UK/Israeli relations under threat as Dubai row escalates

By Ian Dunt and Alex Stevenson

The dispute over the assassination of a senior Hamas official threatens to derail relations between Britain and Israel today, as the government steps up pressure over the affair.

The Israeli ambassador, Ron Prosor, was summoned to appear before the Foreign Office permanent under-secretary Peter Ricketts over the fraudulent use of British passports earlier, although details of what was said at the meeting are not forthcoming.

Prosor told journalists afterwards that he did not offer Sir Peter any “additional information” after it emerged six of the 11 people in the hit squad which murdered Mahmoud al-Mabhouh – thought in most quarters to be a Mossad cell – used the fake British passports.

Interpol confirmed this afternoon is had issued arrest notices for all 11 suspects, although their true identities remain unclear.

A full investigation is taking place into the fraudulent use of the passports, led by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), in cooperation with the Emirati authorities.

Both moves were demanded by MPs yesterday. Their quick implementation is a sign of how seriously the issue is being treated in the Foreign Office and Downing Street.

“We need to make sure the British passport remains something that everyone has confidence in and countries around the world has confidence in as well,” foreign secretary David Miliband said.

“What the permanent secretary made clear was we wanted Israel to cooperate fully with the investigation.

“We want the ambassador to take back to Israel the seriousness with which we are addressing the situation.”

Speaking to the BBC later, he said: “Any interference with British passports is an outrage. We take this case extremely seriously – the integrity of our system is critical.”

A Foreign Office official said yesterday that the government would seek to “take all the action that is necessary to protect British nationals from identity-fraud”.

The British nationals affected by the incident are being contacted by the British embassy in Tel Aviv, which is preparing to offer them support.

At least five of the Britons whose identities were used by the assassins live in Israel, triggering suspicions that the hit may have been orchestrated by Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency.

Yesterday Gordon Brown told London’s LBC 97.3 FM radio station: “We have to carry out a full investigation into this.

“The evidence has to be assembled about what actually happened, about how it happened and why.”

The plot to kill Mr Al-Mabhouh, who has been chased by Israel for 20 years for his role in the kidnap and murder of two Israeli soldiers, was especially elaborate. The 11 assassins entered Dubai posing as tourists, complete with wigs and fake beards.

Dubai public prosecutors have issued warrants for ‘premeditated murder’ and are expected to go for a ‘red notice’ from Interpol so they can go after the fugitives internationally.