A Christchurch woman is in no doubt the team of Israeli search and rescue members she hosted after the February earthquake were genuine in their desire to help - and not here to spy.

"They were just guys with hearts of gold who were just so desperate to get in there and help, not only the Israeli boys, but anyone," Catherine Withers said.

The unusual behaviour of Israelis in the city during and after the earthquake - including the eagerness of the Usar team to enter the red zone - sparked suspicions of spying and possible identity theft.

Mrs Withers frequently hosts Israelis who visit Christchurch and befriended one of the quake victims, Ofer Levy, who died in Mollett St.


She also met the Israeli Usar team, who were prevented from searching for victims because they were not United Nations accredited.

"They were very gracious in what was a very frustrating situation and respecting the way we go about things," Mrs Withers said.

They were professional and not "Rambos who just wanted to go in".

Israeli Gil Ingel sent the Usar team to look for his 22-year-old son, Gabi, who was crushed to death alongside Mr Levy, because he thought the New Zealand-led efforts were incompetent.

A Government investigation, focusing initially on four Israelis in a van in the CBD at the time of the earthquake, found no evidence of links to Israeli intelligence agencies.

One of the four, Ofer Mizrahi, was killed; the other three left the country within 12 hours, attracting the attention of New Zealand officials which led to the investigation.

The Israeli Embassy yesterday confirmed that Mr Mizrahi had only two passports - one Israeli, the other European - and they were both handed in to the embassy by his friends before they left New Zealand.

- additional reporting NZPA