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The Day In Israel: Thursday Mar 25th, 2010

Following yesterday’s decision by Britain to expel an “Israeli diplomat”, Israel is now expecting Australia to follow suit.

Israel is bracing itself for the possibility that Australia will follow Britain and expel an Israeli diplomat in response to the use of four forged Australian passports in the assassination of a Hamas commander.

Israeli government sources last night told The Australian that of the countries whose passports were stolen, Australia was the most likely to follow Britain’s lead.

In the immediate aftermath of Britain’s decision, Israeli officials thought Australia was unlikely to follow suit.

But that assessment changed distinctly last night. It appears that Israeli officials have received indications in Canberra that Australia is preparing to expel a diplomat. They would not comment.

Forged passports from Britain, Ireland, Germany, France and Australia were used in the assassination in January of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.

At the time, Australia called in the Israeli ambassador to Canberra, Yuval Rotem, to question him about the use of the passports of the four Australians, who all have dual Australian-Israeli citizenship and who live in Israel.

Kevin Rudd said afterwards that Australia was not satisfied with the answers given by Mr Rotem.

Israel has maintained there is no proof the operation was carried out by Israel’s secret service Mossad, as suspected.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband telephoned his Australian counterpart, Stephen Smith, to explain London’s decision to expel the Israeli, who has been described by the British press as Mossad’s London station chief.

Yesterday, Mr Smith would not say if Australia would follow suit, saying the Australian Federal Police had yet to finalise its own report into the affair.

But he said the AFP would have access to the report of Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency, whose investigation found it was “highly likely” Israel was behind the forgeries.

That formed the basis of Britain’s decision to expel the diplomat.

“Obviously, the AFP have been liaising with their British counterparts,” Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith said Canberra took the misuse of Australian passports very seriously and said that had been conveyed to Israeli authorities.

“Obviously, we’ll take into account what other countries have done, and the United Kingdom is not the only country caught up in this. Regrettably there’s also France, Ireland and Germany,” he said.

Updates (Israel time; most recent at top)?

5:18PM: Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has invoked the Manuel defense.

3:00PM: Here is White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dealing with questions about the lack of photos and footage of Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama.

And by dealing, I mean flailing his arms around in the water as he slowly drowns. Figuratively speaking of course.

You can see it from 11:30 onwards (hat tip: Carl).

12:20PM: Quote of the day:

“We are not a leftist government, and construction in Jerusalem is part of the consensus – it is the capital of the people of Israel.”

“We do not want to fight with our great friend, but our responsibility is towards the people of Israel. We are an independent state and not an American dependant. We must avoid a situation whereby we close down the Knesset and government, hand (US President Barack) Obama the keys and allow him to tell us what to do.”

“If the Americans will realize that the Israeli government has red lines – they will respect that.”

– Israeli Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz

8:50AM: Dore Gold tackles the widening belief that Israel is a strategic liability to the US.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right to speak about U.S.-Israeli strategic ties during his speech at Tuesday’s AIPAC conference.

During the recent bilateral tensions between the Obama administration and the Israeli government, a vicious rumor began to spread that the U.S. feels that Israeli “intransigence” in the peace process puts U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan at risk.

The source of this rumor was not Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command, who recently testified before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. Petraeus is concerned with the possible outbreak of an initifada that is shown on the Al-Jazeera satellite network and foments rage in the Arab street that weakens the legitimacy of his Arab military partners.

Yet the idea that Israel was putting U.S. forces at risk began to spread inside the Washington beltway. For example, Jake Tapper, White House correspondent for ABC News, interviewed President Obama’s political advisor, David Axelrod, March 14 and asked whether the Israeli “housing issue” put the lives of U.S. troops at risk.

When Axelrod refused to answer, Tapper persisted and asked the question a second time. Clearly this idea has penetrated the thinking of political reporters.

Columnist Jeffrey Goldberg wrote that linking construction plans at Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood to the security of U.S. forces in the Middle East actually came from Israeli press reports of the meeting between Vice President Joe Biden and Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Biden’s spokesman denied those reports when Goldberg made a formal inquiry.

The net effect of rumors of this sort is to reinforce the image of Israel as a strategic burden rather than as a strategic asset, which only exacerbated the current tensions. For years, there has been a whole cottage industry of anti-Israel forces, who have been trying to promote this view across the United States.

It began with professors Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, who argued in their 2007 book, The Israeli Lobby, that Israel is nothing less than “a strategic liability.” They have made significant inroads in universities and think tanks, so that the rumors about Jerusalem building projects threatening soldiers in Afghanistan fell on fertile ground.

Netanyahu argued at AIPAC that Israel has actually helped save the lives of Americans. Historically, he is absolutely correct to paint Israel’s strategic partnership this way. In August 1966, the Mossad succeeded in recruiting an Iraqi Air Force pilot who flew his MiG-21 to Israel.

The intelligence on the MiG-21 was shared with Washington and would prove to be extremely valuable, considering the fact that the MiG-21 was the work-horse of the North Vietnamese Air Force in the years that followed.

Israel supplied the Americans with many other Soviet weapons systems, from 130mm artillery to T-72 tanks. Gen. George Keegan, the former head of U.S. Air Force Intelligence, was quoted in the New York Times on March 9, 1986, saying that the intelligence the U.S. received from Israel could not have been obtained if the U.S. had “five CIAs.”

Keegan went further: “The ability of the U.S. Air Force in particular, and the Army in general, to defend whatever position it has in NATO owes more to the Israeli intelligence input than it does to any single source of intelligence.”

Even after the Cold War, Israel continues to be a vital American strategic partner. In 2007, the U.S. ambassador to Israel revealed that Israeli technology was being used by the U.S. armed forces in Iraq to protect them from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that were responsible for most U.S. casualties in the Iraq War.

In short, Israel was helping save American lives in Iraq.

On March 15, 2007, the commander of EUCOM, Gen. Bantz Craddock, told the House Armed Services Committee that “in the Middle East, Israel is the U.S.’s closest ally that consistently and directly supports our interests.”

During his AIPAC speech, Netanyahu disclosed: “Israel shares with America everything” that it knows about their common enemies, especially intelligence.

When states like the U.S. and Israel have high-profile diplomatic disagreements, it is sometimes the nature of the press to seek the dramatic. A learned debate about the applicability of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention to Jerusalem would be fitting for Yale Law School, but it does not sell newspapers.

For that reason, the Obama administration has a special responsibility to contain its tensions with Israel. It would be a serious development if the disagreement over Israel’s rights in Jerusalem spilled over into the strategic relationship between the two countries.

Netanyahu tried to contain this problem at AIPAC, but both sides need to make sure that unnecessary diplomatic tensions do not sacrifice their long-held strategic interests that have served the security of both countries.

Meanwhile, here is Gen. David Petraeus setting the record straight on his comments widely quoted in the blogosphere.

6:10AM: Yet another photo showing that IDF troops were not up against mere “stone-throwing youth” during the recent “days of rage”.

A masked Palestinian demonstrator carries an axe during clashes with Israeli troops in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Issawiya (AP)

Unless you want to argue that there’s nothing wrong with building a log cabin during the middle of a protest.

6:02AM: Charles Krauthammer making sense (as usual) on East Jerusalem.


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About the author

Picture of David Lange

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
Picture of David Lange

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
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