Israel reacts to Britain expulsion of diplomat over Dubai assassination

After Britain expelled an Israeli diplomat after it determined the Jewish state had forged British passports used in the Dubai assassination of a Hamas leader, Israelis reacted with criticism, but also relief that the damage wasn't more severe.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador in Britain, makes a statement to members of the media outside the embassy in central London, Tuesday.

The decision by Britain to expel an Israeli diplomat after it found what it called "compelling" reasons to believe Israel had forged 12 British passports used in the Dubai assassination of a senior Hamas operative was received on Wednesday by Israelis with a mixture of criticism and relief as they assessed the damage to one of the country's most important diplomatic relationships.

On Tuesday, Britain became the first state to publicly bolster claims made by the Dubai police that Israel arranged the January murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. The UK findings, and warning to travelers to Israel that their passports could be forged, marks a strain in relations.

The charges and expulsion were announced as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was seeking to patch up ties with the US at a White House meeting with President Obama and contributed to a growing sense here that Israel's diplomatic position has steadily deteriorated over the last year.

In an article entitled "Hypocritical Protest," political columnist Dan Margalit wrote in the daily Yisrael Hayom that the British response was overdone. "This was an assassination that was not done on British soil but rather in Dubai," he wrote. "Her Majesty’s government cannot say with certainty who assassinated the terrorist. The Mossad? The IDF? It has no smoking gun, but it fingers Israel as being responsible for the incident."

Other columnists noted that the British punishment could have been more severe.

Still, they warned that other countries whose passports were allegedly used in the assassination could follow suit. The assassination team used forged passports and the identities of Israeli dual nationals from Germany, Australia, Britain, France and Ireland, the Dubai police and the governments involved have said.

The Haaretz newspaper reports that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Israel was not presented with any concrete evidence by the British of its involvement. Mr. Lieberman has previously refused to confirm or deny Israel's involvement in the murder.

The Dubai assassination controversy sheds a light on the awkward position of immigrants in Israel from Western countries who retain their foreign nationalities. Israeli is accused of gleaning the passport data during inspection of the travel documents. But some immigrants say that passport information is often volunteered to security officials.

Philip Carr, a British native who lives in the Jerusalem bedroom community of Beit Shemesh said that he felt "violated," after seeing his passport details on the news. But he refused to finger Israel as responsible. "The British government gave me a new passport, and assured me I shouldn't have a problem traveling," he said.

A spokesman for the British immigrant society in Israel declined to comment on whether the controversy could affect future immigration to Israel. A spokesman for the Zionist Federation of Australia said he knew of no fallout from the incident.

A veteran immigrant familiar with the practice of newcomers volunteering passport information insisted it is viewed as an act of patriotism. "It's like people volunteering to serve in an elite combat unit," he said.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.