You can see it unfold frame by frame in the pictures taken by the luxury hotel's always-watching, always-recording closed-circuit TV cameras.
Click: Mr. Mahmoud al-Mabhouh of Gaza, Palestinian Territories and the terrorist world in general, checks into the luxury Al Bustan Rotana hotel in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
The time is punctiliously recorded: 15:25 Jan. 19, 2010. The distinguished, not to say notorious, guest has made no secret of his whereabouts. Nor does he have any reason to take precautions; he's in a friendly Arab country. And few have better security consultants. He couldn't be safer, or seem so. But he is already a condemned man, though he doesn't realize it. Not yet.
This is the day Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's extensive dossier will be closed. It includes acts others might consider crimes -- like the kidnapping and murder of Israeli soldiers, and smuggling arms into Gaza for indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians just across the border. But these same activities win him plaudits across the Islamic world. In Gaza, where Hamas misrules. In Hezbollah's domain in Lebanon. In Damascus and Teheran and various other terrorist capitals and financial centers. He is always welcome in Dubai. Indeed, he'll be here for the (short) rest of his life.
Click: At 15:30, our guest is shown stepping out of the elevator on his floor. A couple of other guests, nattily attired in tennis togs, are close behind. It's their serve, Call it Fifteen-Love.
Click: At 18:32, two more members of the visiting team are captured on film as they arrive at the always hospitable Al Bustan. Thirty-love.
Click: At 20:27, a couple of other guests at the hotel, traveling on what will turn out to be forged passports, are pictured monitoring the hall outside Mr. Mabhouh's room. Forty-love.
Click: At 20:46, a TV camera shows two suspects leaving Mr. Mabhouh's floor. Someone has left a sign on his door: Do Not Disturb. Although by now there's little danger of that. No one is likely to disturb Mahmoud al-Mabhouh ever again. Not in this life. Call it game, set, match.
It's all over but the closing credits. The authorities in Dubai will later release pictures of the entire cast -- put at 26 by one count. One of the supporting actresses, a redhead, smiles winsomely at the camera. Not since Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" has a killing involved so many suspects, or been so minutely chronicled. Only this one isn't much of mystery. The faces of the executioners are now known worldwide. But not their names, since all used others' passports or facsimiles thereof. Which means there will be diplomatic protests, speeches at the UN, all the usual formalities.
An old hand at these things will later explain, in the Wall Street Journal, that "at least 25 people are needed to carry off something like this. You need 'eyes on' the target 24 hours a day to ensure that when the time comes he is alone. You need coverage of the police -- assassinations go very wrong when the police stumble into the middle of one. You need coverage of the hotel security staff, the maids, the outside of the hotel. You even need people in back-up accommodations in the event the team needs a place to hide."
This was clearly no American operation using a long-distance drone, with all the accompanying risk to innocent life, aka collateral damage. This was close-up and personal. Nor was it some harum-scarum car bombing or random IED -- the hallmark of Mr. Mabhouh's fellow terrorists.
My, who would do such a well-orchestrated thing? There's no proof, but the whole operation might as well as well have had a card attached: Compliments of Mossad, the Israeli version of the FBI, CIA, MI6 and Dirty Dozen combined.
Israeli authorities aren't talking -- any more than they do about their nuclear arsenal. But they aren't denying, either. They never do. Talk about Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
But the Israeli public seems to have no doubt. The members of the cast were being feted as heroes even though their names, unlike their pictures, aren't bandied about. One Israeli parliamentarian volunteered to let them use his passport next time. It's a safe bet that by now they've all been discreetly decorated.
This is certainly is not the American Way -- not any more, anyway. The days of Wild Bill Donovan and the old OSS of World War II are now history in more ways than one:
--One of the first things our new, enlightened administration did was announce that CIA agents who engaged in less than orthodox methods to interrogate suspects would be candidates not for promotion but prosecution.
--Christmas Day, a suspect apprehended by passengers aboard an American airliner before he could blow it out of the sky was questioned for a total of 50 minutes. Then, at the attorney general's direction, given his Miranda warning and provided legal counsel.
--Earlier in this administration, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9-11 attacks, was going to be given a civil trial in downtown New York City, complete with all rights and privileges appertaining thereto. Then it dawned even on this administration that violations of the laws of war might better be tried before military courts.
--The prison at Guantanamo Bay, specifically constructed to hold the most dangerous of terrorists, is to be closed, its occupants shifted to the American mainland, or maybe released on their word of supposed honor. Already some have resurfaced -- attacking American troops in Afghanistan. Again.
Meanwhile, the assassination of a prominent terrorist in Dubai draws protests from around the world and, of course, at the United Nations, where no terrorist haven goes unrepresented. Gentle Reader may safely be trusted to judge which approach to fighting terrorism is really the scandal.