The “false passports affair” in perspective

So much has happened and so much has been written about Israel in the media over the last few weeks that it is virtually impossible to cover all of the angles in what is known as the false passports affair.

Indeed, there has been so much conflicting commentary dressed up as “truth” and “facts” that the already muddied waters have left many observers totally confused about what really happened and the real truth is that we might never find out what happened in Dubai on 19 January 2010. 

It is not, therefore, worth repeating what has already been written in the papers over and over for recent weeks in relation to the murder of Hamas terrorist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai or the subsequent information given by the Dubai police that more than 27 people travelling on false passports were suspected to be involved in the assassination. The fact that three Australians who had made Aliyah found their world turned upside down when they were listed as suspects because their passports had been forged moved the issue back to the forefront of our local news headlines.

Let us concentrate on what we know as fact and not on rumour or guesswork.

A Hamas terrorist was found dead in his hotel room in Dubai. Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was responsible for the kidnapping and murder of two Israelis (he openly boasted about this) and was suspected of procuring heavy arms to smuggle into Gaza from Iran.

According to Dubai Police, al-Mabhouh was carrying five false passports at the time of his death and he entered the country on one of them (see more).

Three people have been arrested so far in connection with al-Mabhouh’s death – all of them Palestinians. Ahmad Hasnin and Anwar Shekhaiber, both members of Hamas’ rival Fatah, were arrested in Jordan and have been extradited to Dubai. The third man arrested, Nahro Massoud, is a Hamas security operative who was arrested in Damascus (see more). While journalists are quick to make a link between Fatah and the Mossad, suggesting that both groups would have a vested interest in collaboration, most are reticent about how a Hamas operative entered the picture (see more).

After a hiatus of several weeks, Dubai Police Chief, Lieutenant General Dahi Tamim Khalfan suddenly announced the discovery that several suspects filmed in and around the deceased’s hotel had entered on fake passports of various nationalities bearing the names of Israeli citizens. He finally declared that Mossad was involved in the killing of al-Mabhouh. “It is 99%, if not 100%, that Mossad is standing behind the murder” (see more).

Never mind that General Tamim is talking about a renowned professional security outfit. It is one thing to suggest that the Mossad would behave in such a clumsy manner but it is a bit of a stretch to claim that three of the suspected assassins, including one travelling on an Australian passport, fled Dubai to Iran on an earlier trip to scope out the area (see more) and that this is typical behaviour of the Mossad.

The Dubai police chief certainly has hours and hours of video footage of people walking around a hotel foyer in shonky disguises. The crazy pictures have become the key evidence in pinning the guilt on the Israelis. Boaz Guttman, a former officer with Israel’s National Fraud Unit, who believes Dubai police do not have any serious evidence that could be presented in court. He put it this way: “Investigators can’t march into the office of the Israel police inspector-general and show him a copy of (London’s) The Sunday Times newspaper… Rumours don’t count as evidence” (see more).

General Tamim has continually boasted that Dubai has more than ten thousand surveillance cameras deployed and that the investigation “included analysing hundreds of hours of video recordings, as well as monitoring around 300 taxi drivers in order to know what cars were used by the accused, not to mention reviewing the records of around fifteen thousand Europeans who visit Dubai daily out of a total of 48 million travellers who visit Dubai each year” (see more).

General Tamim has all of this wonderful surveillance footage at his fingertips but is he really a good cop? How is it that al-Mabhouh, a man suspected of trading arms, was able to enter his country on a false passport and carry out arms deals on its soil? Why has this technology not been used to assist in the world’s fight against illegal arms smuggling and terrorism? Surely his new friends down at Interpol could make use of some of this information?

With no concrete evidence and a police force that is apparently selective in its law enforcement priorities, it could not be very comforting to know that General Tamim not only has a problem Israelis but he also has a problem with Jews. This week he declared that the police would be able to recognise Israeli dual-citizens trying to enter Dubai by discerning “physical features and the way they speak.” One Israeli government official put it best when he sarcastically asked, “how are they going to know if someone is Israeli? Long noses? Pockets full of money?” (see more). Of course most of the media has played down this racist stereotyping, even our own broadsheet, The Australian where that part only rated a two-sentence mention. The issue was not even on the Age’s agenda.

The attempts to play down Tamim’s racist bent ignore what he actually said in Arabic where it was reported that he said ‘he will train our personnel in the passport of the forms and features of the Jewish people and their names, noting that no one can hide their features of Jewishness. He asked the appropriate departments to prepare nationality and residency sessions to familiarise the staff with [Jewish] forms and names, especially since most Jews hold dual passports [with Israel]’ (see more). Thanks General Tamim, Next time I travel, I’ll do my best to hide my horns!

In light of what we do know about the affair, our local broadsheet has adopted a questionable stance. Ignoring many of the undisputed facts, the Age publishes vile cartoons and op-eds which accept that Israel is complicit even when the investigation is still continuing on several fronts.

While many of the usual suspects around town and in the media have jumped to conclusions in their haste to condemn Israel and Israel alone for its perceived involvement in the passport affair, it has been most disappointing to read that some old friends have also rushed to judgement on the flimsiest of evidence. It seems that it is now the way of the world that such principles as the rule of law and innocence until found guilty have been thrown out of the window where Israel and the Jewish people are concerned. Rumour and innuendo are now enough to convict us.

Strangely, not many news agencies are reporting a story that came out in the Arab press on Tuesday that according to a preliminary Hamas investigation, al-Mabhouh was likely being tracked by agents from Jordan and Egypt. According to Mahmoud Nasser, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, ‘Mabhouh had proof that an Arab security force was focusing its efforts on carrying out a strike again Islamic resistance (see more here and here).

In the meantime, the Australian Federal Police sent three policeman to interview the three Australians whose passports where allegedly falsified. They are to be interviewed not as suspects but as “witnesses to a crime” (see more). There are many that believe that sending police officers over to Israel is a waste of time. As Boaz Guttman put it, “without belittling their capabilities, all of this is a show put on for domestic consumption by Britain and Australia, to show that they are doing something” (see more).

Perhaps the AFP will get something out of this trip other than making headlines for an alleged hit-and-run accident involving an AFP car and a cyclist but would they not be better serving the Australian public better by travelling to the scene of the crime, Dubai? After all, that is where the so-called evidence is and where some independent forensic work might produce some clues as to who really faked the passports.

None of this is to suggest that stealing peoples’ identity through falsified passports is a pleasant thing but the rush to judgement against Israel is equally unpleasant, premature and out of character with the established norms of fair treatment which we have come to expect in the lucky country.

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