Monday, May 24, 2010

Israeli diplomat to be kicked out of Australia over passport forgery row

Australian passports

Four Australians had their passports forged by Mossad, with the images of their faces replaced with those pictured above.

Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith, Minister for Foreign Affairs, holds a press conference at Parliament House on the fraudulent use of Australian passports by Israel. Picture: Kym Smith Source: Herald Sun

UPDATE 3.35pm: AUSTRALIA'S decision to expel a senior diplomat after finding Israel used fake Australian passports in the killing of a Hamas leader will upset the Jewish community, a Jewish-Australian political activist says.

But it could also lead to a "healthy debate'' in public about the sort of relationship Australia has with Israel, political activist and author Antony Loewenstein said.

Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, a senior figure in the militant Palestinian organisation Hamas, was found murdered in a hotel room in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on January 20.

"The way Israel behaves in Dubai, and indeed in many other parts of the world, is often to ignore local and international law, and expect the western world to support it and back it,'' Mr Loewenstein said.

Mr Loewenstein, whose book My Israel Question finds fault with the Jewish state for its part in the conflict with Palestine and ongoing tensions in the Middle East, described the relationship between Australia and Israel as "complicit''.

"Australia has long been treated like fools by Israel, and has often been more than happy to be seen as a fool, in many ways,'' he said.

"The bigger question really is, that hopefully this will lead to a debate about how Israel behaves, and how Australia has often accepted that and supports that.

"It shows and hopefully reveals to the wider community that most of the Jewish spokespeople in this country see themselves solely as spokespeople for Israel.''

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith told parliament today that there was "no doubt" Israel was responsible for faking four Australian passports used in the killing of Al-Mabhouh.

Mr Loewenstein criticised Australia's Jewish community for its reaction to the news that four passports belonging to dual Australian-Israeli citizens had been forged.

"The Jewish spokespeople in Australia initially said nothing,'' he said.

"Then when they did say something, they suggested there was no evidence that Israel was involved.

"Even if Israel was involved, they then said Australia should have turned a blind eye because an awful terrorist (had been) killed.

"They were essentially asking people to accept the fact that their passports are not safe because of what Israel claims to be divine rights to assassinate supposed terrorists.''

Mr Smith said today the high quality forgeries were by a "state intelligence service'', although he did not specifically name the Israeli spy agency Mossad.

But he said Israel had undermined the respect and trust with Australia.

"These are not the actions of a friend,'' Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith has asked that a member of the Israeli Embassy in Canberra be withdrawn from Australia within the week, as a result of the scandal.

"This is not what we expect from a nation with whom we have had such a close, friendly and supportive relationship,'' he said.

Mr Smith said an investigation by the federal police and ASIO found the Australian passports were deliberately counterfeited and cloned for use.

"The high quality of these counterfeited passports points to the involvement of a state intelligence service,'' he said.

"These investigations and advice have left the Government in no doubt that Israeli was responsible for the abuse and counterfeiting of these passports.''

International investigators believe Mossad was behind the assassination of Hamas official Mahmud al-Mabhuh in Dubai in January.

Four Australian passports have been linked to the murderers.

Mr Smith today said no government could tolerate the abuse of its passports and revealed Israel had previously abused Australian passports.

"I regret to advise the House this is not the first occasion that Australian passports have been misused by Israeli authorities,'' he said.

Mr Smith said it was a clear and direct breach of confidential undertakings by Israel "dating back some years''.

"This is not what we expect of a nation with whom we have had such a close, friendly and supportive relationship,'' Mr Smith aid.

"The government has asked that a member of the Israeli Embassy in Canberra be withdrawn from Australia. I have asked that the withdrawal be effected within the week.''

Mr Smith said the four Australians were innocent victims of identity fraud.

He said he hoped Australia and Israel could rebuild relations.

The Israeli Embassy said it would issue a statement later today.

Mr Smith said the United Kingdom reached similar conclusions after its investigation into the Dubai incident.

The British Government expelled Mossad's London station chief in March over the use of 12 forged British passports linked to the assassination.

Mr Smith refused to say which Israeli Embassy member had been asked to leave.

He said he would not give a name or their job description but said it was "comparable to the British response''.

He said there was no set time how long the person was expelled for.

Mr Smith said he would be disappointed if Israel responded by expelling an Australian diplomat.

He said there would be a "cooling of'' in the sharing of intelligence material with Israel.

"It does require a rebuilding of trust and confidence,'' he said in a press conference.

Mr Smith said ASIO's director-general David Irvine visited Israel as part of the investigation.

The nation's overseas-focused spy agency, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), was also involved.

The Australian Federal Police handed a report to the government in April.

Mr Smith said the report and advice would not be released on national security grounds.

"I received my final advice from agencies last week,'' Mr Smith said, adding that he had briefed the national security committee of the cabinet this morning.

About $100 million is being spent by the Government over the next six years to further strengthen the security of Australian passports.

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