0655 GMT June 23 2017
In an extraordinary breach of diplomatic protocol, Shai Masot, who describes himself as an officer in the Israel Defense 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.
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 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, neutralized 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 British 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. So never say never, she added. Masot replied: “Never say never, yeah, but …” Strizzolo said: “A little scandal, maybe.”
Other prominent Conservatives named during the conversation include Crispin Blunt, chair of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, who is also a vocal supporter of the Palestinians.
In another conversation, Masot agreed that Blunt was among MPs that were “strongly pro-Arab rather than pro-Israel”. Strizzolo referred to him being on a “hit list”.
Although the 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 UK Foreign Office.
He also describes himself as having been a major in the Israeli Defense 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 organizations sector.