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Why are we surprised that Mossad used fake passports?

April 19, 2014 at 11:33 am

The aspect of the Al-Mabhouh assassination that is attracting most attention is the issue of forged passports. Today’s Jewish Chronicle carries a short commentary on the tendency of Israeli security services to “borrow” passports, highlighting two methods by which this could have been done. The first is apparently innocuous, whereby as part of the normal migration procedures any “Oleh” wishing to make the “aliyah” (migration to Israel) parts willingly with his or her identification documents, which can and usually are circulated. The anonymous JC commentator suggests that a more surreptitious method was used for holders of foreign passports who would be approached directly by the security services. This approach is “widely known among new and old immigrants to Israel” according to one man who described how he was approached for his passport while spending a gap year in Israel 40 years ago:

“We were 18 and on a kibbutz. When your madrich (youth leader) says ‘can I borrow your passport?’ you do not ask any questions. Mine came back with a Romanian stamp on it. This happened to 30 people. As far as I know Israel was bribing the Romanian regime for olim [plural of Oleh] and people needed a non-Romanian passport to get out of the country.”

The rather blasé commentary reveals that far from being astonished that their identities had been stolen – probably by Mossad – the British citizens with dual nationality living in Israel could have had a reasonable idea that their identities might have been taken for use in such a way. The fact that this practice is “widely known” has serious implications for governments such as ours and the protection of citizens’ identities, as well as security concerns. Not only does this Israeli practice show contempt and disregard for other countries – including its supposed allies – it also endangers the security of its own nationals.

When Mossad attempted to assassinate Hamas leader Khalid Mishal in 1997, its operatives used Canadian passports. The two had to take refuge in the Israeli embassy in Amman. It transpired that two Canadian Jews living in Israel had been approached and asked if their passport details could be “borrowed” by one of Israel’s security services, a process that has been described as “emotional blackmail” and a test of their “loyalty to Israel” by journalist Paul McGeough.1

According to McGeough, the Canadian authorities were left highly embarrassed and “vulnerable” after the apparent collaboration between Canadian and Israeli security services was made public. A former Israeli ambassador to Canada said, “The Canadian authorities knew… that passports were being used by Mossad… it was known to people at the embassy and they essentially turned a blind eye to it.”2

This begs the question whether or not the British government or British security services are themselves aware that Mossad agents have been using British passports and to what extent, if any, they have been involved in the whole Al-Mabhouh affair. Moreover, if it had been, for instance, a Pakistani passport that had been so easily passed around the ISI3 and then used for clandestine operations, would we be seeing the same rather limp response from the international community?

Meanwhile, two leading legal experts have commented on the affair to MEMO:

Paul Troop“We must draw distinctions between domestic and international law. On the domestic front- each state will have criminal penalties for the misuse of its passports. In the UK the Identity Cards Act 2006 specifies criminal penalties for the misuse of passports, forging passports etc. Someone who has ‘allowed’ their passports to be used in such a way, could be charged with aiding and abetting offences under the 2006 Act. 

This is a very serious matter and the courts will look at the purpose of the use of the false documents in terms of measuring the seriousness. For example if the documents were used for seeking work, it would be seen as a much less serious case compared to fraud. In this case, we are looking at murder. The government could look at the steps Margaret Thatcher took following the apparent use of British passports where she closed down Mossad operations in the UK in the 1980s. This is much more serious given that Israel had given diplomatic assurances that this would not happen again and is certainly an aggravating factor that the government would have to take into account.”

Paul Troop,
A prominent barrister specialising in human rights and civil liberties

Sarah McSherryThe legality of the use and abuse of foreign passports?
The falsification of passports and identity theft are serious criminal offences under British law. No doubt they are too under Israeli law. Falsification of a British passport by a member of the Israeli intelligence services is therefore more than just a clear breach of diplomatic relations. Moreover, there would be serious implications were it to transpire that the British government was aware that falsified travel documents were being used by Mossad as has been suggested by one British security source.

What are the steps the governments of these foreign passport-holders should do in light of these revelations?

The respective governments should:

  • Condemn the extra judicial killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh as a breach of international law;
  • Unequivocally declare whether they were aware that falsified travel documents were being used by Mossad in relation to this operation and/or any other;
  • Require the Israeli government to confirm whether its intelligence services were involved in the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh;
  • Require the Israeli government to confirm whether or not their intelligence services used falsified passports for this or any other operation or whether they have done since any assurance that they would not do so;
  • Seek an assurance from the Israeli government that their intelligence operatives will never falsify passports for use in operations;
  • Require the Israeli government to condemn the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh  as a breach of international law;
  • Seek an assurance from the Israeli government that they will extradite any of those identified by the Dubai authorities as having been involved in the killing to Dubai to face trial for murder and to Ireland, Britain, France and/or Germany to face trial for offences arising out of the abuse of passports issued by those countries.

What steps should be taken to prevent this from happening in the future? If the Israeli government fails to comply with any of the requests made of them, the government could expel the Israeli ambassador from the country, break off diplomatic ties and/or impose sanctions which could deter future occurrences.

Sarah McSherry,
Human Rights Lawyer and Solicitor at Christian Khan

1Paul McGeough, ‘Kill Khalid: The failed Mossad assassination of Khalid Mishal and the Rise of Hamas’ (Quartet Books, 2009) pp 221-223
3Pakistani Intelligence Agency