(photo credit: Associated Press)
US diplomats criticized New Zealand's 2004 arrest of two Israeli citizens suspected of spying, saying the government tried to cozy up to Arab countries in order to increase exports to them, the Guardian reported on Tuesday, citing a recently released WikiLeaks cable.
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The arrest and conviction of the two Israelis caused a major rift between New Zealand and Israel, with allegations that the two men and others involved in the incident were Mossad agents, reported the Guardian.
US officials in Wellington told officials in Washington that New Zealand had "little to lose" from the collapse in diplomatic relations with Israel and was instead only trying to increase its lamb sales to Arab states.
The WikiLeaks cable written in 2004, after Wellington imposed diplomatic sanctions on Israel, said: "The GoNZ [government of New Zealand] has little to lose by such stringent action, with limited contact and trade with Israel, and possibly something to gain in the Arab world, as the GoNZ is establishing an embassy in Egypt and actively pursuing trade with Arab states."
In a similar cable written two days later, the US further criticized New Zealand saying: "Its overly strong reaction to Israel over this issue suggests the GNZ sees this flap as an opportunity to bolster its credibility with the Arab community, and by doing so, perhaps, help NZ lamb and other products gain greater access to a larger and more lucrative market."
The two Israelis arrested in New Zealand were sentenced to six months in
prison. Both men pleaded guilty to using the identity of a person
suffering from cerebral palsy to apply for a New Zealand passport, but
they denied working for Mossad.
The two men were released after serving two months behind bars and were then deported in October 2004, reported the Guardian
Israel formally apologized and diplomatic relations were reinstated in 2005.