Pressure was mounting on Israel following the killing of a Hamas military commander in a Dubai hotel room last month, with the British and Irish governments summoning the Israeli ambassadors to their respective countries on Thursday for talks over the misuse of British and Irish passports by the alleged killers.
Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor, met with Peter Ricketts, the head of Britain’s diplomatic service, in London on Thursday. In Dublin, Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin said his country had also summoned its Israeli envoy, Zion Evrony, for talks.
"We will have a frank discussion with the ambassador," Martin told reporters ahead of the meeting. "We are putting pretty direct questions and seeking assistance and clarification.”
The French foreign ministry said on Thursday that it was also seeking answers from its Israeli embassy, adding that it was in contact with the Dubai authorities regarding the progress of the investigation.
Diplomatic tensions have been on the rise following the killing of Hamas leader Mahmud al-Mabhuh, who was found dead in a Dubai hotel room on January 20. The passport affair came to light after Dubai’s police chief, Dahi Khalfan Tamim, released the names and photos of 11 European passport holders – six from Britain, three from Ireland, one from Germany and one from France – who he alleged were members of a hit squad targeting the senior Hamas militant. Dubai prosecutors issued an international arrest warrant for the 11 on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s pledged to launch a "full investigation" into the passports affair. Shortly after the Thursday meeting between Prosor and Ricketts, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Britain expected Israel to cooperate fully with an investigation.
International hit squad
All of the nations involved in the passport affair, except Germany, reacted to the news by saying the travel documents were fake. The six Britons whose passports were used had immigrated to Israel and have denied ever having been to the United Arab Emirates.
But on Wednesday, Martin said that new information from the United Arab Emirates reveals that the passports used may have been authentic. "The new information ... indicates that genuine Irish passport numbers were used," he said.
In an interview with the Al Bayan newspaper on Thursday, Tamim insisted that the passports used by the suspects were not fakes and that Dubai immigration officers were "trained" by European security experts to spot forgeries.
Tamim also said he was “99 percent sure” that the Israeli secret service, Mossad, was behind the murder. In an interview with The National newspaper, Tamim said investigations into the killing revealed that Mossad is involved in the murder of Mabhuh. “It is 99 percent, if not 100 percent, that Mossad is standing behind the murder," the Abu Dhabi-based English-language daily quoted the police chief as saying.
While no government has directly accused Israel, the modus operandi of al-Mabhuh’s murder has led to speculation that Mossad may have been behind the killing as Mossad has used passports from other Western nations in the past. Canada vehemently protested after Canadian passports were used in the organisation’s botched 1997 attempt to kill Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal in Amman, Jordan.
But Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Wednesday that there was no evidence pointing to Israel’s involvement. "There is no reason to think that it was the Israeli Mossad, and not some other intelligence service or country up to some mischief," Lieberman told Israel’s Army Radio.
Lieberman said Israel has a “policy of ambiguity” on intelligence issues. Israel usually neither confirms nor denies speculation about Mossad activities.
Hamas has claimed that al-Mabhuh was behind the 1989 kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers. Israel also suspects him of smuggling Iranian arms into Gaza.