Espionage is a dirty business by Matt Rees

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You’d think there was something wrong with spying.

People pay good money to watch Daniel Craig dispose of villains in the bloodiest fashion. They nod in approval when M pushes 007′s perfect false passport across the desk. Yet everyone’s peeved about what in all likelihood is a Mossad hit against a Hamas operative in his Dubai hotel room on January 20.

Oh, that’s right, because the Hamas guy – meanies though Hamas might be – was a real human being who’s now dead, after all.

No, wait, that isn’t it. Western governments don’t really care about dead Arabs. If they did, they wouldn’t have sent Tony Blair to be the Middle East peace-process point man for the Quartet (the UN, the US, the EU and Russia), even though it ought to be perfectly clear that the only person disliked more in the Arab world than the stammering King of Cool Britannia is the future head librarian of the Presidential Library in Crawford, Texas. (Why so unpopular? Started a war that killed a lot of Iraqis, that’s why. Arabs do care about dead Arabs…sometimes.) So it isn’t the dead guy that’s behind the international fuss.

Ah, that’s right. These spies used our passports. Of the 11 assassins identified by Dubai’s police chief this week, all were carrying British, Irish, German or French passports. Three of the British passports carried the near-perfectly correct details of three Brits who’ve also taken up Israeli citizenship. Three others included names similar to European-Israeli citizens, though other details were incorrect.

To a crime novelist, the passport thing seems pretty tame. I suspect that, actually, the Euro pols and dips would like to lambaste Israel for the hit itself. They can’t quite bring themselves to do it, because, after all, Islamic extremism is the West’s current Enemy Number One. And whatever you think of Hamas, they’re into Islam and they’re pretty extreme. So the passport shenanigans get to be the focus of Euro ire.

I can understand why European governments will feel the need to throw a diplomatic hissy fit. But they’re wasting their time on the Israelis. In Israel you can throw a real, full-on hissy fit in public at some outrageous slight, and your Israeli target will simply go blank-faced and turn away, as though you’re the one who’s gone too far. The diplomatic version is laughably unsuited to the Middle East.

In other words, diplomacy in this region is pointless. You want someone to get a message, you kill.

If that sounds like the world of crime fiction, then that’s why this neighborhood is so well-suited to the genre. That’s why my Palestinian crime novels are a better way to understand the reality of this place than the international pages of your newspaper (which, you can be sure, will be running stories in which diplomatic protests by Whitehall and the Quai d’Orsay are taken seriously, rather than being treated as the piffling waste of time that they truly are.) Don’t take them seriously. Get yourself a novel instead.

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