Israel's envoy asked about fake British passports used by Dubai hit squad
Britain 'invited' Israel's ambassador to discuss the apparent use of forged British passports by a hit squad that murdered Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a Hamas official, in Dubai. The assassination scandal recalls tensions from the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher was furious that Israel's Mossad had used forged British passports.
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Contributing factors have included the continuing success of pro-Palestinian activists in London in securing arrest warrants from lower courts for Israeli military and political officials planning to visit the UK.Skip to next paragraph
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When Britain banned Mossad
However, the latest episode also risks reopening some older and even darker wounds stemming from British anger at previous Mossad operations on its territory, and the alleged illicit use of British passport identities by the Israelis.
Although her tough line on the PLO earned her praise from Israel in the 1980s, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ordered a freeze in relations with Mossad in 1986 after Mordechai Vanunu, the former Israeli nuclear technician who revealed Israel's nuclear weapons program, was lured by a female Israeli agent from London to Rome and then kidnapped.
Another diplomatic row was sparked later that year when an Israeli agent left eight forged British passports in an Israeli embassy envelope in a West German telephone box.
The following year, weapons used by Palestinians who killed a Palestinian cartoonist in London were traced to a property in the north of England where a Mossad agent who claimed to have infiltrated the group had been living. The British government alleged that the Mossad knew there were armed operatives in the UK and failed to notify them.
Mrs. Thatcher demanded an end to Mossad operations in the UK and it was not until 1998 that the then Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, asked Tony Blair if the agency could resume its activities there.
UK too 'pro-Arab'?
Recently however, and before the Dubai episode, there has been a deterioration in relations between the two countries, according to Rosemary Hollis, an expert on the Middle East at London’s City University.
While Britain’s Foreign service had traditionally been regarded by Israel as “hopelessly pro-Arab,” she said that when Mr. Blair came to power he deemed that moves should be made to present Britain's role in the region as more “even handed”.
“During the Bush years, the whole experience of the British was that any of their efforts, including those spearheaded by Tony Blair, to inject new momentum [into the peace process] was essentially ignored by Israel,” said Professor Hollis. “That is because they [Israel] don’t need to care what the British think. They need to care what Washington thinks.”
According to Hollis, there was great relief in British diplomatic circles when, in the post-Blair Labour government, the lead on the Middle East was taken by the new Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and Barack Obama came to power in the US.
“The change of government in America coincided with the arrival of Netanyahu and the combination has not been a happy one,” says Hollis.