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New Zealand Freezes Israel Ties



AUCKLAND, 16 July 2004 — New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark suspended all high-level contacts with Israel yesterday after two Israelis suspected of being spies for Mossad were jailed for trying to obtain a passport by fraud.


The government said there were “very strong reasons” to suspect the two men were acting on behalf of Israel’s intelligence services and froze all high-level official contact with Israel.


“The Israeli government was asked for an explanation and an apology three months ago. Neither has been received,” Clark said in a statement.


She said the actions of the Israeli intelligence agents were “utterly unacceptable” and a breach of New Zealand’s sovereignty and international law.


As a result, New Zealand will suspend all high-level diplomatic contacts with Israel, not allow a visit by Israeli President Moshe Katzav after he goes to Australia next month and delay the approval and accreditation of a new ambassador to New Zealand, she said.


“We of course regret this reaction but we think that this is a decision which can be repaired and we will of course act to restore relations to their proper state,” Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said on Israel Radio.


A New Zealand court sentenced Uriel Zoshe Kelman and Eli Cara to six months in prison yesterday after they pleaded guilty to trying to obtain fraudulently a New Zealand passport by assuming the identity of a wheelchair-bound cerebral palsy victim.


They were let off from serving a further three months after offering to donate 50,000 NZ dollars ($32,700) each to a local charity. The pair had faced a maximum penalty of five years in prison.


Kelman shielded his face with a hand to avoid being filmed throughout the two-and-a-half hour sentencing.


Clark said no attempt by the Israeli government to intervene on behalf of the men would be accepted, and that Cara and Kelman would serve their sentences in full and then be deported.


Israeli President Katzav said he believed the issue could be bridged. “I very much hope that matters will be clarified and settled,” he told Israeli Army Radio.


Israel’s acting ambassador in Australia, Orma Sagiv, said she hoped Israel’s strong relationship with New Zealand would not see long-term damage from the incident.


“I hope it will keep going on a strong track,” the New Zealand Press Association quoted her as saying. She declined to comment on the charge that the two men were intelligence agents. Israel was aware of the case of “two Israeli citizens facing criminal charges and we see it as another consular case,” the Israeli official said.


She said she needed time to examine Clark’s statement condemning the actions of the alleged secret agents.


Israel has no direct diplomatic representation in New Zealand.


The two men were arrested in March after police secretly followed them as they were arranging to pick up the passport.


A third man, identified as Zev William Barkan, was said by the defense to have masterminded the operation, but he left New Zealand before he could be arrested.


Cara, representing an Israeli travel company, Eastwood Bound, had lived in Sydney and traveled to New Zealand several times between 2000 and 2004.


Judge Judith Potter said the New Zealand passport had an international reputation as a reliable document that made it subject to less scrutiny than other passports.


Previous cases of passport fraud had been for substantial financial gain. “But in this case motivation remains uncertain.”


Lawyers for the two men told the court there was no evidence to suggest their clients were members of Mossad.


“That allegation has never formed part of the prosecution case,” defending lawyer Stuart Grieve said.


He said Cara — a former Israeli Air Force pilot — ran a bona fide tourism business in Sydney and that he only came to New Zealand on business and holidays.


However, Clark was clear about who she blamed both for the case and her anger. She said it was not the first time Israel had sought fraudulently to obtain passports from another country.


“Israeli agents caught in an unsuccessful assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997 were found to be carrying fraudulent Canadian passports,” she said.


“While we regret the need for it, New Zealand has no option but to take the actions that it has in response to a deliberate breach of its sovereignty,” she added.

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