It's not unique, but it's certainly not often that foreign spies are caught redhanded in New Zealand, let alone arrested, imprisoned and deported. We are a long way away from the world's major battlefields. As former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, so pithily put it: "New Zealand is a dagger aimed at the heart of Antarctica". It has happened before, primarily during the good old Cold War when there were various incidents involving Soviet diplomats, up to the rank of Ambassador, usually accused of being in cahoots with officials of the former pro-Soviet Socialist Unity Party. None of those diplomats was ever charged with anything; as they all held diplomatic immunity, they were simply told to leave the country. The most famous "spy scandal" involving the Russians led to the infamous 1970s' arrest, trial and acquittal of famous NZ economist and high ranking public official, the late Dr Bill Sutch. He was the only New Zealander ever prosecuted under the espionage provisions of the former Official Secrets Act, and his case represented one of the many nadirs in the half century of our glorious Security Intelligence Service (SIS).

Cases involving foreign spies from "friendly" countries are even more rare. It is a given that the US, Britain and Australia have Intelligence officers operating here, usually under diplomatic cover. But nothing has ever been done about them, even when there have been demonstrable instances of meddling in NZ's internal political affairs, most notably by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Our "friends" the French went too far with the 1985 fatal bombing, in Auckland Harbour, of the Rainbow Warrior by its agents. Routine Police work and the sheer nosiness of ordinary Kiwis led to two of those agents being arrested, tried and imprisoned (and released in an indecently short time, as a result of crude political pressure applied by France). But that was the only previous occasion where foreign spies (not to mention bombers and killers) have been actually prosecuted.

Until 2004. One of the sensations of last year was the unmasking of an Israeli Intelligence operation in Auckland, the arrest of two operatives of Mossad (that country's external security agency), followed by their conviction, imprisonment and deportation. The whole scandal caused major outrage right across the NZ political spectrum; a diplomatic breach with Israel that remains unresolved, at the time of writing; and attracted media and political attention right around the world because of the blatant nature of the operation and the serious implications for Israel's dealings with all other "friendly" nations.

Two Caught, Two Got Away

The mainstream media is very good at covering "humint" (human intelligence), as opposed to the much more significant electronic variety operated at the likes of the Waihopai spybase. So the facts of this Mossad case have been very extensively reported. To briefly summarise: in March 2004, Police arrested two Israelis, Eli Cara and Uriel Kelman, in the act of them collecting a fraudulently obtained New Zealand passport (it was in the name of an NZ cerebral palsy sufferer who had certainly not applied for a passport and was no position to ever travel). The passport was sought, not for either of them, but for their ringleader, Zev Barkan, who had been an Israeli diplomat in Europe for a number of years. Barkan fled the country and has not been brought to justice. There was a fourth man also involved (all classic spy rings always have a mysterious Fourth Man), whom media inquiries identified as New Zealand citizen, Tony Reznik. He is a New Zealand citizen who had lived for many years in Israel and who is believed to have been the one responsible for selecting the disabled man for the identity theft (Reznik worked as a St Johns Ambulance paramedic and would have come into contact with the unknowing victim. Barkan also lived in a street near the disabled man). Reznik, and his family, also hurriedly fled the country without being brought to justice.

The online edition of Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted Israeli radio: "...The reports said Reznik was a religious Jew, a member of Auckland's Jewish Council. Members of the Jewish community were quoted as saying that he planned to return to live in Israel. According to the report, Reznik had lived in Israel for 13 years and had served in the Israel Defence Forces...If Reznik was indeed involved in the affair, he may have served a part that the Mossad has been known to offer to Jews living outside Israel, and which usually does not put the person providing the assistance at high risk. However, ever since Jonathan Pollard * was arrested and jailed in the United States in 1985 for being an Israeli spy, Mossad has minimised its contacts with Jews living outside the country..." (Haaretz, 27/7/04; "Report: New Zealand citizen aided Israelis in passport affair", Yossi Melman).

* Jonathan Pollard was a US Navy Intelligence analyst who was convicted of selling classified information to Israel. He gave his motive as patriotism towards Israel. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, for espionage, and remains in jail, despite a vigorous campaign by Israel and his supporters in the US to have him pardoned.

Murder Inc.

The question remains - why would Israeli Intelligence go to such lengths to secure, fraudulently, a New Zealand passport? The answer is sinister in the extreme, because Mossad is not just any old run of the mill spy agency, which simply spies on people. It specialises in murdering them.
"Intelligence operations, by definition, are always murky, opaque and hard to pin down, but one could be forgiven for tracing a link between the July 15 (2004) conviction in New Zealand of two alleged Mossad agents for trying to illegally obtain the passport of a bed-ridden disabled man and the assassination of Hizbullah official Ghaleb Awali in Beirut's southern suburbs last Monday, allegedly by Israeli-run agents.

"Agents of the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service, regularly use foreign passports to mask their identities, and New Zealand passports are prized because they are considered 'door-openers' due to New Zealand's reputation for neutrality, and do not arouse suspicions, particularly in the Arab world. They provide visa-free access to many countries, including the United States. A New Zealand passport is also a ticket to British residency, which could provide a European Union passport. These would be invaluable for Mossad agents hunting terrorist targets around the world.

"The Mossad agents who tried to assassinate Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman in September 1997 carried Canadian passports, as did the assassins of three Palestine Liberation Organisation colonels in Limassol, Cyprus, in 1987. Three of the six Mossad operatives who set up the assassination of senior PLO figures in Beirut by Israeli commandos on April 13, 1973, used British passports to enter Lebanon. The list is endless...One must assume two things: that the Mossad is making similar efforts to obtain genuine passports from other countries because these are more foolproof for undercover agents than forged passports, and that Lebanon, which the Israelis and Americans believe is full of bad guys, is one of the targets...The incident in New Zealand appears to be the latest in a long string of high-profile botched operations by Mossad over the last few years, indicating that (Mossad Director) General Meir Dagan, is still having to wrestle with organisational problems and poor operational performance. But what happened in Auckland should be ringing alarm bells in Lebanon and the Muslim world" (Daily Star, 24/7/04; "'Mossad fiasco' in New Zealand should ring alarm bells", Ed Blanche. The article details that, of the various guerilla movements Israel is currently fighting, it gives top priority to Hizbullah, which, after many years of war, drove it out of Lebanon, in 2000, and now controls south Lebanon, confronting Israel at its northern border).
These murders are not journalistic speculation but documented fact. In some cases, they have caused major international scandals. For instance, the above mentioned 1997 attempted assassination of the Hamas political leader, in Jordan. It spectacularly backfired for Israel, because it failed to kill their target (the method used was poison) and the Mossad agents got caught in the act, leading to the furious Jordanians (one of Israel's very few friends in the Arab world) demanding that the antidote be produced and the man's life be saved, otherwise the Mossad agents would be tried on a raft of very serious charges. Israel was forced to do just that, in order to get its wouldbe murderers back. Not only that but it also had to release from prison the wheelchair-bound Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas spiritual leader (they killed him in March 2004, with a missile, in a Gaza street. Israel blithely murders its opponents openly and with impunity. But its proven expertise with poison led many Palestinians and others to suspect an Israeli hand in the November 2004 death of Yasser Arafat, a death which removed their oldest internal foe, and led to his replacement by a "nice" Palestinian whose role has been decreed by Israel and the US as being to keep the Palestinian people under control). And, directly relevant to the 2004 New Zealand case - those wouldbe murderers entered Jordan, in 1997, using Canadian passports. This led to a major diplomatic ruction with Canada, which demanded that Israel cease using its passports - the Israeli government gave its commitment to refrain from using Canadian passports for illegal purposes.

So, Israel has a track record for abusing the friendship and trust of various Western countries, using their passports for political murders. New Zealand's Foreign Minister Phil Goff "rejected Israel's explanation that the passport was intended for use in the war against terrorism. 'I can't justify the act', he said, 'among other things, because the passport might have been used for an assassination in a third country. ... We don't think this was an isolated act'" (Daily Star, ibid.).

The Two Stooges Take The Rap

Which brings us back to the two hapless Israelis who were actually arrested and charged in Auckland. The first point to stress is that this was not a brilliant coup by our ever vigilant Intelligence services (no more than was the 1985 capture of two of the French Intelligence agents who fatally bombed the Rainbow Warrior). It wasn't even sharp eyed cops who busted this spy ring. An Internal Affairs officer became suspicious about the passport application when he got a phone call from a man saying that he was the applicant, seeking to hurry up the process. The fact that this "New Zealander" had a North American accent struck the Internal Affairs officer as curious. Suspicions were confirmed when a call to the "applicant's" father revealed that his son has cerebral palsy, and has never applied for a passport. From that moment, the Police were informed and an elaborate trap was laid to catch the ring. The applicant set up a complex collection process straight out of a spy movie, which involved couriers, taxis, cellphones and several changes of delivery address. The cops still managed to catch Cara and Kelman in the act of collecting the passport.

They each faced three charges, including one under a new law of participating in an organised crime group to secure a false passport. They were remanded on bail and very obviously kept under surveillance by both the Police and SIS agents (TV news delighted in showing the watchers trying to stay inconspicuous). It was reliably reported that their communications were bugged, most likely by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), which is responsible for spying on international communications. This apparently provided the proof that they were Israeli agents. There were ramifications across the Tasman as well. Cara claimed to run a travel agency in Australia, which he said was the reason he had made numerous visits to NZ in recent years. Only problem was that nobody in Australia could find a trace of any such agency. Shortly before he was arrested in Auckland, Australian Police raided a Sydney house that he had used, but turned up nothing, except evidence that it had been hurriedly vacated. The pretty unconvincing cover stories by both men were further undermined by the extraordinary lengths that Kelman (the younger of the two) went to hide his identity during their several court appearances. He did a wonderful impersonation of the Invisible Man, complete with balaclava and dark glasses.

By July 2004, they had obviously been instructed by their controlling officers to take the rap and avoid the prospect of an Israeli Intelligence operation being examined in open court. They both pleaded guilty to the same single charge, the most serious one of trying to obtain an NZ passport by fraud. They were remanded in custody and duly sentenced to six months in prison (they could have got five years), plus the judge ordered them to each make a $50,000 donation to the Cerebral Palsy Association for their callous and cynical attempt to steal the identity of the handicapped man. True to form, Kelman stood with his hand covering his face throughout the entire sentencing hearing. They offered no explanation (although, interestingly, they both appealed) and duly served the requisite three months. In September 2004, when the time came for their deportation, they were released from prison several hours earlier than the usual time, were taken by Police to a back entrance of Auckland Airport and kept out of public view until they were put on a plane, under Police escort.

Major Diplomatic Breach

Peace Researcher readers will need no telling that we are regularly strongly critical of the Government on all matters to do with Intelligence. But on this Mossad affair, we entirely support the Prime Minister, Helen Clark. When Cara and Kelman were sentenced to prison, in July 2004, she broke the official silence on the case that had been deliberately kept in place until then, and well and truly put the boot into Israel. "You do not expect your friends to do this to you...We look forward at some point to the Israeli government swallowing its pride and offering the explanation and apology we've asked for" (Press, 16/7/04; "Clark lambasts Israel; Diplomatic sanctions imposed after spies are sent to prison", Colin Espiner). New Zealand basically took every step short of breaking diplomatic relations. Clark suspended high-level visits to and from Israel; declined permission for Israel's President, the Head of State, to visit New Zealand; implemented visa restrictions on all Israeli government officials visiting NZ; suspended Ministry of Foreign Affairs consultations with Israel; and delayed indefinitely the appointment of a new Israeli Ambassador.

Because the case was so clearcut and the criminals had been caught in the act, the Government's measures were supported by all political parties and the media. They remain in place to the present, as Israel has not been forthcoming with any explanation or apology, which vividly illustrates its arrogance. This represents a major public relations embarrassment and diplomatic blow for Israel. Its local supporters tried to make light of the whole incident, pointing out that New Zealand and Israel have a very limited relationship anyway, with minimal trade between the two (hence the major difference with the Rainbow Warrior affair, where France openly used New Zealand's vital agricultural trade with Europe as a weapon to get its spies and bombers out of prison, and back home to a heroes' welcome). It has been suggested that the Labour government's harsh measures against Israel are further proof of its alleged pro-Palestinian bias (in the recent past, Phil Goff, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, visited the Palestinian leader, the late Yasser Arafat, in his besieged compound in Ramallah). Local Zionists even pulled out the old canard that criticism of Israel is proof of anti-Semitism, and tried to directly link the Government's measures with the coincidental and despicable mass vandalism of Jewish graves in Wellington. More reasoned commentators correctly stated that this still unsolved crime bears all the hallmarks of the local neo-Nazi lunatic fringe and has nothing to do with the exposure and punishment of an Israeli spy ring.

Australia Secretly Expels Israeli Diplomat

The ramifications of this international incident are still being played out. It was revealed, in February 2005, that Australia had asked Israel to withdraw a diplomat from its Canberra Embassy. This had not been publicly announced and when the Australian media exposed it, several weeks after the event, the Australian government refused to comment. But the seriousness of this unusual move is underscored by the fact that Australia and Israel are good friends. The unnamed diplomat had visited Cara and Kelman when they were in prison in Auckland.

Green MP, Keith Locke, was the only one to ask the obvious question. "'We need to know whether last year's attempt by a Mossad agent to fraudulently obtain New Zealand passports was run out of Israel's Embassy in Canberra. The expelled diplomat was cross-accredited to New Zealand and visited the two Mossad spies jailed here. It is bad enough that Mossad was infringing on New Zealand's sovereignty and laws. It is even worse if the Israeli diplomatic post responsible for New Zealand was involved'. Keith said there was prima facie evidence the Mossad operation against New Zealand was run out of Australia. 'One of the jailed spies, Eli Cara, was based near Sydney, running a dummy tourism agency. He crossed the Tasman 24 times. In addition, the third Mossad agent, Zev Barkan, who managed to escape New Zealand, had been an Israeli diplomat in Austria and Belgium'. Keith said the New Zealand Government must not be caught up in an Australian government cover-up of the affair. 'As long as Israel's diplomats to New Zealand are based in Australia, it is our business whether Mossad is operating out of the Canberra Embassy. Phil Goff's talk about fighting terrorism will be hollow if he doesn't try to get to the bottom of this, the only terrorist-linked activity in New Zealand since the Rainbow Warrior bombing'" (press release, quoted in JustPeace 73, 10/2/05).

But things have obviously been happening behind the scenes. In early 2005, Cara and Kelman withdrew their appeals, which was followed, in February, by media and official speculation that Israel was preparing to apologise to New Zealand. The timing was significant, as this speculation was just before the visit of their President to Australia, indicating that Israel saw the need to restore good relations with both countries.

Contrast Spies' Treatment With That Of Vanunu and Zaoui

Israel has nothing to complain about. The hard men who run Mossad (rather incompetently, it must be said) would simply put this down as one of the costs of running an international criminal organisation which routinely commits all manner of crimes, including multiple murders, in foreign countries. Cara and Kelman were simply the expendable foot soldiers (as were Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur in France's Rainbow Warrior operation). Likewise, those two have nothing to complain about. They could have got five years - they served three months. Compare that with the way Israel treats its own "spies". The most famous case is that of Mordechai Vanunu, the man who blew the whistle on Israel's nuclear arsenal. You can read about his case here (PR 29; June 2004; "Israeli Nuclear Whistleblower Free: Mordechai Vanunu Unbowed, Defiant", Murray Horton). He served a full 18 year prison sentence, with not a day remitted; and most of that was in solitary confinement. He was reluctantly released under stringent conditions, including not being allowed to talk to the foreign media, or go abroad. He remains under constant surveillance and harassment. In November 2004 he was re-arrested on suspicion of revealing more classified information, and of violating his terms of release, namely by defying the restrictions and doing high profile international media interviews. "I cannot shut up, I must have freedom of speech" (Press, 13/11/04; "Vanunu denies spilling new secrets", Reuters).

And Cara and Kelman have nothing to complain about compared to New Zealand's treatment of its most famous "guest" from the Arab world, namely Ahmed Zaoui (see the article and book review elsewhere in this issue). Held without charge or trial for more than two years, most of it in solitary confinement in maximum security, he is now out on bail but faces a battle, against implacable Government opposition, to be allowed to live here as a refugee (which he has been officially recognised as, by the authorised body) and not be deported as a "terrorist" back to a homeland, Algeria, which has sentenced him to death in absentia. Compared to that, our Israeli "guests" had a featherbed incarceration.

The fact remains that Israel was caught in the act of committing an international crime (most likely to facilitate the commission of a worse one elsewhere) and has deservedly been the subject of widespread disgust, and appropriate punishment. The message - if this is the way you behave in our country, then don't come again. We have no wish to be implicated, however indirectly and unwittingly, in the murderous crimes you routinely commit.