Sunday, August 8, 2010

Israel brushes off Mossad agents exclusion from Britain

By Adrian Blomfield in Jerusalem 523PM GMT 24 Mar 2010

Already facing the wrath of the United States over its building plans in East Jerusalem, Israel has embarked on a campaign to placate Britain in order to avoid what one official described as "a war on two fronts".

The Foreign Office was quickly assured that Israel had no intention of engaging in tit-for-tat retaliation by ordering out Britain"s military attach to Tel Aviv, a step demanded by some Right-wing Israeli MPs.

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Instead, the Jewish state sought to put on a brave face over the expulsion of its diplomat, believed to be the Mossad station chief in London, after Israel was held responsible for the use of cloned British passports in the assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai.

An Israeli government official insisted that Britain"s response was less robust than some had feared.

"It could have been much worse," he said. "I wouldn"t call it a slap on the wrist, but it was more a symbolic reprimand than anything else."

Israel"s press drew much the same conclusion and sought to portray the expulsion more as more diplomatic bagatelle than full-blown crisis.

Under a headline declaring "We Got Off Easy", Israel"s mass circulation Yediot Ahronot newspaper wrote "Whoever used forged British passports knew that he might have to pay the price. And the price set by the British yesterday was a clearance sale price."

Officials added that Israel had received assurances that the diplomat asked to leave could be replaced within six weeks, once the general election was over.

Following a series of scandals involving Mossad and British interests in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher officially ejected the Israeli spy agency, an action that was to last 10 years.

The Government"s more measured response was taken as evidence that Britain had administered a formal scolding but had no interest in seeing lasting damage done to its relationship with Israel.

Yet there was nervousness in Israel, too, amid fears that other states whose passports were used in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh could now follow in Britain"s lead.

Of at least 27 cloned western passports used in the mission, 12 belonged to British nationals. But the identities of nationals from Ireland, France, Germany and Australia were also stolen and investigations in some of those countries are underway.

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