A few days back, after it emerged that Russian spies had been using fake UK passports, I posed an Israel test: Will the UK launch an investigation and expel a Russian diplomat, as they did when they accused Israel of forging UK passports following the Mabhouh assassination in Dubai? Or do different rules apply to Israel and to Moscow?
At this stage during the Dubai affair in mid-February, the Labour government had already summoned the Israeli ambassador and announced criminal investigations amid furious statements from all political parties. It expelled another Israeli diplomat a month later. The Guardian newspaper ran some 17 articles highlighting the passport accusations.
By contrast, a week into the Russian forgery story, there is not a hint of a diplomatic row between London and Moscow. The Guardian mentioned the fake passport allegations in two articles that lacked the breathless condemnation directed at Israel. The paper's editorial on the Russian spy-ring ignores the passport angle altogether.
Why the double standard? One possible explanation is that Israel is a friend and ally of Britain, and friends aren't supposed to behave that way. Then again, Downing Street also claims good relations with the Kremlin. Or perhaps the difference has to do with the recent change of government. Yet Britain's new chief diplomat, William Hague, when still shadow foreign secretary, encouraged Labour's diplomatic arm-twisting of Israel, a point he was eager to repeat in an interview last month with Al Jazeera, no less.
It's hard to escape the conclusion that what really infuriated the British was not so much the alleged offense but the identity of its perpetrators.