Mossad Passport Affair: A Stick to Beat Israel?

The death of senior Hamas terrorist Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai in January has generated a huge amount of media interest. Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency stands accused (despite, at best, only circumstantial evidence) of using forged European passports to carry out an assassination.

The story reads like something straight from a spy movie. But is that because the media have failed to report it accurately and avoid sensationalism? Have some media outlets simply taken the story and turned it into another stick to beat Israel?

Mideast analyst and commentator Tom Gross entertains the possibility that Israel has been set up:

  • Airlines keep detailed passenger records these days and anyone could have got the flight manifestos of British and other passport holders who have flown to Israel in the past and then used these names in a deliberate attempt to point the finger of blame at Israel.
  • The Dubai authorities have provided no forensic evidence that points to Israel, only a series of photos and videos of random hotel guests who may or may not all know each other. In any event, the persons shown in these photos and videos are not shown committing any crime. It would be very easy to frame Israel, using the identities of six randomly-chosen Israelis based on flight manifestos. This could have been done by anyone and especially by persons who wanted to avoid being suspected of this action by blaming the Israelis and diverting attention from the real perpetrators.

Gross also points out that in the global battle against terror many other actors could have been behind the assassination, stating:

the intelligence agencies of many countries have created data banks of identities using flight lists and other sources. Persons with longstanding familiarity with intelligence matters tell me that many governments and not just the European ones use European operatives to carry out their killings, including in the cases of other previous assassinations in Dubai.

Expert commentary or slander?

Understandably, official Israeli sources have declined to become involved in the media circus. This has, however, opened to door to any number of so-called “experts” on Mossad or intelligence affairs.

BBC Radio 4’s PM program interviewed Gordon Thomas, author of Gideon’s Spies, a book about the Mossad. Unchallenged by the BBC’s presenter, Thomas, referring to the Mossad, made an outrageous statement (which can be heard around 17:35 mins in):

They have a whole backup system called ‘asylum.’ These are people, local residents, Jewish people, who help the Mossad. It is estimated to be in the world about half a million; some people say a million; I tend to say it’s about half a million, all of them Mossad people.

This unsubstantiated slur implicates Jews living in the Diaspora in the inflammatory accusation of dual loyalty. As AJC Director David Harris says:

Of course, Mr. Thomas is irresponsible in making such unfounded assertions on a radio program heard around the world but even more shocking is the BBC, a premier public broadcaster with a far-reaching global network. How can the interviewer allow such aspersions to be cast on a community without the reporter calling the so-called expert to order?

Unfortunately this is a recurring problem for the BBC as evidenced as recently as December 2009 when The Guardian’s associate editor Michael White was allowed to claim on BBC radio that “the Israel Defense Forces murder people because they don’t like their political style”.

A JPost editorial examines some of the UK media coverage, highlighting one of the BBC’s usual suspects:

Actually, what troubles us is the question of whose passport Mabhouh was traveling under and why he was allowed to enter neutral Dubai on gun-running business.

Of course, that’s not how the British see it. The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen warned that if Israel had used British passports for “nefarious” purposes meaning sending Mabhouh to his Maker Bowen expected, or would it be more accurate to say, hoped for, “a crisis” in relations between London and Jerusalem.

With Israel under pressure, what better way to stick the knife in than to take comment from the most anti-Israel sources possible? The Irish Times, for example, chose to interview Ilan Pappe, despite pointing out that he is “a controversial figure in Israel due to his claims that the state’s foundation was accompanied by ethnic cleansing, as well as his support for an academic boycott of Israeli universities”.

As documented by CAMERA, Ilan Pappe has long acknowledged that he is not objective and cares little about factual accuracy. He readily admits that ideology drives his historical writings and statements. And his ideology can be simply summed up: Israel is illegitimate and should be the target of international sanctions until it is dismantled as a Jewish state.

So why then does The Irish Times see him as a credible commentator on the Mossad or, indeed, any other aspect of Israel?

span>The same newspaper, in an editorial, states that “within Israel, news coverage assumes “our boys” did it, although not perhaps as efficiently as they would have expected of Mossad.”

There has been much coverage in the Israeli press. While there are plenty of qualified people able to give comment on this story in Israel, it is still worth considering that there is as much speculation in Israel as elsewhere as to who was responsible for events in Dubai. Some international media have attempted to cover themselves by repeating allegations and commentary from Israeli news sources as if these are ultimately reliable. While the Israeli press may be geographically located near the eye of the storm, this does not necessarily mean that information coming from such sources is any more credible than from elsewhere.


It isn’t only the UK and Irish media that have gone to town on this story. As Tom Gross says:


Prominent international TV stations have paid enormous attention to this story, also blaming Israel without any concrete evidence. For example, the first four stories on the 8 a.m World News broadcast on CNN International yesterday [Feb.17] also concerned Mabhouh’s death (even though it occurred four weeks earlier). Only after those items did CNN report on the capture of the most senior Taliban commander since 2001, which many would argue is a far more important news story, both strategically in terms of international politics and specifically for the United States.

This morning [Feb.18] CNN again led its news with a series of reports on the Dubai matter lasting 7 minutes, and BBC World led reports on the subject lasting almost 8 minutes. (The channels spent only a few seconds much later in their broadcasts mentioning the ongoing vicious fighting in Afghanistan involving U.S. and British troops, and failed to mention fresh Afghan civilian deaths there.)

We currently do not know whether Mossad or any other foreign intelligence agency is responsible for the Dubai assassination. Nor does the international media. What we do know, however, is that the media has a responsibility to report on this story without prejudice and based on the limited circumstantial evidence that is available.

Stories such as this have a habit of developing into larger tales of conspiracies used to attack Israel and her supporters. With more “revelations” promised by the Dubai authorities, this story may not have played itself out yet.

Please respond to any media bias you may see in your local media. You can also take action against the above examples through the BBC Complaints website – (for detailed instructions on how to navigate the BBC Complaints website, click here) or writing to The Irish Times –




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