UK ‘invites’ Israeli envoy for talk

Brown orders inquiry into use of British passports in Mabhouh assassination.

Mabhouh 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Mabhouh 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The British Foreign Office on Wednesday evening “invited” IsraeliAmbassador Ron Prosor to a meeting Thursday to discuss suspicions thatBritish passports were used in the assassination of Hamas militarycommander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh last month in Dubai.
But tounderline that the issue had not yet developed into a full-blowndiplomatic crisis with London, a spokesman at the British Embassy inTel Aviv stressed that Prosor had been “invited,” and not “summoned,”to the meeting with Permanent Undersecretary and head of the DiplomaticService Peter Ricketts.
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In diplomatic parlance, summoning anambassador implies a reprimand, while inviting an envoy in for adiscussion signals looking for clarifications.
Israelidiplomatic officials said it was necessary to wait until after themeeting with Prosor to determine whether this issue was going to blowup into a major source of tension with London.
In the best-casescenario, the official said, the British may simply be calling Prosorin because of an apparent demand by the British public – at least asreflected in the British media – for some action. In the worst-casescenario, he speculated, the British may threaten to cut offintelligence cooperation with Israel unless the Mossad gives them alist of other British nationals whose passports may have been usurped.
Dubaipolice this week released names, photos and passport numbers of 11members of an alleged hit squad that killed Mabhouh in his luxury Dubaihotel room last month. Dubai said all 11 carried European passports.But most of the identities appeared to be stolen, and a number matchedup with real people in Israel who have claimed they were victims ofidentity theft. Only the British passports, however, were believed tohave 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.
BritishPrime Minister Gordon Brown said on Wednesday that he was taking themisuse of British passports in the assassination very seriously andthat he had ordered a full investigation in the matter.
“We havegot to carry out a full investigation into this. The British passportis an important document that has got to be held with care,” said theprime minister. “The evidence has got to be assembled about what hasactually happened and how it happened and why it happened, and it isnecessary for us to conclude that before we can make statements.”
“Thedefrauding of British passports is a very serious issue,” a Britishgovernment spokesman added on Wednesday. “The government will continueto take all the action that is necessary to protect British nationalsfrom identity fraud. The government is involved in a number of strandsof ongoing activity in relation to this specific case.”
TheBritish government said on Wednesday that its embassy in Tel Aviv wouldbe contacting those affected by the incident and would offer them thesupport they needed in obtaining new passports.
The governmentalso announced that the Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) wouldlead the investigation into the fraudulent use of British passports inclose cooperation with the Emirati authorities.
“We received arequest from the Dubai authorities for assistance with theirinvestigation in relation to the fraudulent use of UK passports,” aSOCA 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.
“Wecan confirm that the photographs and signatures on the passports usedin Dubai do not match those of the passports issued by the UK,” aBritish government spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, ForeignMinister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday there was no reason to assumethe Mossad was behind the operation simply because Dubai had releasedthe information about the passports.
“I don’t know why we areassuming that Israel, or the Mossad, used those passports,” Liebermantold Army Radio in Israel’s first official comments on the affair.
ButLieberman did not deny involvement outright, saying Israel rightlymaintained a policy of ambiguity where security operations wereconcerned.
“Israel never responds, never confirms and never denies,” he said. “There is no reason for Israel to change this policy.”
Onediplomatic official said that Dubai could selectively be releasinginformation to frame Israel, and that conclusions should not be drawnfrom “journalistic speculation.”
The Prime Minister’s Officedeclined to discuss the matter on Wednesday evening, just as PrimeMinister Binyamin Netanyahu himself did when asked about the issue onTuesday 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