We won't know if the Dubai assassination was worth it until we have all the facts.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Feb. 22 2010 2:56 PM

A Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Dubai Assassination

We won't know if it was worth it until we have all the facts.

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The truth is, such love-hate relationships aren't unique to Israelis or to intelligence agencies. This is another example of the familiar art of elevating and demoting maverick politicians, trendy artists, and the authors of brainy new ideas—the habit of journalism that is driven by a constant need for excitement. "Just as the previous mood of self-congratulation [about the success of the operation] was overheated and ill-advised, so too, now, is the opprobrium," wrote a lonely voice of balanced reason.

Anyway, how can we seriously evaluate the costs and the benefits, the singularity of the achievement and the profundity of the scandal, without having all the necessary information about Mabhouh's future plans available?

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Will it now be more difficult for the Iranians to send weapons to Gaza? And if so, for how long? What will it cost to replace Mabhouh? Was he uniquely skilled in his field—an irreplaceable master terrorist? Or were the killers wasting costly bait on the equivalent of goldfish? Did the country that carried out the attack just lose half its force of professional assassins? Will Israel suffer diplomatically because of this operation—as some have warned—or is it just the passing scandal of the week that will go away quickly—as others have argued?

Will it now be more difficult to carry out such operations? Has a new era dawned on the ancient art of targeted killings—as some have claimed—because of the sophisticated biometric tools available to catch the perpetrators? Didn't the people who planned the Dubai operation realize that times were changing? If you can't answer most of these questions with at least some confidence, you can't say whether the operation was worth it.

When benefits are vague, costs are hotly debated, and context is lacking from all accounts of the Dubai assassination, calculating whether it was worth it becomes more of a hunch than a thoughtful analysis.

Context is the most important component of every story: It would be one thing to learn that Mossad failed in one operation out of 200—and quite another to learn that it didn't completely succeed in one operation out of three. It is hard to judge the demands for investigations and for the removal of high officials or acknowledgment of error when successes are kept under wraps and only mishaps are made known to the public—in short, when perspective is missing. But that is the very nature of covert activities. And whether or not we are in a new era of clandestine operations, that isn't likely to change much.

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Shmuel Rosner is a contributing opinion writer for the International New York Times, and political editor for the Jewish Journal

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