Two suspected Israeli spies, Uriel Zoshe Kelman and Eli Cara, were sentenced last week to six months in prison after pleading guilty to trying to obtain a New Zealand passport by fraud.

Police are still hunting for a third man, Zev William Barkan, who the defence pinpointed as the mastermind behind the operation but who left New Zealand before he could be arrested.

Barkan, who applied for a passport under the name of a wheelchair-bound Auckland man, worked as an attache at Israel's embassy in Austria from 1996 to 2001, One News network said on Thursday, citing information from the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He was also believed to have been a diplomat in Belgium, and had worked for the Israeli Foreign Ministry for 10 years, the network said.

"We expect an explanation (from Israel), an accounting
of what the people
were involved with,
and an assurance that this sort of thing
won't happen again"

Phil Goff,
New Zealand Foreign Minister

"That is direct evidence that this is Israeli state involvement, whether Mossad or the diplomatic corps," Ralph Pettman of Wellington's Victoria University said.

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff confirmed that Barkan was an employee of the Israeli foreign service "for a period of time".

"We expect an explanation (from Israel), an accounting of what the people were involved with, and an assurance that this sort of thing won't happen again," Goff said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has suspended all high-level contacts with Israel as a result. Israel has no direct diplomatic presence in New Zealand, with the closest embassy in Canberra.

The government has said there were "very strong reasons" to suspect the two jailed men were acting on behalf of Israel's intelligence services, without producing evidence.