Britain to expel Israeli diplomat over passport row

 

AN IRISH investigation into the use of forged Irish passports in the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai in January has yet to finish, the Department of Foreign Affairs has said.

Mr Miliband briefed Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin about the findings of the UK's Serious and Organised Agency (Soca) investigation in Brussels on Monday, while Soca briefed Irish embassy officials in London.

The Irish investigation differs from the British one in that the Irish passports used were forged, whereas the British passports were cloned copies of genuine documents held by British citizens living, mostly, in Israel.

However, the British decision to expel a diplomat and demand a written guarantee from the Israelis that this will never happen again will increase pressure on the Irish Government to take a stronger line than it has up to now.

A dozen-strong squad of Mossad agents are blamed for the January 19th killing of senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel. He was drugged and suffocated, according to local police. The Israelis had co-operated with British investigators, Mr Miliband told the House of Commons. He concluded that the 12 British passports were cloned after they were handed over to "individuals linked to Israel, either in Israel or in other countries".

"They found no link to any other country. 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.

Copies of the British investigation will be shared with Irish, French, German and Australian authorities - who all had some of their passports used, but it is not known if Irish officials have directly approached Israel for information, as the British did.

The Irish passports linked by the Dubai police to the killing had false passport numbers, while some of the photographs showed people wearing glasses which would not be accepted by the Department of Foreign Affairs Passport Office, Irish sources say.

Stressing the ties that bind the United Kingdom and Israel, Mr Miliband said he had sought a formal written guarantee from Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman that there would be no repetition.

In 1987, the then Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres, who is now the country's president, gave a verbal guarantee that Israel would not use British passports in Mossad operations after eight were discovered by West German police.

Eleven of the British citizens unknowingly embroiled in the affair have already been given more secure biometric passports, while the Foreign Office is to warn UK citizens to keep their document in their possession, or in sight.

Describing them as "wholly innocent victims", the foreign secretary said the fact that their safety in travelling was endangered by a "friend" of the United Kingdom only added "insult to injury".

He added: "The Israeli people crave and deserve legitimacy and security. The United Kingdom will not compromise its support for this. But the actions in this case are completely unacceptable and they must stop."

Faced with difficulties on many fronts, the Israeli government last night seemed anxious to avoid a full-scale row with London, saying the relationship between Israel and Britain "is mutually important. We therefore regret the British decision".

Meanwhile, French judicial authorities yesterday confirmed they had begun an investigation into the use of forged French passports in the Dubai assassination. Four suspects alleged to have been involved in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh are believed to have travelled on fraudulent French passports.