The assassination of senior Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January refuses to go away. Two months after the British government expelled the head of the Mossad delegation there in response to the passport forgery and identity theft of 12 British citizens, Australia has decided to expel its Mossad representative to protest the alleged use the suspected assassins made of forged Australian passports.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith stressed that after the Mossad violated his country's sovereignty in a similar fashion a few years ago, Israel promised to prevent a recurrence. He added that Israel has damaged the friendly bilateral relationship, and it will now be necessary to rebuild trust between the two countries.
The use of borrowed identities is sometimes necessary in the battle against terrorism. But at the same time, decision makers must take account of the fact that no country (including Israel ) could ignore the disclosure that its citizens' passports have been forged by a friendly country. It is hard to avoid the impression, if media reports prove true, that over the last few years the government has allowed the Mossad to violate this balance for the sake of rash assassinations.
Every time a forgery is exposed and the trail leads to Jerusalem, the government wraps itself in silence and hopes the wave of protest will die down. And when the injured countries do protest, Israel acts offended.
The official Israeli response to the crisis in relations with Australia was no different from its response to Britain's decision to expel its Mossad representative: An official statement issued by the Foreign Ministry said that Israel regrets the Australian move, which "does not accord with the nature and quality of the relationship between the two countries." But good relations with a country that has supported Israel from the day of its establishment, and even announced that the current crisis would not result in any fundamental change in its policy toward Israel, do go together with systematic violations of its sovereignty?
One can only hope that the highest levels of both the government and the defense establishment are taking the expulsion of the Mossad representatives from Britain and Australia seriously and drawing all the necessary conclusions from the aftermath of the assassination in Dubai. Instead of "regretting" these friendly governments' perfectly understandable response, it would be better to apologize to them and refrain from violating their sovereignty in the future. Israel should not be gambling with so valuable a strategic asset as its foreign relations.
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