UK relations

Last February Britain’s then defense minister Liam Fox attended a dinner in Tel Aviv with a group described as senior Israelis. According to reports in the British media, the Israelis in attendance were representatives of the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, while Fox was accompanied by Matthew Gould, Britain’s ambassador to Israel. A former British diplomat has claimed that the topic of discussion that evening was a secret plot to attack Iran.

The furore last week over Sheikh Raed Salah, described by the Daily Mail newspaper as a “vile militant extremist”, goaded the British government into ordering his late-night arrest, pending a fast-track deportation. But the outcry in Britain against Sheikh Salah has shocked Israel’s 1.3-million Palestinian citizens. For them, he is a spiritual leader and head of a respected party, the Islamic Movement. He is also admired by the wider Palestinian public.

Efforts were under way by the British government yesterday to deport the leader of Israel’s largest Islamic group after he was arrested on charges of entering the country illegally. Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement and a vocal critic of Israeli policies, was detained at his London hotel on Tuesday.

Israel chose to “lie low” yesterday in response to Britain’s decision to expel an Israeli diplomat over the use of forged passports in the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai, though senior officials were reported to be seething in private. According to the Israeli media, the foreign ministry was surprised by the British move against its embassy official, widely believed to be the London station chief for Israel’s Mossad spy agency. Israeli officials noted the gravity of the decision: no Israeli diplomat has been expelled from a western country in more than two decades.

The hit squad who killed a Hamas leader in Dubai six weeks ago injected him with a strong sedative before suffocating him in his hotel room, post-mortem results have revealed. Dubai Police said yesterday that toxicology tests on Mahmoud al Mabhouh revealed traces of succinylcholine, a fast-acting muscle relaxant that causes temporary paralysis and would have made it impossible for him to struggle against his assassins.

The debate reverberating in the human rights community one year after Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip is not about whether Israel committed war crimes during its attack last winter, but whether and how its political and military leaders can ever be brought to book. The problems were highlighted this month when an arrest warrant was issued in Britain for Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister during the war, after it was mistakenly believed she was visiting.

Until recently liberal Europeans were keen to distance themselves, at least officially, from the ideological excesses of the current American administration. They argued that the neo-conservative enthusiasm for the “war on terror” — and its underpinning ideology of “a clash of civilisations” — did not fit with Europe’s painful recent experiences of world wars and the dismantling of its colonial outposts around the globe. But there is every sign that the public dissociation is coming to a very rapid end. The language and assumptions of the “clash scaremongers” is permeating European thought, including the reasoning of its liberal classes, just as surely as it once did about the Cold War.