DUBLIN — Ireland announced Tuesday it's expelling an Israeli embassy official in punishment for the alleged Mossad use of forged Irish passports to assassinate a top Hamas militant in Dubai, further damaging strained Irish-Israeli relations.
Israel has refused to confirm or deny its agents' involvement in the January slaying of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Dubai police said Israeli agents posing as holidaymakers in the oil-rich Arab emirate killed Mabhouh in his hotel room.
They said assassins using 32 fake passports – including eight depicting fictional Irish citizens – participated in the hit squad. The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Ireland's national police force, the Garda Siochana, launched parallel investigations, but said their appeals for information from Israel fell on deaf ears.
"The misuse of Irish passports by a state with which Ireland enjoys friendly, if sometimes frank, bilateral relations is clearly unacceptable and requires a firm response," Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said as he announced the expulsion.
Ireland's two investigations received no cooperation from the Israelis, but nevertheless reached "the inescapable conclusion that an Israeli government agency was responsible," he said.
The Israeli embassy in Dublin includes four diplomats and two security officials. Both Ireland and Israel declined to identify the official facing expulsion by name or position, but The Irish Times reported it was one of the security officials.
Martin said the official was chosen for expulsion to send a symbolic message, and the Irish investigations found no evidence that any of the embassy staff was involved in the conspiracy.
"The official concerned is not accused or suspected of any particular wrongdoing," Martin said. "The official concerned is a victim of the actions of the state they represent."
Martin condemned Israel's alleged assassination of Mabhouh.
"Many allegations have been made against Mr. Mabhouh which, if true, would categorize him as a committed terrorist," Martin said. But Ireland "does not believe that states should fight terror with terror. As a matter of principle, Ireland opposes extra-judicial killings. We believe that states have a duty to operate according to the law and to respect that way of life that terrorists seek to destroy."
Martin's aides said this was the first time Ireland has expelled an Israeli official. It last took such action in the mid-1980s against Russian officials suspected of spying activity on behalf of the former Soviet Union.
Israel's ambassador to Ireland, Zion Evrony, said he was summoned Tuesday to the Department of Foreign Affairs to be told of the expulsion.
"Israel regrets this decision. We believe that it does not reflect the overall positive relations which exist between Ireland and Israel," Evrony's office said in a statement.
Relations between the two nations have worsened since Israel's siege of the Gaza Strip two years ago. Irish nationalists traditionally sympathize with the Palestinian cause, and many left-wing Irish activists are campaigning for an end to Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.
Earlier this month Israeli commandos seized an Irish-run vessel trying to run aid into Gaza Port. All the Irish citizens aboard, including former U.N. humanitarian official Denis Halliday and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, were arrested and deported.
The Dubai assassins also used fake passports from Britain, Germany, France and Australia. British officials determined that Israeli officials stole the identities of real British citizens, but Martin said all eight Irish passports involved fake identities. He said six of the forged Irish passports used real numbers assigned to real Irish people with different names, while two others were total fabrications.
Australia expelled an Israeli diplomat May 24 after concluding that Mossad was involved in forging four Australian passports.
Britain expelled an Israeli diplomat in March after reaching the same conclusion about 12 fraudulent British passports used by the alleged assassins.
The governments of France and Germany have yet to announce conclusions of their own investigations.