Police in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) investigating the Hamas assassination in Dubai have released a pile of evidence that points towards an Israeli connection to the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, but so far no smoking gun.
Dubai Police Chief Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim told the Monitor on Monday that he suspects most of the 27 suspects involved in the alleged hit squad are now in Israel, and two of them have taken refuge in the United States. He has also said that he is "99 percent" certain that the Mossad, Israel's external intelligence organization, was behind Mr. Mabhouh's killing.
In addition to the fact that many of the identities used in what have since been shown to be fraudulent European and Australian passports were stolen from Jewish immigrants to Israel, the prepaid credit cards that some of the assassins used to pay for their hotel rooms and plane tickets were issued by a company with ties to the Jewish state.
Dubai police say the cards were issued by the Iowa-based MetaBank, which in turn subcontracted the details of the card to New York-based Payoneer, a company that issues prepaid cards and provides banking services similar to Paypal.
MetaBank issued the pre-paid cards. But Payoneer is the company that receives payment to be loaded onto the cards and acts as the broker between MetaBank and the customers – in this case the people Dubai police alleged participated in the murder.
The closely held Payoneer's Chief Executive Officer is Yuval Tal, an Israeli national who described himself as a former Israeli Special Forces commando in a 2006 interview on Fox News about Israel's war in Lebanon (video of the interview is at the bottom of this post). The company's website says it also has a research and development facility in Tel Aviv.
"It’s a war that they cannot lose -- the Israelis have to win this war,” he told Fox of Israel's war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in 2006.
A major investor in Payoneer is US-based venture capital firm Greylock Partners, which has an office in Tel Aviv. Greylock partner, and founder of its Israel office, Moshe Mor served six years in the Israel Army as a captain in military intelligence, according to his profile at Greylock's website.
According to the website of Birthright Israel, which provides free 10-day trips for young Jews to visit Israel every summer, a Payoneer card must be obtained by all participants in the program to process a $250 deposit associated with the trip. Birthright, which receives about half of its funding from the Israeli government and the remainder from private Jewish charities, says it will provide free trips to 15,000 Jews aged 18-26 from more than 20 countries this coming summer.
On Tuesday, Dubai said it would bar Israeli dual nationals from traveling to the wealthy Emirate in retaliation for the murder. Dubai, a regional banking and tourism center, has generally liberal visa rules. Though like most Arab states, the UAE does not have a peace agreement with Israel, Dubai has generally taken a more relaxed stance toward Israeli visitors than other Arab states. In February, the government allowed Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer to participate in a tournament in Dubai.
To be sure, there's no evidence of tie between the company and the people who carried out the murder beyond that of customer and client. And it's hard to see why a company with Israeli ties would have necessarily been used for the prepaid cards even if Israel was involved. The fake passports used by the suspects were enough to fool immigration officers at the Dubai airport. So it's hard to see why the stolen identities used by the alleged assassins wouldn't have been sufficient to obtain prepaid cards from a company with few or no Israeli ties.
A press spokesman for the company said in an email that "Payoneer is not providing additional comment to the media at this time."
Below, a Youtube video of Payoneer CEO Yuval Tal talking about Israel's war in Lebanon in 2006 on Fox & Friends.
(This story was updated after publishing to include that Payoneer declined to comment and to correct a misspelling in a photo caption.)