Alleged Mossad agents imprisoned

By Aaron Klein

Two alleged Israeli Mossad agents were given six-month prison terms in New Zealand yesterday for illegally trying to obtain a New Zealand passport.

Urie Zoshe Kelman, 30, and Eli Cara, 50, both admitted to the passport charges at an earlier hearing. They had faced a maximum sentence of five years. Two other men thought to be involved in the crime remain at large, police said.

Kelman and Cara were arrested in March after they tried to obtain a passport in the name of a New Zealand citizen who is a wheelchair-bound cerebral palsy victim.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said Israel had ignored requests made three months ago for an explanation and an apology. She said the case “seriously strained relations” between Israel and New Zealand, and she canceled planned foreign-ministry talks later this year.

“The New Zealand government views the act carried out by the Israeli intelligence agents as not only utterly unacceptable but also a breach of New Zealand sovereignty and international law,” she said.

Israel’s acting ambassador in Australia, Orma Sagiv, said Israel would work to rebuild relations with New Zealand.

“Israel values its relations with New Zealand very much, and we will do everything we can to return relations to their former situation,” he said.

Former Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Reuven Merhav hinted the two men were involved with an anti-terror mission. He said New Zealand knows “full well” that there was no attempt by Israel to cause any direct damage to New Zealand’s interests.

“We don’t have the luxury of countries like New Zealand, which exist within oceans of calm. I wish the problems that bother the New Zealand government were all the problems that we had to contend with,” Merhav said. “We are fighting for our lives, and sometimes you have to take certain actions.”

Cara and Kelman were involved in the collection of the passport when they were arrested. Cara, who claimed to be a Sydney travel agent, has traveled to New Zealand 24 times since 2000.

It is considered rare for the Mossad to botch an operation that involves passports. Forging a passport is very difficult, but the Mossad is said to have one of the best passport-manufacturing systems in the world that includes a facility to duplicate the exact chemical formula for the proprietary paper that each country uses to print their passports, and a library of passport stamps and signatures.

In addition to their sentence, Kelman and Cara were ordered to pay about $65,000 as a fine to the Cerebral Palsy Society of New Zealand.