The faux media outrage over the alleged use by the Mossad of copied British passportsin the audacious
assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai could not disguise the glee in much of the reporting. Amid the dreary daily fare of budget deficits and the Punch and Judy politics of the UK election, the events in Dubai actually had people buying newspapers and listening to broadcasts.
The frequent references in many of the stories to Frederick Forsyth novels and spy thrillers showed how irresistible this story became. Indeed, for foreign correspondents, who claim brushes with the Mossad in the past, it was a chance to revisit accounts of derring-do.
In the Telegraph, Peter Hounam, a former Sunday Times correspondent involved in uncovering Israel's nuclear secrets, the discovery of the Dubai plot came as no surprise because the Mossad, in his view, is best known for taking "short cuts" and for "many botched" operations.
In the Sunday Times, itself Jon Swain recounted the story of how he was the "unwitting victim of a classic Mossad honey trap".
Amid this excitement, it was the BBC which looked to have overstepped the mark on Radio 4's PM programme with Eddie Mair. Gordon Thomas, author of a book on the Mossad Gideon's Spies told the interviewer that the organisation has a back-up system called "sayanim", made up of Jewish people who help out in various ways. "It is estimated to be, in the world, about half a million or some people say a million." In other words, he was suggesting that one in 12 Jews around the world are spies.
When the complaints started to roll in, the BBC distanced itself from the views expressed. It said that the views "expressed by Gordon Thomas were clearly his own opinions. They came at the end of an interview when it was being wrapped up and there was no time to go back on them." Thomas however, had done enough to renew interest in his book.
A long excerpt was published in the February 23 editions of the Independent, recounting how the Mossad chased down and allegedly killed the Hizbollah mastermind and expert on suicide bombings, Imad Mughniyeh.
The very notion that diaspora Jews are a nest of spies for Israel, raising the whole spectre of double loyalty, must be a source of concern. The American Jewish Committee was quick to respond to the Thomas interview, noting that the remarks had gone unchallenged and that: "In less than a minute, the BBC has cast a shadow over the lives of Jews worldwide."
What is of real concern is how such uncontested claims, later repeated on websites and through the iPlayer, can gain currency and very quickly become part of the apparatus which has contributed to the wider demonisation of Israel.
In a posting on the BBC's website, the paper's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen condemned Israel on its past record, noting in a dispatch from Dubai: "Mossad has form. Assassination has been one of its specialities since the time that Israel was killing Nazis in the 1950s."
A fascinating account of events was recounted in the Sunday Times by Israel-based Uzi Mahnaimi, who has a line into Israeli intelligence. Mahnaimi reported that the operation began with a handshake between the PM Binyamin Netanyahu and the Mossad's head Meir Dagan and that the Israelis came close to getting away with an undiscovered operation. The surprise was the ability of Dubai to reconstruct events so accurately from the CCTV footage.
The concern in Israel is that the Mossad may have damaged the country's reputation. The reality is that it was an operation which achieved its goals and behind much of the reporting there is a sneaking admiration that the Mossad still has the right stuff.