SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – Australia ordered the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat after an investigation concluded there was "no doubt" Israel forged four Australian passports used in the assassination of a senior Hamas leader.
Stressing that the decision was taken "much more in sorrow than in anger," Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Monday that he had requested an unnamed diplomat to be withdrawn within one week.
"These are not the actions of a friend," he said. "No government can tolerate the abuse of its passports, especially by a foreign government."
Australia’s punitive reaction follows Britain’s action in March, expelling an Israeli security agent following an investigation that it said offered compelling evidence that Israel was behind the January 20 assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a hotel in Dubai.
Expulsion of a diplomat is considered a very serious measure.
Some 33 members of an assassination team widely speculated to have been Mossad agents used forged passports from Britain, Ireland, Australia and Germany to enter and leave Dubai. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied that the Mossad intelligence service was behind the assassination.
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Canberra expressed "regret" at the decision, adding that it was not "reflective" of the relationship between the two countries.
Michael Danby, a Jewish legislator in the Labor government, criticized the decision, but said bilateral relations between Canberra and Jerusalem – which date back to World War I – would remain intact.
Greg Sheridan, a conservative columnist for the Australian newspaper, described the decision as an "overreaction," noting that neither France nor Germany had expelled Israeli diplomats despite the fact that their passports had also been used in the Dubai operation.
This is not the first time an Israeli diplomat has been withdrawn from Australia. In 2004, a junior diplomat was removed from the embassy in Canberra by the then-Liberal government, although the reason was never made public.