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Dictating foreign policy

By Tony Kevin - posted Wednesday, 9 August 2006

The Australian Government should now be in the middle of some serious foreign policy re-evaluation as to how this nation should respond to the ongoing crisis in Lebanon and Israel’s continued widening of the war there. Just out is an excellent analysis of the state of the war by Paul Rogers of Bradford University, UK, on the Open Democracy website - it is well worth a read.

Rogers shows Israel’s war aims are far from succeeding yet, and asks whether they can succeed at all. Israeli forces are now bogged down in what could be a long war. All Lebanese, both Muslim and Christian, are now fiercely angry with Israel for the destruction and misery its invasion is wreaking. Israel has finally alienated the Lebanese Christians.

Hezbollah missiles go on reaching Israeli home territory. If Hezbollah missiles keep on penetrating Israel, there is a risk the inexperienced Olmert Government may seek to widen the war, both as a diversion from its failure so far to achieve its war aims in Lebanon and because of the disastrous international PR it is now getting. This is a real and serious prospect, argues Rogers.


Meanwhile, the Australian Government publicly flirts with the foolish idea of participating in an Israeli-US vetted UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. Australian soldiers in such a force would be sitting ducks for hostile Lebanese militants, who would see the force as being there only to suit Israel’s convenience and extricate it from potential failure in Lebanon. In terms of Australian interest, we would be mad to go into such a force now.

It only took a second on television for John Howard to repudiate any idea of Australia talking to Hezbollah. That was a foolish, short-sighted response. Hezbollah is a player now. Australia, with our large Jewish and Lebanese origin populations, should be talking to Hezbollah as well as to the Israeli and Lebanese Governments. That is what diplomats do in a crisis - talk to all the parties.

But that is not the Australian Government’s way: it prefers to remain in the rock-solid Tel Aviv-Washington-Canberra hawks’ club, as one of the only two countries in the world that fully supports the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Of course, for Howard, any idea of contact with Hezbollah would be anathema.

And just when responsible Western media were beginning to think it might be alright to criticise Israeli actions without being accused of anti-Semitism, along came Mel Gibson with the real thing, reminding us that Jews really do face ugly prejudices in this world. This is the reality, but it should not condition how we think about Israeli conduct in Lebanon, which is unacceptably opportunistic and grossly disproportionate to the provocation.

Australians really do need to focus serious attention on where our national interest lies in the current Israeli escalation of fighting in Lebanon.

The now famous Mearsheimer and Walt article, The Israel Lobby, is a good place to start.


The eminent authors - certainly not anti-Semitic, the very idea is ridiculous - asked serious questions earlier this year, about the success of rightwing Israel lobbyists in the United States. Over several decades these lobbyists have maintained a majority consensus view among the US political elite - both Democrat and Republican - that Israeli and US interests in the Middle East are pretty much identical. Anyone who questions that mindset risks being wedged as an anti-Semite.

Much the same is true of Australia since at least the time of the 1968 Arab-Israeli War.

AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and its much smaller Australian counterpart AIJAC, are among the most professionally skilled and successful political lobbying organisations in the world. They are not, as far as I know, representative elected bodies of the Jewish communities in these countries. We don’t know where most of their funding comes from: although I am sure they could if pressed produce long lists of generous local donors. More significantly we don’t know to whom they are accountable for policy direction.

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About the Author

Tony Kevin holds degrees in civil engineering, and in economics and political science. He retired from the Australian foreign service in 1998, after a 30-year career during which he served in the Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister’s departments, and was Australia’s ambassador to Poland and Cambodia. He is currently an honorary visiting fellow at the Australian National University’s Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies in Canberra. He has written extensively on Australian foreign, national security, and refugee policies in Australia’s national print media, and is the author of the award-winning books A Certain Maritime Incident – the Sinking of SIEV X, and Walking the Camino: a modern pilgrimage to Santiago. His third book on the global climate crisis, Crunch Time: Using and abusing Keynes to fight the twin crises of our era was published by Scribe in September 2009.

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