UK to expel Israeli diplomat over Dubai case

LONDON: Britain plans to expel an Israeli diplomat Tuesday to rebuke Israel for its alleged use of forged British passports in the assassination of a Hamas operative in a suspected Mossad hit, a U.K. government official said.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband was to address Parliament on the issue, following an investigation into the use of 12 fake U.K. passports in the incident. Britain's Foreign Office would not provide any details of Miliband's statement in advance.

"The foreign secretary will make a statement to the House of the Commons this afternoon," a spokeswoman said.

However, a U.K. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment ahead of the statement, confirmed that one Israeli diplomat will be expelled.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office said Israel's ambassador to Britain, Ron Prosor, met with Peter Ricketts, Britain's senior diplomat, to discuss the case Monday. Israel's Foreign Ministry declined to provide details of the talks, but there was no suggestion the ambassador himself would be expelled.

In 1988, Britain expelled Israeli attache Arie Regev for "activities incompatible with diplomatic duties" — a euphemism for espionage. It also barred a second Israeli, Jacob Barad, from returning to Britain after his departure in 1987. Both men were suspected of coordinating the activities of the Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, in the U.K.

A French judicial official, meanwhile, said the Paris prosecutor's office has opened an investigation into the alleged use of four fake French passports in the Dubai case. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because of the sensitivity of the case, said the probe was for suspected forgery and identity theft.

Israel's embassy in London said Miliband had canceled his appearance at a reception Tuesday to mark the refurbishment of the Israeli embassy. The embassy would not comment on whether one of its diplomats would be expelled.

"We can neither confirm nor deny," an embassy spokesman said.

Dubai authorities have accused the Mossad of being behind the Jan 20. slaying of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a luxury hotel room, and have identified at least 26 suspects of an alleged hit squad that traveled to Dubai on fake identities and forged European and Australian passports. 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 killing.

At least 15 of the names used by the suspected killers match those of Israeli citizens who are dual nationals of Western countries — including eight Israeli-British dual nationals. All have denied involvement, saying their identities were stolen.

Shortly after he was named as one of the British suspects, dual national Melvyn Adam Mildiner told The Associated Press that he thought he was picked because "I don't have a Jewish-sounding name."

It is suspected Mossad specifically targeted the identities of dual nationals. It is relatively easy for British Jews — and Jews from other nations — to qualify for Israeli passports if they meet the basic requirements set out by the Israeli government. It is common for people to carry valid passports from both nations.

In a recent speech, Eliza Manningham-Buller — the ex-head of Britain's MI5 — said forged British passports had previously been used by the same country behind the Dubai slaying, though she declined to specifically name Israel.

Arieh Eldad, a lawmaker from Israel's National Union — a hardline opposition party — called Friday for the military attache of the British Embassy in Israel to be expelled in response. "Nobody nominated them as the judges in our war against terror," he told the AP.

Diplomatic expulsions are a rare sanction against foreign governments. Britain kicked out four Russian diplomats in 2007 over the country's refusal to extradite to London a suspect in the poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko.

Britain's Serious and Organized Crime Agency has conducted an inquiry into the use of forged British passports, but is not involved in wider inquiries by Dubai police into the killing.