Dubai passports row / It takes a special talent to turn Australia against Israel
Until the debacle over the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, it was hard to find an Australian politician who did not support Israel.
Dor Shapira, a young, low-ranking diplomat, had a privilege yesterday normally reserved for ambassadors: a visit to the secretary of his host country's foreign ministry - albeit not under the best of circumstances.
Shapira, officially the spokesman and cultural attache, is the third-ranking diplomat at Israel's embassy in the Australian capital of Canberra. Normally, the secretary of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs, Dennis Richardson, would have spoken to ambassador Yuval Rotem, but he is in Jerusalem. And consul Eli Yerushalmi is in New York for family reasons. Shapira is the next in line.
Richardson called Shapira to the ministry as Foreign Minister Stephen Smith was informing parliament of the expulsion of an embassy staffer. Smith did not identify the person by either name or occupation. But anyone who recalls Britain's recent expulsion of an Israeli embassy staffer - the Mossad representative - will know who the person is.
Israel did not know about the expulsion in advance: Smith timed the meeting between Richardson and Shapira so that parliament would hear the news first. When was the last time the Knesset had a similar honor?
Other countries in a new and unofficial alliance - those whose passports were allegedly forged by Israel, meaning Britain, France, Germany and Ireland - were also informed, as was the United Arab Emirates.
It took Richardson only 10 minutes to complete his task. He gave Shapira only the official announcement, with no verbal additions. The atmosphere was also official, leaving no room to misunderstand Australia's position.
But Smith told reporters that the expulsion of the Mossad man - "or woman" - was not the only step, nor necessarily the last one. There will be a cooling of ties between the two countries' intelligence services, which may affect intelligence cooperation on Iran's nuclear program. If there is a third incident of allegedly forged Australian passports (the first was in 2003 ), Australia's response will be even harsher.
Israel had sought to prevent the expulsion. And when weeks passed after Britain announced its expulsion, the illusion that Australia would forget about the issue, or at least downplay it, grew.
Smith partly explained the delay yesterday. He said that first, the federal police investigated, and concluded that the four Australian-Israelis were innocent victims of identity theft. Then, last month, David Irvine, who heads the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, came to Israel, but Israel said nothing of substance. Finally, all the relevant Australian bodies met and recommended the expulsion.
Despite the Australians' methodical probe, Israel hastened last night to blame the expulsion on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, saying he was trying to divert attention from other problems. This is a typical explanation for anyone who refuses to accept responsibility for failure.
Until now, Rudd's attitude toward Israel has been very positive. Smith, whose constituency in Perth includes 9,000 Jews, is also friendly to Israel, and yesterday, he said that Australia's support for Israel in the United Nations and other forums will not be affected.
Lately, there have not been any top-tier Australian politicians who were not supportive of Israel. It thus requires special talent to transform Australia into a country that feels obligated to take steps against Israel. Yet one person in Israel has that talent. And this time, it is not Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The person who managed to get Israel in trouble with Australia, Britain and the other embittered countries is the head of Mossad, Meir Dagan. But what does Dagan care about Rudd, Smith or Irvine? So long as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in his pocket, the world can go to hell. And if it does not do so on its own, Dagan will show it how.