The Day In Israel: Thursday Mar 4th, 2010

Australian Federal Police officer recently landed in Israel to investigate how three forged Australian passports were used to turn Hamashole Mahmoud al-Mabhouh into worm food.

Then things got weird.

Australian Federal Police officers were involved in a hit-and-run car accident in Tel Aviv early this morning, just hours after landing in Israel to investigate how three forged Australian passports were used in the assassination of top Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

Mr Mabhouh was found dead in his Dubai hotel room on January 20 in what Dubai police have alleged was an assassination carried out by Israel’s foreign intelligence service Mossad.

After hiding out at the Australian embassy for most of Wednesday, the agents tried to give waiting media the slip as they tried to move to their hotel.

Instead their silver armoured Toyota Prado ploughed into Israeli cyclist Oshra Bar as it sped from the embassy’s underground carpark, and then failed to stop.

Ms Bar was not seriously injured, but told The Age that she had suffered lacerations to her leg.

“I want an apology and a new wheel,” Ms Bar said. “I was hit and I kind of bounced.”

Ms Bar managed to get the license plate of the SUV, which matched the license plate of a car that was later parked in the Australian Embassy car parking space.

She said she had already spoken to a lawyer and had been to hospital for a check-up.

The Australian Embassy last night confirmed that it was investigating the incident but would not confirm whether the car was carrying the AFP agents.

An embassy spokeswoman said as part of the investigation embassy officials had spoken to the driver of the car. She would not say what he had said had occurred.

“We are treating this issue very seriously,” the embassy spokeswoman said. “We have not been contacted by anyone who has been knocked off her bike, or by the police in Israel.”

“I can confirm that an incident did occur involving one of our vehicles. But I cannot comment any further until we know more about what happened.

The spokeswoman said she did have advice from the driver as to “whether something did or did not occur.”

The driver of the car, when asked if he had been involved in a hit-and-run accident, continued walking into the embassy offices and said: “Can you shut the door.”

Updates (Israel time; most recent at top)

8:10PM: Quote of the day:

”This does sound to me like a very weird incident..You have law enforcement officers here from Australia, they are involved in what appears to be a hit-and-run accident, and then are seen escaping from the scene? This is a sketch from Saturday Night Live, it’s new-generation Monty Python.”

Israeli Foreign Ministry official talking about the Tel Aviv hit-and-run involving Australian Federal Police officers.

6:05PM: Israeli NBA player Omri Casspi gets his own Nike commercial.

5:38PM: Today’s must-read (hat tip: Melvyn):

Is state-sanctioned assassination justifiable, or does it somehow de-legitimise the state that undertakes it? Two articles in this newspaper last week, by Henry Siegman and David Gardner, have been violently critical of Israel in the wake of the assassination of the Hamas arms smuggler Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on 19 January.

Mr Siegman wrote of how “Israel’s colonial ambitions” and “checkpoints, barbed wire and separation walls” were “turning Israel from a democracy into an apartheid state”, thereby creating a “looming global threat to the country’s legitimacy”. Two days later Mr Gardner wrote of how Israel’s “militarist extroversion” over the Dubai murder demonstrated an “Israeli preference for instantly satisfying executive solutions to complex political and geopolitical problems” which would “widen the international battle-space for tit-for-tat attacks” and “encourage the perception that [Israel] is a rogue state”.

Both commentators are completely wrong. All that the Dubai operation will do is remind the world that the security services of states at war – and Israel’s struggle with Hamas, Fatah and Hizbollah certainly constitutes that – occasionally employ targeted assassination as one of the weapons in their armoury, and that this in no way weakens their legitimacy. As for the “separation walls” and checkpoints that one sees in Israel, the 99 per cent drop in the number of suicide bombings since their erection justifies the policy. There is simply no parallel between apartheid South Africa – where the white minority wielded power over the black majority – and the occupied territories, taken by Israel only after it was invaded by its neighbours. To make such a link is not only inaccurate, but offensive. If Arab Israelis were deprived of civil and franchise rights, that would justify such hyperbole, but of course they have the same rights as every Jewish Israeli.

Far from having any colonial ambitions, Israel wants nothing more than to live peaceably within defensible borders. But equally it demands nothing less.

Furthermore, rather than some kind of knee-jerk “preference for instantly satisfying executive solutions”, the decision to kill Mahmoud al-Mabhouh – assuming it was sanctioned, planned and carried out by Mossad alone, which is anything but clear at this stage – would have been minutely examined from every political and operational angle. Yet sometimes complex political and geopolitical problems do require the cutting of the Gordian knot, and this was one such.

When Britain was at war, Winston Churchill sanctioned the assassination by its Special Operations Executive of the SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the capture (and killing if necessary) of General Heinrich Kreipe on Crete; ditto Erwin Rommel. Just as with some Mossad operations, such as the disaster in Amman in 1997 when agents were captured after failing to kill Khaled Meshal of Hamas, not all Churchill’s hits were successful. But the British state was not de-legitimised in any way as a result.

The intelligence agents of states – sometimes operating with direct authority, sometimes not – have carried out many assassinations and assassination attempts in peacetime without the legitimacy of those states being called into question, or their being described as “rogue”. In 1985 the French Deuxième Bureau sank Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior trawler, killing photographer Fernando Pereira, without anyone denouncing France as a rogue state. Similarly, in 2006, polonium 210 was used to murder Alexander Litvinenko without Putin’s Russia being described as “illegitimate”. That kind of language is only reserved for Israel, even though neither Pereira nor Litvinenko posed the danger to French and Russian citizens that was posed to Israelis by the activities of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

The reason that such double standards still apply – more than six decades after the foundation of the state of Israel – is not because of the nature of that doughty, brave, embattled, tiny, surrounded, yet proudly defiant country, but because of the nature of its foes. Even though one has to be in one’s seventies to remember a time when Israel didn’t exist, nevertheless there are still those who call the country’s legitimacy into question, employing anything that happens to be in the news at the time – such as this latest assassination – to try to argue that Israel is not a real country, and therefore doesn’t really deserve to exist. Real rogue states such as North Korea might be loathed and criticised, but even they do not have their very legitimacy as a state called into question because of their actions.

Those who wish to understand Israel’s actions and put them in their proper historical context should read Michael Burleigh’s cultural history of terrorism, Blood and Rage. Burleigh quotes a senior Mossad agent saying after the Munich Olympics massacre of 11 Israeli athletes: “If there was intelligence information, the target was reachable and if there was an opportunity, we took it. As far as we were concerned we were creating a deterrence, forcing them to crawl into a defensive shell and not plan offensive attacks against us.”

Is that attitude so very different from the pre-emptive targeted assassination of Taliban leaders that Nato carries out by flying drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan today? Yet are Messrs Siegman and Gardner going to call into question America’s legitimacy? No, that insult is reserved for only one country: Israel.

5:22PM: Syria has offered it’s latest (ridiculous) excuse for the presence of suspicious uranium particles found at a Syrian desert complex bombed  two years ago by Israeli planes.

Delegates inside the meeting told The Associated Press that Bassam Al-Sabbag, Syria’s chief IAEA delegate offered a new theory Thursday, suggesting that Israel had dropped uranium particles from the air after the bombing to implicate his country.

5:08PM: Hamashole founder’s son-cum-Mossad agent Mosab Hassan Yousef talks to Hannity on Fox.

Meanwhile, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour holds a discussion on Yousef’s story with guests including an Israeli and a Hamashole.

3:10PM: The UK Government is set to amend a law to ensure visiting Israeli officials are not arrested on charges of war crimes.

According to the Daily Telegraph, “the Crown Prosecution Service will take over responsibility for prosecuting war crimes and other violations of international law, ending the current system in which magistrates are obliged to consider a case for an arrest warrant presented by any individual.”

Writing for the Telegraph, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he would submit plans to put the CPS in sole charge of “judging the merits of any case brought under international law.”

Brown said the right to prosecute international crimes in Britain had been abused by activists.

“The only question for me is whether our purpose is best served by a process where an arrest warrant for the gravest crimes can be issued on the slightest of evidence,” he said. “As we have seen, there is now significant danger of such a provision being exploited by politically-motivated organizations or individuals.”

1:40PM: Apparently, Woody Harrelson didn’t just play a dumbass on tv. He really is one.

Watch him say, amongst other things, that suicide bombings are not nearly as bad as Israeli military action.

6:05AM: I wonder if this is the same Oshra Bar, the cyclist apparently hit by Australian Federal police officers currently in Israel.

Oshra Bar, 22, described himself (should be “herself” – ed.) as a longtime activist. After high school he (“she” – ed) refused service in the Israeli army.

“It’s impossible to have a democratic state when you have race laws,” Bar said, pointing to “Jewish only” roads in the West Bank and restrictions on the sale of land to Palestinians.

“What is happening here [in Sheikh Jarrah] is a direct continuation of the Palestinian Nakba – the people [Arabs] are being dispossessed again,” Bar said, adding that she believes in a secular, bi-national state with equal rights for all citizens. “I’m here to show that I’m against race laws.”

She looked then toward the police. Her chin down and her dark eyes raised, Bar said defiantly, “I’m not afraid to be arrested.”

But perhaps afraid of being run over.

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David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media