Australia expels diplomat but remains ‘firm friend’ of Israel

Protest against Israel's bombing of Gaza, February 2009. Israel’s right to assassinate exiled opponents in neutral countries w

On May 24, foreign minister Stephen Smith announced that an unnamed Israeli diplomat was to be expelled from Australia. This was in response to revelations that Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, had stolen the identities of four Australia citizens to create cloned passports.

The passports were used by Mossad agents involved in the January 20 murder of Hamas activist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.

Al-Mabhouh was asphyxiated in a hotel room by members of a team of about 30 Mossad assassins carrying cloned passports and stolen identities from Britain, France, Germany, Ireland and Australia. Britain has already expelled an Israeli diplomat over the affair.

“No government can tolerate the abuse of its passports, especially by a foreign government”, Smith told parliament. “This represents a clear affront to the security of our passport system. … The Dubai passports incident also constitutes a clear and direct breach of confidential undertakings between Australia and Israel dating back some years.

“Australia's relationship with Israel has always been founded on a basis of mutual respect and trust, but Israel's actions in this respect have undermined that.”

He was keen to stress, however, that “Australia remains a firm friend of Israel”.

Unlike Britain, Canberra did not stipulate that Israel couldn’t replace its expelled diplomat.

What was clear from Smith’s statements, and those of other government leaders, was that the expulsion was a response to Israel compromising Australian national security and the security of the four Australian victims.

Israel’s right to assassinate exiled opponents in neutral countries was not questioned.

Unsurprisingly, the government’s mild rebuke to Israel over its violation of Australian “national security” was received howls of outrage from the pro-Israel lobby. Perhaps less expected was the extent to which this was joined by the Liberal-National opposition.

Deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop claimed the government was attacking Israel because “the government is facing an election”, ABC Online said on May 24. “The government is also seeking to pursue a seat on the Security Council. The government is keen to curry favour with the Arab community.”

However, while support for Israel is almost a prerequisite in mainstream politics (PM Kevin Rudd says he has it in his DNA) this does not extend to totally uncritical support for the flagrant violation of Australian national security.

The government took the opportunity to paint Bishop as unconcerned with national security. This was made easier when she responded to criticisms of her remark by revealing that Mossad’s Australian equivalents, ASIO and ASIS, forged passports.

In doing so she confused forging passports with false identities and cloning passports, which involves identity theft. Moreover, as government politicians have keenly pointed out, this violates a bipartisan consensus not to reveal the workings of Australian security services.

Of course the secrecy protected by this bipartisan consensus reflects that Australia’s secret police agencies are themselves largely unaccountable and undemocratic. However, Mossad didn't simply forge passports — it used faked passports to commit murder.

Bishop claimed there was no proof of Israeli involvement in the murder of al-Mabhouh and accompanying identity thefts. However, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and the Australian Federal Police had presented the evidence in a confidential bipartisan briefing that preceded Smith’s announcement.

In contrast, al-Mabhouh is routinely accused of violence with no evidence cited. Howes set the tone in the March 7 Daily Telegraph with the unfounded claim that he “turned Palestinian children into human bombs to murder and terrorise Israeli civilians”.

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