Report: Australia already warned Israel against faking its passports
By Haaretz Staff and News Agencies
Australian authorities had already warned Israeli intelligence against using doctored passports in its clandestine activities around the world, the newspaper The Australian reported on Thursday.
The Australian report came as Canberra warned Israel earlier Thursday that if it was involved in the alleged use of three forged Australian passports in the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai, it would not be considered the act of a friend.
The Canberra government called in Israel's ambassador after three people holding Australian passports were listed on Wednesday among 15 new suspects in the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Dubai authorities are investigating the use of at least 26 possibly fake passports in connection with the killing.
According to sources quoted in the article, Australian authorities approached Israel in the 1990s to seek assurances that Australian passports would not be used in Mossad activities after it was feared Israeli agents had doctored New Zealand passports.
During that meeting, the article claims, the Israelis said they condoned such identity theft, with Australian participants describing their response as "enraged self-righteousness."
The Australian foreign minister at the time, Alexander Downer, confirmed to The Australian that the then Canberra government warned Israel in at least one occasion not to issue fake Australian passports to its intelligence operatives.
"I'm not 100 per cent sure that I didn't myself raise it with the Israelis," Mr Downer told The Australian.
Downer added that the warning was issued in the context of a series of botched operations involving Mossad agents travelling on fake passports. "My recollection is that over time we have raised this issue with the Israelis," he said.
"We have raised the issue of Israeli intelligence officers using foreign passports and that they should not consider using Australian passports."
Dubai police have said they were almost certain that members of Israel's Mossad spy agency killed Mabhouh in his hotel room in January. The emirate Wednesday identified 15 new suspects in the assassination; Haaretz has learned that 10 of them share the names of Israelis who hold dual citizenship.
A list of 11 people suspected in the assassination released last week by Dubai also included the names of six British-born Israelis, whose names appeared on forged British passports thought to have been used by the killers.
Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said investigations were still under way, but the three Australians were also apparently innocent victims of identity theft.
"I made it crystal clear to the ambassador that if the results of that investigation cause us to come to the conclusion that the abuse of Australian passports was in any way sponsored or condoned by Israeli officials, then Australia would not regard that as an act of a friend," Smith said.
In an interview with Australian radio, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also emphasized the severity of the situation. "We will not be silent on this matter. It is a matter of deep concern. It really goes to the integrity and fabric of the use of state documents, which passports are, for other purposes," Rudd told Australian radio.
"Any state that has been complicit in use or abuse of the Australian passport system, let alone for the conduct of an assassination, is treating Australia with contempt and there will therefore be action by the Australian government in response," said Rudd.