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Israeli official ‘wanted to take down’ minister

Israel’s ambassador to the UK has apologised after a senior member of his embassy staff was recorded saying he wanted to “take down” the Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan.

Shai Masot, the Israeli embassy’s senior political officer, said he was disappointed that Sir Alan, an outspoken critic of settlement building in the occupied West Bank, had not been “neutralised”.

The official claimed, according to a recording obtained by the Mail on Sunday, that Sir Alan was causing “a lot of problems”, adding that foreign secretary Boris Johnson was “an idiot”.

Ambassador Mark Regev apologised and said this was not the embassy or government’s view. The Foreign Office said it regarded the matter as closed.

The conversation involved Mr Masot and Maria Strizzolo, an aide to education minister Robert Halfon, the former political director of Conservative Friends of Israel, and an undercover reporter.

It was recorded in October 2016 as part of an investigation by Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based broadcaster. Mr Masot asked Ms Strizzolo: “Can I give you some names of MPs that I would suggest you take down?”

Ms Strizzolo replied that all MPs have “something they’re trying to hide”. Mr Masot responded by saying “I have some MPs”, adding “she knows which MPs I want to take down” before specifying “the deputy foreign minister”.

Sir Alan sparked criticism from prominent pro-Israel groups in 2014, when he described settlement building in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as an “ever-deepening stain on the face of the globe”.

The former international development secretary also equated the situation in the divided West Bank city of Hebron to “apartheid”.

Although Sir Alan and Mr Johnson’s criticism of settlement building in occupied Palestinian territories reflect a deep seated Foreign Office view, Theresa May, prime minister, last month appeared more sympathetic to the Israeli point of view.

Last month Downing Street took the unusual step of criticising outgoing US secretary of state John Kerry after he said that settlement building was a major obstacle to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“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,” Downing Street said.

The move was widely seen as an attempt by Mrs May to curry favour with the incoming US president Donald Trump, who is strongly pro-Israel.

Last month Mrs May told Conservative Friends of Israel of her pride in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 in which Britain recognised the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

She described Israel as “a remarkable country . . . a thriving democracy, a beacon of tolerance, an engine of enterprise and an example to the rest of the world.”

But she added Britain had to be “honest with our friends, like Israel, because that is what true friendship is about. That is why [Britain] has been clear about building new, illegal settlements: it is wrong, it is not conducive to peace, and it must stop.”

Via FT