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Allegations Mount in Death of Hamas Official

February 17, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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The mysterious death of a Hamas military official in Dubai has raised suspicions that the murder was an Israeli operation. Margaret Warner talks to a reporter for more.
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MARGARET WARNER: Joining us from Tel Aviv is Ronen Bergman. He’s the senior security and intelligence correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s largest daily newspaper.

Mr. Bergman, welcome.

The Israelis won’t confirm or deny that they are behind this operation. Is it fair to say, however, that the target, Mr. Mabhouh, was someone that Israel didn’t mind seeing dead?

RONEN BERGMAN, Yedioth Ahronoth: Mahmoud al-Mabhouh kidnapped and killed, in 1987, two Israeli soldiers, which — something that he admitted himself in an interview to Al-Jazeera not — not long ago. Then, he fled the territories.

And then he joined to be a senior field operative for Hamas, coordinated first the funneling of funds from rich communities, rich Muslim communities in the United States and Europe to the occupied territories, and then became to be a central kingpin in what Israel sees as one of its main strategic challenges.

And these are the interlinks between Iran, the clerical regime in Iran, the Revolutionary Guard on one hand, and Hamas on the other. He was coordinating shipment of arms and sophisticated ammunition from Iran to Hamas.

From the point of view of Israel, his loss is a great achievement.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, the way the Dubai authorities laid this out, it was a very complicated operation, at least 10 members — 11 members of a hit squad, disguised, assignations, escaping from the country before the body was found.

You have written a lot about Mossad. Does this fit the Mossad M.O.?

RONEN BERGMAN: There is no single unique fingerprint of Mossad.

But I would say this. The identity of the target being such a valuable asset to the other side, of the adversary to the — what is nicknamed Israeli intelligence as the radical front — radical front, Iran and Hamas, the ability, the license to kill, the authority to kill someone, and the ruthless and efficient way in which this operation was executed, suggests this might come from Mossad, even while Israel is, of course, completely denying the — its involvement in the case.

MARGARET WARNER: Or at least saying they want to preserve some ambiguity.

Tell me this about the reaction or fallout in Israel. We have — we have heard that today some are actually calling this a bungled operation, even though the target was killed. Why is that?

RONEN BERGMAN: I would say this. If the person who authorized the operation and sent the perpetrators — and I don’t know who he was — but if he took into consideration that it’s worthwhile jeopardizing the identity of the perpetrators — and it takes a long time to — a long time to train an assassin — if he took into the consideration the possibility of a diplomatic blunder, if he took into consideration the possibility that these people wouldn’t be able to leave their home country until the end of their lives, and he say, yes, it’s worth it, it’s worth sacrificing all this, in return for the life of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, then I say this is a successful operation, because he is dead and they are out of Dubai, and the Dubai police is chasing them.

And they will never be able to catch them. However, if the one who sent them didn’t take into consideration the — I would say the surprisingly capable efficiency of the Dubai police, and the — their ability to crack the case, then we are witnessing a terrible problem for the one who authorized the operation.

And I would say another thing. This is an end of an era, the end of an era of an assassination that leaves no trace. This is the end of an era where you could perform such an operation with no marks. It leaves a lot of marks in any way you perform it in any — in modern age.

MARGARET WARNER: You mean because so much of their movements was captured on closed-circuit television and successfully put together?

RONEN BERGMAN: Not just that they were able to collect all surveillance cameras, but the Dubai police and the Dubai secret service being able to put everything on one timeline, collecting visual intelligence from eight different sources, hotels, airport, border police, and — and — and passport checks, put everything on one timeline, one database, and corroborate this with the signal intelligence received from the records of the cell phones, this is highly sophisticated, surprising ability, which basically cracked the case, and point out to the exact fingerprints of the perpetrators.

They don’t have a direct judicial proof, but they caused the person who sent them or the agency who sent them great, great embarrassment.

MARGARET WARNER: Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv, thank you so much.

RONEN BERGMAN: Thank you, Margaret, very much.