Israel as a rogue state

Israel's practice of illegal assasinations, such as the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhough in Dubai, is in line with its ruthless policy of consolidating its occupation, expanding illegal settlements, and tightening its economic hold over Palestinians — in defiance of Security Council resolutions and global opinion.

Overwhelming evidence has now emerged that Israel’s notorious secret service Mossad assassinated Mahmoud al-Mabhough of the Palestinian-Islamist group Hamas in Dubai on January 20. Closed-circuit television footage of the operation, available at, leaves little room for doubt of Mossad’s involvement.

According to the London Sunday Times, the plot was approved by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, no less. Mossad is believed to have 48-50 members in assassination teams called Kidon, in addition to 100 field agents termed Katsa. The criminality of al-Mabhough’s killing stands compounded by the use of forged passports of British, Irish, French and German citizens of dual nationality living in Israel. These included one diplomatic passport.

Mossad’s cold-blooded murder of an unarmed man is patently illegal and indefensible. Israel has recklessly used such illegal means to the point of jeopardising its intelligence-sharing and diplomatic relations with friendly countries. In the 1980s, the UK government shut down Mossad’s British operations after it forged British passports. But Mossad habitually practises such means in many countries, barring the US.

The west’s reaction to the assassination has been mild and timid, although it flagrantly breaches international law, besides elementary norms of civilised conduct. The British foreign secretary’s “outrage” was targeted more at the forgery of British passports than at al-Mabhough’s murder, surely an incomparably greater offence.

If an Iranian agency had been implicated in murdering an Iranian resistance member, an emergency UN Security Council meeting would have been convened, and stiff sanctions imposed. Israel must be censured for al-Mabhough’s assassination. It’s legitimate for Mossad to gather intelligence, but lawful states don’t assassinate their opponents.

Israel has long used assassination as state policy, and killed numerous opponents from Fatah, Hamas and Hezbollah – most famously, Hezbollah’s Abbas al-Masawi in the early 1990s, and Hamas’s wheelchair-bound, nearly blind, quadriplegic Sheikh Yassin in 2004.

The world must tell Israel that this won’t be tolerated. Not only are non-judicial executions morally repugnant. They will eventually jeopardise the safety of western and Israeli citizens. Assassinations have often been used by colonial governments to decapitate liberation movements. But they at best cause a temporary setback. Soon, new leaders or more militant organisations emerge.

So far, Hamas has confined its anti-Israeli activities to Israeli-Palestinian soil. If Mossad continues to target its leaders on foreign soil, then Hamas could also reciprocate, leading to more violence and mayhem.

Mossad is generally lionised in the media as a super-efficient, flawlessly-run agency. But Mossad has often bungled. In 1973, it killed a Moroccan waiter in Norway, mistaking him for a Palestinian guerilla. In 1997, it tried to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Mashal in Jordan by spraying nerve toxin into his ear, but failed; its agents took shelter in Israel’s embassy and the US forced Israel to produce the antidote for the poison.

In 2004, New Zealand imposed sanctions on Israel after two suspected Mossad agents were jailed for six months for trying to obtain false passports — one in the name of a quadriplegic man who had been unable to speak for years.

Mossad has had some big successes, as in kidnapping nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu from Rome (1986), and in killing a Canadian ballistics expert, Gerald Bull, in Brussels (1990). Israel considered killing Vanunu too, but eventually jailed him for 18 years after a secret trial. Its successes are often achieved repulsively and at a high cost. Al-Mabhough was attacked with a stun-gun, tortured and smothered, besides being shot.

His assassination follows Israel’s ruthless policy of consolidating its occupation, expanding illegal settlements, and tightening its economic hold over Palestinians — in defiance of Security Council resolutions and global opinion.

Israel’s daily infliction of pain and humiliation on the Palestinians, its policy of pauperising them, and controlling their physical movement, makes classical colonialism look like a picnic. No Palestinian may go to his field, cross a village, or earn a living without the Israeli state’s permission.

Israel has turned the Gaza Strip into a wretched, open-air prison. People’s movement in the West Bank is severely regulated through 700-900 checkpoints, barriers and closures (state-imposed bandhs) — as many as 100 a year.

The 20-kilometre drive between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the capital of non-sovereign Palestine, takes Israelis 20 minutes. A Palestinian could take between two hours and forever. Scores of Palestinian women, stuck at barriers and denied ambulances, are forced to give birth without medical attention.

Israel imposed the unjust 1992 Oslo accords on the compromised Yasser Arafat leadership, but reneged on them. Arafat and his protégé Mahmoud Abbas — now Palestine Authority president — were systematically isolated and weakened. Abbas’s writ doesn’t extend to Gaza, leave alone East Jerusalem, Palestine’s historic capital. The PLO recognised Israel and agreed to keep only 22 per cent of Palestine’s original area. But that wasn’t generous enough for Israel, which thieved yet more land and water from the Palestinians.

Successive US governments have coddled Israel, protected it from sanctions despite violations of UN resolutions, and pumped huge economic and military aid — equivalent to $1,000 for each citizen. President Bush was particularly indulgent and all but legitimised illegal settlements. He even denied the Palestinian refugees uprooted by the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe) their right of return — a fundamental international right.

President Barack Obama raised hope by reiterating his support for talks for an independent Palestine in his Cairo University address last June. But Obama hasn’t reined in Israel’s rogue-like regime. Instead he has dropped US insistence on freezing settlements. Other western powers like France periodically make the right noises, but don’t act effectively.

Israel is trying hard to gain diplomatic space by courting small and weak states in Africa and Asia. It has also built a strong military-supply and intelligence-sharing relationship with India. India, which long advocated an independent Palestine, now cravenly sides with Israel and didn’t even unequivocally condemn the 2008 invasion of Gaza, for which Israel stands indicted by the UN’s Goldstone Report.

Israel cynically exploits India’s fear of terrorism by offering anti-terrorism expertise and equipment. India is now Israel’s biggest weapons customer and is buying equipment including sophisticated anti-missile systems. Israel often jumps the military bidding process by setting up joint ventures with India’s public sector arms procedures.

This unhealthy relationship is unbecoming of an emerging power with a history of non-alignment. Israel’s roguish conduct is one of the greatest barriers to peace in West Asia. The fear of Israeli power is used by countries like Iran to escalate uranium enrichment and crack down upon domestic dissidents.

Hundreds of Iranian dissidents have been rounded up for protests against the recent allegedly rigged presidential elections and for their sympathies for domestic reformists. Some are falsely charged with spying, which attracts the death sentence.

One such Iranian is social scientist Kian Tajbakhsh, who was married to an Indian and has visited South Asia many times. (For more information, visit

The more Israel acts like a rogue, the more it will encourage the persecution of people like Tajbakhsh, and inflame anti-west sentiment in the Arab world, fuelling turmoil, unrest and violence.

A settlement of the Palestinian question remains a precondition for a real breakthrough in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Muslim world. This can only happen if Israel is tamed, effectively delegitimised as a law-abiding state, and punished — instead of being indulged.

About the authors

Praful Bidwai

Praful Bidwai is a political columnist, social science researcher, and activist on issues of human rights, the environment, global justice and peace. He currently holds the Durgabai Deshmukh Chair in Social Development, Equity and Human Security at the Council for Social Development, Delhi, affiliated to the Indian Council for Social Science Research. 

A former Senior Editor of The Times of India, Bidwai is one of South Asia’s most widely published columnists, whose articles appear in more than 25 newspapers and magazines. He is also frequently published by The Guardian, Le Monde Diplomatique and Il Manifesto.

Bidwai is a founder-member of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (India). He received the Sean MacBride International Peace Prize, 2000 of the International Peace Bureau, Geneva & London. 

He was a Senior Fellow, Centre for Contemporary Studies, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi. Bidwai is the co-author, with Achin Vanaik, of South Asia on a Short Fuse: Nuclear Politics and the Future of Global Disarmament, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999, a radical critique of the nuclearisation of India and Pakistan and of reliance on nuclear weapons for security.  

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