Israel will do business anywhere (with friend or foe)

This is a wonderful essay in the New York Review of Books about Dubai, a city continually built by imported slaves, and includes these fascinating insights about the role of the Jewish state in this Arab land ruled by a corrupt royal elite:

One alleged arms buyer was Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a fifty-year-old Hamas operative based in Damascus who arrived in Dubai on January 19, allegedly seeking to buy weapons from Iranian dealers. Whatever his mission, Mabhouh checked into the five-star Al Bustan Rotana Dubai Hotel near the airport. Twenty-four hours later, he was discovered dead in his room by members of the hotel staff.

A murder investigation, ordered by Dubai’s veteran police chief, Dahi Khalfan al-Tamim, revealed an elaborate plot. Al-Tamim’s team culled thousands of hours of footage from Dubai’s security cameras, tracing an assassination squad as it followed al-Mabhouh to his hotel, put on clumsy disguises, murdered him (by suffocation, forensic tests revealed), then slipped back out of the country. Using face recognition software, al-Tamim was able to identify twenty-seven men and women who had participated in the plot and name them, or at least name the Europeans whose passports had been stolen—in Israel—and duplicated in a sophisticated case of identity theft. Al-Tamim left little doubt that the murder was the work of Mossad, Israeli’s counterterrorism and intelligence agency.

Al-Tamim is known as a crack investigator. Last year, he arrested the killers of another well-known political figure, Sulim Yamadayev, a Chechen exile and a former close aide to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who was gunned down in the parking lot of the luxury Jumeirah Beach Residence on March 30, 2009. “The security services here, despite lots of attempts to discredit them and turn them into Keystone Kops, are damned good,” I was told by a British correspondent who has lived for nine years in Dubai.

Al-Tamim is also an Arab nationalist and a foe of Israel. But Dubai has always been quietly open to doing business with Israel (as has Abu Dhabi), allowing many Israeli entrepreneurs to set up shop here. These include a diamond import-export firm, run by the Israeli jewelry magnate Lev Leviev, that distributes gems to many nations in the Middle East. In fact, Israeli companies have also struck major deals with the UAE to strengthen their security facilities. One such firm is Asia Global Technologies, with offices in Zurich and Abu Dhabi. Founded by Mati Kochavi, a US-based Israeli who made a fortune in real estate before diversifying into security after September 11, the company also has a management team made up of retired Israeli generals and Mossad agents, according to a recent article in Le Figaro. AGT has built a series of “smart” security walls—equipped with sensors, facial recognition software, and other advanced technology—to protect fifteen oil installations in the UAE and the Emirates’ border with Oman. The reported price tag: $3 billion. Abu Dhabi also acquired, according to Le Figaro, two surveillance aircraft from Radom Aviation Systems in Petah Tikva, a suburb of Tel Aviv, apparently to allow it to eavesdrop on communications on three islands seized by Iran in the Persian Gulf.

Al-Mabhouh’s murder threatened to unravel a delicate and mutually bene- ficial relationship with Israel. After two weeks of daily press conferences—during which he called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s arrest—al-Tamim was apparently told by higher-ups to stop talking.