You might not think there was anything particularly funny about the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on January 19 - allegedly by agents of Israel's dreaded Mossad secret service using stolen identities. But then again, you might not live in Israel. An Israeli supermarket chain certainly knows a joke when it sees one and recently commissioned a TV commercial spoofing the hit, calling it "a funny take of the event."
As reported by news agencies, on Wednesday the discount Mahsanei Kimat Hinam (The Almost Free Warehouse) chain filmed a commercial using footage from its own surveillance cameras. Three actors stroll through the frozen section wearing odd clothes and carrying tennis gear as they "secretly" place items into their shopping cart. This is an obvious reference to hotel security camera images showing the alleged Mossad assassins walking through the lobby and corridors of the Al-Bustan Rotana Hotel in similarly conspicuous apparel. An actress wearing a floppy hat comments on camera that she "cannot admit to anything," recalling Israel's long-standing policy of refusing to comment on Mossad activities. The commercial's slogan is: "Eliminate the prices."
Advertising executive Sefi Shaked, who came up with the idea, told reporters: "We were fascinated by the technique of using surveillance cameras instead of [expensive] high production commercial cameras, and the latest events in Dubai gave us a great opportunity." He rejected the notion that the commercial was in poor taste, pointing out that TV shows and standup comics in Israel had been running with the assassination story for weeks. Mahsanei Kimat Hinam plans to run the commercial in Passover season starting in late March.
Coming in the same week as the Israeli government’s announcement of new home building in East Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden and the start of the Rachel Corrie civil trial in Haifa, the new commercial will hardly improve the country’s pockmarked image abroad. Many Israelis understand this all too clearly. As the ISRAELITY blog comments: "The ad … points to the well-established trait of Israelis being totally oblivious sometimes to international sensitivities and norms regarding certain behavior and actions. When you first make aliya, it can be kind of charming, but sometime along the line, it becomes another one of those annoying things that make you wonder if we care at all how we’re perceived by the outside world." But one thing is for certain: With media attention like this, Mahsanei Kimat Hinam is guaranteed to make a killing.
James Bond - or Johnny English?
The Israeli government had been hunting al-Mabhou, a co-founder of Hamas's militant Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, for the murder of two Israeli soldiers in 1989 and also for allegedly smuggling arms to Hamas militants in Gaza. Agents followed him to his Dubai hotel room, where they drugged and suffocated him. They had apparently intended the death to appear natural.
So far, police investigators have pointed to twenty-seven suspects. The hit squad carried out its assignment using forged passports and identities stolen from British, Irish, French, German, and Australian citizens. Many of these identities belonged to dual nationals residing in Israel, which will likely mean endless complications for these citizens for years to come.
Security camera footage taken in Dubai
(Source: Times online)
The assassination has captured the Israeli imagination less for its audacity (which Israelis have come to expect from Mossad) than for its seeming incompetence. It was more Johnny English than James Bond. As Seumas Milne wrote in The Guardian last month: "In reality, the Dubai operation was badly bungled, as the Israeli press has already started to acknowledge. Despite having the relatively easy target of an unarmed man in a luxury hotel in a non-hostile Gulf state, Mossad managed to get its agents repeatedly caught on CCTV and effectively exposed Israel's responsibility through the hamfisted passport scam." This has led to a bruising diplomatic row not only with the United Arab Emirates but also with those governments whose citizens suffered identity theft.
And yet, none of this has harmed the Mossad brand's image. If anything, all this free media exposure has made it more popular than ever before. "Mossad has been restored to its glory days," says former deputy director Ilan Mizrahi. The organization is being swamped by job applications from would-be secret agents. Retail outlets are doing a brisk business in Mossad T-shirts and horn-rimmed sunglasses like those worn by fourteen of the suspects.
In Israel these days, Mossad is the new cool.