Yossef Barkan is not a talkative man. His son, Ze'ev, is a Mossad agent, on the run after fleeing New Zealand in the aftermath of the Mossad spy ring collapse last April.

"Stop calling here, you hear me," he said when I called to speak to Ze'ev. "I've nothing to do with this business. Goodbye." And he hung up.

Of more than a hundred people contacted in connection with this Weekend Herald inquiry, only a handful were prepared to talk.

The activities of Israel's intelligence services, whether legal or not, are a minefield that ordinary Israelis steer clear of, wherever possible.

Ze'ev Barkan, 37, is married to a woman called Irit. They live in a small village called Shoham, about 15 miles southeast of Tel Aviv.

When I telephoned for him at his home, the woman who answered told me she did not know a Ze'ev. But when I asked if I was speaking to Irit, she said "yes".

Ze'ev was born in the United States as Ze'ev William Brokenstein in 1967. He later changed his name to the more Israeli-sounding Barkan.

He has reportedly worked as an Israeli diplomat in Austria and Belgium. But he is a man of many identities and is believed to be a long-standing Mossad spy.

Before the arrests of the Mossad men, he was known to have three passports - American, Israeli and diplomatic - but these proved insufficient to his needs.

Entering New Zealand on his United States passport, he applied for a New Zealand passport in the name of a cerebral palsy sufferer.

While he waited for his helpers to do their part, he stayed in flats in Sandringham and Mt Eden and told people he was on a sailing course.

One of those helping Barkan in his bid to obtain another passport was David Tony Resnick, an Auckland paramedic who abruptly left New Zealand when police swooped.

His uncle, Keith Bookman, says this was not the first time that Tony Resnick - the name by which he is known in New Zealand - had left New Zealand for the Middle East. "When [Tony] was young, he felt a connection to Israel and to the Zionist idea," Bookman said from London, where he now lives.

Tony's parents, Gail and Selwyn Resnick, tried to stop him from going to Israel, but he wouldn't listen.

As a teenager in a strange country, he lived with Bookman and his ex-wife Dina in Kibbutz Yizrael, near Nazareth in the country's north.

This kibbutz had several New Zealand families who went to Israel after the 1967 war. They were affiliated with the Habonim, a Zionist youth movement.

In those days, Israel seemed to be a small country surrounded by hostile enemies and every Jew who could migrate to the country was desperately needed.

"[Tony] saw me as a role model,' said Bookman, who also left his New Zealand home because of a belief in the Zionist ideal.

Shortly afterwards, Resnick decided to join the Israeli army. He served as a paramedic and was adopted as a "soldier without family" by Kibbutz Yizrael.

The Jews who went to Israel from New Zealand are close. In some ways, they behave like a small family - they know each other intimately, keep in touch with each other regularly, and every year, meet up on the grass of Kibbutz Yizrael to catch up.

For David Resnick, the kibbutz and Army service were like a ticket into Israeli society.

People who knew Resnick described him as someone with two feet on the ground, who knew what he wanted from life.

After the Army, he worked as an ambulance driver in Haifa. He rented an apartment there and met and married his wife, Karen.

About four years ago, Resnick and his family moved to Auckland so he could study to be a paramedic.

But his uncle says Resnick missed Israel.

"It was obvious that his move to Auckland was temporary and just for studies," he said.

As an ardent Zionist with dual Israeli-New Zealand citizenship, Resnick fitted the bill of a "sayan", an assistant hired by Mossad from Jewish communities to help in a supportive role.

Mossad is smaller than most government intelligence agencies, employing 2000 people.

But from its small office in Herzliyah, just outside Tel Aviv, Mossad runs global operations using sympathetic contacts among Jewish communities.

Mossad does not employ them as such; it gives them small missions as part of wider intelligence operations.

Uriel 'Uri' Zosha Kelman, who had a Canadian passport and English as a mother language, was the third man supporting Barkan and Resnick.

His father was also an Israeli intelligence operative.

Kelman was the right person in the right place - young, brilliant and highly motivated. He needed only to collect the New Zealand passport and disappear.

Born to a religious Zionist family in Canada in June 1973, he was educated in Jerusalem at Nativ Ma'ir, one of the top yeshivas in the country.

A yeshiva is a religious school that teaches rabbinical practices as well as ordinary classes. The Israeli Knesset has five members with degrees from Nativ Ma'ir.

Kelman's friends at the yeshiva remember him as a brilliant and sharp student, who spoke English fluently.

He passed his final tenth grade mathematics examination two years before most of his contemporaries took it.

Nativ Ma'ir teaches a nationalistic curriculum and its 300 pupils, aged between 14 and 18, are exclusively male.

Most of its graduates, like Kalman, finish school with a strong motivation to serve the country.

They tend to serve in the Army together in a unit called Yeshivot Ha'hesder, which combines military responsibilities with religious duties.

Kelman's military career began in the armoured division, but because of medical problems he was moved to serve in intelligence. His education records show he went on to take part in an officer-training course.

His family owned a three-storeyed house in Harav Berlin St, and his father still prays in the nearby Haychal Ariel synagogue where he collects dues from congregants.

Kelman became a member of the "Dror" faction of the B'nei Akkiva religious Zionist youth movement, which imbues teenagers with militaristic values and teaches them to build new settlements.

Most of its members use these skills in the West Bank and Gaza.

For a long time, Kelman did not see his father, Israel "Easy" Kelman, who for most of his son's childhood was abroad on missions with Israeli intelligence agencies.

It was a natural progression for Kelman to follow his father's footsteps into Israeli intelligence.

His friends knew that he had been involved in a 'secret project' but none knew he was working for Mossad.

They reacted with shock when a photograph of him in a courtroom was published by the Herald and then appeared around the world.

The fourth man in the Mossad spy ring was Elisha "Eli" Cara.

He has been in New Zealand 24 times in the past four years.

Cara, 50, like Barkan, lived in a small community, Kohav Ya'ir, populated by ex-soldiers and security service officials.

His neighbours included the head of Israel's National Security Council, Uzi Dayan, Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz and, until recently, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Married with five children, Cara nominally worked for a travel agency called Eastward Bound. This enabled him to travel the world with no questions asked.

An employee of Eastward Bound's Haifa office said a man named Eli worked in the agency's Sydney branch.

Inquiries by the Herald indicate that office does not exist - or if it does, it is operating illegally.

Herald investigation: Passport