The Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, has a well-deserved reputation for effectiveness dating back decades but, in the annals of Israeli espionage, a few operations went very bad.
Historical Mossad Spy Scandals
Twenty-five years ago, two Israeli operatives tried and failed to assassinate a Hamas leader on Jordanian soil. Jordanian agents captured the Mossad agents, leading to a diplomatic scandal and a forced Israeli apology.
In January 2010, Israeli agents assassinated Hamas military leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room. The Israeli team was large—perhaps too large—and ignored the Emirati ability to track almost everyone via closed-circuit television surveillance cameras. In the aftermath of the operation, the Emiratis released videos of the team and showed they arrived on British, French, German, Irish, and Australian passports, causing a series of diplomatic scandals (never mind that the intelligence services of the European states and Australia do the same thing).
Current Mossad Mission Blunders
Now, a third scandal has emerged in Malaysia. Earlier this month, Malaysia’s New Straits Times reported that Mossad contracted local Malaysians to kidnap an alleged Hamas computer expert. The Malaysians reportedly kidnapped one Palestinian but left his companion behind with a warning to speak to no one. Rather than remain silent, he reported the incident to police, who tracked the abducted Hamas member to a chalet where Israeli agents allegedly had begun an interrogation via a video link. The Malaysian police have charged 11 Malaysian with kidnapping in the operation. Such outsourcing and interrogation via video are increasingly common, especially in a country like Malaysia which has no diplomatic relations with Israel and to which Israelis have difficulty traveling.
Malaysia in the Aftermath
While the Malaysian government may feel triumphant, especially after Mossad allegedly assassinated a Hamas operative on Malaysian soil four years ago, it should be wary. Even as the Malaysian government has taken steps to reduce if not end capital punishment, the 11 Malaysians on trial could, in theory, face hanging if convicted. A capital verdict will be sensational for the press and garner international attention. A mass execution will shine a spotlight on the reality of Malaysia and a human rights regime similar to Iran’s.
The episode will also highlight Malaysia’s role as a terror supporter. Malaysia, alongside Pakistan and Turkey, is among the world’s most anti-Semitic countries. Malaysia is a country whose animosity toward Israel extends to hatred of Jews more broadly. Malaysian politicians may believe that an embrace of Hamas is a natural manifestation of a pro-Palestinian posture, but an embrace of Hamas comes at the expense of efforts by moderate factions within the Palestinian Authority to achieve good governance and perhaps even live in peace with the Jewish state. To support Hamas is not to be pro-Palestinian; it is to be a terror sponsor. Malaysia may kill Malaysians who allegedly collaborate with Israel, but such action could at the very least spotlight a problem that could put Malaysia on the Financial Action Task Force grey list if not its black list for terror finance and laundering.
Israel’s Mossad may lick its wounds after an operation gone wrong. Diplomatic storms pass, as Israel’s good security ties with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and its warm ties with the United Arab Emirates today now show. That will not be the case with Malaysia, but that southeast Asian country’s anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism will ultimately boomerang on Kuala Lumpur as it gets left behind while the rest of Southeast Asia—including perhaps even Indonesia—moves forward toward peace and trade. More importantly, the current episode should raise questions the world over about the direction in which Malaysia now heads as a terror sponsor and logistics hub.
Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).