Politically motivated move, blow to intelligence-sharing

Britain’s expulsion of an Israeli diplomat over an alleged Mossad assassination seems certain to damage counterterrorism efforts.

By
March 24, 2010 01:50
2 minute read.
A member of the Hamas-affiliated Popular Resistanc

hamas man 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Britain’s expulsion of an Israeli diplomat over the alleged Mossad assassination of Hamas arch-terrorist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh is being seen by security experts in Israel as a politically-motivated overreaction that seems certain to damage counterterrorism intelligence-sharing between London and Jerusalem.

UK media outlets reported on Monday that the diplomat who will likely be asked to leave is the head of the Mossad station in London.

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If the reports are accurate, the expulsion would result in the removal of an important channel of communication between the Mossad and Britain’s security services, one that has provided London with valuable information on developments in Middle Eastern arenas such as Iraq.

“Al-Qaida views Britain as the head of a Western snake and an immediate target. It’s not very smart to kick out a representative of a foreign intelligence agency that is helping you,” former senior Mossad member Rami Igra told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

Britain, itself involved in a global struggle against terrorism, “went too far, and this lacks foresight,” Igra added. Israel has “more to offer than receive” in intelligence sharing with Britain, he said.

The UK has sent the Mossad packing in the past – in 1988, former prime minister Margaret Thatcher became infuriated when she discovered that the Mossad employed a Palestinian double agent on British shores. Ismail Siwan, who was found to be in possession of a cache of arms, was sentenced to a lengthy prison term, and Arie Regev, a Mossad representative in London, was ordered out of the country.

But while Israel was largely alone in its struggle against terrorism in the late 1980s, the picture is starkly different today. Like many other Western states, Britain is facing significant threats to its national security from jihadi circles, and continues to be at risk from radicalized British Muslims like those who attacked the London Underground in 2005, killing 56 people.

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“In the 1980s, we were alone,” said Dr. Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at Herzliya-based International Institute for Counter-Terrorism. “Today, Britain faces a serious terrorism problem. The expulsion will certainly affect the intelligence dialogue between the two countries. If Israel learns of important information, it will be harder to share it now.”

Karmon shared Igra’s view that the expulsion was politically motivated, but stopped short of describing it as an overreaction. After the large number of British passports used in the assassination came to light, Britain came under massive pressure from Gulf states and other Arab countries to act, Karmon said.


“The MI6 is closely linked to the UK Foreign Office, which has had a major influence on this decision,” Karmon said. “British intelligence has been active in the Gulf region for decades, and Gulf states relied on British intelligence in the first years after their independence. These countries enjoy a close relationship with London. The British felt they had to respond.”

Other observers have suggested the decision is aimed at placating elements of the British media that are hostile to Israel, and boosting the Labor government’s position ahead of the general elections.

“The elements in Britain involved in this decision have not exactly been lovers of Zion, since the days of the Mandate and until today,” Igra said. “These elements are glad to take advantage of an opportunity to take a swipe at Israel.”

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