It is not easy (for me at least) to work out exactly what is said to have happened with the passports used by the group alleged to have murdered Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai last month.

Were they ‘cloned’ or fraudulent?

Let’s put possible options on the table.

1  Real blank passports, misused:  in secure British government locations in the UK and overseas are piles of ‘blank’ passports in serial number order, waiting to be issued. Procedures are in place to check regularly that the stocks of blank passports match the lists of passports printed and despatched to each location to await issue. 

I have done some of these checks myself in Embassy strong-rooms. It would be relatively easy for a corrupt UK official to steal a few of these blanks to pass on to gangsters/KGB/Mossad, but the risk of detection would be very high since sooner or later it would be spotted that issuing numbers were out of sequence with stock-lists and production/despatch-lists.

2  Real passports of real people, misused: the killers could have managed to get hold of real, properly issued passports of real people and alter and then use them for their own purposes. This would have to be done very well for it not to be detected, although having observed for myself the meticulously microscopic and ingenious efforts of teenage boys to alter dob on ID cards to win under-age access to Warsaw nightclubs, that presumably is no problem. The original owners would have to be left with an almost perfect copy of their passports to avoid suspicion. Too complicated?

3  Fake passports of real people, original identities kept: the killers borrowed a number of real passports of real people, then copied and altered them for their own purposes but retained the purported identity of the original owners. If that was done in this case, why would the serial numbers be incorrect?

A day after Dubai police announced the names of the Irish suspects as Gail Folliard, Evan Dennings and Kevin Daveron, a spokesman for Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs said: "We are unable to identify any of those three individuals as being genuine Irish citizens.

"Ireland has issued no passports in those names."

The passport numbers had the wrong number of digits and did not contain letters as authentic passports do, he added.

4  Fake passports of real people, new identities: the killers took a number of real passports of real people, then copied and altered them for their own purposes but added new names and manipulated the photographs to create new identities.

Some combination of 1-4 above: maybe this was done for operational reasons (a hurried job, and/or the killers could not acquire enough passports in any one category and/or wanted to mix ‘n’ match to reduce the risk of detection and/or later muddy the waters).

Was the operation a rushed and bungled Mossad job but then deliberately presented as being rushed and bungled to point the finger of suspicion elsewhere?

These Middle East waters will swirl and churn for a few days, but then revert to their normal deeply muddy state:

Officials in Dubai have confirmed that the Gulf state is now considering rescinding the 11 international arrest warrants issued on Tuesday, including the six British citizens initially named as suspects …

Police declined to comment today on reports that the two Palestinians being held in the emirate were extradited from Jordan last week and include a security official from the Palestinian group Fatah, Hamas’s fierce rival in the occupied territories. The Palestinian Authority has denied the report.