Hamas assassination: Dubai ban on Israeli dual citizens ups pressure

The decision in Dubai to ban Israeli dual citizens is part of a calculated campaign to provoke and pressure Israel following the Hamas assassination in January.

Dubai Police/Handout/Reuters
Hamas assassination: Mahmoud al-Mabhouh (ringed), is shown arriving at his hotel in this CCTV handout from Dubai police. The decision in Dubai to ban Israeli dual citizens, in response to the assassination in January, is one part security, many parts politics.

Dubai’s decision Monday to ban Israeli dual citizens in response to the assassination here in January of a senior Hamas figure is one part security, many parts politics.

The sanction is the first by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, an alleged arms smuggler for the Palestinian Islamist group, was killed in his hotel room on Jan. 19.

In the sprawling investigation since, Dubai Police Chief Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim has said he is 99 percent sure that Israel’s Mossad spy agency carried out the assassination, in which a 27-plus member hit squad allegedly traveled on forged European and Australian passports, drugged and suffocated Mr. Mabhouh in his hotel room, then escaped through various routes to the United States and Israel.

Pushing buttons

In recent days Tamim’s regular updates on the investigation have been accompanied by angry attacks on Israel.

“Why are the Israelis transferring their problem to our land?... It’s a shame. It’s very bad,” he says, adding that the head of Mossad should resign.

In other recent comments he has challenged Israel’s top spy, Meir Dagan, to “be a man” and admit that his organization carried out the murder.

In announcing the sanction against Israeli citizens traveling to Dubai on second passports, Tamim raised hackles about racial stereotyping when he said that security personnel would be trained to identify Israelis by their accents and their faces.

These comments fit into a calculated campaign to provoke and pressure Israel, says Theodore Karasik, director of research and development at the Institute for Near Eastern and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, adding that Tamim “knows how to push the right buttons at the right time.”

“The Dubai police know exactly how they want this to unfold and they’re going to do it on their own terms, because they’re angry,” he continues. “It’s something every few days, and that’s what’s keeping it in the news.”

Because the UAE lacks diplomatic relations with Israel, it has few means to pressure the country except through other countries and through international public opinion. The lack of relations also means Israelis traveling on Israeli passports are not allowed to enter the UAE, although exceptions have been made. It was unclear if the travel ban on Israeli dual citizens applied to the entire UAE or only to Dubai.

Rather than relying on appearances and accents to identify Israeli citizens, says Dr. Karasik, Dubai authorities will likely improve their system for checking passports, including using biometric data.

Police can also identify dual nationals after they enter the country by tracking where they congregate and where their businesses have tended to be located, he adds.

Leveraging international pressure

Throughout the investigation, Tamim has also talked up the cooperation Dubai has received from Europe and Australia, whose forged passports were used in the assassination plot. He has called on their governments to investigate the matter thoroughly and to help arrest the suspects after warrants were issued for them on Interpol.

“The European countries and the UAE have to cooperate to collect evidence to condemn Israel,” says Mustafa al Ani, head of security and defense studies at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. “If not legally, then politically.”

On Tuesday Australia said it would send a team to Israel to meet with three citizens there whose second passports were used by suspected members of the hit squad. Britain sent a special police investigator a few days earlier to interview eight British-Israeli dual nationals who also had their identities stolen.

Dubai police have asked the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into the use of prepaid credit cards issued by an American bank, according to UAE-based newspaper The National.

The European Union and Australia condemned the forgery of passports last week, with the EU issuing a statement criticizing their use and Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith saying it would not be considered “the act of a friend.”

The diplomatic row may not have long-term repercussions for the nations’ generally friendly relations with Israel.

Nonetheless, for Dubai, says Mr. Ani, “the policy is to internationalize the pressure on Israel.”

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