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Israeli film turns focus on Hamas leader's murder

By Kevin Flower, CNN
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue May 8, 2012
  • New film focuses on unsolved murder of Hamas leader in Dubai hotel in 2010
  • Police believe Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh was killed by team of foreign agents
  • Dubai police said they were 100% certain that the Mossad was behind plot
  • Director of "The Javelin" says he is trying to offer an alternative storyline

(CNN) -- A tall and beguiling blonde sits alone at the bar of a luxury Middle Eastern hotel. Looking across the lobby she seductively eyes a mustached Arab man. Emboldened by her enticing glances he approaches the bar and they begin chatting.

Unbeknown to the man, he has just taken the bait in an elaborate trap that, in a matter of hours, will lead to his death and an international murder mystery.

Their conversation is carefully recorded on camera and watched on a monitor by a team of technical experts a short distance away. They carefully assess the movements of their subjects and when the Arab man finally moves away from his new female acquaintance one of the observers cries "cut!"

The scene -- loosely based on a true story -- is being played out on the set of a new Israeli film called "The Javelin," showcasing the unsolved murder of Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room more than two years ago.

Al-Mabhouh, a founding member of Hamas' military wing, was found dead on January 20, 2010. Police believe he was killed the night before by a team of foreign agents, who after tracking al-Mabhouh's movements from Syria into the United Arab Emirates, entered his hotel room, injected with him a muscle relaxant and then suffocated him.

Speaking from the set at an Israeli resort hotel the film's writer and director Emmanuel Naccache says he was immediately intrigued by the cloak-and-dagger case worthy of an Ian Fleming or John le Carre novel.

"What really fascinated me about this story was that within 5 minutes one morning the whole world accepted one truth, one story which is probably true or maybe true," Naccache remarked.

That widely accepted story is that a group of more than two dozen disguised Israeli agents traveling on stolen passports were part of an elaborate plot by the Mossad spy agency to assassinate al-Mabhouh.

Closed circuit cameras in Dubai hotels and airports infamously captured the last known movements of al-Mabhouh and those of his assassins leading Dubai police to assert that they were 100% certain that the Mossad was behind the plot. A number of governments served Israel with diplomatic rebukes following the murder claiming passports from their countries had been forged as part of the operation.

The Israeli government has until this day denied any responsibility for the murder.

"I don't know if Israel carried out the assassination ...most of us kind of assume it," Naccache says.

What really fascinated me about this story was that within 5 minutes one morning the whole world accepted one truth, one story
Film director Emmanuel Naccache

But it was the lack of certainty about the facts of the case that prompted Naccache to start writing the script.

"There is the reality that everyone knows or thinks they know from the newspapers," he explains. "I want to tell the story slightly different with the same basis, with the same pictures with the same video camera and with the same type of character, but I did it my way."

The film, Naccache says, does not attempt to recreate the known events in the al-Mabhouh case, but rather offers an alternative storyline to the one he says has become widely accepted.

Naccache says he tries to answer some frequently asked questions about the assassination plot: Did the assailants want to be seen? Were they not aware of the ubiquity of closed circuit surveillance cameras in Dubai or did they just not care? And, did the agents overestimate their own abilities and underestimate the investigative skills of the Dubai police?

This is not the first time the Dubai killing has served as grist for Israeli popular culture. Just weeks after details of the case started emerging, an Israeli supermarket chain produced a television advertisement shot entirely on surveillance cameras with shoppers dressed as the agents in Dubai furtively stalking grocery aisles looking for bargains. "We call it an assassination of prices!" the commercial's director joked at the time, raising questions about the tastefulness of marketing off a murder.

Al-Mabhouh's assassination is not considered a laughing matter in Dubai or Gaza where his family lived, but in Israel the widespread belief that the Mossad was involved in the extra-judicial killing of a man considered to be a terrorist serves as a point of pride for many.

Speaking at a media event for the new film, Israeli model-turned-actress Bar Refaeli, who plays a femme fatale impersonating a secret agent, underscored the admiration many in the country feel for those working in the Mossad.

"That's my secret life dream: I would love to be in the Mossad -- and actually maybe I am -- who knows?"

Refaeli, who is one of Israel's best-known international faces, says she grew up hearing stories about the exploits of Mossad agents, but she acknowledges the sensitivity of the subject matter and works hard to avoid the politics.

"I don't want people to think that I am pro or against because it doesn't really matter what I think -- I am just playing a role as an actress in a movie that is based on a very interesting story."

An interesting story that is still a mystery. Despite a global search none of the suspects Dubai police identified as Mossad agents has been prosecuted and few are holding their breath for a breakthrough in the case.

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