Britain to expel Israel diplomat over Dubai assassination

In a rare allegation, Britain accused its ally of forging passports used in January's Dubai assassination of a Hamas operative. The diplomatic fallout could be significant, with Netanyahu – in Washington today – already facing strained US ties.

By , Correspondent

Britain is reportedly expelling an Israeli diplomat on today over suspected involvement in the Dubai assassination of a top Hamas operative. Britain accused its ally Israel of forging up to a dozen British passports that Dubai police say were used by Mossad agents to kill Mahmoud Mabhouh in January.

Though Britain stopped short of saying it had concrete proof Israeli involvement in the killing of Mabhouh, the diplomatic punishment is a rare allegation by a Western ally of involvement in a covert assassination. A spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry confirmed that Ambassador Ron Prosor was summoned to London's Foreign Ministry on Monday, but would not comment the reported expulsion.

Other countries may follow suit

The bump in relations is ill-timed for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in Washington trying to defuse US tensions over new building in East Jerusalem and an impasse in the renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians. With Dubai police alleging that Australian, French, and Irish passports were also used in the Dubai assassination plot, other countries may follow Britain's lead.

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"Maybe there will be follow-up reactions [from other countries]," says Yossi Melman, a reporter for the daily Haaretz newspaper who is an expert on Israel's intelligence services.

He added that the British have expelled Israelis before for violating British sovereignty in the 1980s. But the fact that Britain has not recalled its ambassador is a sign that the move remains a relatively mild form of protest, adds Melman.

"By choosing this method, it means that the British don't want to rock the boat,'' Mr. Melman says. "It's just a warning.''

More than two dozen passports used in assassination

Mabhouh was identified by Israeli security experts as a link in the efforts by Iran to arm Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip with missiles. Israel's government has refused to confirm or deny involvement.

In the wake of the assassination of Mabhouh in Dubai, police there identified more than two dozen passports they said were used by the team. About half belonged to Israeli residents with dual citizenship – all of whom who claimed that their identities had been stolen.

Both Britain and Australia dispatched teams to Israel to investigate the use of their passports, but they have refused to comment until today. The Dubai police, meanwhile, have said they are near certain that the Mossad was behind the assassination. Hamas has promised to take revenge – even if it means taking the fight outside Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli deputy foreign minister, speculated in an interview with Israel radio that the diplomatic fallout from the assassination would be less severe if there were active negotiations taking place with the Palestinians.

"It's very grave,'' said Mr. Beilin. "Without question of the truth behind the accusations, this proves a real injury to Israel's [diplomatic] resilience. Under different circumstances this wouldn't happen.''

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