Clinical and quick, the killing of Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh looked exactly like a Mossad assassination. Hours after checking into his five-star Dubai hotel room, al-Mabhouh lay suffocated and his killers were on planes out of the country on fake British, Irish and Canadian passports. It is a technique perfected over five decades by Israel’s secret service. Ordinarily the murder would have only made a few lines in Middle East newspapers. But this time the killers were sloppy. As they fled Dubai their pictures were beamed around the world and Israel stands accused of state-sponsored murder.
Yesterday the country did not deny that the assassination of one of their major opponents was the work of Mossad, and international pressure was mounting as Gordon Brown announced a full investigation into the use of fake passports.
Now the spotlight is firmly on the inner workings of one of the world’s most feared intelligence agencies. murder
Mossad is usually so ruthlessly efficient that some observers have speculated that Israeli agents cannot have been behind the murder of al-Mabhouh because they would never have been so careless and allowed themselves to be identified.
But Mossad expert Gordon Thomas is convinced that a specially trained assassination team – known as a kidon – was behind the murder.
He says: “This is most definitely the work of Mossad. This was no opportunistic attack, months of planning have gone into this hit.
“Each member of the team will know their cover story backwards. They have to know who they are, what their background is, what food they like – everything.
“This was a very well organised and planned assassination.”
Formed in 1949, Mossad is a small but notorious intelligence agency.
It developed its reputation after it discovered Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann living in Argentina in 1960 under the name of Ricardo Klement. He was captured by a team of agents and smuggled to Israel where he was tried and executed.
But as tensions increased with its Arab neighbours, Israel changed tack and created the kidon – the Hebrew word for bayonet – assassination squads.
They quickly came to the world’s attention after striking back at the terrorists who had killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.
Up to 35 Black September and Palestine Liberation Organisation agents were wanted for murder after Operation Wrath of God – immortalised in the film Munich.
The kidon team operated across Europe, assassinating Palestinians using everything from guns to exploding phones.
But the operation went spectacularly wrong when the murder of the man Israel believed to be the ringleader – Ali Hassan Salameh – was badly botched.
Mossad believed they had found him in the small Norwegian town of Lillehammer in July 1973.
They shot a man returning from a movie with his pregnant wife. The victim turned out to be a Moroccan waiter not Salameh. Six Mossad agents, including two women, were captured by Norwegian authorities while the rest of the team fled.
The scandal forced Israeli leader Golda Meir to end Operation Wrath of God. Yet five years later it was revived under orders of new Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
In 1979, a kidon car bomb in Beirut finally killed the real Salameh.
Gordon Thomas spent two-and-a-half years researching his book on the kidon –called Gideon’s Spies – and says the Dubai assassination bears all the hallmarks of a kidon operation.
“There are 48 kidon,” he says. “Six are women and they are all in their 20s and early 30s.
Mr Thomas says any Mossad assassination has to be approved by the Israeli Prime Minister.
“There are very clear rules set down that have to be met for each assassination,” he says. “There is a clear process that has to be pursued.”
The kidon, he says, are spotted early when taking part in compulsory Israeli national service. They are picked out to go into military intelligence and then on for further training as Mossad agents.
Only a few are then chosen to be the executive arm of the intelligence agency.
In the heart of the Negev desert, near the country’s nuclear facility at Dimona, they are taught how to use handguns, bomb making skills, poisons, seduction techniques and how to kill without leaving a trace.
The team have available all the latest intelligence on potential targets, their movements and activities, as relayed to them by Mossad spies around the world. But they are not alone. A system of sayanim – or support agents – provide help on the ground near where the target lives.
Mr Thomas says: “The sayanim can be anywhere around the world. They can rent you a car or own a fast food stall. A sayan will rent a car or pass money to a kidon with no questions asked. Every country has a network of sayanim built from the Jewish community.”
The assassination of al-Mabhouh has thrown an unwanted spotlight on to the workings of Mossad and the kidon and with it pressure that the Israeli government may find uncomfortable.
But it knows that again, it has sent out a message to its enemies abroad.
Dave Kimche, a former deputy head of the agency, said of one assassination carried out by a bomb planted in a telephone. “”We tried not to do things just by shooting a guy in the streets, that’s easy – fairly.
“By putting a bomb in his phone, this was a message that they can be got anywhere, at any time and therefore they have to look out for themselves 24 hours a day.”
A world of lethal spies
DISI Pakistan’s notorious Inter Services Agency supports Islamic extremists in Indian Kashmir, originally backed the Taliban in Afghanistan and is known to abduct and torture enemies.
DMSS China’s Ministry of State Security targets hi-tech firms in the US often using travellers, businessmen and students as spies.
DMOIS Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security has been behind almost 500 acts of terrorism in the past 30 years and murdered a string of dissidents in the 90s.
DCGIB The mission of North Korea’s Cabinet General Intelligence Bureau is to undermine the government of South Korea and gather information on US forces stationed there.
Reprinted from www.mirror.co.uk, Alun Plamer 18/02/2010,