Jerusalem dodged a European Union bullet Monday when the EU foreign ministers released a statement condemning the use of EU passports in the killing of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, but refrained from specifically mentioning Israel.
“The killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on 20 January raises issues which are profoundly disturbing to the European Union,” the EU statement read. “This was an action which cannot be conducive to peace and stability in the Middle East. The EU strongly condemns the fact that those involved in this action have used fraudulent EU Member States’ passports and credit cards acquired through the theft of EU citizens’ identities.”
The statement, issued by the 27 EU foreign ministers holding their monthly meeting in Brussels, was softer than its original draft, with the EU observer Web site reporting that language referring to “extra-judicial killing” was deleted.
The statement said that the EU welcomed the investigation by the Dubai authorities and called on all countries to cooperate with it.
“The EU is committed to ensuring that both EU citizens and countries around the world continue to have confidence in the integrity of EU Member States’ passports,” the statement read. “It believes that its passports remain among the most secure in the world, fully meeting all international standards. EU Member States’ passports include a range of physical security measures to prevent forgery and abuse.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who met with a number of EU foreign ministers on the sidelines of the meeting – including the foreign ministers of Britain and Ireland, whose nationals’ passports were forged – deflected any suggestion that Israel was involved.
Following a meeting with Ireland’s Micheal Martin, Lieberman issued a statement saying that he told Martin there was no evidence linking Israel to the incident.
Lieberman said that if information emerged beyond media reports, then Israel would respond. “However, as no such further information has been presented, there is no need to relate to the matter,” he said.
Lieberman said that false accusations were regularly leveled against Israel on numerous issues, and there was a general Arab tendency to blame Israel for everything. Implying that many in the Arab world had a motive to kill Mabhouh, Lieberman said “there are many internal struggles in non-democratic countries and organizations in the Middle East.”
Asked about the matter by reporters after a meeting with the president of the European Parliament, Lieberman reportedly quipped, “I think you all watch too many James Bond movies.”
The EU’s new foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said at a press conference that she planned to raise the issue, among others, when she met Lieberman. The two met late Monday evening.
Ashton was asked repeatedly about the issue at the press conference, but did not – in her answers – stray too far from the agreed-upon text. She said that although the Member States were angry over the misuse of their passports, Israel could not be blamed when nothing had been proven.
Martin, after meeting Lieberman, said he articulated Ireland’s “grave concern over the use of our passports in Dubai and the degree to which we are concerned about the safety of our citizens.”
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he used his meeting with Lieberman to express “the profound concern that exists not just in Britain, but all over Europe,” over the issue.
Following the talks, Miliband said European foreign ministers were “profoundly disturbed,” by the use of forged British, Irish, French and German passports by a suspected hit squad.
“It’s vital that relations between states are conducted on a basis that is clear and transparent,” Miliband said. “It’s also important to say that Israel – in some ways above all countries – has the most to gain from a Middle East that is based on the rule of law and that’s why I think that it’s right to take these issues to the highest level in Israel.”
Britain said Monday that a total of eight forged UK passports were used in the Dubai hit.
Minister of State Chris Bryant told the House of Commons the British government has been told by Dubai authorities that two more fraudulent documents have been identified as being tied to the January 20 killing.
Dubai authorities, who have identified 18 suspects in the murder, have laid the blame squarely on the Mossad.
Miliband asked Lieberman to ensure Israel cooperates fully with Britain’s Serious and Organized Crime Agency in an investigation into how the identities of British citizens were stolen.
AP contributed to this report.