Tuesday, March 08, 2011

8-Mar-11: Fine British hypocrisy: where would the world be without it?

Her Majesty's government expelled a diplomat in Israel's London embassy about a year ago for what the Brits complained was illicit use of British passports by the government of Israel via its secret service. The story went that the  passports were part of an elaborate plot, entirely successful as it turned out, to permanently end the career of a very high profile Hamas terrorist with a great deal of blood on his hands. Australia expelled an Israeli diplomat too in the same connection.

The British Foreign Office through its minister, David Milliband at the time, said the government of the UK "takes this matter extremely seriously. Such misuse of British passports is intolerable. It presents a hazard for the safety of British nationals in the region.  It also represents a profound disregard for the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. The fact that this was done by a country which is a friend, with significant diplomatic, cultural, business and personal ties to the UK, only adds insult to injury. No country or Government could stand by in such a situation."

Such nice round vowels.

We're visiting the UK briefly today for our work. The news media here are reporting on a slightly embarrassing chapter in which "a British diplomatic team, including six soldiers believed to be SAS, have been freed two days after being detained in eastern Libya... [though] this was no covert military mission. Its aim instead was to reach out to opposition groups in the east and gain a better understanding of what was happening on the ground. The role of the soldiers was to protect the diplomat involved - a regular practice in war zones and hostile environments."

So the mission was friendly, not at all covert, certainly not military, and just ignore those SAS men over there.

But here's the more interesting part. According to the BBC, "They were held after going to an agricultural compound when Libyan security guards found they were carrying arms, ammunition, explosives, maps and passports from at least four different nationalities, witnesses told the BBC. The witnesses said the men had denied they were carrying weapons."

Passports? Four different nationalities? The British? Surely not.

So here's how we see it. A successful and elaborate effort to eliminate an abhorrent killer of children was accomplished with no loss of life other than the life of the jihadist himself, through - according to various unconfirmed reports - foreign passports were abused, and Israel which is presumed to have been behind it all, was publicly disgraced via the expulsion of its diplomats from two civilized and friendly countries.

Britain, by contrast, is now exposed as having engaged in a form of back-channel diplomacy with parties in a country (Libya) where, for years, it and members of its royal family and the leadership of one of its most vaunted educational institutions have humiliated themselves for years through forelock-tugging and incomprehensible steps like releasing a convicted terrorist airplane bomber. The effort comprehensively failed, and is now revealed to have included abusing the passports of, we presume, friendly countries. Melanie Phillips expresses the hopes of all right-thinking people when she comments: "We trust most earnestly that none of those was an Israeli one."

We say, so where are the cries for political resignations, self-examination, apology? If it's reasonable for the UK to do this, then should not the same courtesy, or at least the benefit of the doubt (there was not the slightest shred of published evidence connecting Israel to last year's passport story) be extended to countries whose battle with the terrorists is conducted at a far more intense and existential level?

Or should we just learn to live with double-standards of this kind? From our friends.

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