Clone wars: Mossad's London chief expelled over forged passports

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

New details are revealed showing how Israeli security services stole British citizens' identities. Foreign Office advises travellers to Israel that they risk having their passports cloned

Britain has expelled Mossad's most senior official in London after concluding there was compelling evidence that UK passports used by a hit squad in Dubai were cloned by Israel. The Independent has learnt that the documents were cloned at Ben Gurion airport, and officials then made follow-up calls to check surreptitiously that the travel plans of those whose identities had been stolen would not interfere with the assassination.

"Such misuse of British passports is intolerable," the Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Parliament. "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." In an unusual move last night, the Foreign Office also updated its travel advice for Israel, warning would-be visitors of the perils of passport cloning. "We recommend that you only hand your passport over to third parties including Israeli officials when absolutely necessary," the travel bulletin said.

In Israel, the official response to London's action was notably terse. "The relationship between Britain and Israel is mutually important," the foreign ministry said. "We therefore regret the British decision." But in other quarters there was undisguised fury. "I think [the] British are behaving hypocritically and I don't want to offend dogs on this issue, since some dogs are utterly loyal. [But] Who are they to judge us on the war on terror?" said Aryeh Eldad of Israel's National Religious Party.

The row marked another chapter of friction between Israel and its Western allies. Relations with Washington were reported to be at a 35-year low, following the Israeli government's announcement of 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem while US Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting. The fact that yesterday's meeting at the White House between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama was held behind closed doors was interpreted as another sign that tempers have not fully calmed.

While Mr Miliband refused to divulge the name and job title of the diplomat who was given his marching orders, it is believed to be the Mossad head of station in London. Dubai authorities have already accused Mossad of being behind the assassination in a luxury hotel of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in January. With the diplomatic expulsion yesterday, Britain has effectively made the same accusation.

The results of the investigation by the UK's Serious and Organised Crime Agency (Soca) remained under wraps last night, but The Independent understands that the passports of 12 people were cloned after they were taken away from their owners at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv for up to 30 minutes, so that "immigration officials" could carry out "checks".

It is also believed that subsequently, some of the passport holders received telephone calls in the weeks before the Dubai assassination, from officials purportedly seeking to arrange appointments to discuss immigration issues. The officials went on to ask them about upcoming travel plans and when they would not be available.

All but one of the victims have now been issued with biometric passports, which are a safeguard against cloning. The final individual will receive his in the next week.

The Foreign Secretary told the House of Commons that forgeries were of a "high quality". "Given that this was a very sophisticated operation, the Government judges it is highly likely that the forgeries were made by a state intelligence service," he said. "Taking this together with other inquiries, and the link with Israel established by Soca, we have concluded that there are compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of the British passports."

Diplomats were quick to note the reference to "other inquiries" – fuelling speculation that the UK had other intelligence-based information about the episode. According to diplomatic sources US officials were told of the decision to carry out the expulsion and had no objection to the strong British stance, a reflection, it is believed, of Washington's exasperation with the Netanyahu government over the East Jerusalem settlements.

Mr Miliband had been due to attend a ceremony at the Israeli embassy yesterday evening, but he pulled out in what was widely perceived as another sign of British displeasure.

But the UK has desisted from taking more wide-ranging punitive steps. In 1987, after the arrest in Hull of a Palestinian working for Mossad and acting as an agent provocateur, Margaret Thatcher demanded that all Mossad operations in the UK should stop.

And it was clear last night that Israel was not planning a retaliatory expulsion of a British diplomat – despite calls from Knesset member Mr Eldad, to do so. Tzahi Hanegbi, the chairman of the Knesset's influential Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, and a member of opposition leader Tzipi Livni's Kadima Party said: "I believe that Israel's abstaining from giving any kind of response at the height of the Dubai crisis was right. Now that the height of the crisis is behind us, it is certainly all the more logical to refrain from making matters worse."

Mr Miliband stressed that Britain would "continue to work closely with Israel on a range of issues, notably the Iranian nuclear threat" but added "that co-operation must be based on transparency and trust".

He said he had demanded, and received, an assurance from Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, that Israel would never again use British passports for clandestine operations. However, William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, pointed out that a previous Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, had given a similar undertaking after an Israeli embassy diplomatic pouch was found in a German telephone callbox with fake British passports. "It would seem those assurances have not been upheld," said Mr Hague.

The Dubai hit-squad also used fake German, French, Irish and Australian passports. Mr Miliband said he had spoken in the past 24 hours with the foreign ministers of those countries.

Timeline: Dubai murder case

January 19 Mahmoud al-Mabhouh is assassinated in Dubai. The suspects fly out within hours.

January 20 Hotel staff find Mabhouh's body. Hamas says he died of a sudden illness.

January 29 Mabhouh is buried near Damascus. A senior Hamas official accuses Israel of involvement in his death. Dubai police say Mossad involvement is possible.

February 15 Dubai police announce that they are seeking 11 people with European passports, and provide CCTV footage and passport photos of the suspects.

February 16-17 Original passport holders deny involvement and say their identities have been stolen. Israeli foreign minister says there is no proof of Mossad involvement. Gordon Brown promises a full investigation of the misuse of British passports.

February 18 Britain and Ireland summon Israeli ambassadors. Dubai's chief says for the first time that he is almost certain Israel was behind the killing.

February 22 As Avigdor Lieberman meets with European Union foreign ministers in Brussels, the EU condemns fraudulent use of passports.

February 24 15 more suspects identified by Dubai police, bringing total to 26.

February 27 SOCA investigators arrive in Tel Aviv to interview victims of identity theft.

March 9 27th suspect identified.

March 23 David Miliband announces Israeli diplomat will be expelled over use of forged passports.

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
Review: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Sport
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
Sport
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull
football
Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
film
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit