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Israel diplomat expelled by Britain over Dubai assassination passport forgery

Britain said Tuesday it would expel an Israel diplomat after a government probe found it likely that the Jewish state had forged UK passports used in the Dubai assassination of a senior Hamas official. Foreign Minister David Miliband is due to address Parliament this afternoon.

By Correspondent / March 23, 2010

People gather outside Israel's embassy in central London, Tuesday. Britain will expel an Israeli diplomat following the use of forged British passports in the Dubai assassination of a senior Hamas official.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

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London

A new low was reached Tuesday in the traditionally close but often rocky British-Israeli relationship when Britain announced that it was expelling an Israeli diplomat following the use of forged British passports in the Dubai assassination of a senior Hamas official in January.

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The cold war-style sanction was deployed after a British investigation determined that passports were forged when British citizens passed through airports on their way to Israel, although the probe was unable to definitively confirm the involvement of Israeli intelligence.

Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to Britain, was summoned to the headquarters of Britain’s Foreign Office on Monday to be told the results of Britain’s inquiry, for which investigators were sent to Israel this month to meet eight Israeli-British dual nationals whose identities were used in the Jan. 20 assassination. Britain’s Foreign Minister, David Miliband was due to address Parliament this afternoon.

While Britain has in the past reserved such action for states like Libya and Iran many see this as only a symbolic warning to its ally Israel – not a sweeping denunciation. However, precisely because of the closeness of the Israeli-British relationship, there could be more serious friction if the controversy is not laid to rest, says Yossi Mekelberg, an Israeli analyst at the London foreign policy think tank Chatham House.

“It is serious. If, as a country, your passports are misused or faked, then it is not something you can ignore and it has created practical problems. Israel has got away internationally with doing certain things in the past because it is a democracy," he says, calling the expulsion Britain's way of telling Israel, "you misbehaved."

But there is a cumulative effect, he adds – and one that may play out in less public avenues.

“Between Britain and Israel there is cooperation on so many different levels. In a globalized world Britain can decide that something like this can end with an expulsion – but behind closed doors there can be repercussions," says Mr. Mekelberg. "The closer a relationship is, then the more painful the sanctions can be.”

Last expulsion: Iranian diplomats in June 2009

While action from London had been expected on the issue – the most serious cause of friction yet over a recent period of sometimes strained relations between the two countries – there was still shock value in the use of a sanction Britain has traditionally only deployed against states with which it has frosty relations.

The last time Britain expelled foreign diplomats from its soil was in June 2009, when two Iranian diplomats were told to pack their bags after Tehran ordered two British diplomats out.

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