Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is expected to face a barrage of criticism from EU foreign ministers for the alleged use of forged EU passports in the killing of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, on the sidelines of the monthly EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Monday.
Lieberman is expected to meet with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband in talks that were arranged before the passport controversy, but which now are expected to be dominated by questions regarding how six British passports were used by the team allegedly involved in the killing in Dubai last month.
Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin has also asked for a meeting with Lieberman, since Irish passports were also used by the supposed hit team.
In addition, Lieberman will hold his first meeting with the new EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, as well as with the head of the EU parliament, and his counterparts from Belgium, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania.
Even though Dubai and much of the foreign media have charged that the Mossad was behind the assassination, Foreign Ministry officials have said repeatedly that there is no evidence linking Israel to the killing.
The Prime Minister’s Office has remained silent on the matter.
A senior EU diplomat said in Brussels that Israel’s suspected role in the killing and the hit team’s alleged use of forged EU passports will harm Israel’s relations with the European bloc.
The passport controversy “will be harmful for the way Israel is treated by the EU,” since it comes on top of strong criticism over Israel’s Gaza offensive last winter, the diplomat said.
The EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the Goldstone Commission report at Monday’s meeting, in advance of a debate on the matter scheduled to begin on Wednesday in the European Parliament.
Meanwhile, Emirati officials claimed on Sunday that at least two more fake Irish passports have been linked to the alleged hit squad.
The UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said the Emirates is deeply concerned that the suspected assassins used expertly doctored passports from nations that don’t require advance UAE visas, allowing them to enter the country without scrutiny.
“The UAE is deeply concerned by the fact that passports of close allies, whose nationals currently enjoy preferential visa waivers, were illegally used to commit this crime,” Gargash said in a statement carried by the Emirates’ state-run news agency WAM on Sunday.
Dubai police said last week that at least 11 suspects used altered British, Irish, French and German passports before Mabhouh’s January 19 slaying. On Sunday, Emirati officials close to the investigation said that at least two more suspects in the slaying entered the Emirates with fraudulent Irish passports.
They also said that some of the 18 suspects in the case visited the Gulf city-state for at least one reconnaissance mission before Mabhouh was killed in his Dubai hotel room.
The latest allegations bring the number of fake passports allegedly tied to the killing to 13 – six British, five Irish, one French and one German.
Two Palestinians are in custody and three suspects remain unidentified.
Britain and Ireland each summoned Israel’s envoy last week and demanded clarifications.
The No. 2 at the Israeli Embassy in Berlin, Emmanuel Nahshon, met last week with Andreas Michaelis, the German Foreign Ministry’s Mideast envoy, to discuss the use of a German passport.
According to German media reports, the so-called “special relationship” between Israel and Germany played a role in the decision not to summon the Israeli ambassador, Yoram Ben-Ze’ev, and to suffice with calling in a lower-level diplomat for answers.
Nevertheless, the left-of-center opposition parties in the Bundestag are calling for a formal investigation.
Olaf Scholz , the head of the Social Democratic Party faction in the Bundestag, is urging an inquiry into the killing. Scholz told Der Spiegel that “we will push for clarification through the responsible places. In addition, we will examine this question in the parliamentary control commission.”
Der Spiegel also reported on Saturday that the German passport used in Dubai was not forged, and that German authorities had issued a passport for Michael Bodenheimer in 2008.
Bodenheimer, a haredi rabbi who lives in Israel, said he had no connection to the case.
“While it’s true that my parents were born in Germany, I was born in the United States, and that’s where I have my passport from,” he told Ma’ariv. “I never asked for a German passport, nor have I ever possessed one. This entire story has nothing to do with me.”
On Sunday, the Abu Dhabi-based Al-Ittihad newspaper quoted Dubai’s police chief, Lt.-Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, as saying that a “mole” had penetrated Hamas and that “someone from Mabhouh’s circle” leaked information on his travel plans to the assassins – a claim Hamas’s Gaza-based officials denied.
Tamim’s assertions could not be immediately confirmed, but on Saturday Hamas legislator Salah Bardawil said Mabhouh unwittingly exposed himself to attack by talking about his trip over the phone and booking his hotel reservations over the Internet – moves that would make him easily traceable if he were already under surveillance.
On Sunday, the Emirates’ top diplomat stepped up pressure on the country’s European allies to probe how fraudulent passports had been used by the alleged hit squad.
“The abuse of passports poses a global threat, affecting both countries’ national security as well as the personal security of travelers,” the Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan was quoted saying in a statement.
The statement provided no updates on the investigation, but said Emirates and Dubai authorities continue to scrutinize events that led to Mabhouh’s slaying and its aftermath. It said authorities also remain in “close contact with the concerned European governments,” listing the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Germany and Austria.
The British Embassy in Israel, meanwhile, said on Sunday it was issuing new passports to six British nationals whose identities were stolen – a first step toward clearing their names and returning their lives to normal.
The discovery that the identities used by six of the suspected killers belonged to dual Israeli-British citizens fueled suspicions that the Mossad was behind the hit.
Rafi Shamir, a spokesman for the embassy in Tel Aviv, said the six
British citizens have been invited to arrange for new passports, which
are expected to arrive soon.
Shamir said the six British passports used in Dubai had names and
passport numbers that matched their owners’, but photos and signatures
that did not.
He said the new passport numbers would allow those unwittingly caught
up in the affair to travel freely, even though their names were placed
on Interpol’s watch list last week. Interpol has said those whose
identities were stolen should be able to travel as usual, though they
may face more scrutiny.With AP