An Israeli embassy official has been caught on camera in an undercover sting plotting to “take down” MPs regarded as hostile, including foreign office minister Sir Alan Duncan, an outspoken supporter of a Palestinian state.
In an extraordinary breach of diplomatic protocol, Shai Masot, who describes himself as an officer in the Israel Defence Forces and is serving as a senior political officer at the London embassy, was recorded by an undercover reporter from al-Jazeera’s investigative unit speaking about a number of British MPs.
The Israeli ambassador, Mark Regev, apologised to Duncan on Friday. An Israeli spokesman said Regev made clear that “the embassy considered the remarks completely unacceptable”.
The Israeli embassy said 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.
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, a pressure group. In fact, Robin was an undercover reporter.
Strizzolo, discussing with Masot how to discredit MPs, said: “Well, you know, if you look hard enough, I’m sure that there is something that they’re trying to hide.” Later she added: “A little scandal, maybe.”
During the conversation, in October, Strizzolo boasted that she had helped to secure a promotion for her boss, the Conservative MP Robert Halfon. She had been his chief of staff when he was deputy chair of the Conservative party. Last year Halfon was appointed as an education minister and Strizzolo was appointed as a senior manager at the Skills Funding Agency. She continues to work part-time for Halfon.
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, neutralised 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.
The conversation then turned to the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. Strizzolo said he was solid on Israel. Masot agreed, adding that Johnson just did not care. “You know he is an idiot …” Masot said.
Strizzolo returned to the subject of Duncan later in the conversation, suggesting he had had a run-in with Halfon in the past and that Halfon had reported Duncan to the whips.
Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd
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