Jack Straw will arrive in Israel today amid a storm of criticism over his sensitive coalition-forging visit to Iran, and particularly over his authorship of a newspaper article in which he twice referred to "Palestine".
One Israeli government spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said yesterday that the Foreign Secretary's words published in the Iranian media were "despicable", "ignorant" and "bordering on anti-Semitism".
The furore began as Mr Straw headed for Tehran for the first visit by a British foreign minister since the 1979 Islamic revolution. His article stated that "one of the factors that helps breed terrorism is the anger that many people in this region feel at events over the years in Palestine", a view widely held throughout the international community, especially among the Europeans. There was fury in Israel, especially from the right wing, which had been watching with nervousness as diplomatic courtship tentatively develops between Britain and Iran, a nation regarded by the Israelis as sponsors of terrorism.
Ephraim Sneh, the Transport Minister, said the article was "an obscenity" and a "stab in the back", which "turns Israel from the victims of terrorism into the accused".
A more restrained statement came from the Israeli Foreign Ministry which "expressed concern", and warned that the article published "in a country dedicated to Israel's destruction" could encourage rather than eliminate terrorism.
Mr Straw's use of the word "Palestine", implying recognition of Palestinian statehood, was regarded by Israeli officials as especially irksome.
The Foreign Office stood firmly by Mr Straw's article yesterday, saying there was "never any excuse for terrorism" and that Mr Straw had an impeccable record of fighting it but that there was also a need to understand the environment in which it is bred. It said his article was in line with policy.
The rumpus threatened today's meeting between Mr Straw and Mr Sharon, whom the Foreign Secretary will urge to do all he can to calm the Israel-Palestinian conflict to pave the way for coalition building with Arab and Islamic states. But sources indicated it would probably go ahead.
This is not the first spat between a touring British foreign secretary and Israel. In 1998, there was an Israeli outcry over a visit by Robin Cook to Har Homa, a Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem, known to Arabs as Jebel Abu Ghneim.
Mr Cook was mobbed by Israeli protesters and accused of breaking agreed arrangements for the visit; the Israeli government cancelled his dinner with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister at the time.
Earlier this month, the French ambassador was given a dressing-down by Israel for daring to suggest it is wrong to compare its experience of Palestinian "terrorism" with the US atrocities. The Western powers are unlikely to view Israel's latest theatrics with tolerance, given the magnitude of the international crisis.