New Zealand: Apology Proves Israelis Were Spies

Hilary Leila Krieger and Greer Fay Cashman, The Jerusalem Post - June 26, 2005

Israel's apology for two of its citizens who illegally obtained New Zealand passports is proof the pair were secret agents, Prime Minister Helen Clark said Monday.

"We believe there was a very good reason for the apology. The apology has been offered and I think it speaks for itself," Clark told reporters a day after Israel apologized for the incident, allowing the two nations to restore full diplomatic relations and end an 11-month spat.

"It is an acknowledgment that these people were associated with Israeli intelligence agencies. That's always been our belief," she said.

"What I know is that no country apologizes for the actions of any two ordinary citizens caught up in fraud in another country. There has to be a reason for them to apologize," Clark said.

But Clark declined to confirm that the agency involved was the Mossad.

"We never used that particular ... agency's name, but from the outset we've said we believe the two men were associated with Israeli intelligence," she said.

After receiving a long-desired apology from Israel, New Zealand on Sunday decided to reestablish diplomatic contacts with Israel a year after freezing them following the South Pacific country's jailing of two suspected Israeli Mossad agents.

The move follows a letter from Israel's Foreign Ministry 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 indicates that, "Israel commits itself to taking steps to prevent a reoccurrence of similar incidents in the future."

New Zealand had long demanded a public apology from Israel as a condition for thawing relations.

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.

Last July, Uriel Kelman and Eli Cara were sent to prison for six months and afterwards deported from New Zealand after pleading guilty to attempting to illegally acquire New Zealand passports as part of an organized crime group. New Zealand, however, has insisted that the pair were actually spies.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Sunday that he "welcomed the statement made by New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark today resuming normal relations between our two countries," and that he was glad "this crisis is behind us."

Over the past year, New Zealand imposed diplomatic sanctions, froze ministerial contacts, halted the approval of a new Israeli ambassador, and indicated that President Moshe Katsav wasn't welcome in the country while on a visit to Australia. Foreign Ministry sources on Sunday again maintained, however, that Katsav had no intention of stopping by while in the region.

The first step in the renewed diplomatic relationship, according to Hagai Shagrir, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry's Pacific division, was to secure New Zealand's agreement to accept the credentials of Naphtali Tamir, Israel's ambassador to Australia as non-resident ambassador to New Zealand.

"We're very happy that the problem is resolved," Shagrir said Sunday. "We had to bridge gaps and reach a formula that would satisfy both sides."

Gad Propper, honorary consul for New Zealand, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that he was very pleased relations were returning to normal. The situation had been more politically than economically damaging, he said, "but it may have had a negative impact on potential development of trade relations."

"Israel and New Zealand share a long-standing friendship," Shalom said. "Israel is committed to this relationship and we feel a similar commitment from New Zealand as well."