While stopping short of directly admonishing Israel, the European Union (EU) issued a statement today denouncing the forgery of European passports used in last month's Dubai assassination of a senior Hamas militant.
“The EU strongly condemns the fact that those involved in this action used fraudulent EU member-states’ passports and credit cards acquired through the theft of EU citizens’ identities,” EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels said in the joint statement, adding public pressure on Israel, whose spy agency, Mossad, is widely believed to have carried out the Jan. 20 killing.
Israel was not mentioned in the statement, but British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said earlier that he used a meeting in the Belgian capital with his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, to express "the profound concern that exists not just in Britain, but all over Europe."
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she would raise the issue with Mr. Lieberman when they have dinner tonight.
Indeed, the issue seems irksome enough to unite the often disparate EU.
“I think that this is going to be an easy one for EU states to address when it comes to speaking with one voice,” says Clara Marina O'Donnell, an analyst at the Center for European Reform think tank in London. “The big member states still tend to have more strength and if you have a consensus you won't see the European states trying to split it. But more to the point, nation states are all quite sensitive when it comes to the idea of their passports’ integrity.”
Still, the issue is unlikely to devolve into a diplomatic crisis, and the prospect of the EU initiating any kind of sanctions against Israel remains extremely remote.
Europe is Israel’s biggest trading partner and Israel enjoys deep bilateral relations with all EU states. The EU and Israel also share substantial common interests on a range of issues, including opposition to Iran’s apparent progress toward arming itself with nuclear weapons.
Two more British passports used?
It emerged Monday that a total of eight forged UK passports were used in Dubai by the suspected hit squad, two more than had been previously disclosed. Additional forged passports were Irish, French, and German. All four countries have brought Israeli envoys in for talks in recent days.
While police in Dubai have accused Israel's spy agency of being behind the killing of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, Israel has not denied or confirmed it played any role. Mr. Lieberman on Monday reiterated his assertion there was nothing to link Israel to the killing.
The 11-member hit squad flew to Dubai on European passports and took a room across from Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh at the swank Al Bustan Rotana hotel. Four of them broke in to his room while he was out at meetings. When Mr. Mabhouh returned they killed him.
Israel's secret intelligence service, which has carried out a number of assassinations abroad in the past, though the Israeli government has refused to confirm or deny these rumors.