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MIDDLE EAST: Israelis suspected of using Australian passports to spy on Iran, Syria and Lebanon, report says

February 28, 2010 | 10:42 am

Australia-asio A stunning report in this weekend's Sydney Morning Herald alleges that Australian counterintelligence officials are investigating at least three Israeli citizens suspected of using Australian passports to spy in the Middle East.

According to two unnamed Australian intelligence sources cited in the Morning Herald report, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organization, or ASIO, has for at least six months been investigating three Australian-Israeli dual nationals who allegedly have been working for the Israeli national intelligence agency the Mossad.

The three suspected Mossad spies are Australian nationals who emigrated to Israel at some point over the last 10 years, a relatively common step for Australian Jews. 

But these three might have aroused authorities' suspicions when they traveled back to Australia to change their names multiple times, turning their "European-Jewish" sounding names into more "Anglo-Australian" names, according to the report. 

Then the alleged operatives used their Australian passports to enter Iran, Syria and Lebanon, which do not recognize Israel, the report says. One even sought the help of the Australian Embassy in Tehran in 2004, the report says.  The Morning Herald contacted two of the men, who vehemently denied being involved in any espionage activities.

Australia-cypherAll three of the men "share an involvement" with a European communications company that has a subsidiary in the Middle East, according to the paper.

The two contacted by the newspaper said they had changed their names for personal reason. 

One denied he had ever been to Iran, Syria or Lebanon. "That is ridiculous," he told the Morning Herald.

In January, reporters from the Morning Herald visited the offices of the European company. At first, a manager at the firm confirmed that one of the men worked for the company.

But the company's CEO later insisted that the alleged spy had never worked for his company.

The Aussie case reportedly has no direct connection to the ongoing probe into the assassination of Hamas figure Mahmoud Mabhouh allegedly by Mossad agents, three of them using allegedly forged Australian travel documents

But allegations swirling about that Mossad is using the passports of Australians -- as well as those of Britons, French, Germans and Irish -- to conduct clandestine operations around the Middle East has begun to stir up a hornet's nest of paranoia. 

In Lebanon, authorities already are talking about clamping down on the flood of Westerners who enter the country and get visas on arrival at the airport or at Syrian border crossings. 

"Lebanon has always been a target for Israeli security penetrations, and the many operations that had taken place in the last years carried Israeli fingerprints," Hassan Fadlallah, a Lebanese Hezbollah lawmaker told the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, according to the website Naharnet.

"Hence, the government has to take the necessary measures to preserve security and stability in the face of Israeli attempts," he said. "Many Israelis had previously managed to enter Lebanon with European and non-European passports."

Since 2008, Lebanon has rounded up dozens of alleged spies accused of working for the Mossad.

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photos: Top photo, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organization's headquarters. Secondary photo, a Cold War-era cypher used to send encrypted messages before the digital era. Credit: ASIO website

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