The National – 28 February 2010
Australia’s prime minister yesterday issued the stiffest diplomatic rebuke so far to Israel over the misuse of five countries’ passports in the assassination last month of a Hamas leader in Dubai, as new indications emerged implicating the Israeli spy agency, Mossad.
Kevin Rudd said he was “not satisfied” with the Israeli ambassador’s responses during a meeting with the Australian foreign minister on Thursday and that the government would be taking an “absolutely hard line” in defending its passports’ integrity. All three of the Australians whose passports were used by the gang live in Israel.
British police investigators, meanwhile, have arrived in Israel to begin interviews over the next few days with six British-Israeli dual nationals whose identities are said to have been used by the team that killed Mahmoud al Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room on January 19.
The diplomatic fallout came as further indications that point to Mossad’s involvement surfaced, in addition to the fact that 15 of the 26 names used by the assassination squad have so far been tied to Israeli citizens with dual nationality.
According to the Israeli media, the passport photographs used by the assassins were subtly doctored to ensure they could not be recognised later.
Haaretz, an Israeli daily, said that eye colour and the contours of lips were altered to avoid the suspects’ subsequent identification, but not enough to arouse suspicion as they passed through border controls.
The newspaper did not identify its source for the information, but indicated that the report had been placed by Israeli officials to defuse growing criticism inside Israel of Mossad for exposing both its agents and those whose identities they assumed.
Dubai’s Police Chief, Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, who has said he is “99 per cent certain” Israel carried out the assassination, revealed on Friday that the police have the DNA of one assassin and the fingerprints of several more. Yesterday he called on Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, to admit that Israel was behind the killing.
Credit cards used by the assassins have also been linked to Israel.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that one of the two American companies that issued the cards, Payoneer, based in New York, was headed by Yuval Tal, who describes himself as a former Israeli special forces commando.
The company has a research and development centre just outside Tel Aviv and is involved in Birthright Israel, a programme that provides free trip to Israel for diaspora Jews.
On Friday, it also emerged that Mossad had placed an advertisement on February 12, a few days before Israel was first implicated in the murder, on its Hebrew website to recruit new agents.
The Israeli media have reported that the publication of the passport photos – if it turns out they were Mossad agents – would have exposed almost a third of the spy agency’s “Kidon” hit squad, a unit that was involved in a wave of revenge assassinations following the Black September attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.
Gen Tamim is pushing for the creation of a team of international investigators from the five countries whose passports were fraudulently obtained or falsified: Britain, Ireland, France, Germany and Australia. He has said he believes the assassins are currently in Israel.
The first indications that an international investigation might emerge were provided by the arrival of the British team in Tel Aviv. The Serious Organised Crime Agency said it would be conducting interviews at the British embassy with the six British-Israeli dual nationals whose names appeared among the first batch of 11 passports released by the Dubai authorities.
It was unclear whether the investigators would also interview the further six Israelis holding British passports whose identities were released along with nine others last week.
Australia’s foreign minister, Stephen Smith, told the Israeli ambassador, Yuval Rotem, on Thursday that if Mossad were found to be responsible for misusing Australian passports, it would not be considered “the act of a friend”.
Both Britain and Australia have pointed out that they were given assurances in the past that their passports would not be forged by Israel.