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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower