Israel, Australia's foreign policy sacred cow, has been receiving some rare stick from elements in Australia's ms media:
"Few nations have been so consistently supportive of Israel in the UN General Assembly and other international forums in which it is short of friends as Australia has, regardless of the party in power. So when Foreign Minister Stephen Smith described the forging of Australian passports by Israel's intelligence service, Mossad, as 'not the action of a friend' he was reminding that country's government that friendship involves reciprocal obligations. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly the reminder was ignored, with an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman commenting that Australia's expulsion of an Israeli diplomat in retaliation for the forgeries was 'not in line with the quality and importance of our relationship'. Israel's friends are apparently expected to behave with equanimity if Mossad decides to steal their citizens' identities." (Editorial: Israel's identity theft could not have been ignored, 26/5/10)
Most rare of all, however, the editorialist dared cross swords with AIJAC boss Colin Rubenstein: "The expulsion was also criticised by other Australians who should know better. The executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, Colin Rubenstein, described it as 'an overreaction and unhelpful'. Just what would Mr Rubenstein consider to be an appropriate and helpful reaction? Congratulating Mossad on abusing the trust of members of the Jewish diaspora by allowing its agents to steal their identities, perhaps?"
The Sydney Morning Herald:
Although the Herald focused its criticism on what its editorialist called Deputy Opposition leader Julie Bishop's "extraordinarily inept public comments about Australia's intelligence operations," it concluded that "[t]he Rudd government was right to object strongly to Israel." (Her own worst honeytrap, 27/5/10)
Quite uncharacteristically, not so much as a peep on the subject from its editorialist!!!
The 7.30 Report:
In his interview with foreign minister Stephen Smith (Stephen Smith joins the 7.30 Report, 24/5/10), Kerry O'Brien wondered just how sincere the government was in its reaction:
O'Brien: The British Government expelled the Mossad station head in London. It seems a safe assumption that you followed the British template here, and there are further reports that the person expelled here is definitely a Mossad agent. Why are you being coy about that?
Smith: Well, because I'm following what we regard as the appropriate foreign policy and diplomatic response here. We've asked Israel to remove one of its officers. I've said, publicly, people will draw their own conclusions about that. But I'm not proposing to identify, either by name or by function, the individual concerned. But we haven't slavishly followed here the British approach. Yes, the outcome in terms of requiring a removal is substantively the same, but we have conducted our own investigation, we have acted on our own advice, after careful consideration of our agencies' reports. If all we were doing was mirroring the UK, we would have done it much more quickly. If all we were doing, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition asserts... was being political, we wouldn't have taken such time giving it careful consideration.
O'Brien: Is this wink-and-a-nod stuff where you go through the diplomatic dance, but that at an intelligence level our spies say to their spies, 'Fair cop, guys. You've been caught at this. Keep your head down for a while and things will get back to normal fairly soon? See you soon'.
Smith: We have expelled, effectively, a diplomat. There will be, necessarily, a cooling-off period so far as the relationship between our respective international agencies are concerned.
O'Brien: Does that really matter? I mean, what does it actually mean in reality?
Smith: Well, it does. No, no; it is very important, Kerry. Traditionally we have had a very good relationship at that agency or international community level with Israel. We are dealing with very serious national security issues where there are mutual interests or mutual concerns.
Smith: But we can only put it behind us if Israel conducts itself genuinely as a friend.
Intriquingly, O'Brien went on to raise the issue of Iran's nuclear program, but only by way of trotting out the elephant in the room:
O'Brien: Well you've talked about Iran's nuclear program. You'd be aware of the revelation in the Guardian newspaper today in Britain based on official South African documents that Israel had offered to sell nuclear warheads to apartheid-era South Africa, in fact offered them in three sizes. Does that suggest to you that Israel could be counted on as a responsible nuclear citizen, and do you agree it's embarrassing as Israel's biggest ally, America, pushes hard to stop Iran getting nuclear weapons?
Smith: Well I've seen reference to the article, Kerry; I haven't had the opportunity of having it carefully assessed. But the suggestion that Israel has nuclear weapons is not a novel suggestion. In this matter...
O'Brien: Well, not at all, but the fact that they were trying to flog off nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime of South Africa puts it in another light too.
Smith, of course, evaded the issue:
Smith: Well I'm not in a position to attest to that one way or another. It is a very sensible thing to do, Kerry, when you're dealing with national security matters, to not, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, run off in response to newspaper articles. So, I say advisedly: I haven't had that carefully assessed. We know the suggestion's been made in the past. We know that Israel has a long-standing policy of stated ambiguity so far as possession of nuclear weapons or not is concerned. Our strong policy position, which we put not just to Israel but to others, is that Israel should join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and do that without conditions.
But I dips me lid to Ten News' senior political correspondent, Hugh Riminton, who, at Smith's press conference on 24 May, asked the kind of question that had the minister squirming:
Riminton: If there hasn't been an apology, if there hasn't been a gesture of contrition, who are we to talk about remaining firm friends? Is not a firm friendship, if that's what it is, based on an understanding, an acknowledgement of error and wrong, and if the government is willing to remain firm friends, should the Australian people feel that same firm friendship with a country that doesn't acknowledge a wrong...
Smith (talking over Riminton): I have made, I have made, ah, very firmly from day one, the point that, ah, we do not regard these actions as the actions of a friend. That's the first point. Secondly, I also made the point to the parliament that we now need to embark upon the rebuilding of trust and confidence in our relationship with Israel. Friendship is a two-way street, but I don't think you'll find, ah, in any of, ah, this matter, ah, whether it's with Australian officials or generally, that Israel has been drawn on these matters.