Israel Feels the Diplomatic Heat over Hit Squad

UK, Irish authorities investigate use of fake passports in Hamas assassination

LONDON, Feb. 18, 2010 -- A diplomatic row is threatening to erupt over last month's assassination of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh as Dubai's police force directly pointed the finger at Mossad, Israel's spy agency, for being behind the slaying.

Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim said that he was "99, if not 100 percent" sure that Mossad was involved in the murder of al-Mabhouh, Tamim told The National newspaper, which is owned by the government of Abu Dhabi. In the Dubai-based Gulf News, he added that "All elements strongly indicate the involvement of the Mossad."

The number of suspects in the case rose to 18 today, and pressure is intensifying on Israel to answer questions about the killing, which took place Jan. 19. His body was found in his Dubai hotel room the following day and a preliminary forensic report found that he was suffocated after being paralyzed by an electric shock. A full report will be completed in a month's time.

Interpol has issued "Red Notices" for the 11 internationally-wanted individuals who have been charged by the UAE and Dubai police. The United States has also been pulled into the case, with Emirati authorities accusing the alleged killers of using fraudulent passports to open credit cards accounts via U.S.-based banks.

This morning, the UK and the Republic of Ireland governments summoned their Israeli ambassadors to answer questions over the use of faked British and Irish passports in al-Mahbhouh's assassination.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Minister David Miliband both said this morning the British government is conducting a full investigation into how details from British passport holders were fraudulently used, but stopped short of pointing the finger directly at Israel.

"I think this is a matter of investigation. We've got to know that facts," Brown said today. 'It's an investigation that's got to take place before conclusions are drawn."

"We wanted to give Israel every opportunity to share with us what it knows about this incident," said MIliband, "and we hope and expect that they will cooperate fully with the investigation." He plans to raise the issue with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman at a meeting in Brussels this coming Monday.

The Israeli ambassador to London, Ron Prosor, has called for a meeting with the head of the British Diplomatic Service, Peter Ricketts, to discuss how several UK citizens living in Israel had their passport details used by the alleged hit squad.

The mounting speculation of Mossad involvement led Lieberman to comment on the reports Wednesday.

"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, asked about the operation and alleged passport subterfuge, told Army Radio. He brushed aside the concern that the use of British, Irish, French and German passports may damage relations with those countries.

"I think Britain recognizes that Israel is a responsible country and that our security activity is conducted according to very clear, cautious and responsible rules of the game. Therefore we have no cause for concern," he said speaking about Great Britain in particular, where six of the 11 forged passports came from.

It's yet another sticky moment in British-Israeli relations – and not the first time that fake passports have been found to be in the middle of an alleged Mossad plot.

When Mossad tried to kill Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal in Jordan back in 1997 the two assassins used Canadian passports. Canada wasn't happy about that. Ten years before that, in 1987, British authorities shut down the Mossad station in London when stolen British passports were found in a public telephone booth in West Germany, and several years ago Mossad agents were arrested in New Zealand trying to steal the identity of New Zealand citizens

More recently, a British court issued an arrest warrant for Israel's former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, over war crimes committed in Gaza during the Israeli assault in the region over a year ago. The warrant was withdrawn after it emerged that she had cancelled her visit.