LONDON â€“ Britain expelled an Israeli diplomat on Tuesday over the alleged use of forged U.K. passports in the assassination of a Hamas operative in a suspected Mossad hit. It was the first time Britain has ousted an Israeli diplomat in more than 20 years.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the House of Commons that the diplomat, who has not been named, was removed from London following an investigation into the use of 12 fake U.K. passports in the Jan. 20 slaying in Dubai of Hamas agent Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.
“We have concluded that there are compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of the British passports,” Miliband said.
Britain had demanded a formal assurance from Israel that it would never again misuse British passports and warned British citizens that their identity details may be vulnerable if they visit Israel.
Miliband said an investigation by Britain’s Serious and Organized Crime Agency found that the forged British passports were copies of authentic documents handed over to Israeli officials for inspection either in Israel or in other countries.
“The fact that this was done by a country which is a friend, with significant diplomatic, cultural, business and personal ties to the U.K., only adds insult to injury. No country or government could stand by in such a situation,” Miliband said.
Referring to Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, Miliband said “it is highly likely that the forgeries were made by a state intelligence service.”
But Miliband said investigations into the killing of al-Mabhouh were continuing and Britain had drawn no conclusions over who was responsible.
Dubai authorities have accused the Mossad of carrying out al-Mabhouh’s killing in a luxury hotel room and have identified at least 26 suspects in an alleged hit squad who used forged European and Australian passports to enter Dubai.
France and Ireland are also carrying out similar inquiries into the forgery of French and Irish documents.
Interpol has unveiled a wanted list of 27 people in connection with the slaying. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied any involvement in al-Mabhouh’s death.
Israel’s ambassador said he was “disappointed by the decision of the British government” but pledged that the two countries would still have close ties.
“The relationship between Israel and the United Kingdom is of mutual importance,” said Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the U.K.
At least 15 of the names used by the suspected killers match those of Israeli citizens who are dual nationals of Western countries. All have denied involvement, saying their identities were stolen.
Miliband said in the cases of the 12 British citizens, there was “no evidence to suggest that those 12 were anything other than wholly innocent victims of identity theft.”
He said one victim told investigators that “to go to bed a citizen and wake up as a wanted terrorist is shocking.”
The expulsion of an Israeli diplomat from London is the first since 1988, when attache Arie Regev was removed for “activities incompatible with diplomatic duties” â€” a euphemism for espionage. Britain also barred a second Israeli, Jacob Barad, from returning to Britain after his departure in 1987. Both men were suspected of coordinating Mossad activity in the U.K.
Miliband, who said he discussed the case Monday with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, confirmed that Britain had chosen which diplomat would be expelled and said “it was not a random” choice.
But British and Israeli officials declined to confirm reports that the diplomat was Mossad’s London station chief.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor declined to comment on whether Israel would take retaliatory action for the expulsion.
Associated Press writers Raphael G. Satter and Gregory Katz in London and Aron Heller and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report