British papers insist Israel owes UK an explanation

With the exception of 'The Times,' most of Britain's broadsheet newspapers led with the ongoing passport saga.

February 19, 2010 01:12
4 minute read.
Gordon Brown

gordon brown 311. (photo credit: AP)


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With the exception of The Times, most of Britain's broadsheet newspapers led on Thursday with the ongoing passport saga. All had editorials that called for Israel to cooperate with the investigation but mainly questioned the British government's response to the fraudulent use of British passports.

In its lead article, The Daily Telegraph maintained that Britain would consider severing its intelligence-sharing agreement with Israel if Mossad agents were proved to have stolen the identities of British passport-holders.

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In its editorial, the Telegraph said the British government deserved better than the unsatisfactory response it received from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on the issue, in light of the close relationship the countries maintained and the intelligence-sharing between them.

"But Britain is an ally that enjoys a close, intelligence-sharing relationship with Mossad on a number of important global security issues, such as Iran's nuclear program. It is for this reason that the Israeli authorities owe Britain an explanation, at the very least, as to how six of the assassins came to be using the identities of our citizens who are currently resident in Israel."

Although the Telegraph editorial did not shy away from showing Mabhouh as a murderous criminal, it still called for Israel to cooperate fully with the British investigation.

"Lieberman suggested that another country carried out the killing and made it look as though Israel was the culprit. Mr. al-Mabhouh, moreover, was certainly no saint, and had taken refuge in Syria after being involved in the murder of two Israeli soldiers in 1989. But that must not detract from the fact that the safety of British citizens in the region has been compromised. Any suggestion that Israeli intelligence agents may have betrayed the bond of trust that exists between our countries to pursue their own agenda could also jeopardize future intelligence-sharing operations. To prevent a damaging rift from developing, Israel should offer its full cooperation with the investigation [Prime Minister] Gordon Brown has ordered into this affair."

In its editorial, The Guardian said the Serious Organized Crime Agency should present its findings to the Israeli government and demand an explanation. If Israel did not cooperate, the newspaper said, stronger action should be implemented.


"Mossad agents routinely use false identities and forged Western passports, and each time they are caught doing it, Israel gives assurances they will not do it again," it said.

The Guardian said these assurances "are evidently worthless" and lists measures at Britain's disposal to come down hard on Israel.

"The only thing that will give Mossad pause for thought the next time it eyes a target for assassination is if its political masters are made to feel the consequences of its actions," the editorial maintained. "There are at any given moment a plethora of tools at the disposal of Britain and the EU, from bilateral diplomatic contacts and military contacts to arms and trade agreements. London is a key diplomatic listening post for the Middle East and Britain is a vital interlocutor with the Palestinians.

"There are any number of ways of getting the message across, not least the question of whether to change the law to make it harder for British courts to issue arrest warrants, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, for former Israeli ministers accused of war crimes. The enduring mystery is why Britain has been so reluctant to pull the levers at its disposal."

The editorial also maintained that assassinations rarely achieved their advertised effect: "If the purpose here was to stop Hamas acquiring arms from Iran in Dubai, it will not prevent Teheran from providing weapons through another channel, and the Hamas commander will be quickly replaced. Assassinations such as these might, however, give Arab states even less reason than they already have to normalize relations with Israel. Is that a tactical success or a strategic failure?"

The Independent's editorial also criticized the British government's passive response.

"Well, the Prime Minister called for a 'full investigation' into how pseudo-British passports were allegedly used by Mr Mabhouh's killers - which sounded all very civilized and not terribly urgent. And had the Foreign Office made any representations to Israel? No it had not. Nor, it initially said, were there plans to do so - though the ambassador is now being called in today. Even accepting that suspects are innocent until proved guilty, this looks like extraordinarily supine behavior in a situation where, in essence, the good name of our country has been impugned."

Writing in The Daily Mail, Michael Burleigh believed that Mabhouh's assassination now was "a pre-emptive cull" aimed at a terrorist organization that could assist Iran if Israel attacked it.

"Many Middle Eastern intelligence experts believe Israel is conducting a 'pre-emptive' cull of leaders of Arab terrorist organizations who would be prepared to help Iran retaliate in the event of any Israeli assault on Teheran's nuclear bomb program. And there is no doubt that the Israelis believe assassination works - that selective 'hits' can and do degrade the operational efficiency of terrorist organizations," he said.

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