'U.K. Didn't Always Feel Safe to Share Intelligence With Israel'

Speaking at conference marking 60 years of U.K.-Israel ties, former MI6 chief says he has no doubt Israeli intelligence 'plays by a different set of rules' than those observed in London.

British intelligence wasn't always forthcoming with sharing information with its Israeli counterpart, former MI6 director Sir Richard Dearlove said in a conference Wednesday, adding that he felt Israeli intelligence played by a different set of rules than the U.K. agency.

Dearlove, the British spy chief from 1999 to 2004, said in a conference marking 60 years of British-Israeli diplomatic relations that he had "no doubt that Israel plays by a different set of rules than the rules that we observe in the UK."

Israeli flag
Daniel Bar-On

"I'm not going to expand on that, but I will just have to leave it to the imagination," Dearlove added, saying that he had frequent discussions "with Robin Cook as Foreign Secretary about what should or shouldn't be passed to our Israeli colleagues - and there are obvious reasons for that, because we could never guarantee how the intelligence might or would be used by the state of Israel."

However, the former U.K. spy chief also stressed the strategic importance of British ties with Jerusalem, saying that while the "relationship with Israel is difficult," that did not mean that "it's not important and that it's not given close attention professionally and politically."

Dearlove expanded on the cooperation between the two countries on Iran, saying it was an "immensely important" link.

"Of course it does overflow into the role of Hamas and Hizbollah, both of which are largely, in terms of the way they behave towards Israel, Iranian surrogates," the former MI6 chief added.

Also speaking at the conference, current U.K Foreign Secretary William Hague, reiterated Britain's support for Israel and its right to defend itself, adding, however, that that support did not mean "that we will agree on every expression of that right or on every one of Israel's actions."

Commenting on the stalled peace process with the Palestinian Authority, Hague said that time was "working against the interests of all those who want peace."

"The British government has made clear our concern about ongoing settlement expansion. We believe it is illegal, an obstacle to peace and a threat to a two-state solution," the foreign secretary added, calling on Israel to learn from recent unrest sweeping through the Mideast.

"One of the most important lessons from the Arab Spring is that legitimate aspirations cannot be ignored and must be addressed. It cannot be in anyone's interests if the new order of the region is determined at a time of minimum hope in the peace process," he said.