The Mossad is mad, hellaciously mad. As a result, Israel’s already strained intelligence relationship with Australia going back to 2010, is thoroughly in tatters. Where to start with the story?
When the Mossad mounted its fatal operation to assassinate Mahmoud al-Mabouh, it used cloned passports from a number of erstwhile allied states like Germany, UK, Ireland, France and Australia. The passports helped the 27 agents used in the operation to gain access to Dubai, where the hit took place. That meant that real Israeli dual-nationality citizens of these states were exploited and imperiled. The fraud also violated explicit written agreements Israel had with the UK and Australia not to engage in such behavior, after they’d been caught years earlier doing precisely the same thing.
Australia followed the lead of Ireland and the UK who both, after the crime was publicly exposed, expelled the Mossad station chiefs in their capitals. At first, the government only announced it was doing so. But a month later it actually revealed the spy’s identity when it upgraded its Diplomatic List to reveal that he was Eli Elkoubi. That List showed him as one of two counsellors for the embassy. But it also revealed he had departed the country during the timeframe of the station chief’s previously announced expulsion.
That enabled Philip Dorling of the Canberra Times to put two and two together and put a name to a job. The newspaper has removed that article from its site. Luckily, the link above preserves the original article. Last February, Dorling again published a story that revived the case.
It’s a violation of protocol for countries to expose the identity of the leading spies for foreign countries in their midst. That Australia did so indicates its level of anger at Israel’s breach of etiquette by using Australian government documents to facilitate the murder of the Hamas operative. But apparently, the Mossad both nurses a grudge and has a long memory.
With a new Australian government, the Mossad is now entitled to name a new station chief. But it has refused in a fit of piqué, still angry that Elkoubi’s identity was revealed. All this is rich of course and typically Israeli. They burned at least four governments which are nominally allied with them in killing al-Mabouh. Not to mention the damage the Mossad did to its own reputation internationally. Further, Meir Dagan lost his job at least in part over this. To get pissed at Australia for what it did seems pissy and beside the point.
It is entirely possible the Mossad story is a feint by the Israelis to conceal the fact that Australia may not wish to have a Mossad station chief for the time being. It was only a few months ago that the Zygier affair blew up in the government’s face, placing both Stephen Smith and Bob Carr, the current and former foreign ministers, and their staffs in a highly embarrassing situation, in which they had to explain why they left Ben Zygier to rot and die in an Israeli prison. Punishing Israel by continuing to refuse to name a station chief might be quite a credible possibility.
The drama that played out over this incident in 2010 spilled over to the Zygier case as well. Though Zygier was involved in procuring cloned Australian passports for Mossad under at least three different names, he’s not suspected of any direct involvement in the Dubai murder.
He was arrested by the Israelis shortly after the al-Mabouh case blew sky-high. Because there was no longer a station chief in Australia, the government had no one on the Israeli intelligence side with whom it could liaise. At least in part as a result of this, Zygier got lost in the shuffle. While the Israeli government did inform the Australian embassy in Israel about Zygier’s arrest and the Australians received nominal (and hardly credible) assurances Zygier would be treated decently, the fact that there was no senior intelligence presence in Canberra played a role in Zygier’s ultimate abandonment.