00:00 Saturday 20 February 2010  Written by Archon

Allegations of Irish involvement in assassination of Hamas commander

Could strain this country's relationship with Israel

WHAT do you think of this: seven people, including four Irish passport holders, burst into a hotel room in Dubai at around 9pm earlier this month, pushed the occupant to the floor, tortured him with an electric weapon that they held to his head, and then suffocated him with a pillow?

The slaughtered gentleman was a Mr Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a high ranking Hamas military commander, accused by Israel of having been involved in the abduction of two of its soldiers in 1989.

A Dubai police chief said they identified the Irish passport holders as suspects and that the arrest of Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, would be sought if evidence was found to link the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, to the killing.

His comments reflected widespread belief in the Muslim world that Israel assassinated Mr Mabhouh. Hamas certainly pinned the blame on Israel, as did Iran. The Israeli government did not comment on the claims but over the years a number of Hamas leaders have died in operations that Israel calls "targeted killings". Some would argue that the proper description is "terrorism".

In 2004 Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was killed in an Israeli helicopter gunship attack in Gaza. One month later, another Hamas leader in Gaza, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, was killed when two missiles hit his car.

NO MEDIA INTEREST HERE

Dubai police said that Mr al-Mabhouh's assassins fled to a 'European country' and they did not rule out the possibility that some of the killers went to Ireland.

Strangely, the Irish media did not report the slaying - although information that the terrorists held Irish documentation was splashed across Middle East TV and newspapers. The Belfast Telegraph, however, which always had an interest in gruesome acts of terrorism, picked up the tale.

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Mickey Martin also knew about the murder. They said: "We are aware of the media reports and we are in contact with authorities locally to try and determine the truth of the reports."

So far, Mickey has not released any information on the progress of his investigation into the terrorists' use of Irish passports. Yet, it should not be an impossible task for his officials to trace the provenance of the passports.

Apparently, UAE security personnel know who the killers are and are in the process of asking Interpol to identify the strategically placed accomplices who supplied the Irish documentation.

LAW OF THE JUNGLE?

However, it remains to be seen if a Mossad hit squad was responsible for the terrible incident. If such is the case, Martin's response will be interesting. The Minister has been a critic of Israeli barbarity in Gaza and, last year, he objected to the attempt to humiliate him by refusing him entry to the devastated territory.

Indeed, should it turn out that the hit squad had origins in Mossad, the fractious relationship of this country with Israel will come under further strain. To have used Irish documentation to get into Dubai in order to carry out a heinous crime will raise the question of whether a deliberate violation of Ireland's security and of its nationals who travel to the Middle East has been committed.

The intriguing question will be to establish who is responsible for the skullduggery: the Israelis for using Irish passports or elements of the Irish government who permitted the passports to fall into criminal hands?

As matters stand, Israel has scant regard for international law or international standards, but if it is established that its intelligence agency deliberately injected an Irish tinge into an appalling killing, the conclusion has to be that its government is truly living by the law of the jungle.

Let's not forget either that Mossad has had an unhealthy interest in this country. In 1983, it supplied a consignment of Uzi sub machine guns to Loyalist paramilitaries and, in 1987, Loyalists also secured a large amount of weapons in South Africa via Mossad. That organisation had captured the arms from the PLO.

PASSPORTS FOR SALE

Of course, this is not the first time that Irish passports were used in the pursuit of criminal activities. In 1986, US official Oliver North, who was involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, used an Irish passport to travel to Iran.

Indeed, passport scandals have a long history in this little banana republic, beginning with the rogue Taoiseach, the late Charles Haughey. He sold them to the highest bidder.

For twenty million pounds in 1991, Haughey disposed of eleven Irish passports to an Arab sheikh, to seven other Saudi Arabians and to three Pakistanis. Known as the passports-for-investment scheme, some of the cash went into a company called Leisure Holdings. Passport money also went into the development of Kerry Airport and a Portarlington steel firm.

The sale of the 11 passports was later described by Justice Minister Michael McDowell as 'irregular and unusual' and, according to McDowell, raised serious questions into the role Haughey played in the scheme. Ray Burke was Justice Minister at the time the passports were issued and his involvement was one of the matters that triggered his resignation. The Moriarty Tribunal investigated the entire affair.

The Saudi sheikh at the centre of the passport scandal was married to a sister of Osama bin Laden and went on to spend time under house arrest in a military hospital in the Saudi city of Taif, as punishment for alleged involvement in channeling millions of dollars to bin Laden.

PASSPORT CLIENTISM

In fact, our politicos love dabbling in passports, particularly those processed by a special unit at the passport office that speeds up applications. It's a service available only to Oireachtas members. Brian Cowen, Willie O'Dea, Martin Cullen, Eamon Ryan, Mary Harney, Noel Dempsey, John Gormley are some of the politicos who fast-tracked 4,283 applications in 2008.

In the same year, Mary Coughlan used her special privileges to speed up 499 passport applications in just 483 days. The anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International, criticised the practice as undue interference in the work of civil servants.

Under the fast-track system, TDs and senators can leave passport applications given to them by members of the public in a drop box in Leinster House - all of which illustrates the fact tht terrorists (including Israeli terrorists) would encounter few problems in getting their paws on Irish passports.

In the meantime, we await with interest the outcome of Mickey's investigation.

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