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Espionage is a dirty game that Israel plays with impunity

A sign at the offices of Christine Lee & Co. Solicitors Ltd. in London, U.K., on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. [Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images]
A sign at the offices of Christine Lee & Co. Solicitors Ltd. in London, U.K., on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. [Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

Ever since British intelligence agencies alleged that Chinese spies are seeking to "covertly interfere" in Britain's political landscape, a whole host of scare stories bordering on the hysterical have poured forth; it's "reds under the beds" all over again. The British media, never known to underreact to a good spy story, is seeing Beijing-planted agents everywhere, from MPs' offices in the Commons to the House of Lords next door. There have even been claims that the Royal Family has been infiltrated.

Just a few days ago, the son of a woman identified as a suspected Chinese agent resigned from his job with Labour MP and shadow minister Barry Gardiner. MI5, Britain's domestic security service, took the unusual step of issuing an alert, warning MPs and Lords that they should avoid Christine Lee because she had "knowingly engaged in political interference activities" on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

I don't know if this is true, but there's no doubt that the British government pays its own spies to do the exact same thing against other governments overseas. It's in the job description of members of the Secret Intelligence Service, aka MI6, isn't it? I ask, because I know as much as most other people about this, which is very little.

If someone is guilty of espionage, however, then they should be arrested, charged and face trial; that's only fair. We can then deal in facts.

READ: The BBC's decision to axe the Gaza aid appeal may come back to haunt it

That, though, brings me to a state which has been caught red-handed showing complete contempt for British sovereignty. I am, of course, talking about Israel.

In 2010, the then Foreign Secretary David Miliband expelled an Israeli diplomat because an Israeli hit squad used twelve forged British passports in the assassination of Hamas military leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in a hotel room in Dubai. The British government's move was an implicit confirmation that Israel's Mossad spy agency was responsible for the murder.

"I have asked that a member of the Embassy of Israel be withdrawn from Britain as a result of this affair, and this is taking place," Miliband told MPs in the House of Commons. "We have concluded that there are compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of the British passports."

Britain's investigation into the forging of British passports did not indicate any other country's involvement, only Israel, he explained. Miliband accused the apartheid state of endangering the lives of British nationals as well as showing a "profound disregard" for Britain's sovereignty. The expelled diplomat turned out to be Mossad's station chief in London.

According to informed sources, Miliband had quite a battle to make an example of the Israeli spy by expelling him. Officials at the Foreign Office tried to persuade him to take a less combative course of action.

In 1988, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher didn't hang about either when she learnt of a double-agent operation in which Mossad had spied on Britain. Thatcher ordered Mossad agent Arie Regev to be deported the moment the affair came to light.

Spying is a murky business, and I'm not surprised by the accusations being laid at Beijing's door. However, I would have thought that there would be an element of trust between so-called friends and allies, which is how Britain and Israel are described ad nauseam.

It is now five years since the explosive Al Jazeera TV investigation into the pro-Israel lobby in Westminster revealed that an Israeli embassy official boasted about plotting to "take down" British MPs hostile to Israel. "Political Officer" Shai Masot was sent back to Tel Aviv in disgrace, mainly because he'd been caught on camera. Meanwhile, his masters went on the offensive and the Qatar-based network was accused of "anti-Semitism", a claim which the British broadcast regulator refused to accept; Ofcom also concluded that Al Jazeera had not breached broadcasting rules during the undercover sting.

At the time, Israel and a coalition of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt were demanding that Qatar should close the network down for good. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Al Jazeera of inciting violence (who said irony was dead?). Al Jazeera's Gulf critics even demanded its closure as one of the conditions for lifting the blockade imposed on Qatar in 2017.

Just last year, Britain's former deputy foreign minister Sir Alan Duncan accused the pro-Israel lobby of committing acts of "disgusting interference in our public life." Pulling no punches, his bare-all book In The Thick Of It talked of interference "at a high level in British politics in the interest of Israel." Of course, he wasn't referring to the work of Mossad necessarily, since the lobby groups Conservative Friends of Israel and Labour Friends of Israel take every opportunity to promote their favoured state on the back of political donor power. Duncan told political journalist Michael Crick that this is "a sort of buried scandal that has to stop."

READ: The pro-Israel lobby sees more Palestinian activists walk free from court

In fact, the whole lobby system in Westminster is in need of reform, but that won't stop Israel from indulging in the second oldest trade in the world. However, instead of focusing on "reds under the bed" scares, perhaps MI5 needs to widen its net when looking for those who disrupt and harm our democracy by means which make Machiavelli look angelic.

Israel has previous form and has not learned from the punitive actions taken in the past. It has also been caught spying on the US; on his release from decades in prison, spy Jonathan Pollard was given a hero's welcome in Israel at the end of 2020. America, remember, provides Israel with massive amounts of military aid and diplomatic cover, and is spied on for its troubles. Moreover, in 1967, Israeli bombers and motor torpedo boats attacked the USS Liberty in international waters, killing 34 American sailors and wounding 171, supposedly "in error". Survivors believe that a huge cover up has been imposed by successive US governments. US military aid to Israel continues, and now amounts to $3 billion every year.

As with its war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Palestinians, Israel is allowed to get away with murder, literally and metaphorically, even if that involves spying on "friends and allies". Espionage is a dirty game, and Israel play it with impunity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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