From The Australian, June 25, 2009, by Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor:
RIAD Malki, the foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority, would like to see Australian troops posted to the Gaza Strip as peacekeepers. ...At the moment, Malki's proposal is unrealistic. The Palestinian Authority cannot guarantee its own security in Gaza. Egypt, let alone the US or Australia, would be unlikely to commit troops and the Israelis would not accept a restriction on their right to self-defence...
...The fact that the Palestinian foreign minister suggested Australian soldiers reflects the high reputation of our troops. But it also demonstrates that Australia's deep friendship with Israel has not remotely diminished our credibility with the Arab world.
Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and former treasurer Peter Costello are visiting Israel as part of the inaugural Australia Israel Leadership Forum, organised by Melbourne businessman Albert Dadon.
Gillard deserves particular praise for attending the forum, as she was subject to a nasty campaign from the Left to try to intimidate her out of going.
The Left internationally is going through one of its periodic bouts of trying to isolate Israel. This is one of those demented moments where allegedly progressive opinion believes it's the height of creativity to engage the mullah dictatorship in Iran, as it steals elections and pursues nuclear weapons, but wrong to visit a democratic ally such as Israel.
The Rudd government has stood four square against this nonsensical position...
...there is ...a good political dimension to what Gillard is doing. .... The traditional doubt about the Left is that they tend to be anti-American or simply unreliable on national security. Gillard has given a series of speeches and performances that demonstrate she is 100 per cent with Rudd in the mainstream Curtin-Hawke Labor tradition on the US alliance, the deployment of Australian forces overseas and indeed Israel and the Middle East.
...Without any ambiguity, Gillard celebrated Australia's friendship with Israel. She drew attention, with pride, to Australia's long military involvement in the Middle East. She expressed concern at the frustration of democracy in Iran and at Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Gillard got good press in Israel, where she is widely admired for her strong statements as acting prime minister in support of Israel's right to self-defence when it undertook the operation earlier this year in Gaza to stop the relentless launch of thousands of rockets from Gaza on to the civilian population of Israel's southern cities. Gillard's visit is significant in Australia-Israel relations, in the development of Gillard, and in the maturation of Labor's Left more generally (exceptions notwithstanding).
The other star of the evening was Costello. ...Costello gave a more sweeping account of our military involvement in the Middle East. Australians should be more aware of this. Our premier military historian, Jeffrey Grey, has argued that Australia has had a greater strategic military effect in the Middle East than anywhere else.
In the southern Israeli city of Beersheba there is now a magnificent park and statue commemorating the famous charge of the Australian light horse in 1917, which took Beersheba from the Ottoman Turks. This allowed the British to drive through to Jerusalem and led to the British mandate over Palestine and thus the establishment of Israel. On the same day as the Australian action in Beersheba the British government decided in principle to support the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel.
Then in World War II Australian divisions fought magnificently against Axis forces in the Middle East. Some Arab leaders had petitioned Adolf Hitler to include the Middle East's Jews in the Final Solution. The Australian effort was critical in making sure that didn't happen. More recently, in 2003 the Australian special forces were the first allied troops to go into Iraq. Their priority was to locate and destroy Scud missile launchers that Saddam Hussein might use against Israel.
At the political level the relationship between Australia and Israel is splendid. But perversely there is still a bias against Israel in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, despite the fine work of the embassy in Tel Aviv. Even more perversely, there is a little bit of a similar bias in the Australian Defence Force, which has an operational relationship with a number of the Gulf State Arab nations, and consequently hosts lots of Arab officers at Australian staff colleges and the like, but no similar relationship with the magnificent Israeli Defence Force, with which it should routinely be sharing strategic insights and tactical expertise.
Nonetheless, in Israel this week Australian political leadership has been on display at its bipartisan best, all to the background of a very good Australian cultural festival. You couldn't really ask for more.
Greg Sheridan visited Israel as a participant in the inaugural Australia Israel Leadership Forum.