Behind the no-nonsense world of Israeli security
To the casual observer the Israeli embassy in Canberra looks like any other diplomatic mission in the leafy suburbs of Deakin and Yarralumla. Appearances can be deceiving.
The inside of Israel’s chancery building is more like a mini-fortress than the well-to-do family home visible from the street. Visitors are treated with all the caution you would expect from the world’s most suspicious and fearful regime whose enemies are everywhere, even quiet and peaceful Canberra.
There are no friendly receptionists offering cups of tea and visitors are greeted by lean looking men with crew cuts and bulges under their arms, ear pieces permanently in place. There are no smiles, no small talk, just searches, scans and an array of CCTV cameras.
Welcome to the no-nonsense world of Israeli security. This is the public face of what is a vast network of agents, analysts and assassins all beavering away 24/7 to keep the state and its citizens safe.
The Mossad, or national intelligence agency, is the best known of Israel’s shadowy security services that also includes the Aman or military intelligence and the feared Shin Bet or internal security agency.
Passport and identity theft are core functions of the Mossad and Australia and New Zealand along with Ireland and Canada have been prime targets for its fake passport office for years. The fact that these countries enjoy a benign reputation in most parts of the world, particularly across the Middle East, makes their passports a coveted commodity for the masters of the dark arts of espionage and assassination.
Earlier this decade an official Israeli passport theft operation was busted by New Zealand and Australia and Israel was forced to apologise and to promise not to do it again.
At the time the Palestinian representative in Canberra, Ali Kazak, had been warning the Howard Government about the passport scam, but his concerns fell on deaf ears.
Normally a Mossad operation would not be exposed to the extent of the one mounted to take out Hamas chief Mahmoud al-Mabhouh by suffocating him in a plush Dubai hotel suite last month. Just why it needed a 26-person hit squad to kill one overweight, middle aged Palestinian, is a mystery.
The public outpouring of angst against Israel from the former diplomat Kevin Rudd and his Foreign Minster Stephen Smith is also highly unusual. Normally dealings with Israel and the activities of its spooks are kept deeply under wraps. Putting aside the need for a distraction from the home insulation debacle, for the Prime Minister and his chief diplomat to give Israel the kind of public bollicking that it handed out on Thursday means that the evidence must be overwhelming.
Spooks from Australia’s overseas spy agency, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), are well plugged in throughout the Middle East and especially in the United Arab Emirates where former Australian Army General, Mike Hindmarsh, is the National Security Adviser.
Our spies would have been given chapter and verse on this sorry episode allowing Rudd and Smith to belt the Israelis with impunity.
When foreign ministers say they made their governments position ``crystal clear’’ that means a frank and thorough verbal working over. Israel’s portly ambassador Yuval Rotem would have listened politely, shrugged his shoulders and promised to pass Australia’s concerns back to Tel Aviv.
By its very charter the Mossad acts well outside the norms of national and international laws and conventions and when it is caught red handed the consequences can be profound.
The tough former paratrooper chief of the agency, Meir Dagan, has been in the job for eight years and when Israel does eventually fess up to the Dubai hit it will probably be his head that will roll.
Israel and its agents see the protection of the State as God’s work and they have little regard for the sensibilities of friendly governments such as Australia, let alone the rights of citizens.
Stealing, buying or coercing the identity of Australian, British, French, German and Irish nationals to keep Israel safe is a small price to pay and many dual nationality Israelis would happily give up their second passport for the cause anyway.
That fact will be a key focus of the Australian Federal Police investigation promised by the government.
Exactly how did a Mossad hit squad obtain the three Australian passports in the first place?
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