Heat on Israeli hit squad
Jerusalem – The Mossad was in the hot seat on Wednesday over the murder of a top Hamas man in Dubai, as at least seven Israelis said their identities were stolen by the assassins, widely thought to be agents of the Jewish state's infamous secret service.
The killing of top Hamas militant Mahmud al-Mabhuh while on a weapons purchasing trip to Dubai last month has widely been blamed on the Mossad, although no evidence has yet linked the agency, which in keeping with tradition has kept mum on the affair.
But suspicions deepened after Dubai this week released the photos and names of the 11 European passport holders – six from Britain, three from Ireland, one from Germany and one from France – alleged to have been members of the hit squad.
Shortly afterwards, Britain, France and Ireland said that the passports used in the operation were faked and at least seven of the "assassins" turned out to be dual national Israelis whose passports appeared to have been stolen.
"Since I realised that they used my identity and my name, I've been walking around like a zombie," Paul John Keally, an Israeli-British citizen, told the Israeli media.
"I woke up this morning and suddenly my life is like an espionage movie. It is all very worrying but I know I have not done anything wrong," he was quoted as saying by Britain's Daily Mail.
"I have not left Israel for two years and I certainly have not been to Dubai recently," he said.
The wife of Stephen Hodes, another British-Israeli and a physiotherapist living west of Jerusalem, echoed the sentiment, telling Maariv: "It started like a story that made us laugh, but now we don't know how to take it."
As the Israelis struggled to come to terms with their newfound fame as international "assassins," the Israeli press skewered the operation that it has widely laid at the feet of the storied Mossad.
"A successful operation? Not so sure," read a headline in the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot daily. "Cracks are appearing more and more in this operation which at first looked like a grand success."
Wrote Maariv: "Whoever assassinated senior Hamas figure Mahmud al-Mabhuh is in trouble... The intelligence was of high quality, the implementation was polished, the assassins entered and left Dubai safely, everything went like clockwork. Unfortunately, so did the security cameras."
Call for resignation
A columnist in the left-leaning Haaretz called for the resignation of Mossad chief Meir Dagan over the affair and one in the right-wing Israel Hayom questioned the wisdom of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu having extended Dagan's mandate to a fifth year.
Dubai police announced on Monday that it was hunting six British passport holders, three with Irish passports, including a woman, and the holders of a German and a French passport, all of whom had managed to leave the UAE after the assassination.
British, French and Irish officials said on Tuesday that the passports were fake.
The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has accused Israel of killing Mabhuh, 50, and vowed revenge.
Its members have said Mabhuh, who was based in Damascus, was on a visit to Dubai to buy weapons for Hamas's armed wing of which he was a founder.