Israeli Embassy official fired after plot against Tory minister
An intelligence expert at the Israeli Embassy in London was sacked last night after he was caught plotting against Sir Alan Duncan, number two to British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Shai Masot – ‘political officer’ at Israel’s embassy on Kensington Palace Gardens – was filmed as he talked about a plan to “take down” Sir Alan, who is a longstanding critic of Israeli policy.
The conversation took place last October at the Aubaine bistro on Kensington High St (a stone’s throw from the Embassy) between Mr Masot and his friend Maria Strizzolo, an aide to Education Minister Robert Halfon. Unlike Sir Alan, Mr Halfon is a staunch supporter of Israel – he is one of several Jews in Theresa May’s government and was formerly the full-time paid political director of Conservative Friends of Israel. There is no suggestion that Mr Halfon was part of the plot against his ministerial colleague, and it seems that Ms Strizzolo has resigned.
Also at the table was a man who had infiltrated Labour Friends of Israel but was actually an undercover reporter for the Qatar-based TV station Al Jazeera: he filmed Mr Masot saying that all MPs have “something they are trying to hide”. Mr Masot then adds: “she [Ms Strizzolo] knows which MPs I want to take down”, and specifies “the deputy foreign minister”.
Ms Strizzolo replies: “You still want to go for it? …I thought we had, you know, neutralised him just a little bit, no?”
Mr Masot replies: “No.” He adds that Sir Alan was still “causing problems”.
However within hours of the story breaking last night it was clear that it was Mr Masot and Ms Strizzolo themselves who would be “taken down”.
Although Theresa May is a devoted friend of Israel, she will not appreciate this ham-fisted interference by someone who was a military/intelligence officer rather than a career diplomat, but was regarded by some (including himself) as one of Benjamin Netanyahu’s sharpest political operatives. On his Twitter profile (since hastily deleted) Mr Masot wrote: “Niccolò Macchiavelli is my God”. He can be grateful that he is not living in the age of Il Principe‘s author, when the likes of Mr Masot would have faced a fate far worse than dismissal.
Sunday PM update: Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard has made an unconvincing effort to dismiss the whole scandal as unimportant. Nice try Mr Pollard, but if this really didn’t matter the JC would have ignored it, rather than making your riposte its main story with a banner headline! Mr Pollard kvetches not only about Sir Alan but over his backbench colleague Sir Crispin Blunt, whom he describes as “probably the worst chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in its history”. Sir Alan and Sir Crispin have one other thing in common, but surely the JC isn’t being ‘homophobic’?
Meanwhile the eminent Tory journalist Tim Montgomerie has weighed in with a silly Tweet arguing that (as opposed to the Israel Lobby) “the much, much bigger influence on our politics is Saudi money and from Gulf states generally”. Two questions for Mr Montgomerie: (1) If you reckon the Saudis are so powerful in Whitehall, how did the Foreign Secretary get away with such a trenchant (and fully justified) criticism of Saudi Arabia last month (it’s impossible to a imagine such a public attack on Israel by a British cabinet minister)? And (2): Shouldn’t you, Mr Montgomerie, declare your interest in this affair, as a longstanding friend of Robert Halfon, one of the two ministers involved?
Fellow Israel Firster Jonathan Hoffman was so panicked by the Masot scandal that he rushed to post an error-strewn article on the ultra-Zionist blog Harry’s Place. Mr Hoffman (who was last spotted by H&D attending the trial of pro-Palestinian folk singer Alison Chabloz) brought up the Daily Mail having “flirted with fascism” more than 80 years ago, and suggested that “Mail Editor Paul Dacre sure has a lot of questions to answer”. The only problem is that the Masot exposé was not published by the Daily Mail at all but by the Mail on Sunday, edited by Dacre’s bitter rival Geordie Greig. (As it happens the Foreign Secretary’s sister Rachel Johnson is a Mail on Sunday columnist.)
This afternoon H&D was informed that Masot’s political intelligence role at the Embassy had also included more subtle propaganda work, in addition to plotting smears against ministers. In July 2016 he was the main organiser of an Eid event at the Israeli Embassy for the Conservative Muslim Forum, in an effort to promote ‘Uncle Tom’ views favourable to Israel among British Muslims.