Peace Researcher 40 – July 2010
- Murray Horton
Hamas is the Islamist movement which governs Gaza. It does so because it won an election internationally judged to be free and fair. However, democracy is a flexible concept when it comes to Israel and its Western allies. They wanted the much more malleable and corrupt Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank, to also run Gaza. So, democratic elections are an annoying inconvenience when they deliver results which are not the desired ones. Hamas is implacably opposed to Israel and its rule of Gaza has included regular rocket attacks into the territory of its enemy which, in turn, led to Israel’s grossly disproportionate 2008/09 military response (during the Bush/Obama interregnum in the US). That aerial and artillery bombardment and invasion by tanks and infantry led to the destruction of most of anything left standing in what is already one of the most desperately poor and overcrowded places in the world. Israel, with the cooperation of Egypt, has enforced a land and sea blockade of Gaza ever since Hamas came to power, as a not very subtle hint that the long suffering Gazans should get themselves a government which is more acceptable to Israel. Of course, most recently, that blockade has had to eased (at least cosmetically) because of the international furore arising from Israel’s killing of nine foreign activists in May 2010 in the course of its seizure of a humanitarian aid ship full of foreigners, which was attempting to non-violently break the blockade. That particular military operation by elite commandos was an international public relations disaster for Israel.
There has never been anything subtle about Israel in its dealings with the Palestinians under its occupation or the Palestinians and other Arabs in its neighbouring countries. Murder has been an unapologetically used instrument of State policy throughout its existence as a nation (usually sanitised as “targeted assassinations”). Hamas leaders have been prime targets of this policy and a number in Gaza have been murdered by the brutally effective methods of bombs or rockets from warplanes (which usually also wipe out family members and unfortunate bystanders). That is why the top leadership of Hamas lives in exile in Syria. Slightly more subtle methods need to be employed to murder them.
Murder In Dubai
One such Damascus-based senior Hamas official was Mahmoud al-Mabhouh who, for publicly unknown reasons, visited Dubai in January 2010 and was found dead in his hotel room. That’s where the story would usually end in the murky, murderous world of Middle Eastern covert operations. But the Dubai Police did something very unusual – they made a huge song and dance about it and released copious amounts of damning evidence, including lots of closed circuit TV (CCTV) footage from the victim’s hotel, showing him being stalked by a very large group of nondescript looking people of both sexes (some of them actually using the most elementary tools of spycraft, such as beards, sunglasses and big hats). It was obvious that this was a professional hit team and Mossad, the Israeli external security agency, was the obvious suspect. Al-Mabhouh’s death was no accident, nor was it a chance event. For unknown reasons he was there without his usual bodyguards (a standard feature of Hamas leaders, for good reasons), so he must have been lured to Dubai by a sting operation. Dubai is very close to Iran, Hamas’ main backer and arms supplier, so it’s possible he’d been set up to think he’d be meeting Iranians. Whatever, he was alone in his hotel room when he was murdered. The method was a giveaway that this no gang of robbers – he was injected in the thigh with a hard to trace and very powerful muscle relaxant (which is part of the chemical cocktail used in lethal injections in US executions) and then, defenceless, was suffocated with a pillow. The killers fled, separately leaving the country for various different international destinations.
That is where it gets really interesting. Not only did the Dubai Police release the CCTV footage of the death squad, they also released a wealth of other details about them, including a whole money trail of credit card payments. Most interestingly, the cops gave the international media all the passport details of the suspected killers (their passport photos were published in papers around the world, including New Zealand). Obviously, not one of them was using an Israeli passport (which makes the bearer persona non grata throughout the Arab world); they were all using passports from countries such as Britain, Germany, Ireland and Australia. And it soon became obvious that they were all forged passports – but ostensibly belonging to real people. Many of the people named as being the “owners’ of these passports turned out to be citizens of these various countries who were living in Israel and who have dual citizenship. Others had visited Israel, where their passports had, presumably, been scanned when they had to hand them over for inspection, in order for Mossad to later adapt them for their new “owners”. A number of the real owners of these fake passports were absolutely horrified when informed by their governments, or the media, that their names and “passports” had been used in this Israeli operation. It meant that their names were on Interpol arrest warrants for murder and other serious charges (27 such warrants have been issued). This is at the very extreme end of the undesirable consequences of identity theft – except that, in this case, the thief was a State agency. Mossad’s motive was simple – people using passports from countries such as Britain, Germany, Ireland and Australia have no problems travelling throughout the Middle East (or to anywhere else where Mossad may wish to conduct a covert operation). Note that Mossad never uses US passports.
Western governments, led by the US, have been Israel’s staunchest backers for decades and routinely wink at the numerous atrocities it commits as a matter of State policy. But every now and again Israel oversteps the mark and does something that is directly harmful to the interests of one or more of its Western allies. The Dubai murder, in itself, was of no concern to them – who’s going to cry over a “terrorist” who got what he deserved? But the forging of passports of First World nations’ passports, that’s a very different matter which can’t go unpunished. That’s a crime against a country’s “good name”, which is obviously more important than a man’s life. Usually there is much tut tutting, for public consumption, while things go on as usual behind closed doors. And the various countries did summon their respective Israeli ambassadors for a please explain and ritual telling off. But this time it went further than that, as Israel’s arrogant behaviour had seriously annoyed its allies, pissed them off, in fact.
Britain Expels Israeli “Diplomat”
Britain was reported to be considering severing its intelligence-sharing agreement with Israel. There is a precedent – in 1988, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher closed down Mossad’s British operation in response to a series of incidents (one of them involving fake passports; another being the kidnapping of Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear whistleblower). Mossad was only allowed to reopen in the UK after it promised not to abuse British passports again. Obviously Israel doesn’t take these sorts of promises very seriously. In March 2010 Britain expelled an Israeli “diplomat” (the Mossad chief at the London Embassy) followed, in May, by refusing to allow his replacement to take up the post. David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary (in the former Labour government) said: “Given that this was a very sophisticated operation in which high quality forgeries were made, the Government judges it is highly likely the forgeries were made by a State intelligence service” (www.stuff.co.nz, 24/3/10, “Britain to expel diplomat over Dubai passports”). It was reported that Israel resisted a demand that it promise in writing not to use British passports in similar such covert operations – because to do so would be seen as an admission of guilt for al-Mabhouh’s murder.
So Does Australia
In May 2010 Australia followed suit and expelled an Israeli diplomat, after its investigators concluded that Mossad had forged the four Australian passports used in the murder. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told Parliament that it “was not the first time Israel had forged Australian travel documents. He did not elaborate on previous incidents. But he said the latest transgression breached ‘confidential undertakings’ between the two countries. ‘These are not the actions of a friend’… He said Australia’s investigation by Police and intelligence services ‘left the Government in no doubt that Israel was responsible for the abuse and counterfeiting of these passports’” (www.time.com 23/5/10, “Australia Moves To Expel Israeli Diplomat”). This led to a political row in Australia, with revelations about Australian intelligence operations. Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop said that there was no proof that the Israeli government forged the passports. “’It would be naïve to think that Israel is the only country in the world that has used forged passports…for security operations’. When asked if Australian intelligence agencies forge passports, Bishop – a former Cabinet minister in the Howard government – replied ‘Yes’…In Parliament, Smith said Bishop ‘has shown she is not fit to occupy a position of trust in the national security environment’” (Press, 27/5/10, “Flap over passports claim”). In June Ireland expelled an Israeli diplomat.
This is not the first time that Western governments have taken such action against Israel. For example, in 1997 Canada briefly withdrew its Ambassador after a bungled attempt in Jordan by Mossad agents, using false Canadian passports, to assassinate Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal (they succeeded in poisoning but not killing him; the would-be killers were arrested and Jordan effectively held them hostage until Israel provided the antidote that saved the Hamas leader’s life. He remains as Hamas’ political leader, based in Damascus). Israel had to promise to Canada not to use its passports again.
NZ Has Seen It All Before
This scenario is very familiar to New Zealanders. In March 2004, police arrested two Israelis, Eli Cara and Uriel Kelman, in the act of them collecting a fraudulently obtained New Zealand passport (it was in the name of an NZ cerebral palsy sufferer who had certainly not applied for a passport and was no position to ever travel). The passport was sought, not for either of them, but for their ringleader, Zev Barkan, who had been an Israeli diplomat in Europe for a number of years. Barkan fled the country and has not been brought to justice. There was a fourth man also involved (all classic spy rings always have a mysterious Fourth Man), whom media inquiries identified as New Zealand citizen and religious Jew, Tony Reznik. He is a New Zealand citizen who had lived for many years in Israel and who is believed to have been the one responsible for selecting the disabled man for the identity theft (Reznik worked as a St Johns Ambulance paramedic and would have come into contact with the unknowing victim. Barkan also lived in a street near the disabled man). Reznik and his family also hurriedly fled the country and he has never been brought to justice.
Cara and Kelman each faced three charges, including one under a new law of participating in an organised crime group to secure a false passport. They were remanded on bail and very obviously kept under surveillance by both the Police and Security Intelligence Service (SIS) agents. It was reliably reported that their communications were bugged, most likely by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), which is responsible for spying on international communications. This apparently provided the proof that they were Israeli agents. There were ramifications across the Tasman as well. Cara claimed to run a travel agency in Australia, which he said was the reason he had made numerous visits to NZ in preceding years. The only problem was that nobody in Australia could find a trace of any such agency. Shortly before he was arrested in Auckland, Australian Police raided a Sydney house that he had used, but turned up nothing, except evidence that it had been hurriedly vacated. The pretty unconvincing cover stories by both men were further undermined by the extraordinary lengths that Kelman (the younger of the two) went to hide his identity during their several court appearances. He did a wonderful impersonation of the Invisible Man, complete with balaclava and dark glasses.
By July 2004, they had obviously been instructed by their controlling officers to take the rap and avoid the prospect of an Israeli intelligence operation being examined in open court. They both pleaded guilty to the same single charge, the most serious one of trying to obtain an NZ passport by fraud. They were remanded in custody and duly sentenced to six months in prison (they could have got five years), plus the judge ordered them to each make a $50,000 donation to the Cerebral Palsy Association for their callous and cynical attempt to steal the identity of the handicapped man. True to form, Kelman stood with his hand covering his face throughout the entire sentencing hearing. They offered no explanation (although, interestingly, they both appealed) and duly served the requisite three months. In September 2004, when the time came for their deportation, they were released from prison several hours earlier than the usual time, were taken by Police to a back entrance of Auckland Airport and kept out of public view until they were put on a plane, under Police escort.
Once they were sentenced, Prime Minister Helen Clark broke the official silence on the case that had been deliberately kept in place until then, and well and truly put the boot into Israel. “You do not expect your friends to do this to you…We look forward at some point to the Israeli government swallowing its pride and offering the explanation and apology we’ve asked for” (Press, 16/7/04; “Clark lambasts Israel; Diplomatic sanctions imposed after spies are sent to prison”, Colin Espiner). New Zealand basically took every step short of breaking diplomatic relations. Clark suspended high-level visits to and from Israel; declined permission for Israel’s President, the Head of State, to visit New Zealand; implemented visa restrictions on all Israeli government officials visiting NZ; suspended Ministry of Foreign Affairs consultations with Israel; and delayed indefinitely the appointment of a new Israeli Ambassador (the Wellington Embassy had been closed, in 2002, as a cost-cutting measure; it didn’t reopen until 2010, right in the middle of the fallout from the Dubai murder).
It was revealed, in February 2005, that Australia had asked Israel to withdraw a diplomat from its Canberra Embassy. This had not been publicly announced and when the Australian media exposed it, several weeks after the event, the Australian government refused to comment. But the seriousness of this unusual move is underscored by the fact that Australia and Israel are good friends. The unnamed diplomat had visited Cara and Kelman when they were in prison in Auckland.
Green MP Keith Locke was the only one to ask the obvious question. "’We need to know whether last year's attempt by a Mossad agent to fraudulently obtain New Zealand passports was run out of Israel's Embassy in Canberra. The expelled diplomat was cross-accredited to New Zealand and visited the two Mossad spies jailed here. It is bad enough that Mossad was infringing on New Zealand's sovereignty and laws. It is even worse if the Israeli diplomatic post responsible for New Zealand was involved’. Keith said there was prima facie evidence the Mossad operation against New Zealand was run out of Australia. ‘One of the jailed spies, Eli Cara, was based near Sydney, running a dummy tourism agency. He crossed the Tasman 24 times. In addition, the third Mossad agent, Zev Barkan, who managed to escape New Zealand, had been an Israeli diplomat in Austria and Belgium’. Keith said the New Zealand government must not be caught up in an Australian government cover-up of the affair. ‘As long as Israel's diplomats to New Zealand are based in Australia, it is our business whether Mossad is operating out of the Canberra Embassy. Phil Goff's talk about fighting terrorism will be hollow if he doesn't try to get to the bottom of this, the only terrorist-linked activity in New Zealand since the Rainbow Warrior bombing’” (press release, quoted in JustPeace 73, 10/2/05).
Israel Apologised To NZ
The pressure from the New Zealand government paid off. Firstly, Cara and Kelman withdrew their appeals and then, in June 2005, Israel apologised and the sanctions were lifted. This followed months of diplomatic wrangling about the wording of the apology and in the end Israel did not confirm that the two men were agents, merely referring to them as citizens. Helen Clark correctly said: “It is clear that the Israeli government will not apologise for criminal activity by just any citizens. There was a reason to apologise for the actions of these two citizens” (Press, 27/6/05; “Sanctions lifted after Israel apologises for passport incident”). Israel provided no explanation as to what the NZ passports were going to be used for. Clark said that an international arrest warrant had been issued for the New Zealander, Tony Reznik (now safely in Israel) and she also revealed that other NZ passports had previously been obtained by Israeli agents. The Government had decided not to pursue them, as they had now all been detected and all relevant passports had been cancelled.
The Government had the support of the public and media throughout this whole squalid affair. To quote from a Press editorial (28/6/05; “Humiliating apology”): “However humiliating it might be, for a beleaguered nation which requires international goodwill, it was an apology that had to be made…The New Zealand government was correct to take a hardline stance over the passport fraud…While it is positive that the relationship with Israel has been patched up, the apology does not quite mark the end of this passport affair. Two other participants are still at large and there are unanswered questions over the intended use of other New Zealand passports which were obtained by Israeli Intelligence agents and have now been cancelled…(It is) a successful, if protracted, foreign policy success for the Government”. The editorial also drew the obvious parallel with the 1985 fatal bombing of the Rainbow Warrior by France, the only other “friendly nation” intelligence operation on NZ soil to end in criminal charges and imprisonment for the couple of agents who were caught. The French and Israeli spy bosses both exhibited the same arrogance and contempt towards New Zealand - and the governments of both paid the price for their complacent stupidity.
In fact, stupidity seems to be a hallmark of Mossad. A February 2005 article by Nicky Hager in the Sunday Star Times (cited in Israel’s Haaretz, 27/2/05; “Israeli jailed in New Zealand headed Cyprus spy ring”) revealed that Cara, one of the two agents imprisoned in NZ, had sent two Mossad agents to Cyprus in a 1998 operation which resulted in them being arrested and serving nine months of a three year prison term. Kara’s friendship with a senior Mossad official got him posted to Australia, from where he worked on the ill-fated NZ passports operation. Apparently, after his return to Israel from a New Zealand prison, he decided to leave the world of intelligence and took a job with the credit card transnational, Visa. Probably a good career move, I’d say.
For the benefit of the politicians and media pundits who say that “we must have the Waihopai spy base (and/or the SIS) in order to defend New Zealand from terrorists” I must stress that the arrest of the two Mossad agents in Auckland was not a brilliant coup by our ever vigilant intelligence services (no more than was the 1985 capture of two of the French intelligence agents who fatally bombed the Rainbow Warrior). It wasn’t even sharp eyed cops who busted this spy ring. An Internal Affairs officer became suspicious about the passport application when he got a phone call from a man saying that he was the applicant, seeking to hurry up the process. The fact that this “New Zealander” had a North American accent struck the Internal Affairs officer as curious. Suspicions were confirmed when a call to the “applicant’s” father revealed that his son had cerebral palsy, and had never applied for a passport. From that moment, the Police were informed and an elaborate trap was laid to catch the ring. The applicant set up a complex collection process straight out of a spy movie, which involved couriers, taxis, cellphones and several changes of delivery address. The cops still managed to catch Cara and Kelman in the act of collecting the passport. For full details of this aborted Mossad operation in New Zealand, read my articles “Mossad Spies Imprisoned In New Zealand: Our Passports Valued For Use By Israeli Covert Killers” in Peace Researcher 30, March 2005, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr30-111.html and “Israel Apologises To NZ For Bungled Mossad Passports Operation” in PR 32, March 2006, http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr32-123b.html.
One Dubai Mossad Suspect Arrested
It was probably the memory of that fiasco half a decade ago that led Israel not to include New Zealand among the countries whose passports it forged for the use of its 2010 Dubai death squad. But it turns out that there is a direct link between the two Mossad operations. In May 2010 it was reported that Zev Barkan, the Mossad agent who fled NZ in 04, was among five new suspects being investigated in connection with the Dubai murder. New Zealand Police still have a warrant out for his arrest. Barkan remains at large, never having had to answer for his crimes in either NZ and/or Dubai.
But one Mossad agent has actually been arrested in connection with the Dubai case. In June 2010 an Israeli man was arrested in Poland on a European warrant issued by Germany on charges of fraudulently obtaining a German passport for the Dubai operation and involvement in foreign intelligence operations in Germany. Germany requested his extradition, a move opposed by Israel, which requested his return home. Dubai, which has played a very creditable role in this whole shabby saga of foreigners murdering a foreigner on its soil, said that it may also request his extradition if he has direct involvement in the murder. At the time of writing he remains in Polish custody, with the question of extradition (to anywhere) unresolved. In the immediate aftermath of the murder Dubai police arrested a couple of Palestinians. It is not surprising that Palestinians work for Israeli intelligence and its death squads – Hamas has plenty of enemies among its own people, and every occupation regime always attracts a certain number of collaborators and traitors.
Israel Is A Terrorist State
Israel operates State death squads that literally get away with murder (it is prepared to accept the occasional jailing of a couple of its agents in annoying little countries like New Zealand as the price of covertly fighting what it sees as an undeclared unconventional war anywhere in the world where it chooses to do so). In order to be able to murder the people it wants to get at it is prepared to tread all over its so-called “allies”, without too much concern about what their governments or people think. There is an irony in all of this, of course – in all the Western rhetoric about “rogue States” the elephant in the room is our very own rogue elephant. The West has created, and continues to prop up, a monster and its harmful reach spans the world, even to New Zealand. Israel is a terrorist State. That inescapable fact should determine its relationship with the rest of the world.