LONDON - Britain took the extraordinary step yesterday of expelling an Israeli diplomat for the first time in more than 20 years, after concluding there was compelling evidence that Israel was responsible for the use of forged British passports in the plot to assassinate a senior Hamas operative in Dubai.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband said trust between the two countries had been badly dented, demanded formal assurances it never happens again and, in an unusual step, issued travel advice to British citizens warning their identity details may be at risk if they visit Israel.
Miliband told the House of Commons that the expelled diplomat, who has not been named, was removed following an investigation into the use of 12 fake United Kingdom passports in the Jan. 20 slaying in Dubai.
"We have concluded that there are compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of the British passports," Miliband said.
Britain's Serious and Organized Crime Agency found the forged passports were copies of authentic documents handed to Israeli officials for inspection either in Israel or other countries, Miliband said. He said the fakes were high-quality and almost certainly "made by a state intelligence service."
However, Miliband insisted Britain has drawn no conclusions over who is responsible for the killing of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, saying investigation by Dubai was continuing.
Dubai authorities accuse Israel's 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, members of which used forged European and Australian passports. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied any involvement in al-Mabhouh's death.
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.
France and Ireland are investigating the use of four forged French and six Irish passports.
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," a euphemism for espionage.