Britain has expelled Mossad’s most senior official in London after concluding there was compelling evidence that UK passports used by a hit squad in Dubai were cloned by Israel. The Independent has learnt that the documents were cloned at Ben Gurion airport, and officials then made follow-up calls to check surreptitiously that the travel plans of those whose identities had been stolen would not interfere with the assassination.
“Such misuse of British passports is intolerable,” the Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Parliament. “The fact that this was done by a country which is a friend, with significant diplomatic, cultural, business and personal ties to the UK, only adds insult to injury.” In an unusual move last night, the Foreign Office also updated its travel advice for Israel, warning would-be visitors of the perils of passport cloning. “We recommend that you only hand your passport over to third parties including Israeli officials when absolutely necessary,” the travel bulletin said.
In Israel, the official response to London’s action was notably terse. “The relationship between Britain and Israel is mutually important,” the foreign ministry said. “We therefore regret the British decision.” But in other quarters there was undisguised fury. “I think [the] British are behaving hypocritically and I don’t want to offend dogs on this issue, since some dogs are utterly loyal. [But] Who are they to judge us on the war on terror?” said Aryeh Eldad of Israel’s National Religious Party.
The Israeli diplomat who is to be expelled from Britain over the alleged forgery of British passports connected to the killing of a top Hamas militant, is a Mossad officer who will be replaced by the Jewish state, Israeli media reports said on Wednesday.
Downing Street on Tuesday declared the unnamed diplomat persona non grata after a police investigation found that Israel stole the identities of 12 British citizens to make the fake passports.
Public radio and other Israeli media said the diplomat was an officer in the Mossad spy agency and would be replaced “soon” by another intelligence officer.
Murdoch’s Australian shows typically twisted logic. The more extreme Israeli actions, the closer the West should stand with the Jewish state. So, let’s say Israel bombs Iran. Presumably these voices would encourage a tongue kiss that never ends. Swapping saliva never looked so dirty:
Unless British Foreign Secretary David Miliband knows considerably more about the alleged Mossad passport scandal than he has so far revealed, the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat from London appears remarkably heavy-handed. Little good will follow from isolating Israel, the Middle East’s only stable democracy, at a dangerous moment in the region. The use of forged passports in the plot to kill Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January is indeed an infringement of sovereignty and tests longstanding friendships. But the infraction comes nowhere near Mabhouh’s murderous record.
Wisely, Israel has not announced counter-measures and responded to the rebuke with an expression of regret. Mossad needed a sharp lesson, but unfortunately Britain has overplayed its hand at a time when Western nations would do more for the cause of Middle East peace by maintaining close ties with Israel. The hostility in the House of Commons, where one MP claimed that Israel was becoming a “rogue state” is a sad reflection of the growing climate of anti-Israeli sentiment in Britain.
The timing of Israel’s decision to build 1600 new homes in East Jerusalem as tentative peace talks were about to begin earlier this month was unfortunate to say the least. But the reaction from the US administration has only inflamed the situation. The Obama administration will harden attitudes in Israel if it makes peace negotiations hostage to demands that can never be met. Israel’s attempts to find a peaceful solution, from the time of Yitzhak Rabin in 1992 onwards, were rebuffed, often with hostility. In 2000, Ehud Barak offered to set up an independent state in Gaza and 95 per cent of the West Bank and territory from Israel proper to compensate for the remaining 5 per cent. But then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat, unwilling to be seen to give up the fight with Israel, foolishly rejected the offer. An even more generous offer, including much of East Jerusalem, was made by Ehud Olmert in 2008 and similarly rejected by Mahmoud Abbas.
And in 2005, when Israel withdrew from Gaza, Hamas responded by shelling Israel and launching a brutal takeover of the territory. In a hostile region, friction between Israel and its allies will only be exploited by Israel’s regional enemies, delaying progress towards a viable two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
At least the UK Independent shows some anger (though the last line here seems contradictory, to say the least):
Diplomatic expulsions are unusual. But they are even rarer between friends and allies, which is why the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat marks a nadir in recent relations between our two countries. Even when friendly nations fall out, they try to limit the damage by agreeing not to publicise diplomatic departures. Here, the Government clearly wanted not only to communicate its displeasure to Israel but to broadcast it loud and clear to the British public.
This is surely explained in part by the extraordinary revelation that gave rise to Britain’s initial protest: the discovery by police in the United Arab Emirates that 12 members of a team believed responsible for the assassination of a Hamas leader used cloned British passports to enter the country. Israel insists there is no proof that its agents were behind the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh last month – and this remains the position. That there are links between Israel and the false passports, however, is hard to deny, given that many – if not all – of the real people whose identities were used reside in Israel.
The scandal of a friendly country – a democracy, as David Miliband emphasised yesterday – being prepared to take advantage of Britain in this way is not to be underestimated. But neither is the interest of the Government, and specifically the Foreign Office, in making its fury more widely known. British citizens had woken up to find their reputations compromised; the security of our national identity documents was impugned. Above all, though, the British authorities were made to look powerless – even, indeed, complicit, something Mr Miliband took pains yesterday expressly to deny.
It is reasonable to ask whether the Government’s response would have been so harsh or so public, had relations with the Israeli government not already been close to rock bottom – what with the Gaza war, the stalling of the international peace process under Benjamin Netanyahu, and the arrest warrant that recently deterred the former Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, from visiting Britain. The truth is that diplomatic expulsions tend to be not the cause, but a symptom, of malaise. From here, the hope must be, UK-Israel relations can only improve.