The British Foreign Office on Wednesday evening “invited” Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor to a meeting Thursday to discuss suspicions that British passports were used in the assassination of Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh last month in Dubai.

But to underline that the issue had not yet developed into a full-blown diplomatic crisis with London, a spokesman at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv stressed that Prosor had been “invited,” and not “summoned,” to the meeting with Permanent Undersecretary and head of the Diplomatic Service Peter Ricketts.

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In diplomatic parlance, summoning an ambassador implies a reprimand, while inviting an envoy in for a discussion signals looking for clarifications.

Israeli diplomatic officials said it was necessary to wait until after the meeting with Prosor to determine whether this issue was going to blow up into a major source of tension with London.

In the best-case scenario, the official said, the British may simply be calling Prosor in because of an apparent demand by the British public – at least as reflected in the British media – for some action. In the worst-case scenario, he speculated, the British may threaten to cut off intelligence cooperation with Israel unless the Mossad gives them a list of other British nationals whose passports may have been usurped.

Dubai police this week released names, photos and passport numbers of 11 members of an alleged hit squad that killed Mabhouh in his luxury Dubai hotel room last month. Dubai said all 11 carried European passports. But most of the identities appeared to be stolen, and a number matched up with real people in Israel who have claimed they were victims of identity theft. Only the British passports, however, were believed to have involved stolen identities.

The foreign nationals included six Britons, three Irishmen, a German and a Frenchman.

Late last night Israel’s ambassador to Ireland, Zion Evrony, was called in to the Irish Foreign Ministry in Dublin.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Wednesday that he was taking the misuse of British passports in the assassination very seriously and that he had ordered a full investigation in the matter.

“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,” said the prime minister. “The evidence has got to be assembled about what has 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 defrauding of British passports is a very serious issue,” a British government spokesman added on Wednesday. “The government will continue to take all the action that is necessary to protect British nationals from identity fraud. The government is involved in a number of strands of ongoing activity in relation to this specific case.”

The British government said on Wednesday that its embassy in Tel Aviv would be contacting those affected by the incident and would offer them the support they needed in obtaining new passports.

The government also announced that the Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) would lead the investigation into the fraudulent use of British passports in close cooperation with the Emirati authorities.

“We received a request from the Dubai authorities for assistance with their investigation in relation to the fraudulent use of UK passports,” a SOCA spokesperson said. “We can also confirm that we have received an ‘Interpol diffusion’ (red notice) in relation to this investigation.”

SOCA said the photographs and signatures in the passports were false.

“We can confirm that the photographs and signatures on the passports used in Dubai do not match those of the passports issued by the UK,” a British government spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday there was no reason to assume the Mossad was behind the operation simply because Dubai had released the information about the passports.

“I don’t know why we are assuming that Israel, or the Mossad, used those passports,” Lieberman told Army Radio in Israel’s first official comments on the affair.

But Lieberman did not deny involvement outright, saying Israel rightly maintained a policy of ambiguity where security operations were concerned.

“Israel never responds, never confirms and never denies,” he said. “There is no reason for Israel to change this policy.”

One diplomatic official said that Dubai could selectively be releasing information to frame Israel, and that conclusions should not be drawn from “journalistic speculation.”

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to discuss the matter on Wednesday evening, just as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu himself did when asked about the issue on Tuesday in Moscow.

Mabhouh was one of the founders of Hamas and the point man in smuggling Iranian rockets into Gaza.

AP contributed to this report

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