Israeli embassy says sorry over threat

Mr Masot, an intelligence expert, was described by the Israeli embassy in London as a junior employee.
Mr Masot, an intelligence expert, was described by the Israeli embassy in London as a junior employee.

Employee caught on film threatening to take down British minister who is critical of Israel

LONDON • The Israeli embassy in London has sought to head off a diplomatic storm, apologising after one of its staff was caught on camera threatening to "take down" a British government minister.

The Mail on Sunday newspaper posted the footage showing the embassy employee telling an undercover reporter from Al Jazeera that "I want to take down... the deputy foreign minister" (Alan Duncan) - a long-time critic of Israel, and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's second-in-command.

Mr Duncan was "doing a lot of problems", the employee added.

He has been identified as Mr Shai Masot, an intelligence expert.

The embassy issued an immediate apology, saying it "rejects the remarks concerning minister Duncan, which are completely unacceptable", Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. "The comments were made by a junior embassy employee who is not an Israeli diplomat, and who will be ending his term of employment with the embassy shortly," the statement added.

Ambassador Mark Regev apologised personally to Mr Duncan last Friday, according to the embassy. Britain's Foreign Office confirmed it had received an apology and that it now considered "the matter closed", according to AFP.

The footage was recorded at a restaurant opposite the Israeli Embassy in Kensington, West London, during a meeting attended by Ms Maria Strizzolo, who is a senior aide to Conservative Education Minister Robert Halfon.

Ms Strizzolo spoke of her influence in helping Mr Halfon become a minister, prompting the embassy staff member to ask her "can you do the opposite stuff as well?" But Ms Strizzolo said Mr Duncan would be "impossible to rebuff" due to him having powerful "friends", but suggested "a little scandal, maybe?"

The embassy employee also called Mr Johnson an "idiot" and mocked "crazy" opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his "weirdo" supporters.

Following the expose, Ms Strizzolo said her conversation with Mr Masot was "tongue-in-cheek and gossipy", the Mail on Sunday reported.

"Any suggestion that I… could exert the type of influence you are suggesting is risible," she added.

Mr Duncan declined to comment.

The Al Jazeera Investigative Unit that took this video in October last year said the undercover probe served to reveal how the Israeli government is in the midst of an influence campaign in Britain.

The disclosure is one of the investigative unit's many findings, which will be showcased in a four-part series called The Lobby that will be broadcast daily on Al Jazeera from Sunday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2017, with the headline 'Israeli embassy says sorry over threat'. Print Edition | Subscribe