The UK is to expel an Israeli diplomat over the use of 12 forged British passports linked to the murder of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the Commons there were “compelling reasons” to believe Israel was responsible for the passport “misuse”.
He said: “The government takes this matter extremely seriously. Such misuse of British passports is intolerable.”
Israel says there is no proof it was behind the killing in Dubai in January.
But Mr Milband said it was “highly likely” the Israeli secret service Mossad was involved and the fact that Israel was a close ally added “insult to injury”.
“Given that this was a very sophisticated operation, in which high-quality forgeries were made, the government judges it is highly likely that the forgeries were made by a state intelligence service,” he said.
“We have concluded that there are compelling reasons to believe Israel was responsible for the misuse of the British passports.”
BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen said the expulsion sent a “very clear message” of British disapproval.
There can’t be a greater violation of trust for one ally to abuse the passports of another ally
Sir Menzies Campbell
Expulsion ‘a strong signal’
“It is a very big step for a government like the British to expel one of the diplomats belonging to one of its important allies,” he said.
The British government has stopped short of accusing Israel of the murder, but Mr Miliband has previously demanded full co-operation with its investigation into how the passports were obtained.
The foreign secretary’s statement indications from Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) that officers had found proof of the cloned passports.
Soca officers had travelled to Israel to speak to those whose passports were copied with new photographs inserted.
A spokesman for the Palestinian Hamas group said it welcomed the decision to expel the diplomat but wanted international efforts to track down the killers stepped up.
Former Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, said for a diplomat to be expelled, Israel must have had “some hand” in the matter, or had been unwilling to co-operate with Soca.
Tim Franks, BBC News, Jerusalem
There is a clear Israeli desire to talk this argument down from one where it could damage the wider relationship.
As for the more general Israeli view, that is mixed. Many believe that there is a measure of slightly unconvincing righteous indignation from the countries whose nationals had their passports cloned. Those Israelis argue that Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was as much an enemy of the West, as of Israel.
But there are a good number of Israelis who also believe this was a cack-handed operation, which blew the identities of 27 valuable agents, and caused an unnecessary diplomatic stink.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: “It is very serious indeed… there can’t be a greater violation of trust for one ally to abuse the passports of another ally.”
Downing Street confirmed that the head of Britain’s diplomatic service, Peter Ricketts, met Israel’s ambassador to London, Ron Prosor, on Monday.
Last month Mr Miliband described the use of fake UK passports as an “outrage” and vowed that the inquiry would “get to the bottom” of the affair.
It is believed 12 fake British passports were used in the plot to murder Mr Mabhouh – the founder of Hamas’s military wing – in his hotel room in Dubai on 19 January.
The names and details on the UK passports used by eight of the 12 suspects belonged to British-Israeli citizens living in Israel. All of them have denied involvement.
Dubai police have used CCTV footage to identify 27 alleged members of the team that tracked and killed Mr Mabhouh.
Other members of the hit squad travelled on fake Irish, French and Australian travel documents, Dubai police said.
Dubai officials said they were “99% certain” that agents from Mossad were behind the killing but Israel has said there is no proof its agents were involved.
Following his death, Mr Mabhouh’s family said doctors who had examined him determined he had died after receiving a massive electric shock to the head. They also found evidence that he had been strangled.
Blood samples sent to a French laboratory confirmed he was killed by electric shock, after which the body was sent to Syria.
Thousands of people attended Mr Mabhouh’s funeral at the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, on the outskirts of Damascus in January.
In 1988 Britain expelled Israeli diplomat Arie Regev over a spying row. He was described by UK sources as a Mossad agent.