Goodbye Cablegate, hello Kebabgate

New Zealand has, less than shockingly, not been a major presence in the WikiLeaks saga so far. So congratulations are order for the U.S. embassy in Wellington, which made a strong showing in the Guardian yesterday with a tale of international espionage that somehow involves Mossad, Hamas, cerebral palsy, and mutton. In 2004, New Zealand ...

SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images
SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images
SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images

New Zealand has, less than shockingly, not been a major presence in the WikiLeaks saga so far. So congratulations are order for the U.S. embassy in Wellington, which made a strong showing in the Guardian yesterday with a tale of international espionage that somehow involves Mossad, Hamas, cerebral palsy, and mutton.

In 2004, New Zealand imposed diplomatic sanctions on Israel after two Mossad agents were found to have stolen the identity of a quadriplegic New Zealander in order to obtain a passport for a third Israeli spy.* "It is a sorry indictment of Israel that it has again taken such actions against a country with which it has friendly relations," New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said at the time. Visas were restricted, embassies were closed, and Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who was planning to visit the country, was disinvited. Then Hamas got involved. The organization put out a press release applauding New Zealand's actions, saying it "highly appreciated the daring position" Clark had taken against the "Zionist security apparatuses."

New Zealand has, less than shockingly, not been a major presence in the WikiLeaks saga so far. So congratulations are order for the U.S. embassy in Wellington, which made a strong showing in the Guardian yesterday with a tale of international espionage that somehow involves Mossad, Hamas, cerebral palsy, and mutton.

In 2004, New Zealand imposed diplomatic sanctions on Israel after two Mossad agents were found to have stolen the identity of a quadriplegic New Zealander in order to obtain a passport for a third Israeli spy.* “It is a sorry indictment of Israel that it has again taken such actions against a country with which it has friendly relations,” New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said at the time. Visas were restricted, embassies were closed, and Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who was planning to visit the country, was disinvited. Then Hamas got involved. The organization put out a press release applauding New Zealand’s actions, saying it “highly appreciated the daring position” Clark had taken against the “Zionist security apparatuses.”

Clark’s government made a show of rejecting Hamas’s overtures, but American embassy officials in Wellington were apparently unconvinced. A July 19, 2004 cable about the incident, signed by political and economic counselor Timothy Zuniga-Brown, floats the theory that New Zealand may have had ulterior motives in making a big deal about the Mossad affair:

Its overly strong reaction to Israel over this issue suggests the [government of New Zealand] sees this flap as an opportunity to bolster its credibility with the Arab community, and by doing so, perhaps, help NZ lamb and other products gain greater access to a larger and more lucrative market.

Would the Kiwis really fan the flames of an international incident to ingratiate their way into Arab stomachs? It’s certainly true that the economy of New Zealand — which famously has 9 sheep for every human — is unusually lamb-dependent: The country’s lamb-heavy international meat sales accounted for $5.19 billion last year, or 13 percent of all exports. And while Europe and the United States are still the world’s biggest lamb importers, the Middle East is the most promising growth market — neighboring Australia’s lamb exports to the region grew 25 percent from 1990 to 2008. In any case, the New Zealand media have been strangely silent on the allegations so far.

*What’s with New Zealand and weird identity theft scandals?

Charles Homans is a special correspondent for the New Republic and the former features editor of Foreign Policy.

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