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Posted Tuesday, September 7, 1999

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September 6, 1999

Probe of Mossad's use of Canadian ID halted

Intelligence sources say investigation incomplete because Ottawa did not want to upset Israel

The Globe and Mail

Toronto -- The federal government has quietly closed the file on its investigation into allegations that Israel broke a 1997 promise to no longer use Canadian passports in covert operations.

The Israeli pledge, made after purloined Canadian passports were used in a failed assassination attempt on an Islamic official in Jordan, was allegedly broken later in 1997 when a Canadian living in Israel was approached by an organization thought to be a front for the Mossad -- Israel's secret service.

A Foreign Affairs official has confirmed that the investigation -- announced by Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy -- has ended with the conclusion there is insufficient evidence to prove that Israel broke its pledge.

But Canadian intelligence sources are denouncing the investigation as shoddy and incomplete. They say the probe was half-hearted because Canadian officials did not want to upset Israel.

"They [Canadian officials] got the answers they wanted from the Israelis and ended it right there. Some investigation," one intelligence official said.

The sources say Canadian officials did not thoroughly check out Israel's explanations about the Mossad's pursuit of Canadian passports. "It is a farce," said another intelligence source.

Netanyahu at AuschwitzThis is the second time Ottawa has investigated allegations the Mossad approached Leslie Lewis, a Canadian living in Israel, for his passport after Mr. Axworthy received iron-clad assurances from former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right, visiting Auschwitz) in late 1997 that the spy agency would no longer do so.

The pledge came after two Mossad agents were apprehended in Amman in September, 1997, carrying illegally obtained Canadian passports. They had just botched an assassination attempt on Kahlid Mashaal, a key member of Hamas, a militant Palestinian organization. A diplomatic dustup between Canada and Israel ensued, resulting in the brief recall of Canada's former ambassador to Israel, David Berger.

Last Monday, the Amman offices of Mr. Mashaal and several other prominent Hamas members were raided by Jordanian police. An arrest warrant for Mr. Mashaal, who was reportedly out of the country, has been issued by Jordanian authorities.

Valerie Noftle, a spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs in Ottawa, rejected suggestions that the new probe was incomplete or less than thorough. Canada, she said, is satisfied with Israeli assurances that Mossad agents were not involved in further attempts to secure Canadian passports.

"The Canadian government has accepted these assurances and has no basis, at this time, for doubting them," Ms. Noftle said in an interview.

The new probe was ordered last November by Mr. Axworthy after Mr. Lewis, a Hasidic Jew, said Israeli agents approached him to hand over his passport just weeks after Mr. Netanyahu's promise.

Mr. Lewis said he was contacted by agents with the Bureau of Immigration Affairs, which intelligence sources say is a Mossad front.

He also said bureau agents asked for permission to fly his daughter, Devora, to Canada where she would obtain a Canadian passport and then return to Israel to hand it over to agents. Mr. Lewis turned them down.

Mr. Lewis alerted officials with the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv that Israel had a renewed thirst for Canadian passports. A senior Canadian diplomat visited him at home, took some notes and left.

Mr. Lewis, 56, is married with two children. A former accountant, he moved to Israel from Vancouver seven years ago.

He is no stranger to Israeli agents searching for Canadian passports.

Mr. Lewis was first approached in 1996 by Israeli officials, who told him they needed his expired Canadian passport to help free Jews from enemy states. Mr. Lewis obliged, and also gave them other pieces of identification, including his Canadian driver's licence.

However, when he became aware of the failed assassination attempt, he began to have second thoughts. He told Canadian officials, and was later given a new passport and told not to lend it to the Israelis again.

But Israeli agents were soon back at his doorstep looking for his new Canadian passport and he was back at the Canadian embassy telling diplomats all about it.

Last November, Mr. Axworthy acknowledged that Mr. Lewis contacted Canadian diplomats in Israel in late 1997, but officials concluded that his allegations could not be corroborated. Mr. Axworthy said the original probe was hampered because Mr. Lewis would not permit Canadian authorities to use his name in any inquiries with the Israeli government.

However, Mr. Lewis fully co-operated with Canadian officials during this second probe.

Ms. Noftle said Mr. Axworthy ordered his officials to reinterview Mr. Lewis and raise his allegations with Israeli officials earlier this year.

She said Mr. Lewis was "indefinite" about the dates and locations of the latest "alleged" approach by Israeli agents for his passport.

Israeli officials denied approaching Mr. Lewis for his passport and also denied the existence of the Bureau of Immigration Affairs, Ms. Noftle added.

Contacted by phone at his home in Jerusalem, Mr. Lewis declined to be interviewed.

Attempts to reach Israeli diplomats for reaction were unsuccessful. Last November, David bar Ilan, a spokesman for the Israeli government, denied breaking the passport promise to Canada and suggested that Mr. Lewis may have been approached by an imposter claiming to be a Mossad agent.

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