Forged passports and terrorism


DIPLOMATIC EUPHEMISMS notwithstanding, the démarcheof the polite “invitation” to Israel’s ambassador Zion Evrony on Thursday to visit Iveagh House marked a serious chilling in Ireland’s already tetchy relations with Israel.

Dr Evrony will have heard expressions of serious Irish concern, “anger”, in Minister Micheál Martin’s words, over the use of five forged Irish passports by suspects in the Dubai murder of senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mahbouh.

Forged passports from Britain, Germany and France were also used, and although the Government, like the British, has not expressly accused Israel, the invitation suggested Dublin saw the hand of its secret service, Mossad, in the killing. Dubai police chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim has said he is 99 per cent sure Israel was involved. And, within Israel, news coverage assumes “our boys” did it, although not perhaps as efficiently as they would have expected of Mossad.

Both Paris and London have also asked for help and explanations from Israeli ambassadors. Like Dr Evrony, the latter were stressing they knew nothing and would convey concerns to Tel Aviv. “Outraged” British foreign secretary David Miliband has demanded Israels full co-operation in investigating the passports and will meet Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Monday. It is a discussion Mr Martin might want to be part of.

Mr Lieberman insists there is no proof Mossad was involved and adds that Israel has a “policy of ambiguity” on intelligence matters. That is simply not good enough. Israel is ever ready to denounce acts of terrorism when it is a target so its silence on this act of international terrorism is deafening. At the very least it must be asked to demonstrate good faith by genuinely assisting international inquiries, and committing itself both to ruling out agents using Irish passports in future and to extraditing suspects if they are identified in Israel.

In truth, assassinations have been a part of the Israeli-Arab conflict since before the State was founded and Israel’s security doctrine views targeting enemy operatives as an effective tactic. Recently, it has been credited with the killings abroad of Hizbullah’s military chief, a key security adviser of Syria’s president, and an Iranian nuclear scientist. Each has resulted in retaliation threats but little international fallout. Dubai, Israel may come to regret because this time it has been caught using foreign passports and embroiling European states.

For nation states the inviolability of passports is an important ingredient of the assertion of sovereignty, a reflection of their ability to honour their fundamental duty to protect citizens. Like a currency, the debasing of the authority of a passport through the circulation of false documents inevitably puts all holders in increased jeopardy crossing borders. That the forgers should use real passport numbers, and in the case of some of the British passports, stolen identities, is particularly serious, opening up perfectly innocent citizens to the possibility of arrest and detention. Mr Martin is right to make an issue of it.