News Agencies and Dana Harman – Haaretz March 23, 2010
The British Foreign Office on Tuesday issued a travel advisory to citizens traveling to Israel and the Palestinian territories, just hours after it decided to expel an Israeli diplomat over the use of forged British passports used by the killers of a Hamas commander in Dubai
Citing “circumstantial evidence of Israeli involvement in the fraudulent use of British passports,” the Foreign Office warned on its Web site of the “possibility that your passport details could be captured for improper uses while your passport is out of your control.”
“The risk applies in particular to passports without biometric security features,” the warning on the Web site said. “We recommend that you only hand your passport over to third parties including Israeli officials when absolutely necessary.”
Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed in January in what Dubai police have said they are 99 percent certain was a hit by Israel’s Mossad spy agency. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied a role in the killing of Mabhouh.
Dubai authorities named 27 alleged members of the team that tracked and killed the Palestinian, and said they used fraudulent British, Irish, French, German and Australian passports to enter and depart from Dubai. More than half of the people identified as responsible for the killing share the names of foreign-born Israeli nationals.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband told parliament there were compelling reasons to believe Israel was responsible for the misuse of British passports in the case and said he had sought assurances that Israel would not misuse them again.
“Such misuse of British passports is intolerable,” Miliband said. “It presents a hazard for the safety of British nationals in the region. It also represents a profound disregard for the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.”
“The fact that this was done by a country which is a friend, with significant diplomatic, cultural, business and personal ties to the UK, only adds insult to injury,” he added. “No country or Government could stand by in such a situation.”
“Israel is a democratic country, with remarkable achievements to its name, in a dangerous part of the world,” said Miliband. “That makes international cooperation even more important. Britain has worked and will continue to work closely with Israel on a range of issues, notably the Iranian nuclear threat. But that cooperation must be based on transparency and trust.”
Miliband also canceled his appearance at a ceremony scheduled for later that evening at the Israeli embassy.
The head of Britain’s diplomatic service, Peter Ricketts, met Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor, on Monday, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, but he gave no details of what was discussed.
Also Tuesday, a French judicial official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the Paris prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation in mid-March for suspected forgery and identity theft linked to the assassination. Four fake French passports were allegedly used by suspected members of the hit squad.
Prosor was told Monday that results of an inquiry into the murder of Mabhouh have determined for certain that British passports were forged as part of the operation.
According to media reports, there was growing speculation that a diplomat would be expelled as “a mark of the ‘anger’ within the government that British passport holders had been put at risk as a result of the operation.”
Prosor was also reportedly told that a ministerial statement will be made to parliament in the coming days formally naming the Israeli security services as responsible for the cloning of up to 15 British passports as part of the Dubai operation.
The statement will not state definitively whether the Mossad was involved and will instead mention both them and Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate.
But the Foreign Office made it clear to Prosor that the probe had determined for certain that the passports were forged when British citizens passed through airports on their way into Israel, with officials taking them away for “checks” which lasted around 20 minutes.
Gordon Brown had ordered a probe into the use of British passports and investigators from Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) traveled to Dubai to investigate.
The agency has submitted a report to other government departments but “there are still some areas of enquiry,” a spokeswoman for SOCA said.
Britain’s normally warm relations with Israel have been strained by the threat of arrest faced by senior Israeli officials visiting Britain for alleged war crimes.
Britain expelled an Israeli diplomat in 1988 in an espionage row. The man, Arie Regev, was described at the time by informed British sources as an agent for Mossad.