Britain expels Israeli envoy over passports allegedly used in Hamas killing

By Karla Adam
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

LONDON -- The British government, in a rare move on Tuesday, expelled a senior Israeli diplomat over the alleged use of fake British passports in the assassination of a Hamas operative in Dubai this year.

"There are compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of British passports," David Miliband, Britain's foreign secretary, said in the House of Commons. The misuse of British passports is "intolerable," he said, and the fact that Israel is "a friend" to Britain "only adds insult to injury."

The Israeli government, which has not confirmed or denied a role in the assassination, expressed disappointment. "The relationship between Israel and Britain is mutually important," said Yigal Palmor, the Foreign Ministry spokesman. "We therefore regret the British decision."

The move to expel the diplomat, who has not been identified, follows an investigation by Britain's Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) into 12 British passports used in the January killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Dubai authorities charge that Mossad, Israel's intelligence service, is behind the killing and that the hit squad used European and Australian passports, some of them forged. Interpol has issued arrest warrants for 27 people in connection with the killing.

Agents from SOCA concluded that genuine British passports were copied when handed over to "individuals linked to Israel, either in Israel or in other countries," who were meant to inspect them, Miliband said.

Given the professional quality of the forgeries, he said, it was highly likely that they were made by "a state intelligence service."

Britain's Foreign Office amended its travel advice on Israel on Tuesday, telling British citizens, "Your passport details could be captured for improper uses while your passport is out of your control."

Gad Shimron, a former Mossad agent, said Israel would never officially admit any involvement in the killing. But, he added in an interview, "the British are hypocrites because when they operate against al-Qaeda, they do not do it with genuine passports."

Miliband met his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, in Brussels on Monday, he said, and demanded assurances from Israel that this will not happen again.

The last time an Israeli diplomat was expelled from Britain was in 1988, following a diplomatic dispute involving the alleged use of fake British passports.

Special correspondent Samuel Sockol in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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