Diplomat Caught on Camera Plotting to 'Take Down' UK MPs
Shai Masot is recorded discussing how to discredit MPs
in comments described by Israeli embassy as
By Ian Cobain and Ewen MacAskill
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.
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.
ambassador, Mark Regev, apologised to Duncan on Friday.
An Israeli spokesman said Regev made clear that “the
embassy considered the remarks completely
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.
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.”
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:
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.
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.
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. So never say never, she added. Masot replied:
“Never say never, yeah, but …” Strizzolo said: “A little
Conservatives named during the conversation include
Crispin Blunt, chair of the Commons foreign affairs
select committee, who is also a vocal supporter of the
“Whilst this apparent activity of a diplomat of a
foreign state in the politics of the United Kingdom is
formally outrageous and deserving of investigation, the
real questions should be for the state of Israel itself.
Israel’s future peace and security is not being served
by ignoring the substantial peace lobby in both Israel
and the world wide Jewish community and working to
undermine those foreign politicians who share that
conversation, Masot agreed that Blunt was among MPs that
were “strongly pro-Arab rather than pro-Israel”.
Strizzolo referred to him being on a “hitlist”.
are understood to regard such plot talks as a matter of
serious concern, crossing the line beyond normal
diplomatic activity. Duncan declined to comment.
Israeli embassy insists Masot was a junior embassy
official and not a diplomat, his business card describes
him as “a senior political officer” and his LinkedIn
page lists him as having worked for the embassy since
November 2014. He describes his work as being the chief
point of contact between the embassy and MPs and
liaising with ministers and officials at the Foreign
describes himself as having been a major in the Israeli
Defence Forces (IDF) between 2004 and 2011 – serving
part of that time on a patrol boat off Gaza – and still
employed by the IDF as deputy head of the international
operation, which began in June and ran through to
November last year, recorded conversations on a number
of occasions that include a wide range of pro-Israeli
activists as well as British politicians and Israeli
form the basis of four half-hour documentaries that al-Jazeera
is to broadcast from 15 January.
sought to play down what had been discussed. Asked a
series of questions by the Guardian, she issued a
statement that said: “The implications the Guardian is
seeking to draw from a few out-of-context snippets of a
conversation, obtained by subterfuge, over a social
dinner are absurd.
“The context of
the conversation was light, tongue-in-cheek and gossipy.
Any suggestion that I, as a civil servant working in
education, could ever exert the type of influence you
are suggesting is risible. Shai Masot is someone I know
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.”
Office 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.”
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