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Dubai assassination: UAE demands justice but with what leverage?

In the Dubai assassination, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has summoned European ambassadors in an effort to pressure Europe to take action against Israel over its alleged killing of a Hamas commander last month.

By Carol HuangStaff Writer / February 22, 2010

Pictures of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a former Hamas commander killed in Dubai last month, are seen at al-Yarmouk camp near Damascus, Jordan, on Monday. In the aftermath of the Dubai assassination, tensions between the UAE and Europe are heating up.

Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters

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Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Diplomatic tensions are heating up over the forged European passports used by a hit squad that came to Dubai to murder of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

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But there's not a lot that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) can do beyond complaining to European ambassadors. The focus now is mostly on European countries calling in Israeli diplomats, and the European Union, which today issued a public condemnation of the use of forged passports.

The UAE has very liberal rules for Europeans coming here: they can currently enter the country without even a visa. But many experts doubt that much will be done to tighten those rules. Some say the Arab emiratet may simply urge Europe to improve its passport security or provide technical assistance to better detect forgeries.

The growing international political drama over the Dubai assassination could ultimately fizzle, say experts here, and leave many of the same rules and relationships in place, particularly in the case of the UAE, which has limited leverage.

“The only thing” the UAE can do to Europe is say, “the privileges I’m giving to your citizens could be reviewed,” says Mustafa Al Ain, head of security and defense studies at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai.

As for Israel, he continues, “possibly they will take pressure now,” but the issue “will die sooner or later.” Over the years Israel has carried out assassinations using passports from Canada and New Zealand but not suffered serious repercussions, he points out.

EU issues ‘strong’ condemnation

For now, public pressure is growing for Israel, whose spy agency, Mossad, is widely believed to have carried out the Jan. 20 murder and forged at least 11 European (two Irish, six British, one French, and two German) passports to do so.

All four countries have brought Israeli envoys in for talks in recent days, and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is meeting with several of his counterparts at an EU gathering on Monday to discuss the issue. During the session the EU “strongly condemned” the use of forged passports in the assassination of Mr. Mabhouh.

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