Embassy official to be expelled

May 24, 2010 by Henry Benjamin
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Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has directed that a member of the Israeli Embassy be withdrawn from Australia  within a week following the investigation of the Dubai passports affair. 

Stephen Smith

He said: “The investigation and advice have left the Government in no doubt that Israel was responsible for the abuse and counterfeiting of these passports,” adding “these are not the actions of a friend”

The Minister has told parliament that the Israeli Charge D’Affaires was summoned to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade this morning.

Dubai authorities announced that four Australian passports had been used by those held responsible for the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmouhd al-Madbouh on January 20 this year.

The Minister told the House on February-25 that the passports “had been used fraudulently” and he condemned in the strongest terms possible the “misuse and abuse of Australian passports.” On the same day, the Australian Federal Police launched their investigation into the misuse of the passports. Others involved included ASIO [Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, ASIS [the Australian Secret Intelligence Service] and the Australian Passport Office.

The Director-General of ASIO visited Israel earlier this month following the tabling of the initial report.

Smith, who received the further report last week, told Parliament: “I briefed the National Security Committee of the Cabinet this morning.” He also briefed the  Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

He said the report made it clear that the passport holders identified by Dubai authorities “were no more tha innocent victims of identity fraud.”

He then made it clear the passports were “deliberately counterfeited and cloned for use” and that the high quality of the fake passports points to a State intelligence service.

In his announcement Foreign Minister Smith said that the Department made it clear that Australia regards the abuse of these passports as inconsistent with the friendship and support provided by successive Australian governments to Israel since its creation as a nation.

He said: Australia’s relationship with Israel has always been funded on a basis of mutual respect and trust.”

Ambassador Yuval Rotem - overseas

Smith said: “The Government takes this step much more in sorrow than in anger or retaliation. Australia’s support for Israel has long enjoyed bi-partisan support. Australia remains a firm friend for Israel. We expect this and future Israeli governments to ensure that this incident is not repeated.”

Ambassador Yuval Rotem and Deputy Chief of Mission Eli Yerushalami are both currently overeseas. Spokesperson and Political Affaires Attache Dor Shapira is in Canberra. An embassy spokesperson confirmed that Ambassador Rotem and DCM Yerushalimi are overseas and said “there are a number of other diplomats still in Canberra.” He added: ” We express our regret at the Australian Government’s decision . It is not reflective of the relationship between our positions.”

International protocol invoked on the expulsion of a diplomat demands that the expelled diplomat is never named.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry’sRobert Goot and the Zionist Federation of Australia’s president, Philip Chester shared his disappointment. They said: “We are greatly disappointed by the Government’s decision to request that a member of the Israeli Embassy in Canberra be withdrawn from Australia as a consequence of the Dubai passports incident.  We consider that decision to be an over-reaction.”

The Federal Member for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby, today responded to Foreign Minister Steven Smith’s announcement that Australia will expel an Israeli diplomat as a result of the Dubai affair. He told J-Wire: “I have previously & publicly (on Jon Faine’s 774 program) said that I condemn the misuse of Australian passports by any other country. However, 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.”
“This announcement comes at a time when Australia is supporting just resumed Middle East peace negotiations.”
“Australia has always been a good friend of Israel and I have no doubt that this relationship will remain intact”.

The statement issued by the Foreign Minister does not disclose any specific evidence in support of his conclusions about Israel’s involvement in the matter.

Little good can come from taking punitive action in relation to this matter against Israel, which is the Middle East’s only stable democracy and the only Middle Eastern country that can be relied on to act resolutely against international terrorism.

We welcome the Foreign Minister’s clear statement that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that those Australian passport holders identified by Dubai authorities were anything other than innocent victims of identity theft.

We are confident that despite recent events, the longstanding friendship and co-operation between Australia and Israel will endure and that Australia’s strong bipartisan support for Israel, and for a just and lasting peace between Israel and its neighbours, will remain steadfast.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs made it clear to the media that in accordance with expulsion matters, the diplomat to be expelled would not be named and that the public “could draw its own conclusions.” He told media that it was not a retaliatory measure but a signal to be sent for future relations.

A

The Minister’s statement to Parliament in full….

On 25 February, I advised the House of the suspected fraudulent use of a number of Australian passports in connection with the murder of senior Hamas figure Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh.

I now advise the House of the Government’s response to this matter.

First it is worth recalling the circumstances in which this came to the Government’s attention and our response to date.

On 20 January, Mr Al-Mabhouh was found murdered in a hotel room in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

On 16 February, police in Dubai announced that falsified passports from the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and Germany had been used in connection with the murder.

Eli Yerushalami - overseas

Late on 22 February, Dubai authorities approached Australian officials with an inquiry about two Australian passports.

The following day, 23 February, Dubai authorities confirmed to Australian officials they were investigating a number of Australian passports in connection with the murder.

Since that time, Dubai authorities have announced that they are investigating four Australian passports in connection with the murder.

Those four Australian passports are in the names of:  Mr Adam Korman, Mr Joshua Bruce, Ms Nicole McCabe, and Mr Joshua Krycer.

From the first contact on 22 February, Australian authorities have cooperated fully with Dubai investigators.

On 25 February, I expressed to the House my concern that these Australian passports had been used fraudulently.

Both the Prime Minister and I condemned in the strongest possible terms this apparent misuse and abuse of Australian passports.

Dor Shapira - in Canberra

On 25 February, I also announced that the Australian Federal Police, in conjunction with relevant agencies, had been asked to investigate the possible abuse of these passports.

These agencies included the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) and the Australian Passport Office.

On 9 April, I received the Australian Federal Police report.

Upon a preliminary assessment of that report, it was clear that further work and advice was required from other agencies, in particular ASIO and ASIS.

I made this known publicly on 11 April.

This further work included a visit to Israel this month by the Director General of ASIO.

I received my final advice from agencies last week.

I briefed the National Security Committee of the Cabinet this morning.

I have taken steps to ensure that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs has been briefed on the matter.

Mr Speaker, this advice leads to the following key conclusions:

Firstly, and very importantly, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that those Australian passport holders identified 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.

I note that a similar conclusion was reached by the United Kingdom Government in the course of their official investigations.

Mr Speaker, no Government can tolerate the abuse of its passports, especially by a foreign Government.

This represents a clear affront to the security of our passport system.

Nor can we tolerate the abuse by a foreign Government of the personal details of the Australian nationals concerned.

Mr Speaker, these are not the actions of a friend.

I regret to advise the House that this is not the first occasion that Australian passports have been misused by Israeli authorities.

The Dubai passports incident also constitutes a clear and direct breach of confidential understandings between Australia and Israel dating back some years.

This is not what we expect from a nation with whom we have had such a close, friendly and supportive relationship.

After careful deliberation, the Government has asked that a member of the Israeli Embassy in Canberra be withdrawn from Australia.  I have asked that the withdrawal be effected within the week.

Earlier this morning, at my request, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade called in the Israeli Charge d’Affaires.  Israeli Ambassador Rotem, whom I called in on 25 February, is absent from Australia until 8 June.  If Ambassador Rotem had been in Australia, I would have again spoken to him myself.

The Department conveyed the Government’s deep disappointment over Israeli involvement in this affair.

The Department made it clear that Australia regarded the abuse of these passports as inconsistent with the friendship and support provided by successive Australian Governments to Israel since its creation as a nation.

Australia’s relationship with Israel has always been founded on a basis of mutual respect and trust.

But Israel’s actions in this regard have undermined that respect and trust.

Mr Speaker, the Government takes this step much more in sorrow than in anger or retaliation.

It is a decision taken in our national security interests.

The Government has done so in accordance with the findings of the investigation and after a careful assessment of Australia’s national interests by relevant agencies.

The Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, will continue to provide consular assistance on an as needs basis to those Australians whose identities were stolen and who were therefore adversely affected by Israel’s actions.

We have already, on request, replaced the passports of a number of those involved.

Mr Speaker,

I convey publicly a final point made to the Israeli Charge by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade:

Insofar as the Australia-Israel bilateral relationship is concerned, our expectation is that our relationship with Israel can and will continue in a mutually productive and beneficial manner.

Australia’s support for the State of Israel goes back to its creation.

Australia’s support for the State of Israel has long enjoyed bipartisan support.

We have always shared a relationship reflecting our joint commitment to freedom, security and democracy.

Australia remains a firm friend of Israel.

But, as I noted previously, our relationship must be conducted on the basis of mutual trust and respect.

Genuine friendship runs both ways.

We expect this and future Israeli Governments to ensure that this incident is not repeated.

We now look forward to working to restore the highest standards of trust in our relationship with Israel.

I thank the House.

Comments

One Response to “Embassy official to be expelled”
  1. Larry Stillman says:

    Talk about an own goal by the Israeli government. The toadying behaviour by the ‘official leadership’ and others in trying to engage in spin on this only adds to the contempt that is held for Israel when it claims to be engaged in rule of law.

    A sorry episode in a sorry time for Israeli politics. It’s clear that such actions, and 40+ years of avoidance of the hard issue of the occupation with all its fantasies of being a dominant power have to come to an end.

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