- Federal officials are investigating claims that Israeli
agents posed as Canadians during a spy operation in Gaza that reportedly
used sexual blackmail to collect intelligence used to assassinate a Palestinian
- Canada's ambassador to Tel Aviv has asked Israel for
an explanation of the incident and has been told it did not happen, but
officials are concerned Israeli agents may be breaking their promise not
to work undercover as Canadians.
- Akram Zatmeh, 22, claims he supplied information to agents
posing as Canadians that helped Israel pinpoint the whereabouts of a senior
Hamas leader. The leader was later assassinated by Israeli forces in a
July 23 missile attack that also killed 14 others, including nine children.
- The informant claimed he was recruited by three agents
who said they were Canadians and took him to the Canadian embassy in Tel
Aviv before coercing him with promises of travel to Canada and threats
to distribute fake photos showing him in sexual encounters.
- In a similar incident in 1997, Canada recalled its ambassador
to Israel after undercover Mossad agents were caught using falsified Canadian
passports during an assassination attempt on a Palestinian militant leader.
Israel apologized at the time and promised not to do it again.
- The new reports emerging from the Gaza strip have Canadian
officials worried that Israeli agents may have resumed adopting fake Canadian
identities -- a tactic that could jeopardize the safety of Canadians who
work or travel abroad.
- Yesterday, a Foreign Affairs spokesman said the government
had received assurances from Israeli officials that Mr. Zatmeh's accusations
- "It is unsubstantiated allegations," said Reynald
Doiron. "We checked it out with Israeli authorities and they denied
having used Canada, or that they would use Canada in a fashion similar
to what happened last week."
- Asked whether the Israelis could be hiding something
in order to avoid another diplomatic firestorm, Mr. Doiron said: "They
gave us their word and we take it as it is."
- But in what was described as a confession published last
week in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, Mr. Zatmeh detailed how he was
recruited by "Canadians" into becoming a spy two years ago and
eventually played a role in the assassination of Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh.
- "When I used to visit the British Council in Gaza,
I saw one foreigner reading an English newspaper. Because of my curiosity,
I introduced myself to him. He said that he is a Canadian who lectures
sociology at one of the Canadian universities," Mr. Zatmeh said in
- The Canadian, who called himself Terry and said he was
studying the living conditions of Palestinians, hired Mr. Zatmeh to assist
with his research in exchange for $100 a month and a promise to help him
travel to Canada.
- One time, Terry asked for Mr. Zatmeh's photograph in
order to get him an identity card from the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv.
At the embassy, Mr. Zatmeh said Terry introduce him to another "Canadian"
- David used the photograph of Mr. Zatmeh to create doctored
pictures depicting Mr. Zatmeh in various sexual encounters. "He threatened
if I tell anybody he will distribute my pictures, which may cause me a
lot of troubles."
- David later admitted he was actually an Israeli intelligence
agent named Abu Muhammad. He told Mr. Zatmeh to monitor "confrontations"
and "hot events" in Gaza and to supply the names of Palestinian
militants who were firing upon the Jewish settlements and Israeli military
- "After working for a while with Abu Muhammad, another
intelligence officer phoned me and identified himself as Abu Ihab. When
I moved to Gaza, Abu Ihab requested me to observe martyr Salah Shehadeh
and his home in addition to the people who used to visit him and their
- "I confirmed to Abu Ihab more than once that the
building in which the martyr used to live was crowded with residents. Also,
the road around the building was overcrowded. However, Abu Ihab justified
the assassination by saying that if Salah Shehadeh was not assassinated
in such a way, many other civilians could have become his victims."
- On the night of July 23 -- 20 minutes after Mr. Zatmeh
said he reported Mr. Shehadeh's location to the Israeli agent -- an Israeli
F-16 fighter fired a one-ton missile into a residential building in Gaza,
killing Mr. Shehadeh and 14 others. Israel was widely criticized for the
- The informant's account could not be verified and it
may be no more than Palestinian propaganda designed to put Israel in a
bad light. Palestinian militants routinely execute those accused of collaborating
with the Israelis.
- Martin Rudner, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence
and Security Studies at Carleton University's Norman Paterson School of
International Affairs, said the tactics described by Mr. Zatmeh were common.
- "It is not unusual, in intelligence collection operations,
for a country's services to recruit agents under what are termed 'false
flags,' " Prof. Rudner said.
- "This is done in situations where the recruiting
service feels that the agent may not be prepared to work for that particular
country, but may be amenable to giving information to some other; or where
the recruiting services seeks to cover its tracks in the event that the
agent be turned or captured."
- Wesley K. Wark, a University of Toronto political science
professor who specializes in intelligence, said he would not be surprised
if the Israelis had reneged on their 1997 promise.
- "One can easily imagine that after a time of quiet
that the Israelis might, in some operational circumstances, just have made
a decision that this is going to benefit the security of Israel and we
don't really care too much about what the Canadians think," he said.
- Still, Prof. Wark said if the allegations prove true,
the Canadian government will have no choice but demand the Israelis to
- "It does endanger Canadians overseas," he said.
"It adds a layer of unnecessary suspicion to the Canadian identity
abroad and it's something we shouldn't tolerate, so we have to use every
means we can to encourage the Israelis not to do it."
- A false Canadian identity would be a logical cover for
an agent working in Gaza. Canada is heavily involved in aid work in Gaza,
particularly in Mr. Zatmeh's home Rafah, a hotbed of Palestinian militancy
along the Israeli-Egyptian border.
- In September, 1997, two Israeli agents carrying fake
Canadian passports were arrested in Jordan after a botched attempt to assassinate
a high-ranking Hamas official, a Palestinian terrorist group tied to dozens
of suicide bombings.
- The revelation that Israeli spies were posing as Canadians
during covert operations enraged the federal government, which feared the
practice would prompt vigilante attacks against ordinary Canadians living
in the Middle East.
- Lloyd Axworthy, then-minister of foreign affairs, was
so upset that he ordered David Berger, Canada's Ambassador to Israel, to
leave the country until the Mossad security agency promised to stop the
practice. Mr. Berger did return to work two weeks later, but only after
Israeli officials sent a letter promising to "undertake measures to
ensure it never happens again."