Anger in Israeli government over diplomacy 'sting'

Secretly taped embassy employee had ideas 'way beyond his station', says one senior civil servant


Senior officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem are furious with members of their embassy in London for allowing their locally-hired employee, Shai Masot, to engage directly with British politicians.

Mr Masot, who is to feature in The Lobby, a four-part series being aired on Al Jazeera next week, was filmed by an undercover journalist talking about his plans to “take down” British politicians including Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan.

One senior civil servant in Jerusalem described Mr Masot as “having ideas way beyond his station” and blamed both the London embassy and the ministry’s chronic understaffing for the embarrassing situation.

While described by Al Jazeera and in various newspapers as a “senior Israeli diplomat”, Mr Masot is what is known in the Israeli foreign service as an AMI, the Hebrew acronym for “local Israeli employee”. These are Israelis living abroad, who find employment with the embassies as temporary support staff. A former naval officer, Mr Masot is known to have entertained both political and diplomatic aspirations. He boasted of joining the MFA’s elite cadet diplomats course, though senior sources in Jerusalem denied he had ever been on the course. For a short period he worked as a parliamentary aide to Likud MK, now culture minister Miri Regev.

In 2014 he arrived in London and, according to a number of sources, his political connections helped him get a position as an assistant to deputy ambassador Eitan Naeh. Mr Naeh, who was appointed Israel’s new ambassador to Turkey two months ago, has been the focus of much criticism in the ministry in recent days for having given Mr Masot the grand-sounding title of “senior political adviser” and allowing him to work directly with British politicians without proper training.

Mr Masot’s employment came while Mr Naeh was acting ambassador in London, following the recall of former ambassador Daniel Taub and before the arrival of incoming ambassador Mark Regev, who was at the time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief foreign media spokesman.

Some embassy staff have sought to defend Mr Masot, saying that he was the target of Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter for months and that “he also did good work in challenging circumstances”.

In Jerusalem, senior ministry officials have said that the reliance on an unprofessional employee in a sensitive location is part of the much wider problem of a lack of trained diplomats at a time when Israel is expanding its foreign missions across the globe. The over-reliance of the ministry on AMI employees is expected to be the subject of criticism in an upcoming report by the State Comptroller’s office.

One veteran diplomat said that while there were failings in the London embassy, “what do you expect when the MFA hasn't had a full-time minister for years? Netanyahu thinks he can run the ministry himself, along with half a dozen other ministries, in addition to being prime minister. No wonder there’s no-one fighting our corner for additional funding for professional personnel”. The MFA spokesman in Jerusalem declined to comment.

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