroism. Oh, how proud we could have been of those stranglers of Dubai if they had only pulled off their mission without entangling some innocent Israelis whose identities were stolen.
How we love winking at each other and feeling proud of the Mossad, whose long arm can reach any hotel, according to foreign news reports. How we love being the Israeli Rambo, all blue and white, who long ago replaced the cartoon figure Srulik in his innocent kova tembel bucket hat as our image of who we are. Between you and me, what are we prouder of, the cherry tomatoes we developed here or assassinations?
There's no difference between the assassins by the Border Police or the Duvdevan unit that kills wanted people in the occupied territories, and the daring hush-hush assassins of Dubai. The only debate since Dubai is about whether it was a snafu. But the real snafu is that assassinations have long been a legitimate weapon: no doubts and no questions asked, all without the true designation - executions.
Only a few weeks have passed since the finest security pundits were wallowing in well-orchestrated magazine cover stories and articles of appreciation for the head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan. These pieces almost totally ignored his dark past in Gaza and Lebanon and adulated his adventurism. We have long forgotten that the Mossad is supposed to be an intelligence-gathering organization, not one that sows death, and that a lawful state does not operate hit squads. To the roars of approval by the pundits, Dagan has just been given another year on job, his eighth. Why? Partly because he's a specialist at liquidation.
But we shouldn't complain about Dagan. He has the right to propose reckless operations to his heart's desire, of the kind that will earn him and his organization compliments and budgets. The responsibility for liquidations lies with the person who approves them, namely Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who learned nothing from the Khaled Meshal fiasco in 1997 and has struck again (if indeed Israel did it) - yet another margin note for the debate about whether Bibi has changed, whether there's a "new Netanyahu."
We can believe that the Mossad actually carried out everything that has been ascribed to it, and we can even agree that Mabhouh deserved to die. It's also possible to understand the desire to take revenge and punish him, as well as the need to combat weapons smuggling into Gaza. We can also continue ignoring, as is our wont, the motive for terrorism: the Israeli occupation. But after the liquidation of Mabhouh with a pillow, we are left in a country that not only dispatches assassins, but in which no questions are asked afterward.
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