Israel's use of three Australian passports by suspects in the murder of a Hamas militant in Dubai is a stinging
betrayal, for reasons beyond the obvious and humiliating slight against a loyal ally. There is another level of duplicity
here that involves Israel's disloyalty to its own citizens. This is a betrayal that you might say goes to the heart of the
state's character and mission.
But before we go there, let's be clear what this argument is not about. It is not about
Israel's policy of targeted assassinations. OK, let's get all the legal niceties out of the way: the Jewish state neither
confirms nor denies the involvement of its spy agency, Mossad, in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Although, if it really
had nothing to do with this most convenient of snuffings-out, now would be a good time to say so.
There are compelling
arguments against extrajudicial killings on both strategic and moral grounds. But Mabhouh, co-founder of Hamas' military wing,
turned Palestinian children into bombs for the wiping out of Israeli children and marketed his atrocities as ''resistance''.
He smuggled thousands of Iranian-made missiles into Gaza to be lobbed indiscriminately at Israeli towns. He was a perfectly
legitimate target; far better he be removed without risk of ''collateral damage'', to use that ugly euphemism.
one can't tut-tut about Israel's use of false passports in executing this operation or for its espionage activities generally
- as an intelligence expert noted in the weekend papers, forged documents are as old as spying itself. (I imagine European
passports are especially useful; evoking prestige and less risk than, say, American ones.)
The question rightly becomes
whether Israel should be ripping off Australian passports, as opposed to those of other, less sympathetic, nations. The answer
is surely a resounding ''no''. Australia, as has been consistently pointed out since the scandal broke, is one of Israel's
best mates on the planet. The bonds of friendship, reflected in Australia's supportive voting patterns in the United Nations,
run deep and can be traced to this country's pivotal support for Israel's creation more than 60 years ago.
must surely have contemplated the possibility that the fraudulent passports might come to light with severely embarrassing
consequences for the countries involved.
Several European countries might arguably ''deserve'' this indignity. Britain,
for instance, is yet to change an easily abused law that last year forced prominent Israeli moderate Tzipi Livni to cancel
her British visit. A Palestinian group had successfully petitioned a court to issue a warrant for her arrest on suspicion
of war crimes arising from the Gaza offensive. Meanwhile, despots and murderers disembark with impunity at Heathrow.
discussion could almost end here - with Israel's apparent lack of gratitude to Australia - were it not for a deeper and perhaps
more telling abuse of trust. After all, Israel didn't just steal the identities of Australians, but of Australian Jews who
had shown the ultimate solidarity to the Jewish homeland by moving there.
Shifting Jews to Israel remains, officially
at least, the highest aspiration of Zionism, the Jewish national liberation movement that led to the state's founding.
don't know the particular individuals involved and therefore can't be sure they're hand-on-the-heart Zionists. It seems that
until now they led quiet, unremarkable lives, which probably made them ideal candidates for the theft.
sells musical instruments in Tel Aviv, Sandra McCabe is married to an Israeli and Joshua Daniel Bruce studies in Jerusalem.
One assumes each had at least some faith in the protection of the Israeli state. But far from welcoming these Jews with open
arms, Israel stabbed them in the back; seeing in their foreign nationalities an opportunity for exploitation.
assume that if the subterfuge ever became public, these people would cop the identity theft with good grace, or even be grateful
for their unwitting association with the daring and legendary Mossad? If so, things haven't quite gone according to plan.
Once their lives turned Kafkaesque - their faces splashed over the front pages, their Australian relatives hounded for clues
- the response was one of bewilderment, fear and outrage. (Really, what else would it be?) Korman said he was ''frightened
and shocked''. Other European-Israeli victims expressed anger at what had transpired.
You can imagine these people
feeling rattled to the core; overseas travel must suddenly seem like a daunting proposition. I wonder how many Australian
Jews are now wondering what might have happened the last time they presented their passports at Ben Gurion International Airport.
defence of Israel is an enduring challenge; the choices are always tough and risky. Maybe this scandal also reflects the dilemmas
and missteps of a nation under increasing siege; demonised internationally, mired in corruption at home, morally compromised
by decades of occupation.
But the hurt and confusion of those who cared most for Israel could end up haunting the state
for some time yet.
Julie Szego is an Age senior writer.