Dubai passports
Copies of passport photos allegedly linked to the Dubai hit of a Hamas strongman. Photo by AP
Text size

The Israeli ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem, who has been in Israel on business for the last few days, cut his stay short and left for Canberra in alarm on Monday, in hopes of pacifying the escalated crisis between Israel and Australia.

 

Israeli-Australian relations tensed following the announcement by Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith that Australia has expelled Israel's Mossad representative in the Israeli embassy in Canberra.

 

Smith said that Australia has asked Israel to withdraw a diplomat after an investigation found "no doubt" of its role in forging four Australian passports implicated in the slaying of a Hamas operative in Dubai earlier this year.

 

According to officials in Jerusalem, Rotem was supposed to spend two weeks in Israel and only return to Australia on June 8, though following deliberations in the Foreign Ministry on Monday morning, it was decided that Rotem must return to Australia straight away.

 

 

Britain took similar action in March, also expelling the Mossad attache to the Israeli embassy in the country, after concluding there was compelling evidence that Israel was responsible for the use of doctored British passports in the plot to kill Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on January 20.

Australia's foreign minister said Mondat a police investigation had left no doubt Israeli intelligence services had been behind the forgery of four Australian passports used by suspects in the assassination Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room.

"These investigations and advice have left the government in no doubt that Israel was responsible for the abuse and counterfeiting of these passports," Smith told Australia's parliament. "These are not the actions of a friend."

The Australian government ordered an inquiry into the fake passports by police and intelligence services that visited Israel and found the four citizens involved had been innocent of any involvement.

"No government can tolerate the abuse of its passports, especially by a foreign government," Smith said. "This is not what we expect from a nation with whom we have had such a close, friendly and supportive relationship."

The government, he said, had asked that a member of Israel's Australian embassy in Canberra be withdrawn within a week. Australia and Israel are traditionally close allies and an embassy spokesman said he "regretted" the decision.

"We feel it is not reflective of the extensive relationship between the two nations," the spokesman said.

Dubai authorities have given names of alleged members of the team that tracked and killed the Palestinian, and said they used fraudulent British, Irish, French, German and Australian passports to enter and leave Dubai.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in February, however, there was no evidence to link Israel to the killing, which also prompted Britain to expel an Israeli in March.

But Britain's then-government said an investigation by the country's Serious Organised Crime Agency had found 12 forged British passports were used in the hit, copied from genuine passports.

Four Australians - Nicole McCabe, Joshua Bruce, Adam Korman and Joshua Krycer -- had their identities stolen and used in fake passports held by suspects believed to be involved in the assassination, Smith said.

Mabhouh, born in the Gaza Strip, had lived in Syria since 1989 and Israeli and Palestinian sources have said he played a key role in smuggling Iranian-funded arms to militants in Gaza.

Smith said the passport cloning operation used in his killing was of high quality and had obviously been state-backed.

"The decision was made much more in sorrow than in anger," he said. "The decision was made in our national security interests, made in support of the integrity of our passport system, made in efforts to protect Australians who travel overseas."

Authorities in Dubai had already been briefed on Australia's findings, he said, along with the other countries involved and close Australian and Israeli ally the United States.