Report: Israeli official sought to 'take down' British MPs

Al Jazeera undercover video shows Israeli embassy official in undercover plot to “take down” hostile British MPs. Israel apologizes.

Ben Ariel ,

British parliament
British parliament

An Israeli embassy official was caught on camera in an undercover plot to “take down” British MPs regarded as hostile to Israel, The Guardian and several other British media outlets reported on Saturday.

Among those targeted in the operation was foreign office minister Sir Alan Duncan, an outspoken supporter of a Palestinian state.

Israel’s Ambassador to Britain, Mark Regev, has apologized over the incident, noted The Guardian.

The incident revolves around Shai Masot, who serves as a senior political officer at the Israeli embassy in London, and was recorded by an undercover reporter from the Al Jazeera network as he was speaking about a number of British MPs.

According to The Guardian, Masot had been speaking to Maria Strizzolo, a civil servant who was formerly an aide to another Conservative minister. Also present was a man they knew as Robin, whom they believed to be working for Labour Friends of Israel. In fact, “Robin” was an undercover reporter for Al Jazeera.

In the video recorded by “Robin”, Strizzolo is heard boasting that she had helped to secure a promotion for her boss, Conservative MP Robert Halfon who was appointed as an education minister last year.

In the footage, Masot agreed that Strizzolo had assisted Halfon and then asked whether she could also achieve the opposite effect. “Can I give you some MPs that I would suggest you would take down?” he asked. He went on to say that she knew which MPs he was referring to.

She asked him to remind her. “The deputy foreign minister,” he said. Strizzolo said: “You still want to go for it?” Masot’s reply is ambiguous but he said Duncan was still causing problems. Strizzolo asked: “I thought we had, you know, neutralized him just a little bit, no?” Masot answered: “No.”

Masot did not elaborate on what he meant by “take down”, but it is normally used as meaning to engineer a downfall, possibly through discrediting them in some way, noted The Guardian.

Other prominent Conservatives named during the conversation, according to the British newspaper, include Crispin Blunt, chair of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, who is also a vocal supporter of Palestinian Arabs.

In another conversation, Masot agreed that Blunt was among MPs that were “strongly pro-Arab rather than pro-Israel”. Strizzolo referred to him being on a “hitlist”.

Following the disclosure, noted The Guardian, Regev apologized to Duncan on Friday. An Israeli spokesman said Regev made clear that “the embassy considered the remarks completely unacceptable”.

The Israeli embassy also stressed that Masot “will be ending his term of employment with the embassy shortly”.

Masot declined to comment or to elaborate on what he meant when he said he wanted to “take down” a number of MPs.

The recordings made by “Robin” form the basis of four half-hour documentaries that Al Jazeera is to broadcast starting on January 15.

A Foreign Office spokesman told The Guardian, “The Israeli ambassador has apologized and it is clear these comments do not reflect the views of the embassy or government of Israel. The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.”

The disclosure comes over a week after British Prime Minister Theresa May issued an unprecedented rebuke towards U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, following his speech blaming Israel for the lack of progress in the peace process.

"We do not... believe that the way to negotiate peace is by focusing on only one issue, in this case the construction of settlements, when clearly the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is so deeply complex," a spokesman for May said last week.

The spokesman also criticized Kerry's description of the current government in Israel as "the most right-wing government" in Israeli history, adding, "And we do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically-elected government of an ally."

May is considered a strong supporter of Israel, having recently praised the Jewish state and pledged her country’s ongoing support, while attacking the opposition Labour Party for “turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism.”

Al Jazeera, whose reporter recorded the conversations between Masot and Strizzolo, is owned by the government of Qatar and has been called "the Muslim Brotherhood channel" due to its support for the group, which is the parent movement of Hamas.