Foreign Affairs minister Micheál Martin has said the three Irish passports used by a group of operatives who allegedly assassinated a Hamas commander in Dubai had valid numbers, reversing his department's position of a day earlier.
The Minister said they were issued to people with different names than those made public by Dubai.
Two of the actual passport holders have been notified by the Department of Foreign Affairs, while the the third person has yet to be traced.
Minister Martin said his department was trying to determine whether the passports had been stolen or lost recently.
The United Arab Emirates Ambassador to Ireland will meet officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs today, to discuss the use of the fake Irish passports.
Meanwhile, Israeli security officials have said they were convinced Mossad was behind the assassination and harshly criticised the spy agency for allegedly stealing the identities of its own citizens to carry out the killing.
Names released by Dubai matched seven people living in Israel, raising questions about why the agency would endanger its own people by using their passport data as cover for a secret death squad.
At the same time, some Israeli experts said the Dubai evidence pointed to a set-up to falsely blame Israel.
A vague comment from Israel’s foreign minister, who neither confirmed nor denied Mossad’s involvement, only added to the spy novel-like mystery surrounding the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was found dead on January 20 at a luxury hotel near Dubai’s international airport.
“Israel never responds, never confirms and never denies,” foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said in Israel’s first official comment on the affair, then added: “I don’t know why we are assuming that Israel, or the Mossad, used those passports.”
But some senior Israeli security officials not directly involved in the case were less circumspect, saying they were convinced it was a Mossad operation because of the motive.
Israel says al-Mabhouh supplied Gaza’s Hamas rulers with their most dangerous weapons – and the use of Israeli citizens’ identities.
The officials, who spoke anonymously because of a government order not to discuss the case, characterised the operation as a significant Mossad bungle.
If it develops into a full-blown security scandal, that could harm Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu politically.
Some compared the case to another Mossad embarrassment during Mr Netanyahu’s previous term as prime minister, the failed attempt to kill Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in 1997.
Two Mossad agents posing as Canadian tourists were captured after injecting Mashaal with poison and Israel was forced to send an antidote that saved Mashaal’s life. Today Mashaal is Hamas’ supreme leader.
But there was praise for the Dubai operation from some analysts who noted the major difference between it and the Mashaal case was that the latter failed and the former achieved its goal – the assassination of a Hamas commander.
“Al-Mabhouh is dead and all the partners to the operation left Dubai safely,” wrote analyst Ronen Bergman of the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.
Critics slammed Mossad, not for killing al-Mabhouh on foreign territory, but for doing it sloppily and endangering Israeli citizens in the process.
A front-page commentary in Israel’s Haaretz daily by defence analyst Amir Oren called for the ousting of Mossad director Meir Dagan.
Dubai authorities released names, photos and passport numbers of 11 members of the alleged hit squad this week, saying all 11 carried European passports, three of them Irish. But most of the identities appeared to have been stolen, and at least seven matched up with real people in Israel who claim they are victims of identity theft.
Among them was Melvyn Mildiner, a dual Israeli-British citizen who said one of the numbers matched his own UK passport. He said had never been to Dubai.
Others expressed shock that their names were used. UK builder Paul Keeley, a 43-year-old father of three from Kent in England, told Haaretz he was worried “that someone will try to harm us”.
Stephen Hodes told Israel Radio: “I’m simply afraid. These are powerful forces.”
The affair could have unwanted diplomatic repercussions for Israel. Britain’s Foreign Office summoned Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor for talks about the case today and Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised an inquiry, saying: “The British passport is an important document that has got to be held with care.”
Mossad has been accused of identity theft before. New Zealand convicted and jailed two Israelis in 2005 for trying to fraudulently obtain New Zealand passports.
But this would be the first time the Mossad has been suspected of using the identities of its own citizens.
If the Israeli government was behind the identity theft, it broke Israeli laws against impersonation and fraud, said Nirit Moskovich of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
But some experts doubted the Mossad was involved.
Rafi Eitan, a former Cabinet minister and Mossad agent who took part in the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1960, speculated Israel’s foes were trying to frame the Jewish state by using the identities of Israelis.
“It means some foreign service, an enemy of Israel, wanted to taint Israel. It took the names of Israeli citizens, doctored the passports ... and thus tainted us,” he said.