Eli Cara, left, with Uriel Zoshie Kelman, right, during their sentencing at the Auckland High Court last July. Picture / Brett Phibbs
Eli Cara, left, with Uriel Zoshe Kelman, right, during sentencing at Auckland High Court in July 2004. [Source: nzherald.co.nz]

In 2024, New Zealand leaves no doubt where it stands on the Gaza War. It is firmly on Israel’s side, having said nothing beyond general tut-tutting about the genocide being inflicted on the Palestinians by Israel.

New Zealand government leaders have repeatedly condemned Hamas, with no equivalent condemnation of Israel’s vastly disproportionate overkill (quite literally, in this case).

The New Zealand government, which years ago designated the Hamas military wing as a terrorist organization, has now extended that designation to its political wing, meaning that New Zealand now designates Hamas in its entirety as terrorists.

And New Zealand has become directly involved in the Western military support for Israel, specifically by sending New Zealand military personnel to join the U.S./UK-led coalition attacking Yemen and fighting the Houthis (who, as their act of solidarity with Gaza and the Palestinians, are attacking and disrupting shipping in the Red Sea). It is a token commitment—only six military personnel who are not directly involved in combat—but they are there to provide what the Government calls “precision targeting.”

It was all very different 20 years ago, when New Zealand took a radically different approach to Israel. One of the sensations of 2004 was the unmasking of an Israeli intelligence operation in Auckland (New Zealand’s largest city) and the arrest of two operatives of Mossad (that country’s external security agency), followed by their conviction, imprisonment and deportation. The whole scandal caused outrage across the New Zealand political spectrum, a diplomatic breach with Israel, and media and political attention around the world because of the blatant nature of the operation and the serious implications for Israel’s dealings with all other “friendly” nations.

Two Caught, Two Got Away

To briefly summarize: In March 2004, New Zealand police arrested two Israelis, Eli Cara and Uriel Kelman, in the act of collecting a fraudulently obtained New Zealand passport (it was in the name of a New Zealand cerebral palsy sufferer who had certainly not applied for a passport and was in no position to ever travel). The passport was sought, not for either of them, but for their ringleader, Zev Barkan, who had been an Israeli diplomat in Europe for a number of years. Barkan fled the country and has never been brought to justice.

A close-up of a person's face

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[Source: newcompass.blogspot.com]

There was a fourth man also involved (classic spy rings always have a mysterious Fourth Man), whom media inquiries identified as a New Zealand citizen, Tony Reznik. He is a New Zealand citizen who had lived for many years in Israel and who is believed to have been the one responsible for selecting the disabled man for the identity theft. (Reznik worked as a paramedic and would have come into contact with the unknowing victim. Barkan also lived in a street near the disabled man.) Reznik, and his family, also hurriedly fled the country without being brought to justice.

The online edition of Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted Israeli radio: “…The reports said Reznik was a religious Jew, a member of Auckland’s Jewish Council. Members of the Jewish community were quoted as saying that he planned to return to live in Israel. According to the report, Reznik had lived in Israel for 13 years and had served in the Israel Defence Forces…”

“If Reznik was indeed involved in the affair, he may have served a part that the Mossad has been known to offer to Jews living outside Israel, and which usually does not put the person providing the assistance at high risk. However, ever since Jonathan Pollard* was arrested and jailed in the United States in 1985 for being an Israeli spy, Mossad has minimized its contacts with Jews living outside the country…” [www.haaretz.com, Yossi Melman, “Report: New Zealand Citizen Aided Israelis in Passport Affair,” July 27, 2004.][1]

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Jonathan Pollard [Source: ibtimes.com]

Murder Inc.

The question remains: Why would Israeli intelligence go to such lengths to secure, fraudulently, a New Zealand passport? The answer is sinister in the extreme, because Mossad is not just any old run-of-the-mill spy agency, which simply spies on people. It specializes in murdering them. Ed Blanche wrote in Beirut’s Daily Star: “Intelligence operations, by definition, are always murky, opaque and hard to pin down, but one could be forgiven for tracing a link between the July 15, 2004, conviction in New Zealand of two alleged Mossad agents for trying to illegally obtain the passport of a bed-ridden disabled man and the assassination of Hezbollah official Ghaleb Awali in Beirut’s southern suburbs last Monday, allegedly by Israeli-run agents.”

Blanche continued: “Agents of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service, regularly use foreign passports to mask their identities, and New Zealand passports are prized because they are considered ‘door-openers’ due to New Zealand’s reputation for neutrality, and do not arouse suspicions, particularly in the Arab world. They provide visa-free access to many countries, including the United States. A New Zealand passport is also a ticket to British residency, which could provide a European Union passport. These would be invaluable for Mossad agents hunting terrorist targets around the world.”

“The Mossad agents who tried to assassinate Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman in September 1997 carried Canadian passports, as did the assassins of three Palestine Liberation Organization colonels in Limassol, Cyprus, in 1987. Three of the six Mossad operatives who set up the assassination of senior PLO figures in Beirut by Israeli commandos on April 13, 1973, used British passports to enter Lebanon. The list is endless…”

“One must assume two things: that the Mossad is making similar efforts to obtain genuine passports from other countries because these are more foolproof for undercover agents than forged passports, and that Lebanon, which the Israelis and Americans believe is full of bad guys, is one of the targets…The incident in New Zealand appears to be the latest in a long string of high-profile botched operations by Mossad over the last few years, indicating that (Mossad Director) General Meir Dagan, is still having to wrestle with organizational problems and poor operational performance. But what happened in Auckland should be ringing alarm bells in Lebanon and the Muslim world.” (Ed Blanche, “‘Mossad Fiasco’ in New Zealand Should Ring Alarm Bells,” Daily Star, July 24, 2004]

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[Source: forward.com]

These murders are not journalistic speculation but documented facts. In some cases, they caused major international scandals, for instance, the attempted assassination of the Hamas political leader in Jordan in 1997. It backfired spectacularly for Israel, because it failed to kill the target (the method used was poison) and the Mossad agents were caught in the act, leading to the furious Jordanians (one of Israel’s very few friends in the Arab World at that time) demanding that the antidote be produced and the man’s life be saved, otherwise the Mossad agents would be tried on a raft of very serious charges.

Israel was forced to do just that, in order to get its would-be murderers back. Not only that but it also had to release from prison the wheelchair-bound Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas spiritual leader (they killed him in March 2004 with a missile in a Gaza street). And, directly relevant to the 2004 New Zealand case—those would-be murderers entered Jordan, in 1997, using Canadian passports. This led to a major diplomatic fracas with Canada, which demanded that Israel cease using its passports—the Israeli government gave its commitment to refrain from using Canadian passports for illegal purposes.

So Israel had a track record for abusing the friendship and trust of various Western countries, using their passports for political murders. New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Phil Goff rejected Israel’s explanation that the passport was intended for use in the war against terrorism. “‘I can’t justify the act,’ he said, ‘among other things, because the passport might have been used for an assassination in a third country…We don’t think this was an isolated act.’” [Idem.]

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Phil Goff [Source: newshub.co.nz]

The Two Stooges Took the Rap

Which brings us back to the two hapless Israelis who were actually arrested and charged in Auckland. The first point to stress is that this was not a brilliant coup by New Zealand’s intelligence services. It wasn’t even sharp-eyed cops who busted this spy ring. A Department of Internal Affairs officer became suspicious about the passport application when he received a phone call from a man saying that he was the applicant, seeking to hurry up the process.

The fact that this “New Zealander” had a North American accent struck the Internal Affairs officer as curious. Suspicions were confirmed when a call to the “applicant’s” father revealed that his son had cerebral palsy, and had never applied for a passport. From that moment, the police were informed and an elaborate trap was laid to catch the ring. The applicant set up a complex collection process straight out of a spy movie, which involved couriers, taxis, cell phones and several changes of delivery address. The cops still managed to catch Cara and Kelman in the act of collecting the passport.

They each faced three charges, including one under a new law of participating in an organized crime group to secure a false passport. They were remanded on bail and very obviously kept under surveillance by both the police and New Zealand Security Intelligence Service agents. It was reliably reported that their communications were bugged, most likely by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), which is responsible for spying on international communications. This apparently provided the proof that they were Israeli agents.

There were ramifications across the Tasman Sea as well. Cara claimed to run a travel agency in Australia, which he said was the reason he had made numerous visits to New Zealand in recent years. The only problem was that nobody in Australia could find a trace of any such agency. Shortly before he was arrested in Auckland, Australian police raided a Sydney house that he had used, but turned up nothing except evidence that it had been hurriedly vacated.

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Eli Cara [Source: fpp.co.uk]

The rather unconvincing cover stories offered by both men were further undermined by the extraordinary lengths that Kelman (the younger of the two) went to hide his identity during their several court appearances.

He did a wonderful impersonation of the Invisible Man, complete with balaclava and dark glasses (Kelman came from a family steeped in Israeli intelligence. The New Zealand Herald reported that, “for a long time, Kelman did not see his father, Israel ‘Easy’ Kelman, who for most of his son’s childhood was abroad on missions with Israeli intelligence agencies. It was a natural progression for Kelman to follow his father’s footsteps into Israeli intelligence.”

By July 2004, they had obviously been instructed by their controlling officers to take the rap and avoid the prospect of an Israeli intelligence operation being examined in open court. They both pleaded guilty to the same single charge, the most serious one of trying to obtain a New Zealand passport by fraud. They were remanded into custody and duly sentenced to six months in prison (they could have received five years), plus the judge ordered them to each make a $NZ50,000 donation to the Cerebral Palsy Association for their callous and cynical attempt to steal the identity of a disabled man.

True to form, Kelman stood with his hand covering his face throughout the entire sentencing hearing. They offered no explanation (although, interestingly, they both appealed) and duly served the requisite three months. In September 2004, when the time came for their deportations, they were released from prison several hours earlier than the usual time, were taken by police to a back entrance of Auckland Airport and kept out of public view until they were put on a plane, under police escort.

Major Diplomatic Breach

When Cara and Kelman were sentenced to prison, in July 2004, the Prime Minister (Helen Clark, Labour Party) broke the official silence on the case that had been deliberately kept in place until then, and well and truly put the boot into Israel. “You do not expect your friends to do this to you…We look forward at some point to the Israeli government swallowing its pride and offering the explanation and apology we’ve asked for” [Colin Espiner, “Clark Lambasts Israel; Diplomatic Sanctions Imposed After Spies Are Sent To Prison,” Press, July 16, 2004.]

Helen Clark [Source: britannica.com]

New Zealand basically took every step short of breaking diplomatic relations. Clark suspended high-level visits to and from Israel; declined permission for Israel’s President, the Head of State, to visit New Zealand; implemented visa restrictions on all Israeli government officials visiting New Zealand; suspended Ministry of Foreign Affairs consultations with Israel; and delayed indefinitely the appointment of a new Israeli Ambassador.

Because the case was so clear-cut and the criminals had been caught in the act, the government’s measures were supported by all political parties and the media. This represented a major public relations embarrassment and diplomatic blow for Israel. Its local supporters tried to make light of the whole incident, pointing out that New Zealand and Israel have a very limited relationship, with minimal trade between the two.

It was suggested that the Labour government’s harsh measures against Israel were further proof of its alleged pro-Palestinian bias (in the recent past, Phil Goff, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, visited the Palestinian leader, the late Yasser Arafat, in his besieged compound in Ramallah). Local Zionists even pulled out the old canard that criticism of Israel is proof of anti-Semitism, and tried to directly link the government’s measures with the coincidental and despicable mass vandalism of Jewish graves in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. More reasoned commentators correctly stated that this crime bore all the hallmarks of the local neo-Nazi lunatic fringe and had nothing to do with the exposure and punishment of an Israeli spy ring.

Australia Secretly Expelled Israeli Diplomat

The ramifications of this international incident continued to play out. It was revealed, in February 2005, that Australia had asked Israel to withdraw a diplomat from its Canberra Embassy. This had not been publicly announced and, when the Australian media exposed it several weeks after the event, the Australian government refused to comment. But the seriousness of this unusual move is underscored by the fact that Australia and Israel were (and are) good friends. The unnamed diplomat had visited Cara and Kelman when they were in prison in Auckland.

New Zealand Green Party Member of Parliament Keith Locke, was the only one to ask the obvious question: “We need to know whether last year’s attempt by a Mossad agent to fraudulently obtain New Zealand passports was run out of Israel’s Embassy in Canberra. The expelled diplomat was cross-accredited to New Zealand and visited the two Mossad spies jailed here. It is bad enough that Mossad was infringing on New Zealand’s sovereignty and laws. It is even worse if the Israeli diplomatic post responsible for New Zealand was involved.’”

Keith Locke [Source: parliament.nz]

According to JustPeace, “Locke said there was prima facie evidence the Mossad operation against New Zealand was run out of Australia. ‘One of the jailed spies, Eli Cara, was based near Sydney, running a dummy tourism agency. He crossed the Tasman 24 times. In addition, the third Mossad agent, Zev Barkan, who managed to escape New Zealand, had been an Israeli diplomat in Austria and Belgium.’ Locke said the New Zealand government must not be caught up in an Australian government cover-up of the affair.”

“‘As long as Israel’s diplomats to New Zealand are based in Australia, it is our business whether Mossad is operating out of the Canberra Embassy. Phil Goff’s talk about fighting terrorism will be hollow if he doesn’t try to get to the bottom of this, the only terrorist-linked activity in New Zealand since the [1985] Rainbow Warrior bombing.’” (press release, quoted in JustPeace 73, February 10, 2005).

But things had obviously been happening behind the scenes. In early 2005, Cara and Kelman withdrew their appeals, which was followed, in February, by media and official speculation that Israel was preparing to apologise to New Zealand. The timing was significant, as this speculation was just before the visit of their President to Australia, indicating that Israel saw the need to restore good relations with both countries.

The Government wasn’t kidding—in March 2005, Israel expressed surprise that a reserves general was refused entry into New Zealand to speak at a fundraising event organized by the local Jewish community. Phil Goff, the then-Minister of Foreign Affairs, reiterated that all such visa requests would be refused until Israel apologized. It also emerged that month that Israel’s Ministry of Defense was the only client of a New Zealand manufacturer of military equipment to have been vetoed by the Government.

Israel Had Previously and Fraudulently Obtained Other New Zealand Passports

The pressure paid off. In June 2005, Israel apologized and the sanctions were lifted. This followed months of diplomatic wrangling about the wording of the apology and, in the end, Israel did not confirm that the two men were agents, merely referring to them as citizens. Helen Clark correctly said: “It is clear that the Israeli government will not apologize for criminal activity by just any citizens. There was a reason to apologize for the actions of these two citizens.” [“Sanctions Lifted After Israel Apologises For Passport Incident,” Press, June 27, 2005.]

Israel provided no explanation as to what the New Zealand passports were going to be used for. Clark said that an international arrest warrant had been issued for the New Zealander, Tony Reznik (by then safely in Israel) and she also revealed that other New Zealand passports had previously been obtained by Israeli agents. The government had decided not to pursue them, as they had now all been detected and all relevant passports had been cancelled.

The government had the support of the public and media throughout this whole squalid affair. To quote from a Press editorial (“Humiliating Apology” June 28, 2005): “However humiliating it might be, for a beleaguered nation which requires international goodwill, it was an apology that had to be made…The New Zealand government was correct to take a hardline stance over the passport fraud.”

“While it is positive that the relationship with Israel has been patched up, the apology does not quite mark the end of this passport affair. Two other participants are still at large and there are unanswered questions over the intended use of other New Zealand passports which were obtained by Israeli Intelligence agents and have now been cancelled.”

“[It is] a successful, if protracted, foreign policy success for the Government.” The editorial also drew the obvious parallel with the 1985 fatal bombing of the Rainbow Warrior Greenpeace ship by French secret service agents, the only other “friendly nation” intelligence operation on New Zealand soil to end in criminal charges and imprisonment for the couple of agents who were caught. The French and Israeli spy bosses both exhibited the same arrogance and contempt toward New Zealand—and the governments of both paid the price for their complacent stupidity.

The bombed Rainbow Warrior is in Marsden Wharf in Auckland Harbour after the bombing of the Greenpeace flagship by French secret service agents.
Rainbow Warrior after its bombing by French secret service agents. [Source: greenpeace.org]

In fact, stupidity seems to be a hallmark of Mossad. A February 2005 article by Nicky Hager in the Sunday Star Times (cited in “Israeli Jailed in New Zealand Headed Cyprus Spy Ring,” Haaretz, February 27, 2005) revealed that Kara, one of the two agents imprisoned in New Zealand, had sent two Mossad agents to Cyprus in a 1998 operation which resulted in them being arrested and serving nine months of a three-year prison term.

Kara’s friendship with a senior Mossad official got him posted to Australia, from where he worked on the ill-fated New Zealand passport operation. Apparently, after his return to Israel from a New Zealand prison, he decided to leave the world of intelligence and took a job with Visa, the credit card transnational. Probably a good career move.

Besides, Mossad had found another willing helper—in January 2006, The Jerusalem Post reported that, once New Zealand no longer became a source of fake passports, the German intelligence agency Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) stepped in to ensure a steady supply of fake German passports to enable Mossad to place agents in Middle Eastern countries. The Post said: “During the 90s, Mossad agents often used passports from Canada and New Zealand when travelling in enemy territory, but once the practice became widely known, they stopped.” [“Germany ‘Helped Agents,’” Press, January 19, 2006]

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[Source: timesofisrael.com]

Where Are They Now?

At least one of the Mossad squad continued working for it, including involvement in what the spooks call “wet jobs” (murder), namely Barkan—who started life as an American named Ze’ev William Brokenstein. “Former Israeli diplomat to New Zealand Zev William Barkan leads a life akin to that of novelist Frederick Forsyth’s Jackal—emerging from the shadows only to be named by authorities in connection with various crimes before again disappearing.”

According to Stuff magazine, “Barkan is still wanted in New Zealand as the alleged ringleader of an illegal passport scam in 2004; last year [2010] he was named as a suspect in the slaying of a Hamas operative in Dubai. Barkan is one of 32 people Dubai police suspect as having a role in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a hotel room in the emirate in January 2010.”

A simple Google search reveals that Barkan is now working in Israel’s technology industry, specifically a cloud security company. He makes no secret of his past: “Before becoming XM Cyber’s VPO, Zev Barkan spent over 30 years with the Israeli Intelligence Community,” wrote Stuff.

U.S. Disparaged New Zealand’s Reaction As a “Flap”

And what did the U.S., the major ally of both Israel and New Zealand, make of the abortive Mossad operation? “Almost six years later, the scandal would rear its head again when in December [2010] cables released by WikiLeaks said United States diplomats disparaged New Zealand’s reaction to the suspected spy ring as a ‘flap’ and accused New Zealand’s government of grandstanding in order to sell more lamb to Arab countries.”

“U.S. officials in Wellington told their colleagues in Washington that New Zealand had ‘little to lose’ from the breakdown in diplomatic relations with Israel and was instead merely trying to bolster its exports to Arab states.”

“Claims the men were Mossad agents were not pursued in court, the U.S. cable noted. The cables revealed the U.S. believed allegations the men were spies: ‘While Prime Minister Helen Clark would not confirm which service employed the men, she noted that if one were to lay espionage charges then one would have to be prepared to offer the kind of evidence in court which our intelligence agencies do not like coming forward to display. ‘We [the US] have very strong grounds for believing these are Israeli intelligence agents,’ the cable said,” according to Stuff.

Caught in the Act

Israel was caught in the act of committing an international crime (most likely to facilitate the commission of a worse one elsewhere) and was deservedly the subject of widespread disgust and appropriate punishment.

The message from New Zealand 20 years ago was: If this is the way you behave in our country, then don’t come again. We have no wish to be implicated, however indirectly and unwittingly, in the murderous crimes you routinely commit.

What a pity the current New Zealand government is, by contrast, content to be a supine accomplice of Israeli genocide.

  1. Jonathan Pollard was a U.S. Navy Intelligence analyst who was convicted of selling classified information to Israel. He gave his motive as patriotism toward Israel. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for espionage, and spent 30 years in jail, despite a vigorous campaign by Israel and his supporters in the U.S. to have him pardoned. Five years after his release, he moved to Israel.

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