The British Sunday Times published a comprehensive report on the assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai last month. According to the report, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized the operation after being briefed on it during a visit to the Mossad headquarters "in the northern suburbs of Tel Aviv" in early January.
The paper also reported that the Mossad suspended its activity in the Middle East following the exposure of the agents involved in Mabhouh's assassination. An Israeli source told the paper that while the Mossad was aware of the many security cameras placed throughout the emirate, its agents were surprised by the Dubai police's ability to gather all the photographs in such an efficient manner.
According to the report, the prime minister visited the Mossad headquarters in early January, where he was received by intelligence chief Meir Dagan and taken by him to a debriefing room where a number of the team members involved in Mahbouh's assassination were located.
The Mossad received information on Mabhouh's plans to travel to Dubai, and began working on a plan to have him assassinated in his hotel. The hit squad had already begun training on the mission in a Tel Aviv hotel room – without informing its owners.
The Mossad did not consider the operation particularly risky or complicated, and the prime minister reportedly authorized it and told the Mossad agents: "The people of Israel count on you. Good luck."
Mossad agent monitored flight
Several days later, on January 19, Mabhouh boarded a plane from Damascus to Dubai. Israel believed that from there he would take off to Iran in order to organize a weapons shipment to the Gaza Strip. Mabhouh had already visited Dubai on Hamas business several times in the past and had no reason for concern as he boarded the flight.
The Mossad had been preparing for the assassination for many months, and the members of the hit squad had already arrived in Dubai from Paris, Frankfurt, Rome and Zurich, using their fake passports. They also obtained credit cards with their stolen identities. A Mossad agent monitoring Mabhouh's flight informed the agents in Dubai, apparently using an Austrian mobile phone, that he was on his way to the emirate. Hours later, the Hamas commander was murdered in his hotel room.
A Dubai police commander said on Saturday that some of the passports used by the team had already been stamped in Dubai. Some three months ago, Mossad agents followed Mabhouh to Dubai and from there to China, and two months prior also tracked him on another visit to the emirate.
On January 19, after landing in Dubai and collecting his luggage, Mabhouh took a taxi to the al-Bustan Rotana Hotel. A European-looking woman in her early thirties was waiting outside the terminal. When she saw him enter the cab, she sent a text message to the head of the hit squad.
Team split into 3 groups
The team was divided into three groups: One group tracked Mabhouh, another was responsible for watching over the agents themselves, and the third group was in charge of the actual hit. Some of the agents changed their disguises as they moved through the city by changing their clothes and wigs.
When Mabhouh arrived at the hotel's reception desk, at least one Mossad agent was standing behind it to learn the number of the Hamas commander's hotel room. Two other agents, who were dressed as tennis players, followed him in the elevator to verify which room he was staying in. The opposite room was reserved by the agents.
Mabhouh left his hotel room in the early evening, and the Mossad agents continued to follow him. Hamas refuses to say who the commander met with when he left the Hotel, and Dubai police have not published photographs documenting what happened after that point, but the Times outlined two possible scenarios.
According to the first scenario, while Mabhouh was leaving the hotel, the hit squad entered his room to wait for him. The paper said the team either obtained a key or broke the lock, but that it was clear that someone had tried to reprogram the room's electronic lock.
The other possible scenario is that the team was not able to enter the room. In the case, it is estimated that one of the groups lured Mabhouh into open the door after he returned to his room. This may have been carried out by a woman wearing a black wig posing as a hotel employee.
Poison or strangulation?
According to the Times, it remains unclear what caused Mabhouh's death. The Dubai police claim he was strangled to death, but other sources say he was injected with poison. His death initially appeared to be of natural causes. As they left the rooms, the assassins hung a "Do not disturb" sign on the door, and within a few hours left the emirate to different locations, including Paris, Hong Kong, and South Africa.
Many hours passed before anyone suspected something had gone wrong. The next day, Mabhouh's wife contacted Hamas elements and said she was unable to reach her husband on his mobile phone. The hotel staff entered Mabhouh's room and found no signs of violence or a struggle, and Mabhouh appeared to be sleeping.
After the hotel staff was unable to wake Mabhouh, a doctor was called from a nearby hospital. Medication for the treatment of high blood pressure was found in his room, which Israeli sources have claimed was planted by the agents. The doctor determined that Mabhouh had died of natural causes, possibly a heart attack.
But Hamas elements, who had not forgotten the attempt on Khaled Mashaal's life 13 years ago using poison, suspected that Mabhouh was poisoned to death. However, the results of Mabhouh's autopsy were inconclusive. On Saturday a source said that burn marks caused by use of a stun gun and signs of nasal bleeding were found on Mabhouh's body, which could be the result of strangulation. Nonetheless, there is no clear evidence to attest to the cause of death.
The uncertainty led Hamas to declare that Israel had assassinated Mabhouh. The Dubai police opened an investigation, security footage was gathered and the picture quickly became clear. An Israeli source admitted that "the action teams were well aware of the security cameras in Dubai, but they were shocked with the Dubai police's ability to collect all the images."