Monday, May 24, 2010

Australia expels Israeli diplomat over fake passports used in Dubai killing


Investigators conclude Israel responsible for forging four Australian passports used in assassination of Hamas operative

The father of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, assassinated in Dubai, holds a photograph of his son. Photograph: Ali Ali/EPA

Australia today ordered the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat after investigators concluded that Israel was responsible for forging four Australian passports used in the killing of a Hamas operative in Dubai.

The move follows a similar step by Britain, which expelled an Israeli diplomat in March in retaliation for the use of 12 fake British passports in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

Dubai authorities blamed the Israeli Mossad intelligence service for the killing of Mabhouh in January.

The governments of Ireland, Germany and France have yet to reveal how they will react to the similar cases of alleged identity fraud against their citizens revealed in the investigation.

Australia has not expelled a foreign diplomat since 2004, and the country's foreign minister, Stephen Smith, told parliament that the operation to kill Mabhouh was not the first time Israel had forged Australian travel documents.

He did not elaborate on previous incidents, but said the latest transgression breached "confidential undertakings" between the two countries that have stood for several years.

"These are not the actions of a friend," he added. "This is not what we expect from a nation with whom we have had such a close, friendly and supportive relationship."

Smith said Israel had been asked to withdraw a diplomat, whom he did not identify, within a week. The duration of the expulsion is indefinite.

Israeli radio stations have reported that the diplomats expelled from Australia and Britain were Mossad representatives.

Yossi Levy, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, told Israel's Army Radio he was confident that excellent relations between the two countries would continue.

"We regret the Australian move, which in our opinion does not conform to the kind of relations we have with Canberra and their importance," he said.

The Israeli ambassador to Australia, Yuval Rotem, is out of Australia until early next month.

Smith said Australia had notified the US of its decision because of Canberra's security alliance with Washington and the close US relationship with Tel Aviv. It had also informed the United Arab Emirates and all countries whose nationals claimed to have had identities stolen in the case.

He said Australian co-operation with Israel on security and intelligence matters would suffer.

"Clearly, as a result of today's events, there will be something of a cooling period so far as relevant agencies are concerned and, just as in the United Kingdom, time will tell just how long that may or may not be."

Israel had not retaliated against Britain's expulsion of a diplomat and Smith said he would be disappointed if Tel Aviv did so against Australia.

Dubai authorities have identified at least 26 suspects from an alleged hit squad.

Smith said: "The high quality of these counterfeited passports points to the involvement of a state intelligence service."

He added that Australia's investigation, carried out by police and intelligence services, "left the government in no doubt that Israel was responsible for the abuse and counterfeiting of these passports".

Israeli radio reported that Australia had expelled an Israeli diplomat in 2004 for his alleged involvement in helping two Israelis try to fraudulently obtain New Zealand passports. Neither the Israeli embassy nor Smith's department would confirm the report.

Two men described by the New Zealand government as Israeli intelligence agents spent three months in prison there after pleading guilty to passport fraud. They were then deported.

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