The Bart Simpson School of International Relations

By DeusExMacintosh

Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said there is no proof the Mossad spy agency carried out the killing of a Hamas commander in Dubai. But he did not fully deny that Israel carried out the killing, citing its “policy of ambiguity” on such matters.

Dubai believes 11 “agents with European passports” killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

Seven foreign-born Israelis named as suspects say their identities were stolen and they were not involved. UK passports used were said to be fake.

France, Germany and the Irish Republic also said they believed the passports from their countries used by the alleged killers were false.

Hamas has accused Israeli agents of murdering their operative – a view shared by many commentators because Mossad has in the past used forged foreign passports in its operations.

But in Israel’s first official comments on the affair, Mr Lieberman said there was no reason to blame Israel and Mossad…

Mr Mabhouh was murdered in his hotel room in Dubai on 20 January. Reports have suggested he was in Dubai to buy weapons for the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas.

BBC News


  1. Posted February 23, 2010 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Sticking to the law argument then, it’s a jurisdictional problem. Presumably murdering people in their hotel rooms (regardless of your reasons) is a criminal offence on Dubai soil. Not good for the tourist trade.

    Although as N Ireland shows, the Celts are plenty capable of creating their own sh*t about G-D.

    Scotland too. Local joke – Why do the Rangers football team have more supporters than Celtic? Because it’s easier to shout “F*ck the Pope!” than it is to shout “F*ck the Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland!”.

    News is that Pope Benedict will be visiting Scotland sometime later this year.

    I’m praying that he’s not a football fan.

  2. Posted February 23, 2010 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    This is the one true faith of Scotland. 🙂

  3. Peter Patton
    Posted February 23, 2010 at 8:58 am | Permalink


    Well thank you very much for that. I had never heard of opinio juris, nor the distinction between customary international law and treaties/conventions.

    You are right about the ‘uncertainty.’ Ironically, it seems that opinio juris attempts to clarify that uncertainty, but at the same time causes that uncertainty. Still, I am sure it is a very fascinating area intellectually.

  4. Patrick
    Posted February 23, 2010 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I am by nature very sceptical of international law, to the extent that I have happily argued that there is no such thing. But in its defence, if it didn’t exist we would have to invent it. It is vague and uncertain because, in a ‘pure’ form, it really represents the minimal standards of acceptable conduct which States agree to bind themselves to.

    In its ‘hard’ form (ie WTO, TRIPs, TFEU, NAFTA, etc) it is really just law.

    It is hardly surprising that anything to do with ‘morality’ (ie IHL, just war) generally falls into the vague part, subject to some exceptions around genocide and other ‘war crimes’ amounting to indiscriminate and disproportionate harm. That makes it imperfect, but doesn’t make it worse than the alternatives.

    After all how ‘definite’ are our Constitutional rules?

  5. Posted February 23, 2010 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    I just got a couple of alerts from STRATFOR (pretty much the private enterprise home-away-from-home for CIA analysts) on assassinations generally and this one in particular. Great articles.

    The easy-to-get at for non-newsletter folk is The Utility of Assassination. It’s a bit of “bugger the morality… do such actions achieve anything?”… and the answer as far as the Israeli action is concerned is: No, unless you are only worried about domestic party politics.

    We are not writing this as pacifists; we do not believe the killing of enemies is to be avoided. And we certainly do not believe that the morally incoherent strictures of what is called international law should guide any country in protecting itself. What we are addressing here is the effectiveness of assassination in waging covert warfare.

    And here lies the real dilemma of assassination. It is extraordinarily rare to identify a person whose death would materially weaken a substantial political movement in some definitive sense — i.e., where if the person died, then the movement would be finished…. A single swift, global blow is what is dreamt of…. At that point, one man is dead, a man whose replacement is undoubtedly already trained. Others are killed, but the critical mass is never reached, and there is no one target who if killed would cause everything to change.

    There are few Hitlers whose death is morally demanded and might have a practical effect….. you must raise the question as to whether all of your efforts are having any real effect on the enemy in the long run. If they can simply replace the man you killed, while training ten more operatives in the meantime, you have achieved little.

    In other words, these ex-CIA analysts reckon that regardless of morality, regardless of law, regardless of ruffling the feathers of other nation-states, the Israeli action was futile as far as stopping Hamas went.

    Assuming that the Israeli cabinet is smart enough to realize this, then it’s just a dick-swinging exercise between israeli politicians.

  6. Patrick
    Posted February 24, 2010 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    The analysis is patently wrong. Israel don’t pretend to be searching for a Hitler death (although they achieved something similar at Osirak lol). They are searching to systematically hamstring and weaken Hamas’ ability to organise large-scale sophisticated attacks. It is very hard for Hamas to replace these people, and it takes them time. Since Israel is similarly willing to kill their successors, this effectively does buy them time, which is time during which less Israeli citizens die.

    Seems like a fair bargain (and moral calculus) to me.

  7. Posted February 24, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    It is extraordinarily rare to identify a person whose death would materially weaken a substantial political movement in some definitive sense

    Coming from the CIA that’s amusing.

    They are searching to systematically hamstring and weaken Hamas’ ability to organise large-scale sophisticated attacks.

    What such ability? Hamas’ ability is restricted to firing the occasional rocket into Israeli territory, and missing. They do this ’cause they know the Israelis’ll go apeshit and bomb the crap out of Palestine creating more recruits for Hamas.

  8. Peter Patton
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Well, the Israelis have made a HUGE error in screwing with Aussies!

    THREE Australians linked to the assassination of a leading Hamas militant appear to have been the victims of passport fraud, Stephen Smith has told parliament.

    The Foreign Minister said this morning that ASIO and the Australian Federal Police were investigating the probable identity fraud.

    Dubai police have released the names of the holders of 26 Western passports they say are suspects in the killing of Mahmud al-Mabhuh in a Dubai hotel room on January 20.

  9. Posted February 25, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Beat me to it Peter – Um-ah.

    That the governments of the world are more concerned about ID theft than killing tells you all you need know about realpolitik.

    That photo kindly provided from the private family snaps of the Clintons. 🙂

  10. Posted February 25, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    This is a very erudite and civilised discussion.

    Michael J Totten’s recent article in Commentary takes the killing of Hamas’ military head as the sort of thing that should be done. This seems to be the general burden of those commenting at his blog. The argument seems to boil down to Hamas is so obnoxious it deserves anything it gets and it is really, really preferable no one else gets hurt on the way through.

    We have warrior codes to distinguish soldiers from murderers. But a standard part of such codes is to restrict killing to those engaged in the heat of battle. (Part of which is the use of uniforms: one of the many ways terrorism evades civilising restrictions.)

    The killing in Dubai is murder in the legal code of Dubai and was clearly not in the heat of battle. But if you capture someone like Mahmud al-Mabhuh then you are actually increasing the danger to your own citizens, as his release becomes a reason to snatch people able to be used as levers. (See previous point about terrorism evading civilising restrictions.)

    But this is part of the calculus of terrorism: to push their opponents into actions that recoil on them. There are genuine conundrums here.

    Though, likely, the first time a city becomes the victim of nuclear terrorism, terrorists will be declared hostis humani generis and subject to summary execution, like pirates on the high seas in more robust days.

    This seems to be where Totten et al seem to be effectively at.

  11. Posted February 25, 2010 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    On British TV last night we got to see an Israeli spokesman claim that he’d be flattered if someone stole his identity and used it to kill terrorists (presumably he’d be less flattered if they used it to max out his credit card in the process).

    Do Israelis not appreciate what this makes them look like? Or do they really not care because they can do whatever they want on the American dime?

  12. Patrick
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 4:35 am | Permalink

    What does it make them look like? It certainly doesn’t lower my opinion of them, I respect them for defending themselves.

  13. Posted February 26, 2010 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Do Israelis not appreciate what this makes them look like?
    No I’m afraid it’s an ethnic trait. Party of the old merry-go-round.

  14. Peter Patton
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 4:05 pm | Permalink


    Your orthodox Jewish friend’s criticism is a bit odd. Even though “Bibi” was born in Israel, his family moved to the US when he was about 12.

    Thus “Bibi” went to High School, then MIT & Harvard, then worked in management consulting (Bain or BCG, I think), not returning to Israel to live until his early 30s.

    Your friend must have higher standards than the American high school system, MIT, Harvard, and Bain/BCG when it comes to English language skills! 🙂

  15. Posted February 26, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    Patrick @63. Identity theft is one of those things that just annoys folk generally, since it becomes a “you could do that to me” issue. It is its own sort of attack on the basic framework of our lives.

  16. Posted February 27, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Y’know I fully expected someone somewhere would be giving me a “you anti-Semitic bastard” blast over #64.

  17. Peter Patton
    Posted February 27, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Permalink


    Maybe we saw you being provocative a hundred miles away! 🙂

    In one sense, it seems a bit contradictory for us to accept concepts like “multiculturalism,” if we cannot thus identify, name, and discuss those multiple ‘cultures.’

    Given what we really mean by ‘culture’ is ethnicity and/or religion, we must be allowed to list the features of each ethnicity/religion that constitute its being unique, and thus one of the “multi.” Thus, it is perhaps a paradox of “multiculturalism” that ethnic generalizations are not only inevitable, but necessary.

    Whether or not any one particular generalization is ‘unacceptable’ or even in LE’s words “not very nice” we need to keep in mind two things:

    1. Without fear or favor, what are empirically identifiable traits of this unique “culture.”

    2. To those people who might take offense at uttering or listing those traits, the only consolations that can be offered are that ‘it’s in the eye of the beholder’ and ‘don’t shoot the messenger.’ 😉

  18. Posted February 27, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Stereotypes are strange. I was warned repeatedly that New Yorkers are rude. They aren’t. What they are is more restrained in their hospitality than other Americans (the contrast with DC and Virginia is palpable). They reminded me of Londoners, actually, who are perfectly polite, but just not inclined to be effusive. Having strangers talk to me on the DC metro was very odd and unnerving; New Yorkers are silent on their subway, as Londoners are on the tube. I prefer this, probably because it’s what I’m used to.

  19. Posted February 28, 2010 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Peter – Maybe we saw you being provocative a hundred miles away!

    What me? Provocative? Surely you jest.

    The weird thing about the Cult of Racial Harmony is that it leads to ethnic disharmony. All ethnic traits are human traits really filtered thru a cultural preset. Here’s another one: Celts are violent. Now all humans have a capacity for violence but we enjoy it. 🙂

    Thing is when one ethnicity rubs another the wrong way it ashould be possible to object. Jewish people can be very stubborn. I don’t blame them. It’s surfeit of a legacy of oppression and the arrogance that attends being the chosen people. Part of their charm. But when the Israeli govt tells people whose identity has been pinched that they should be grateful for possibly being made a target of Hamas well that’s going a little too far.

    And now for a Jewish joke: the head waiter at a schmick restaurant walks up to a table where three Jewish women are dining and asks: excuse me ladies is anything all right? 🙂

  20. Posted March 1, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Great Aunty Ella used to have a “not so wee dram” of Scotch every morning “for her health”.
    Oh yeah I forgot. We’re drunks too. 🙂

  21. Posted March 6, 2010 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    A rather pointed comment in a piece in support of targeted assassination:

    Remember that an Israeli cabinet minister is more likely to face prosecution in the United Kingdom nowadays than a terrorist who has murdered Israeli civilians.

  22. Posted March 7, 2010 at 4:47 am | Permalink

    Remember that an Israeli cabinet minister is more likely to face prosecution in the United Kingdom nowadays than a terrorist who has murdered Israeli civilians.

    Tell that to Ariel Sharon…

  23. Posted March 7, 2010 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    Can’t, he’s in a coma. Also, what would you charge him with, given the massacre was carried out by Lebanese Christians, not Israelis? Criminal negligence perhaps, given the known cycle of massacre in Lebanon?

    Regarding the original subject of the post, Dubai has been the venue recently of another targeted assassination, as a former general in the Chechen insurgency was shot in a Dubai hotel in March 2009. A targeted assassination nobody much cared about, apparently, so was not newsworthy. Both his brothers had previously been killed.

    Just to make it very James Bond, he was shot with a gold-plated gun.

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