Israel Believes Dubai Passport Row Won't Cause Major Crisis

Government officials estimate affair will pass unless new evidence emerges implicating Israel.

Israel's government believes that a row over forged French, British, German and Irish passports used by the suspected assassins of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai is not likely to develop into a major diplomatic crisis.

Mabhouh was found dead in a Dubai hotel room in January, and the tiny emirate has named 11 people it believes carried out the killing. Charges that Israel's Mossad spy agency was behind the assassination have been strengthened in recent days by revelations that seven of the suspects entered Dubai on British passports bearing the names of British-born Israelis.

"At this stage, there is no evidence linking Israel to the incident, and if that continues, the affair will subside quickly," one senior Israeli official predicted. Nevertheless, he added, Israeli diplomats and intelligence personnel will hold additional conversations about the case with their British counterparts over the next few days.

Dubai police have accused Mossad of being behind the assassination, which Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has declined to confirm or deny, citing Israel's policy of ambiguity on such matters.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal, citing sources in the United Arab Emirates, has reported that five of the suspects used credit cards issued by an American bank to buy plane tickets, among other outlays. However, the U.S. State Department has not yet demanded any clarifications from Israel, unlike the four European countries whose passports were forged by the assassins.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem is trying to cope with the diplomatic fallout. But though the Israeli ambassadors in both London and Dublin were summoned for clarification meetings Thursday, and France and Germany have also asked Israel for any information it has about who was behind the forged passports.

The Israeli citizens who identities were stolen are also still trying to deal with the fallout. One of them, Melvyn Adam Mildiner of Beit Shemesh, has been hiding at home since the news broke, and his wife said that their children are feeling very pressured, bewildered by the sudden interest in their father.

Another, Paul Keeley, decided to leave his home on Kibbutz Nachsholim for a few days and visit relatives in the center of the country in order to escape the journalists who have been besieging him for the past two days.

On Thursday, when one journalist entered the kibbutz and asked for Keeley's house, an angry resident responded, "leave him alone. Give the poor man a little quiet."

A friend said that Keeley's father still lives in England, and that is how he found out that his identity had been used - when his father read it in the paper.

"I understand that he [Paul] is now afraid to leave the country," the friend added.

"I've heard that Paul is planning to sue the state, and rightly so," said another kibbutz member. "How can it be that a person sits at home, lives only to support his family, and they accuse him of an assassination overseas? We on the kibbutz all laughed over it, but for Paul, it's a nightmare."