The Dubai chief of police called yesterday for the arrest of Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, if it is proved that the Israeli spy agency was behind the assassination of the Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.
Lieutenant-General Dahi Khalfan Tamim called on Interpol, in a statement last night, to issue a red arrest notice seeking Mr Dagan's extradition "as a killer in case Mossad is proved to be behind the crime, which is most likely now".
An insider close to the case confirmed that Mr Dagan and Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, are top of the Gulf state's wanted list.
"Our investigations reveal that Mossad is involved in the murder of al-Mabhouh," General Tamim said. "It is 99 per cent, if not 100 per cent, that Mossad is standing behind the murder."
Police in Dubai said that they would release new evidence in the coming days that proves that the assassination can be traced to the Mossad headquarters in Herzliya, a suburb north of Tel Aviv. Officials have never ruled Mossad out of their investigation but have stopped short of accusing the Israeli spy agency directly until now.
Some Israeli commentators are openly calling for Mr Dagan to resign, arguing that the diplomatic row and negative publicity generated by the assassination are unacceptable.
Gideon Levy, a correspondent for the Hebrew daily Haaretz, accused the Mossad chief of acting recklessly. "We have long forgotten that Mossad is supposed to be an intelligence-gathering organisation, not one that sows death, and that a lawful state does not operate hit squads.
"To the roars of approval by the pundits, Dagan has just been given another year on job [sic], his eighth. Why? Partly because he's a specialist at liquidation," he wrote.
However, officials in the Israeli Foreign Ministry said that it was "highly unlikely" that Mr Dagan would step down before his tenure expires.
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The softly spoken former paratrooper was wounded twice in more than 30 years of service in the Israeli Army. He served as head of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau, and became a confidant of Ariel Sharon, the future Prime Minister, during their years in the Israel Defence Forces.
A former Mossad agent who worked for Mr Dagan told The Times that he was likely to ride out the storm: "Mossad is facing a lot of anger right now over the use of British and European passports. I don't know if Mossad was actually involved or how they got those passports, though I can say that Dagan isn't the kind of man to care about angering a few people to get the job done. He is what you would call a one-man show."
Talk of Mr Dagan's unwillingness to share power surfaced early in his tenure, when The Jerusalem Post reported that more than 200 Mossad agents had resigned over his style.
Officials in Dubai have conceded that it could be almost impossible to catch al-Mabhouh's killers. Even if the assassins were somehow identified, the United Arab Emirates has no diplomatic relations with Israel, let alone judicial co-operation agreements.
So far the only suspects being held are three Palestinians accused of working with the Israelis. Ahmad Hasnin, a Palestinian intelligence operative, and Anwar Shekhaiber, a Palestinian Authority official in Ramallah, were arrested in Amman and have been extradited to Dubai, Jordanian officials said. A third man, named by Palestinian media as Nahro Massoud, a Hamas security operative, was arrested in Damascus. All three were residents of the Gaza Strip until the Hamas takeover in June 2007, and a Hamas official in Gaza said that it was "likely" that they knew al-Mabhouh, who was killed in his hotel room in Dubai on January 19.
Dubai's police chief said that one of the Palestinians extradited from Jordan had been observed meeting one of the suspected Mossad agents.
Israel has long had a far-reaching network of Palestinian collaborators. In the past, defence officials have acknowledged that Israel's security establishment depends highly on "turning" Palestinians into collaborators using various methods that include blackmail, money or threats.
Mr Dagan's predecessor, the British-born Ephraim Halevy, was known for a more diplomatic approach, Amir Oren, a military correspondent for the Israeli daily Haaretz, said. "Dagan, meanwhile, is not trying to come across as diplomatically elegant."
While some Israelis have argued that Mr Dagan should resign, many are pleased with the way he runs the agency. "Mossad have renewed the aura that the name used to generate in the region," Alon Ben David, an Israeli intelligence analyst, told Israeli radio.