Last February Britain’s then defense minister Liam Fox attended a dinner in Tel Aviv with a group described as senior Israelis. Alongside him sat Adam Werritty, a lobbyist whose “improper relations” with the minister would lead eight months later to Fox’s hurried resignation.
According to several reports in the British media the Israelis in attendance at the dinner were representatives of the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, while Fox and Werritty were accompanied by Matthew Gould, Britain’s ambassador to Israel. A former British diplomat has now claimed that the topic of discussion that evening was a secret plot to attack Iran.
The official inquiry castigating the UK’s former defence secretary for what has come to be known as a “cash-for-access” scandal appears to have only scratched the surface of what Fox and accomplice Adam Werritty may have been up to when they met for dinner in Tel Aviv.
Little was made of the dinner in the 10-page inquiry report published last month by Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet’s top civil servant.
Instead O’Donnell concentrated on other aspects of Werritty’s behaviour: the 33-year-old friend of Fox’s had presented himself as the minister’s official adviser and jetted around the world with him arranging meetings with businessmen.
The former minister’s allies, seeking to dismiss the gravity of the case against him, have described Werritty as a harmless dreamer. Following his resignation, Fox himself claimed O’Donnell’s report had exonerated him of putting national security at risk.
However, a spate of new concerns raised in the wake of the inquiry challenge both of these assumptions. These include questions about the transparency of the O’Donnell investigation, the extent of Fox and Werritty’s ties to Israel and the unexplained role of Gould.
Craig Murray, Britain’s former ambassador to Uzbekistan until 2004, when he turned whistle blower on British and US collusion on torture, said senior British government officials were profoundly disturbed by the O’Donnell inquiry, seeing it as a “white wash.”
Murray himself accused O’Donnell of being “at the most charitable interpretation, economical with the truth.”
Two well-placed contacts alerted Murray to Gould’s central – though largely ignored – role in the Fox-Werritty relationship, he said.
Murray has pieced together evidence that Fox, Werritty and Gould met on at least six occasions over the past two years or so, despite the O’Donnell inquiry claiming they had met only twice. Gould is the only ambassador Fox and Werritty are known to have met together.
In an inexplicable break with British diplomatic and governmental protocol, officials were not present at a single one of the six meetings between the three men. No record was taken of any of the discussions.
Murray, who first made public his concerns on his personal blog, said a source familiar with the O’Donnell inquiry told him the parameters of the investigation were designed to divert attention away from the more damaging aspects of Fox and Werritty’s behaviour.
Subsequently, the foreign office has refused to respond to questions, including from an MP, about the Tel Aviv dinner. Officials will not say who the Israelis were, what was discussed or even who paid for the evening, though under Whitehall rules all hospitality should be declared.
Also unexplained is why Fox rejected requests by his own staff to attend the dinner, and why Werritty was privy to such a high-level meeting when he had no security clearance.
Nonetheless, O’Donnell appeared inadvertently to confirm that Mossad representatives were present at the dinner during questioning from an MP at a meeting of the House of Commons’ Public Administration Committee this week.
Responding to a question about the dinner from opposition MP Paul Flynn, O’Donnell said: “The important point here was that, when the Secretary of State [Fox] had that meeting, he had an official with him—namely, in this case, the ambassador [Gould]. That is very important, and I should stress that I would expect our ambassador in Israel to have contact with Mossad. That will be part of his job.”
The real concern among government officials, Murray said, is that Fox, Werritty and Gould were conspiring in a “rogue” foreign policy – opposed to the British government’s stated aims – that was authored by Mossad and Israel’s neoconservative allies in Washington.
They were the Odd Couple: the men with identical morning suits, matching jackets and jeans but from radically different generations. They commanded more column inches than any X Factor wannabe. The Mysterious Case of the Defence Secretary and the Strange Bloke with the Cheap Business Card gripped us all, until it culminated in Liam Fox’s resignation.
What on earth had they been up to, the nation wondered. The plot thickened somewhat when an official inquiry confirmed that the curious duo was in fact, at times, a trio. They had had two meetings with Matthew Gould, Britain’s ambassador to Israel, adding to claims that they were running a pirate (pro-Israel, or anti-Iranian?) foreign policy. Then, before we had got to know Adam Werritty properly, it all went quiet.
He has not been seen in the UK or abroad for several months; no neighbour has reported his presence at any of the various addresses unearthed when he was being sought by every news outlet in the country.
However, the trail has not gone cold because it emerges that Liam Fox and his adviser met Britain’s ambassador at least four times more than was previously admitted. So why were we not told this before? Isn’t this yet more evidence that they were operating outside the control of the Foreign Office?
The fog seems to extend even to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, whose report into the affair, which sealed Dr Fox’s fate, identified just the two meetings between the former minister, Mr Werritty and Mr Gould.
The three men met in Tel Aviv at “a private dinner with senior Israelis” and, before Mr Gould took up the ambassador’s post in Tel Aviv, for “a general discussion of international defence and security matters”. Sir Gus observed that Mr Werritty was invited “as an individual with some experience in these matters”.
Even this was a bit unsatisfactory, said Sir Gus. His report highlighted the September 2010 meeting in the UK with Mr Gould, then the UK ambassador-designate to Israel, ruling that “as a private citizen, with no official locus, it was not appropriate for Mr Werritty to have attended this meeting”.
Yet it has been left to the former UK ambassador Craig Murray to uncover four more similar meetings – although Sir Gus claimed last week that “some of those … took place before the election”.
The suspicion of even more secret meetings, an inquiry which did not cover all the ground and the spectre of a favourite bogeyman is a gift to conspiracy theorists. However there are legitimate questions to be answered. The IoS revealed last month that Mr Werritty had visited Iran on several occasions and was so highly regarded by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad that he was able to arrange meetings at the highest levels of the Israeli government.