(photo credit: Associated Press)
A WikiLeaks cable showing that New Zealand's furor over an attempt by two Israelis to fraudulently obtain a New Zealand passport had to do with securing lucrative markets for new Zealand lamb exports sheds a light on the motivations of many countries preaching morality to Jerusalem, an Israeli government official said on Wednesday.
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The official was commenting on a WikiLeaks cable published in The Guardian showing that US diplomats in Wellington believed New Zealand's response to the incident had to with trying to prove its bona fides in the Arab world and opening up Arab markets to imports of New Zealand lamb.
The Israeli official said he was surprised at the link between the lamp exports and that particular incident, though he was not surprised that the public positions of many countries regarding Israel over specific incidents is driven by ulterior motives.
The arrest and conviction of the Israelis in March 2004 in New Zealand caused a major rift between Wellington and Jerusalem, with allegations that the two men were Mossad agents.
New Zealand’s prime minister at the time, Helen Clark, froze relations with Israel over the incident, and said they would only be renewed after Israel issued an apology and gave a commitment that similar acts would not take place in the future.
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 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 were convicted, fined $100,000 and served three months of a six-month sentence. They were then deported back to Israel.
Then-foreign minister Silvan Shalom sent a letter of apology, expressing
“regret for the activities which resulted in the arrest and conviction
of two Israeli citizens in New Zealand on criminal charges” and
apologizing “for the involvement of Israeli citizens in such
Israel formally apologized and diplomatic relations were reinstated in 2005.