Israel, Mossad and the British passports controversy

Will anyone condemn extrajudicial killings?

The Dubai/Hamas assassination/Mossad story continues to dominate the news. Gordon Brown has promised a "full investigation" into how fraudulent British passports were allegedly used by the killers of a senior Hamas commander in Dubai.

The national newspapers went big on it this morning, too. The Independent's front-page headline was:

The moment Mossad agents got their man?

The Daily Mail front page went with:

Terror of innocent Britons named as assassins

It also included a reference to a "Mossad hit squad" in its standfirst.

The Guardian avoided a Mossad reference in its front-page headline:

Dubai killers stole identities of UK citizens

Here's the funny thing: in most of the coverage, the shock and outrage seems to concern the stolen passports and identities, and not the unlawful killing itself. As Paul Lewis and Julian Borger wrote in the Guardian:

The Israeli government would not comment tonight on allegations of its involvement in Mabhouh's killing, which, if confirmed, would trigger a diplomatic row with Britain, and the other three European nations whose passports were used: Ireland, Germany and France.

So as long as suspected Israeli assassins avoid using passports issued by western nations as part of their illegal and murderous activities abroad, that's fine. We can carry on with our lives. Turn a blind eye. The Israelis, of course, have form when it comes to assassinations abroad.

Let me ask you this: can you imagine the reaction if members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard were suspected of assassinating an Iranian dissident living in Dubai, or an Israeli politician or general visting a foreign country?

But Israel's long-standing policy of "targeted killings", or assassinations, is tolerated by the "international community". Western nations have, in a sense, become complicit -- in fact, under Bush and Obama, the US has emulated the illegal and bloody practice in its own so-called war on terror.

Why? Because Israeli assassins, or US assassins, kill terrorists. Baddies. Wanted men. Really? That makes it OK? So which member of the international community will be sending a hit squad to Israel to "take out" that wanted terrorist, Yitzhak Shamir?

UPDATE: Robert Fisk has written an interesting piece on possible "collusion" by western intelligence agencies in the killing.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The Taliban's succession crisis will not diminish its resilience

Haibatullah Akhunzada's appointment as leader of the Taliban may put stress on the movement, but is unlikely to dampen its insurgency. 

After 19 years under the guidance of the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Omar, the group has now faced two succession crises in under a year. But although Haibatullah Akhunzada’s appointment as leader of the Taliban will likely put stress on the movement, it shows few signals of diminishing its renewed insurgency.

The news pretty much ends speculation about former leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death in a US airstrike in Pakistan’s south-western Baluchistan province, which was criticised by Islamabad as a violation of its sovereignty.

The Taliban would have prepared extensively for this eventuality. The fast appointment, following days of intense council, appears to be a conspicuous act of decisiveness. It stands in contrast to the two-year delay the movement faced in announcing the death of the Mullah Omar. It will be not be lost on the Taliban that it was subterfuge around the death of Mullah Omar that caused the fracture within the movement which in turn led to the establishment of an ISIS presence in the country.

The appointment is a victory for the Taliban old guard. As former head of the Taliban's judiciary and Mullah Mansour’s deputy, in many ways, Haibatullah is a natural successor. Haibatullah, described by Afghanistan expert Sami Yousafzai as a “stone age Mullah,” demonstrates the Taliban’s inherent tendency to resort to tradition rather than innovation during times of internal crisis.

The decision taken by the Taliban to have an elder statesman of the group at the helm highlights the increasing marginalisation of the Haqqani network, a powerful subset within the Taliban that has been waging an offensive against the government and coalition forces in northwest Pakistan.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network who already has a bounty of 5 million dollars on his head, was touted in some Taliban circles as a potential successor, however the decision to overlook him is a conservative move from the Taliban. 

The Taliban’s leadership of the jihad against the Afghan government is hinged on their claims to religious legitimacy, something the group will hope to affirm through the Haibatullah’s jurisprudential credentials. This assertion of authority has particular significance given the rise of ISIS elements in the country. The last two Taliban chiefs have both declared themselves to be amir ul-momineen or ‘leader of the faithful,’ providing a challenge to the parallel claims of ISIS’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Any suggestions that Mansour’s death will lead to the unravelling of the Taliban are premature. The military targeting of prominent jihadi leaders within group structures has been seen in operations against the leadership of ISIS, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and other groups.

In recent research for the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics, we found that it is often less prominent jihadis that play an integral role in keeping the movement alive. Targeted killings do create a void, but this often comes at the expense of addressing the wider support base and ideological draw of militant outfits. This is particularly relevant with a relatively decentralised movement like the Taliban.

Such operations can spur activity. If the example of the Taliban’s previous leadership succession is to be heeded, we might expect renewed attacks across Afghanistan, beyond the group’s strongholds near the eastern border with Pakistan. The brief capture of Kunduz, Afghanistan's fifth-largest city, at the end of September 2015, was a show of strength to answer the numerous internal critics of Mullah Mansour’s new leadership of the movement.

In a news cycle dominated by reports of ISIS, and to a diminishing extent al-Qaeda, atrocities, it is important to comprehend the renewed brutality of the Afghan insurgency.  Data from the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics Global Extremism Monitor found a seventeen per cent rise in fatalities from March to April, marking the start of the Taliban’s spring fighting season. A suicide attack in central Kabul on the headquarters of an elite military unit that killed 64 people was the single most deadly act of terror around the world in the month of April, and the group’s bloodiest attack in the Afghan capital for years. Reports this morning of a suicide attack on a bus killing 10 staff from an appeal court west of Kabul, suggests that the violence shows no sign of diminishing under the new leadership.

All these developments come during a period of renewed impetus behind international peace talks. Last week representatives from Pakistan were joined by delegates from Afghanistan, the United States, and China in an attempt to restart the stalled negotiation process with the Taliban.

Haibatullah Akhunzada’s early leadership moves will be watched closely by these countries, as well as dissonant voices within the movement, to ascertain what the Taliban does next, in a period of unprecedented challenge for the infamously resilient movement. 

Milo Comerford is a South and Central Asia Analyst for the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics