Israel denounces UK nerve agent attack, without mentioning Russia

In vaguely worded statement, Foreign Ministry says it ‘condemns vigorously’ the ‘event that occurred in Great Britain’

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Military forces work on a van in Winterslow, England, on March 12, 2018, as investigations continue into the nerve-agent poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Military forces work on a van in Winterslow, England, on March 12, 2018, as investigations continue into the nerve-agent poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday issued a vaguely worded statement denouncing “the event that occurred in Great Britain,” presumably referring to the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.

The statement did not mention Russia, who has been blamed for the assassination attempt by leaders from the United Kingdom, the United States, France, and Germany.

“Israel views with gravity the event that occurred in Great Britain and condemns it vigorously,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“We hope that the international community will cooperate in order to avoid such further events,” the ministry said.

On March 4, Skripal, once a Russian double agent, along with his daughter Yulia, and a British police officer, were poisoned with a rare and powerful nerve agent. Skripal and his daughter remained in critical condition as of Thursday, and the police officer was considered seriously ill.

Israel’s condemnation comes following condemnations from the leaders of the US, France, and Germany, joining Britain on Thursday in blaming Russia for poisoning a former spy with the nerve agent, calling the attack “the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War.”

According to the Kan and Channel 10 news outlets, the Foreign Ministry only released its statement in light of a direct request from the British Ambassador in Israel to senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday.

Israel’s vaguely worded statement, released a day later, made no explicit mention of the poisoning and broke with the remarks made by other British allies, who identified Russia as being behind it.

In a rare joint statement, US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister Theresa May said “there is no plausible alternative explanation” to Russian responsibility.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during the scheduled Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday March 14, 2018. (PA via AP)

The leaders said the use of a chemical weapon is “an assault on UK sovereignty” and “a breach of international law.”

On Wednesday, May expelled 23 Russian diplomats from the UK, severed high-level contacts with Moscow, and vowed both open and covert actions following the attack, plunging UK-Russia relations to a level not seen since the Cold War.

Russia denies being the source of the nerve agent that poisoned the Skripals. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said Russia was “worried by this situation” and would work to express its position on the international stage.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday that Moscow would “certainly” expel some British diplomats in a tit-for-tat response.

Israel has its own history with attempting to conduct assassinations abroad using powerful poisons.

Best known was its 1997 attempt to kill Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal while he was in Jordan, but the Mossad agents who sprayed him with the lethal toxin were caught, sparking a diplomatic crisis with Amman, which was only resolved after Jordan forced Israel to provide the arch-terrorist with the cure.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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