Oz to expel Israeli diplomat over fake passports

Last Updated 24 May 2010, 08:10 IST

In a statement to the Parliament, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said an investigation by Australian Federal Police, ASIO and ASIS left the government in no doubt that the sophisticated forgery was the work of a state, namely Israel.

"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," he said.

Smith said intelligence sharing with the Israeli spy agency Mossad would also be cut as the fake passports affair dragged relations between the two countries to a "new low".
Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, 50, a founder of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, was allegedly killed by Mossad agents in a luxuary Dubai hotel on Januay 20.

Suspects in the killing of Mahmud al-Mabhuh used the identities of 12 Britons, as well as those from France, Germany and Ireland along with the four Australians, Dubai police have said.

The fake passports were of such a nature that they "could only (have been) affected by a nation through a state intelligence service", the minister said.

This had led to the conclusion that "Israel was responsible for counterfeiting and cloning of the passports".

Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Director-General of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) had been visiting Israel to investigate the allegations.

Smith said the investigation cleared four Australians whose identities were used in the operation. They were "innocent victims".

"We do not regard these actions as the actions of a friend. We are a firm friend of Israel. We regret very much that this incident has occurred," he said.

The minister briefed National Security Committee of Federal Cabinet this morning on the findings of the intelligence agencies, and recommended the expulsion of the Israeli diplomat as well as a freeze on intelligence sharing.

Asked whether the officer expelled from Australia was a member of Mossad, Smith said "I'm not proposing to identify that particular person".

However, he said, "Our response on any measure is comparable to the British response." In March, Britain expelled Mossad's London station chief over the use of forged British passports in the assassination.

The Israeli embassy in Canberra, however, declined to comment on the development.

(Published 24 May 2010, 08:10 IST)

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