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Fran O'Sullivan: Keep your passport away from the spies

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The Government should issue a quiet warning to Kiwis living in Israel not to accede to any request to use their passports for Israeli missions.

New Zealanders I spoke to on a trip to Israel in 2004 - at the height of our own diplomatic stand-off over the botched attempt by Israeli agents to steal New Zealand identities - said they would be happy to lend their passports to Israel's spy apparatus if requested.

After the latest alleged Mossad killing they should think twice. Not just because they might endanger themselves, but because they would undermine the value of the New Zealand passport to all of us.

Israel is again practising plausible deniability as it tries to bat away allegations that Mossad was behind the move to use fake British and Irish passports to hide the identity of the killers of senior Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.

But even its own citizens don't buy that one.

The Israeli news media is full of reports questioning whether the Dubai killing was well-executed and whether it was worth the diplomatic grief as the British Government indicates it might curtail intelligence sharing, among other sanctions, if Israel does not co-operate with an official inquiry.

It's not surprising the British political establishment is furious.

Israel promised London it would not indulge in identity theft again after eight British passports were found during a 1987 Mossad operation in West Germany. The Canadian Government was given a similar assurance after a Mossad assassination squad, using altered passports of Canadian Jews living in Israel, botched an attempt to murder the then political chief of Hamas in Amman.

That mission had the official blessing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who accepted final responsibility for the decision. Back then Netanyahu said he had "no intention of stopping the activities of his government against terror".

It is unlikely that Netanyahu - who is once again Israel's Prime Minister - has changed his stance.

Former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark took diplomatic reprisals against Israel after two of its operatives - Uriel Kelman and Eli Cara - were caught out in a clear passport fraud attempt. Israel also gave the Clark Government assurances.

But will they turn out to be worth the paper they were written on? I doubt it.

One question that the British Government might ask - but probably won't dare - is whether its own citizens did lend their identities to Israel in the first place.

As I wrote in September 2004, Israel's security services are long practised in the dubious art of "borrowing" foreign passports from smart, bilingual young Israelis with dual nationality.

A leading Christchurch-born figure on Kibbutz Yizrael (where one of the Kiwis involved in the New Zealand passports theft attempt was said to be hiding out) told me then he would lend the spies his own passport if they wanted it.

Shimon Zelas was quick to add then that he had not done so.

South African-born security analyst Hirsh Goodman said he knew of instances where "friends have had their passports taken for two months, three months and have come back with all sorts of stamps in them".

Goodman believed the spy agency probably ran a passports factory in Israel as well. "Good move by Mossad ... the damage to Israel is primarily in getting caught."

And a former Mossad official also told me then that such "passport farming" was becoming more difficult as countries moved to introduce biometric identification in the wake of growing international terrorism. He pointed out many of the Israelis who didn't travel much but held passports from other countries were well above the age for active Mossad agents.

I suspect those Kiwis who professed in 2004 that they were happy to play along with Israel's spy services might have had a change of heart since the Dubai killing.

They probably did not envisage a future where their own safety might be called into question if "their" passports were linked to a Mossad assassination. But the plaintive reaction of the Israeli Brits - whose identities were claimed to be stolen as cover for the killing mission - ought to make them think twice.

In September 2004 Netanyahu - then Israel's finance minister - told me the diplomatic impasse over the New Zealand passports affairs would "absolutely" be resolved. It was a "matter of time".

Netanyahu is probably confident he can (again) bat the Brits away.

But I think it is time the friendly governments told their citizens dual loyalty isn't on. Make a choice.

- NZ Herald

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