Security officials worried Iran may attack or try to kidnap some of the tens of thousands of Israelis visiting Gulf states.
By Paul Shindman, World Israel News
The new surge of thousands of Israelis visiting the Persian Gulf for vacations or business is a major headache for the Shin Bet and Mossad, Haaretz reported Wednesday.
Last week, Israel’s National Security Council issued a special statement warning that Iran is threatening to attack Israeli targets around the world to avenge the assassination in November of its top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in an attack the Iranians blamed on Israel.
Israel’s General Security Service, the Shin Bet, only looks after security of airline flights and Israeli facilities abroad like embassies and trade missions, while the Mossad spy agency gathers intelligence on threats to the Jewish state and to Israelis abroad.
Israeli diplomats and special missions like national sports teams get Shin Bet protection, but Israeli tourists are on their own when it comes to security while traveling in foreign countries, especially Arab countries where Iran is known to operate like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
“The current holiday period – Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s – and the expectation that thousands of Israelis will flock to the UAE and Bahrain are a major new challenge for the Israeli intelligence community,” wrote veteran journalist Yossi Melman. “One attack suffices to undermine the normalization process with the two countries.”
“Israelis, who are known for their complacency and aren’t famous for obeying instructions, are likely to be relatively easy prey for a kidnapping or assassination by Iranian intelligence and its agents from Hezbollah or other Shi’ite groups,” Melman wrote. “And remember that most native Bahrainis are Shi’ites with religious, cultural and ethnic ties to Iran.”
The push by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow Israelis and Emiratis to fly between the two countries without visas means the Shin Bet can’t do background checks to see who is coming to Israel, knowing that Iranian agents will try to exploit the loophole to scout targets in Israel or recruit agents, the report said.
Iran has previously targeted Israelis traveling in the Gulf. In October, 2000, Iranian agents helped Hezbollah terrorists kidnap Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum, who at the time was in Dubai illegally. Tannenbaum was eventually released in a prisoner exchange for 435 people including Hezbollah terrorists in order to recover the bodies of three IDF soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah who died in their custody.
Hamas terrorists also are known to operate in the Gulf. In 2010, Mossad agents in Dubai assassinated senior Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh who was smuggling Iranian weapons into Gaza.
It is known that hundreds of thousands of Iranians visit or live in the UAE and Iran has set up businesses that are fronts for Iranian intelligence, and the Shin Bet is working security officials in both the UAE and Bahrain, countries that also are also threatened by Iran.
“The greatest difficulty is how to protect Israelis after they land in the Gulf – how to protect them in hotels, malls and museums, as well as on beaches and desert tours. It’s a very complex task that requires great skill. The proximity to Iran only increases the challenge,” Melman wrote.
“The impression you get from Israeli sources is that officials in both these countries, with whom the Shin Bet and Mossad have had very close ties for years, are willing to help and learn,” Melman noted.