The assassination of a senior Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai in January was not the first such Israeli assassination of a Palestinian and will most probably not be the last. This one, however, created the biggest international furor that Israel may yet have faced over such an act.
There are three reasons for these strong and negative international reactions. First, the murder happened on sovereign Arab soil and in a country that has been looked on as an example of economic success based on security and stability.
That it happened, moreover, shortly after Dubai allowed an Israeli minister to take part in an international conference there and at a time when the US was exerting extra effort to convince moderate Arab states, such as the United Arab Emirates, to make gestures to Israel as part of attempts to renew a political process, just adds insult to injury.
Second, those behind the operation forged passports from at least four friendly western states, thus violating their sovereignty in a way that embarrassed those governments in front of their own citizens, angered at such chutzpah.
The public outcry in these countries, including in Britain and Germany, was such that many independent analysts and journalists went so far as to accuse their own governments of complicity. Such criticism has only added to the pressure on the governments in question to evince a strong and critical reaction as well as actively pursue the forgery cases.
Third, the victim was accused of taking part in the capture and killing of two Israeli soldiers 20 years ago as well as arms dealing. But to determine guilt we are asked simply to take Israel’s word. This is typical. Israel has acted as judge and executioner for decades now, constantly by-passing universally accepted norms for prosecuting people through transparent procedures.
Before Mabhouh, the last example of such behavior was the assassination of three Palestinians in January in Nablus. Israel justified their murders by saying the victims had been party to the killing of a settler. But no courtroom heard their case, nor was a jury involved to determine sentence. They had no legal representation; they were simply killed.
This latest murder is entirely consistent with this typical Israeli disregard for international legality and other states’ sovereignty. And the way the international community in the past has treated Israel’s negligence of international law and other people’s rights has indirectly encouraged such behavior. Israel has been allowed to act as a country above the law.
But the last year or two have witnessed growing international fatigue with such behavior, whether vis-a-vis Palestinian rights or as far as peace efforts are concerned. The fact that the Dubai authorities, so dogged and impressive in pursuing the investigation, have uncovered the many people involved and the fact that the sovereignty of so many states was violated, should encourage all these countries to pursue the case to its end and teach Israel a lesson that will be as useful to Israel as it is to the victims.
Not holding Israel accountable for its actions, as has been the case for far too long now, is directly responsible for Israel’s lurch to extremism and hooliganism.