UK expels 'Mossad spy' over passport cloning
Published 24/03/2010 | 05:00
A SERIOUS rift in relations between Britain and Israel opened yesterday after a criminal investigation uncovered "compelling" evidence that Jerusalem had cloned the UK passports used in the assassination of a senior Hamas operative in Dubai.
Britain responded by expelling a senior Israeli diplomat, believed to be the Mossad station chief in London; imposing new travel advice; warning Britons of the threat of state-sponsored identity theft in Israel; and demanding a public assurance that Israel would never misuse British passports again.
Israel's ambassador to Britain expressed his disappointment at the move.
The diplomatic coldness increased, however, when it emerged that David Miliband, the UK foreign secretary, had cancelled his scheduled attendance at a reception marking the renovation of the Israeli Embassy yesterday.
Instead, Mr Miliband told the Commons of the conclusion of the investigation by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) and denounced Israel's behaviour as "intolerable" and displaying a "profound disregard for the sovereignty of the United Kingdom".
"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," he added.
Mr Miliband said he had demanded a formal assurance that the fraud would not recur from Avigdor Liebermann, the Israeli foreign minister. The travel advice to be issued to British citizens would depend on the answer that he received.
Diplomatic sources said the assurance would have to be public -- in effect, forcing Israel to admit its involvement in the fraud and, by implication, in the assassination of Mahmud al-Mabhuh on January 19.
Suspicions fell on Israel's intelligence agency immediately after the killing, but they were reinforced when it emerged that all of the Western passport holders whose identities were used were also Israeli nationals. Mr Miliband said the Soca investigation had led directly back to Israel and that no other country appeared to have been involved.
"Given that this was a very sophisticated operation, in which high-quality forgeries were made, the government judges it is highly likely that the forgeries were made by a state intelligence service," he said.
"Taking this, together with other inquiries, we have concluded that there are compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of the British passports."
The passports of Irish, German, French and Australian citizens were also used but those countries are yet to conclude their investigations.
Israel said that it regretted the British move to expel the Mossad representative but, while the government in Jerusalem was measured in its response, far right politicians denounced the British as untrustworthy "dogs". (© The Times, London)