Iran concern took heat off Mabhouh assassins

Dubai Hamas murder anniversary: ''We are living in times far more dangerous than those posed by a few cloned passports'.

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Global concerns about Iran's nuclear aspirations helped dilute the fall-out for Israel following the Al Mabhouh assassination and may have stemmed repercussions for his killers, experts say.
In the days following the 2009 assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud Al Mabhouh - when it became clear Mossad operatives had used forged passports to gain entry to Dubai - Britain, Ireland and Australia expelled Israeli diplomats, and France summoned one for explanation.
Dubai officials said 45 passports were used by 33 suspects in the hit.
"The UK was genuinely furious over the use of the passports and it was clear from the investigation by Soca [Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency] that Mossad was behind it," a senior British diplomat said.
"But the brutal truth is that we are living in times that are far more dangerous than those posed by a few cloned passports. The gesture of expelling the Mossad station chief from the Israeli Embassy in London signified the UK's annoyance. Since then, we have had to get on with more important business where both nations have mutual interests."
Interpol issued "red notices" to detain 35 suspects in connection with the January 2010 assassination of the Hamas official in Dubai, yet only one person was arrested briefly. Caught in Poland in June of that year, Israeli citizen Uri Brodsky was extradited to Germany and released on bail in August, when he flew to Israel.
"It all depends on what level of co-operation you get locally so you can move forward and make actual arrests," said Christian Koch, the director for international relations at the Gulf Research Centre in Geneva. "If there is no strong commitment by all law enforcement authorities to protect laws, then things can quickly fall apart."
The initial investigation in Britain centred on six passports, all of which were cloned at desks of the Israeli airline, El Al. Soca and Scotland Yard detectives interviewed the real passport-holders, all dual UK-Israeli citizens. None was found to have been involved in the murder.
Detectives in Ireland found that the three passports identified by Dubai police were not cloned but falsely applied for by unknown Israeli agents in the names of living Irish people.
One UK passport garnered particular interest: it was a genuine document issued to one Christopher Lockwood, a bespectacled, middle-aged man captured on CCTV cameras in Dubai.
Lockwood is believed to have been the "fixer" for the assassination, renting cars, organising accommodation and arranging other logistics. He was discovered to have changed his name in 1994 from Yehuda Lustig, a man born in Scotland in 1946 to Jewish parents from what was then British-controlled Palestine.
Then Soca investigators found the real Lustig had been killed fighting for Israel in the October War in 1973.
"Lockwood was a real 'Day of the Jackal' figure - an 'illegal', as they are called by the security services," said one official familiar with the case.
For 15 years Lockwood lived near an international railway station with "not the tightest" passport control. After the killing his home was placed under 24-hour surveillance.
"But he was never seen again," the official said. "To all intents and purposes, he has vanished."
Dr Koch believes UAE investigators have "done what they can". "They can't reach much beyond borders," he said.
Preserving low-key relations with Israel may have offset the desire to pursue the case, said Ahmed Al Attar, an Emirati commentator on security affairs. "They don't really want to cause trouble."
The countries are aligned about containing an increasingly aggressive Iran in its alleged pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
That concern has grown amid recent threats to disrupt Arab Gulf oil exports by shutting the Strait of Hormuz if the US and Europe impose new sanctions against its own supply.
"The Iranian issue is now right back at the top of the agenda. Why push something that would be of comfort to Tehran?" said Tim Williams, the director of threat intelligence at the UK-based security consultancy Stirling Assynt. "I haven't seen any sign that's likely to happen," he said. "I think this is the sort of case that falls back on political will."
Investigators here can take solace that they compromised two dozen alleged Israeli spies by publicising their photographs.
"There's almost 24 people who can't operate again," said Justin Crump, the chief executive of the British security consultancy Sibylline. "That's a big capability to lose."
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