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Death in Dubai -- The plot thickens

RELATIONS between Ireland and Israel have never been great.

Now as the Israeli ambassador is summoned to the Dept of Foreign Affairs we could be about to enter a new ice age between the two states.

It comes as the international furore over the assassination of a senior Hamas official in Dubai grows.

The killers - presumed to be Israeli Mossad agents - used forged Irish and European passports to enter Dubai.

Mahmoud al-Mabhouh had changed his travel plans, leaving behind his bodyguards, for a "meeting" which may have been organised by Mossad, who had been tracking him for days before his death.

British prime minister Gordon Brown has announced an inquiry to be held by the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

And in a sign of the increasing pressure on the Israeli authorities, the country's ambassador was due to be carpeted by Foregin Affairs Minister Micheal Martin over the scandal.

It represents a new low between the states.

The Israeli state has often been dismissive of the Ireland and our sympathies for the Palestinian cause.

It became apparent in the off hand approach Israeli officers had for the Defence Forces during the Irish participation in the UNIFIL force in south Lebanon.

Now it appears Mossad deliberately used Irish passports to mask a killing.

Did they believe it was a risk worth taking? That upsetting the Irish was something that in the long run they could live with?

British investigators meanwhile will be flying to Dubai to co-ordinate with the UAE authorities. No decision has been made, however, on whether they will be going to Israel.

Neither the French nor the German governments have yet indicated whether it will launch similar inquiries. It also emerged there were as many as 18 people, including two women, involved in the murder of Mr Mabhouh - said to have been electrocuted and tortured before being suffocated.

One line of speculation was that the reason for the relatively prolonged attack, after he was overpowered by four men, was an attempt to seek information. The Israeli government meanwhile broke its silence over the assassination to insist that there was no reason to assume that Mossad was responsible for the death. Its foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, did not actually deny Israeli involvement but said: "There is no reason to think that it was the Israeli Mossad, and not some other intelligence service or country up to some mischief."

And he denied that what happened could lead to diplomatic problems with Britain insisting that: "Britain recognises that Israel is a responsible country and that our security activity is conducted according to very clear, cautious and responsible rules of the game."

But not everyone in Israel is as supportive of the security services. There have been some calls for the Mossad head Meir Dagan's resignation over the affair. "If we did the identity theft then it was the most idiotic thing imaginable," said Zahava Galon, a former MP from the liberal Meretz party. "It's getting innocent people with no connection to the [assassination] act into trouble. These are people who woke up in the morning and didn't know what hit them. These people have a problem."

But Rafi Eitan, a former Israeli cabinet minister who as a Mossad agent took part in the 1960 capture of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, suggested a foreign power "wanted to taint Israel". "The Mossad was not behind the assassination of Mahmoud al- Mabhouh, but rather a foreign organisation that is trying to frame Israel," he said. "It took the names of Israeli citizens, doctored the passports... and thus tainted us."

Mr Brown said: "We have got to carry out a full investigation into this. The British passport is an important document that has got to be held with care. The evidence has got to be assembled about what actually happened and how it happened and why it happened, and it is necessary for us to conclude that before we can make statements."

The Israeli government declined to comment on the British decision, and it remained unclear how effective such an inquiry is likely to be. Israeli officials in Britain can refuse to meet detectives with the claim of diplomatic immunity, and there was no sign yesterday whether investigators would get any official co-operation in Israel.