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Update – 25 May 2010

Posted by Emily Chrapot on 25 May 2010 at 3:51pm:

Dear All,

Earlier this year the assassination of Hamas terrorist Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai and the subsequent information given by the Dubai police that more than 27 people travelling on false passports created world headlines for many weeks. It became an issue for Australia when four of the false passports were those of Australians who had made Aliyah in recent years (see more here and here).

At the time, the Australian government called in Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem for a dressing down, sent three AFP officers to Israel (but apparently not to Dubai) to investigate and after Britain expelled an Israeli diplomat in late March, there were talks that Australia would follow suit (see more) but until yesterday, nothing had materialised.

Yesterday Australia’s Foreign Minister Stephen Smith made a statement to the House of Representatives on the issue. He declared:

“Firstly, and very importantly, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that those Australian passport holders indentified by Dubai authorities were anything other than innocent victims of identity theft.

“Secondly, the passports in question were deliberately counterfeited and cloned for use. The high quality of these counterfeited passports points to the involvement of a State intelligence service;

“Thirdly, these investigations and advice have left the Government in no doubt that Israel was responsible for the abuse and counterfeiting of these passports” (see more).

The Australian Government is not prepared to release the evidence it is relying upon which makes one wonder just how compelling it could be. At the time that Australia sent the AFP officers to Tel Aviv I questioned whether they would not be serving the Australian public better by travelling to the scene of the crime, Dubai and yet the AFP headed elsewhere. Since when was any country charged with the task of the judge and jury to proclaim Israel’s guilt?

In his statement, FM Smith declared, “after careful deliberation, the Government has asked that a member of the Israeli Embassy be withdrawn from Australia.” He continued that “The Department conveyed the Government’s deep disappointment over Israeli involvement in this affair”. Again, a guilty verdict is handed down. 

FM Smith did reiterate the Government’s support of Israel and finished his speech by stating, “we now look forward to working to restore the highest standards of trust in our relationship with Israel”.

Later in the day, appearing on ABC radio, Alexander Downer, a former Foreign Minister under the Howard Government stated, “Intelligence services around the world do this sort of thing the whole time. But to start going around expelling them, well I think that is an overreaction” (see more).

Downer also offered a possible reason why Australia would have taken these steps, declaring that it has something to do with Australia’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, which relies heavily on the acceptance of Arab States. He said, “The reason why Australia has suddenly become so aggressive over it … is not of course a point of principle at all here, this is because of the Security Council campaign. And in an effort to try to beat Finland and Luxemburg, the Australian Government is going out of its way to ingratiate itself to other countries in the Middle East, to build up its credentials with the Gulf Cooperation Council and other, other Middle Eastern countries. So this is a good way of doing it. That’s what’s driven this. It’s not, not a point of principle. Israel is not the only country that engages in this sort of behaviour, frankly. So it’s a bit rich to single out Israel.”

Downer’s comments quickly made their way into most of the Israeli press. Comments made by Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop were also cited. She said, “in the absence of proof, it would be appropriate to reprimand, appropriate to chastise the Israeli government”. But she said the Government had gone too far. “The Government is facing an election. The Government is also seeking to pursue a seat on the Security Council. The Government is keen to curry favour within the Arab community” (see more).

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has today defended the decision declaring, “there was no alternative course of action” (see more).

FM Smith has also responded by saying the Opposition is turning a blind eye to Israel’s abuses. Of the Opposition he declared, “They are not fit to manage our national security interest… We will not… stand idly by and turn a blind eye to the shredding of our national security interest, to the abuse of our passport system and to the trampling of our sovereignty” (see more).

He revealed that Julie Bishop had been given the same briefing as he had from security agencies and therefore found her response “frankly extraordinary”. However, in the absence of any real evidence being revealed to the public, the differences between the interpretations of Bishop and Smith are what makes this an extraordinary scenario and given this situation, some transparency on behalf of the government would assist in unravelling what looks like a very sticky political mess.

Federal Member for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby released a statement declaring, “I do not agree with the government’s decision to remove an Israeli diplomat from Canberra. Neither France, Germany or Ireland have asked for an Israeli diplomat to be withdrawn as a result of the Dubai affair” (see more).

Naturally it made front page news of our two local broadsheets. Please read ‘Israel envoy expelled on identity theft’ by Jason Koutsoukis and Kirsty Needham on page 1 of The Age as well as Michelle Grattan’s offering, ‘Expulsion right but risky’. This online article also contains a poll at the bottom asking the question, “Do you think relations between Australia and Israel will be permanently damaged by revelations Israel faked Australian passports?” The Australian, the Herald Sun and Sky News all have polls asking variations of the question about Australia’s decision to expel an Israeli diplomat, so feel free to vote! The ZCV has its own poll running but I am assuming it will yield very different results to that of the newspapers.

Please also read the Age’s letters page, where there was one letter in favour of the expulsion and one very reasonable letter by Dr. Bill Anderson against it. To cap things off, the Age punished its readers with not one but two very unfunny Tandberg cartoons.

The tragedy of the overall coverage of the Age is the fact that for the best part of the past decade the Age has chosen not to avail its readers of the monstrous barbarism of Hamas and the cause it espouses. Readers of this page will be aware of the many stories that the Age Middle East correspondence fails to cover which could give some meaning to why the demise of the Hamas terrorist Mabhouh will not be missed among those Israelis and those Palestinians who yearn for peace in the region. Let’s make no mistake, the terrorist Mabhouh and his Hamas masters are at the heart of this story but the Age ignores their deeds on a routine basis. 

The front page story of the Australian was by Mark Dodd and John Lyons entitled ‘Mossad official is sent packing’. The second page includes an article entitled ‘Mossad’s man in Canberra has to go’ which details the supposed intricacies of having a Mossad agent in Australia.

Please also read the standard ‘Jewish leaders bemoan reaction’. This article, quoting Jewish communal leaders, was a step-up from the article which was the leading story on for most of last night quoted “Jewish Australian political activist” Anthony Loewenstein as their only comment from the community. Yes, this is the same guy that referred to Tzipi Livni as a “he” and placed Haifa in Southern Lebanon in earlier editions of his book. Enough said?

Please read Greg Sheridan’s piece from the Australian entitled ‘Badly misjudged action will have a political cost’ where he charges that this was a “very poor, very feeble decision by the government”. In reference to FM Smith’s citations of the response of Britain, France, Germany and Ireland, Sheridan writes “yet of these only the British have expelled an Israeli diplomat and that was the action of a dying government desperately casting around for minority support. Surely the Rudd government is more mature and worldly than the most desperate days of the dying Gordon Brown interregnum?”

Please also read, Alan Gold’s Op-Ed piece from the Australian entitled ‘Smith went too far by expelling Israeli diplomat’ where he asks, “Can Smith put his hand on his heart and claim that no Australian spy has used a foreign passport”?

Melbourne’s most popular newspaper, the Herald Sun, went with the Socceroos for the front page and instead relegated the report on this issue to page seven. These articles do not appear online, but please read their editorial entitled ‘With friends like this…’ from today’s paper.

If that was not enough excitement for one day, our broadsheets both published a story that broke yesterday by the Guardian alleging that Israel offered to sell apartheid South Africa nuclear weapons in a secret meeting in 1975. This is according to memos and minutes that have been declassified and obtained by an academic writing a book on the issue. Apparently Shimon Peres, who was defence minister at the time met with P.W Botha, his South African counterpart, and offered weaponry in ‘three sizes’. These three sizes are believed to be referring to conventional, chemical and nuclear warheads.

The Australian’s Abraham Rabinovich writes an article entitled ‘Israel’s nuclear link to apartheid’. The headline seems to suggest that Israel was somehow involved in decades of apartheid due to these supposed business dealings. The Age’s offering was a reprint of the Guardian article entitled ‘Revealed: Israeli bid to sell nukes’. The last sentence of the piece is probably the most telling in revealing the author’s own bias. It reads, ‘South Africa eventually built its own nuclear bombs, possibly with Israeli assistance’. After an entire argument built on an interpretation of a supposed meeting, it is interesting that this journalist saw it fit to make such a wild accusation without even producing a scrap of evidence.

Shimon Peres’ office declared, “Israel has never negotiated the exchange of nuclear weapons with South Africa. There exists no Israeli document or Israeli signature on a document that such negotiations took place” (see more). They said that there was “no basis in reality for the claims” published in the Guardian and that their conclusions were “based on the selective interpretation of South African documents and not on concrete facts”.

This is not the first time a report in the Guardian about Israel has been able to gain so much traction based on so little fact (see more) and it certainly will not be the last. Since the Age and the Guardian seem to have the same agenda, it is no surprise that the Age went with this story while it has routinely ignored numerous stories of heavy weaponry being smuggled into Hamas controlled Gaza and Hezbollah controlled Lebanon and the warlike ambitions of both terrorist groups. Surely, both newspapers don’t believe their readers to be complete idiots?

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