As more time passes, tough questions are surfacing regarding the necessity and long-term benefit of the assassination of senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. If Israel was responsible for the operation - which gave rise to problems on an international level over the forging of passports from various countries and exposed operational methods - it is unreasonable that the matter be spared competent investigation, which would allow the proper lessons to be drawn for the future. This is true even if the mission's goal was achieved and its operatives got away unscathed.

Despite the absence of clear information, it appears the prime minister alone approves the special operations of the Mossad, Israel's espionage agency - the only government agency whose operations are subject to the decisions of only one individual.

The appointment process, a little less than eight years ago, of the current head of the Mossad also highlights the fact that the staffing of one of the most sensitive positions in the country is not subject to regulations, and is carried out by the prime minister without the consent of the cabinet or any other body. The same is true for extending the Mossad chief's term in office as well as removing him from office. The approval of his appointment by a special committee for approving appointments is simply a formality. Appointing an Israel Defense Forces chief of staff or the head of the Shin Bet security service, by contrast, requires the approval of the entire cabinet.

The Mossad intelligence agency operates by virtue of the government's general authority, through the Basic Law on the Government, to act on behalf of the state in the absence of a law limiting the Mossad's authority over a particular matter. The formal title of the Mossad translates from Hebrew as "the institute for intelligence and special operations," however the special operations are not defined, and the prime minister is authorized to instruct the agency as he sees fit, without any other approval required.

The Subcommittee for Intelligence and Secret Services of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which receives reports primarily after the fact, can express an opinion or deliver a recommendation, but nothing beyond that.

The concept of assembling an explicit legal framework for the Mossad was raised as far back as 1998, and was proposed by this writer, among others, in the face of bitter criticism of the way senior Hamas official Khaled Meshal had been attacked in Amman. A law on the Shin Bet approved by the Knesset that same year can serve as a model for a Mossad law, which would contain provisions primarily related to the appointment of the agency's head and the oversight of its operations.

Conditions spelling out the manner in which the Shin Bet head is appointed require the entire cabinet's approval of the prime minister's recommendation; it is no longer his exclusive decision. The law also limits the appointment of the head of the Shin Bet to five years and vests authority in the cabinet, not only the prime minister, to remove him from office.

The Shin Bet law also provides a ministerial committee and the Subcommittee for Intelligence and Secret Services with oversight of the agency, giving them the right to receive information and study relevant material. The law also requires an internal auditor - who must report to those overseeing agency operations, including those outside the Shin Bet - who is given the right to receive relevant information as well. Similar provisions are necessary for the Mossad in light of the special sensitivity related to the use of its powers and its capabilities in foreign countries.

An examination of similar legislation in other countries will reveal that detailed laws regulating similar agencies have been passed in Britain, Canada and Australia. Its existence would provide a response to the argument raised in various circles in Israel that it is not possible to set legal standards by which the Mossad operates, as the vast majority of its operations abroad do not meet standards of the rule of law.

This argument, which for years prevented the development of a Mossad law, even though it found support among former Mossad heads, is totally baseless.Mossad activities abroad should be treated separately from those based in Israel. Emissaries of the state, who act in its name in good faith and in a reasonable manner within the scope of their position - which this law must define in principle - should be explicitly exempt from liability for their acts or omissions. The Mossad law should protect them the way the Shin Bet law protects its operatives.

The approach of the opponents to a Mossad law could lead to damaging entanglements, which are not justified in the absence of an overriding public interest.