Israel is bracing itself for the possibility that Australia will follow in Britain's footsteps and will expel an Israeli diplomat in response to the use of forged Australian passports in the assassination of Hamas man Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, largely believe to have been carried out by Israel's spy agency, the Mossad.
Official Israeli sources told The Australian on Wednesday that among the countries whose passports were forged, Australia is the most likely to follow suit with Britain. However, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem vehemently denied the claims. "This has no basis in reality," the ministry said.
The newspaper reported that Israel did not believe Australia would take such a drastic measure following reports of Britain's move, but that estimates have since changed.
"It appears that Israeli officials have received indications in Canberra that Australia is preparing to expel a diplomat," the newspaper reported.
Israel's Foreign Ministry denied these claims and said in a statement that "the report from Australia has no basis in reality."
The Foreign Ministry statement is based on talks Israeli Ambassador to Canberra Yuval Rotem held with the Australian government and on statements made by Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith during a radio interview in Australia Tuesday.
In a statement before British parliament Tuesday, British Foreign Minister David Miliband formally accused Israel of being responsible for forging the British passports used in the Dubai hit. He said that the act was a grave violation of Britain's sovereignty and a big insult, especially coming from a friendly nation.
Miliband confirmed that an Israeli diplomat had been asked to leave the country. Estimates are that the diplomat was the Mossad's representative in London.
Earlier Wednesday, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said that Miliband offered to hand over to Australia details from Britain's investigation of the passport cloning affair. Smith refused to comment whether his country will take similar measures as Britain, and noted that he does not know when Australia's own investigation will conclude.
Smith declined to say whether his government was likely to take similar action when the Australian investigation concludes. He said he did not know when that investigation would end.
"To make any commentary or remarks about what the United Kingdom government has done would necessarily cut across our own investigation and what decisions we might make," Smith told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
"Suffice to say we are treating this matter very seriously. Israel understands that and when I receive the (Australian) report, we'll make judgments which will be in Australia's national interest," he said.
Authorities in Canberra sent investigators to Israel a few weeks ago. The investigation was meant to take place under low profile, but received embarrassing coverage when members of the investigation were involved in a hit-and-run accident with a bicyclist in Tel Aviv.