'Ties with Australia will remain strong'

Meridor reacts to ousting of Israeli diplomat over Dubai scandal.

Dan Meridor 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Dan Meridor 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israeli-Australian relations will remain robust and are strong enough to weather Canberra’s decision to expel an Israeli diplomat over the forged passport issue, Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor said Monday.
Meridor’s comments at a Jerusalem press conference came just hours after Australia announced it would expel an Israeli diplomat after investigators there concluded Israel was responsible for forging four Australian passports that were used in the slaying of a Hamas commander in Dubai.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told Parliament the operation to kill Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel room in January was not the first time Israel had forged Australian travel documents. He did not elaborate on previous incidents, but said the latest transgression breached “confidential undertakings” between the two countries.
“These are not the actions of a friend,” he said.
Smith said Israel had been asked to withdraw a diplomat. The name of the diplomat was not provided, but it was widely believed to be Israel’s Mossad representative in the country.
The British government took a similar step in March, reportedly not allowing Israel to send another Mossad representative back to London until Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman signed a commitment pledging Israel not to forge any passports in the future. Israel has apparently refused to do so.
It was not immediately clear whether Canberra had made a similar request.
Twelve British, eight Irish, four Australian, two French and a German passport were allegedly used by the hit squad that killed Mabhouh. Only the Australians and the British sent an independent team to Israel to investigate the matter.
The passports “were deliberately counterfeited and cloned for use” and it was “beyond doubt” that Israel was responsible, Smith told reporters in Canberra. Australia “remains a firm friend of Israel,” Smith said Monday, adding that genuine friendship must run “both ways.”
“This is not what we expect from a nation with whom we have had such a close, friendly and supportive relationship,” Smith told lawmakers. “Australia’s relationship with Israel has always been founded on a basis of mutual respect and trust. But Israel’s actions in this regard have undermined that respect and trust.”
Meridor said, however, that the close, friendly relationship would continue because both sides have an interest in maintaining a close relationship, and because both countries belong “to the same camp” and are facing the same threats. He characterized Jerusalem’s relationship with Canberra as “strong, deep and broad,” and expressed confidence this would remain the case.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that Israel “regrets this decision by the Australian government. It is not in line with the quality and importance of our relationship,” he said.
Unlike in Britain, the Australian government’s decision did not come without some push back from the opposition, with the Australian Broadcast Cooperation reporting that the federal opposition accused the government of expelling the Israeli diplomat as a means to win Arab support for an Australian seat on the UN Security Council.
Deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop said on Sky News that there was no hard proof Israel was behind the duplicated passports.
“There is a widely held view, there is an assumption that the Israeli government was involved,” Bishop said, “but there is no actual proof.”
Bloomberg and AP contributed to this report.