Israeli ambassador apologises over secret plot to 'take down' minister

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Israel's ambassador to the UK has apologised after an embassy official was caught in an undercover sting discussing how to "take down" Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan.

In a secretly-recorded conversation, the Israeli Embassy's senior political officer Shai Masot suggested that Sir Alan was causing "a lot of problems" but appeared to dismiss his boss, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, as "an idiot".

The conversation, recorded as part of an investigation by Al Jazeera, involved Mr Masot and an aide to Tory minister Robert Halfon, as well as an undercover reporter.

The reporter - known as Robin - posed as a graduate activist with strong sympathies towards Israel who was keen to help combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement prominent in Britain.

Mr Masot's comments about wanting to "take down" Sir Alan were made at the Aubaine restaurant, directly opposite the Israeli Embassy in Kensington, west London, the Mail on Sunday reported.

Also present at the dinner in October 2016 was Maria Strizzolo, an aide to education minister Mr Halfon, the former political director of Conservative Friends of Israel.

Mr Masot asked her: "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" and 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, who has been critical of Israel, was seen as more of a problem than Mr Johnson who was "basically good", according to Mr Masot in a transcript of the conversation.

"He just doesn't care. He is an idiot but has become minister of foreign affairs without any responsibilities. If something real happened it won't be his fault... it will be Alan Duncan.

"Duncan is impossible to rebuff ... he has a lot of friends."

Tory chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee Crispin Blunt, who was also referred to by Mr Masot, told the Mail on Sunday the comments about Sir Alan were "outrageous".

Ms Strizzolo told the newspaper that her conversation with Mr Masot was "tongue-in-cheek and gossipy", adding: "Any suggestion that I ... could exert the type of influence you are suggesting is risible."

She said she knew Mr Masot "purely socially and as a friend. He is not someone with whom I have ever worked or had any political dealings beyond chatting about politics, as millions of people do, in a social context".

In a statement the Israeli Embassy said it "rejects the remarks concerning Minister Duncan, which are completely unacceptable; 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.

"Ambassador Regev on Friday spoke with Minister Duncan, apologised for the comments and made clear that the embassy considered the remarks to be completely unacceptable."

The Foreign Office said Israel's ambassador Mark Regev had apologised.

A spokesman said: "The Israeli Ambassador has apologised and 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."