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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.

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In some ways, the measures taken against Israel may have more in common with July 2007 when Britain kicked out four Russian diplomats following Moscow's refusal to hand over a former KGB agent accused of murdering Russian exile Alexander Litvinenko, who was killed by radiation poisoning in London.

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Those expulsions were regarded as a peaceful warning shot of the type used when countries that normally enjoy cordial relations fail to find common ground on controversial issues.

However, the British move may now also escalate the possibility that other nations whose passports were used in the operation that led to the killing Mahmoud al-Mabhouh may follow suit. They include France, Ireland, Germany, and Australia.

Firm foundation for British-Israeli ties

In London, analysts expressed surprise at the move while emphasizing that important mutual links –particularly on trade and security issues – still provide a firm foundation for enduring British-Israeli ties.

The relationship between Israel and the UK, which ruled the Mandate of Palestine between 1917 and 1948, has hit rocky patches in the past, particularly during the 1980s when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ordered a halt to Mossad operations in Britain after an Israeli technician who blew the lid on his country’s nuclear weapons project was kidnapped by Israel after being lured from London.

“There have been ups and downs but the important thing is that within the European Union, and along with Germany and Holland, Britain was seen as being a brake on some of the more pro-Palestinian positions in the EU, while being sympathetic to Israel,” says Rory Miller, professor in Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King's College, London. “While Britain and Israel may have had differences they have always been seen as allies.”

“This is a notable departure, but not one that will have a major impact on the traditional alliance which remains so important on so many levels,” he adds. “This may be a way of ensuring something is done so that relations can again fall into line.”

Israeli nationalist decries Britain's 'hypocrisy'

In public at least, British-Israeli relations appear to be in the doghouse for now, while Britons got an eye and earful of the initial reaction in some quarters of Israel Tuesday when they tuned into the 24-hour broadcaster Sky News.

Aryeh Eldad, a hard-line nationalist member of the Israeli parliament, told the channel that Israel should expel a British diplomat – possibly the military attaché - in response.

"I think [the] British are behaving hypocritically ... who are they to judge us on the war on terror? We are now cornered into this position and we are accused of doing the wrong things during our war on terrorism."