When Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was assassinated in Dubai last January, and his cause of death later ascribed to foul play, it didn’t take long before the British press found itself the beneficiary of a troika of good copy. First, al-Mabhouh’s end had been delivered by the injection of a muscle relaxant and a suffocating pillow – so clearly the result of a “wet job” performed by well-trained agents of a foreign intelligence service. Second, that service was almost certainly the Israeli Mossad. Third, the movements of the dozen or so disguised suspects throughout the corridors of the murder scene – Dubai’s posh Al Bustan Rotana Hotel – were captured on closed circuit television, which inspires pride and paranoia in equal measure in Londoners who are typically invigilated on this form of technology whenever they venture outside their own homes.
International condemnation of Israel’s alleged action came swiftly, and perhaps nowhere more so than in the United Kingdom, especially after it was discovered that twelve of the assassins had used forged British passports to enter and leave Dubai. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said at the time, “The British passport is an important document that has got to be held with care. A British passport is an important part of being British.” Brown’s foreign secretary David Miliband went a step further on March 23, calling the forgery “intolerable” in an umbrageous speech before parliament. He chose not to blame Israel explicitly for al-Mabhouh’s murder, but he did state that Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency had concluded that the country must have been behind the passport forgeries. (Miliband’s strongest evidence being the fact that all of the identities counterfeited were of people who hold dual citizenship in the UK and Israel). Milliband then made the decision to expel the Mossad chief resident in London.
More telling than the British government’s muscular response was that of the correct-thinking British media, best exemplified by The Guardian. On March 24, the newspaper’s editorial on the affair carried the ominous title, “Israel and Britain: The rule of law,” and described Israel as “an arrogant nation that has overreached itself” -- not just in terms of identity theft, but also land theft. Indeed, it actually devoted more than half of its column to arraigning Israel for rejecting Washington’s instructions on settlement build-up in East Jerusalem and refusing to even consider that territory as the site of a future Palestinian capital. If this seemed a non sequitur, then one clearly hadn’t grasped a fundamental principle of The Guardian’s moral outrage: So incensed was it by an allied nation’s covert toying with sensitive British documents that it felt obliged to bring up other instances of Israel’s misbehavior in recent months. “Mr Netanyahu has to face the consequences of an ideological stand over East Jerusalem which precludes any other. Here, as in the rest of the West Bank, where the number of Jewish settlers has more than doubled since the Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993, Israel is pre-empting the shape of the final agreement by creating facts on the ground. No deal with the Palestinians can be made in these conditions,” The Guardian editorialized.
So it was quite expected that The Guardian would be similarly categorical when late last month the FBI arrested a 11-person Russian spy-ring in the United States, and federal prosecutors in their brief disclosed that one paid agent of Moscow, Tracey Foley, had also “travelled on a fraudulent British passport prepared for her by the SVR [Russian foreign intelligence service].” No doubt the liberal broadsheet would mention the arrogant abuse of trust that now exists between two former Cold War antagonists and devote the rest of its column inches to reviewing the evidence of Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian tendencies in general, such as his nationalization of Russian television, his silencing of domestic dissidents through murder, arrest, or army conscription, and his imperialist certification of the north Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as part of the Russian demesne. The KGB’s assistance in the “umbrella murder” of Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov on the Waterloo Bridge in 1978 may have been a mite old to merit recapitulation, but surely there’d be a passing reference to the polonium poisoning of British citizen and ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, which occurred in a Piccadilly sushi joint a mere four years ago?
Such was not the case.