Israel’s Belated (and Grudging) Apology

Regular readers of my “Behind the Headlines” column on will perhaps recall this account and this one of the curious case of Israel’s intelligence service “harvesting” New Zealand passports by stealing the identities of the disabled, notably a house-bound paraplegic in whose name they applied for travel documents.

In this age of international terrorism, where mobility is a key factor in planning and executing covert operations, a New Zealand passport is a valuable item, permitting the holder to be waved through with relatively little fuss at practically any airport in the world. When the news of the Israeli passport scam first came out, speculation was rife about what purpose the plan served: what were they planning to do with the passports? In January, 2003, the word went out that the Mossad would henceforth reserve the right to strike out at its “enemies” on foreign soil — anywhere they might be:

“Israel is embarking upon a more aggressive approach to the war on terror that will include staging targeted killings in the United States and other friendly countries, former Israeli intelligence officials told United Press International.

“Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has forbidden the practice until now, these sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The Israeli statements were confirmed by more than a half dozen former and currently serving U.S. foreign policy and intelligence officials in interviews with United Press International.”

Hmmmmm ….

In any case, the government of New Zealand didn’t like what it discovered one bit, and instead of merely deporting the Israeli spies quietly — as would have happened in the U.S. or Great Britain — they prosecuted them and the trial was a media sensation (at least it was in New Zealand: we heard practically nothing about it here.) After the spies were convicted and briefly jailed, the New Zealanders insisted that Israel apologize, which Israeli stubbornly refused to do. Prime Minister Helen Clark downgraded relations between the two countries, and even cancelled a pending trip by Israei President Katsav.

Well, now, over a year after the scandal erupted, the Israelis have finally come through with an apology, albeit a grudging and very guarded one. While Clark avers that this apology amounts to an open admission that Israel was conducting illegal covert activities in New Zealand, the letter from Israel’s Foreign Ministry says no such thing: according to the Israeli government, the letter was sent “to express our regret for the activities which resulted in the arrest and conviction of two Israeli citizens in New Zealand on criminal charges and apologize for the involvement of Israeli citizens in such activities.”

The letter also promises that “Israel commits itself to taking steps to prevent a reoccurrence of similar incidents in the future.” However, the Jerusalem Post reports:

“The ministry, however, stressed that it was not taking responsibility for the activities of the Israelis beyond the normal responsibility it would bear for the actions of any of its citizens.’

The official story is that these were private “citizens” acting on their own initiative. Yeah, suuuuure they were: read this transcript of the spies’ interrogration by New Zealand authorities and decide for yourself.

Gee, I wonder how long it will take them to apologize for the AIPAC spy scandal currently unfolding in the U.S.? Now that the Israelis have been caught not only stealing sensitive intelligence from the Pentagon, but peddling (pilfered and U.S. taxpayer-subsidized) military technology to China, perhaps Washington will acquire the backbone to demand it.