Dr Mike Kelly talks to AIJAC

April 18, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) has featured Dr Mike Kelly, former ALP government minister and 20-year distinguished veteran of the Australian army in its latest webinar.

Mike Kelly

Dr Kelly has completed several overseas deployments, including to Iraq and Somalia, was awarded various honours, was Director of Army Legal Services, and had the rank of Colonel. He is the first Australian guest to participate in AIJAC’s webinars.

Kelly, whose topic was “Assessing the strategic relationship between Australia & Israel: An insider’s view” said that while the broader community would ask why there would be a strategic relationship, there is an intersection of interests even though they’re on opposite sides of the world, including combatting global and virtual threats.

He noted there is a mutual threat of terrorism, with Islamist extremism becoming increasingly sophisticated, and using the “virtual threat space” to recruit and deploy across the world.

He added that with “the dramatic rise of violent right wing extremism…we have these two-pronged terrorist threats in recent times that have required a lot of cooperation internationally…And in fact, there’s been some critical information passed from Israel to Australia to defeat specific terrorist plots and threats in Australia.”

Israeli arms company Elbit has provided Australia with important defence systems and created a technical skills base in Australia, he said, contributing high quality light protected mobility vehicles, helmets, bandages, and the Heron remotely-piloted vehicle, which Australian forces used in Afghanistan and which gave a “quantum improvement in capabilities”, including detecting improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.Israel has contributed to Australia’s defence technically, tactically and strategically.

The countries also share threats from China, North Korea and Iran, which poses a substantial conventional threat to shipping through the vital Strait of Hormuz. In 2006, in the Israel/Hezbollah war, there were 25,000 Australian citizens in Lebanon, and Kelly managed the evacuation, which, he said, was co-ordinated closely with Israel.

The morphing of the threat from Hezbollah, he said, has highlighted a problem with countering terror-financing, with money coming from South American drug lords, needing international co-ordination to counter it.

We also share a need to develop energy security rather than being dependent on imported oil, and, he said, should cooperate on alternatives, such as hydrogen energy.

He said the cyber threat is massive, especially from Russia, whose activities include mobilising extreme right-wing groups with the intention of undermining liberal democracy. They target Western armed forces and police, all orchestrated by Russian Intelligence, setting up groups like Veterans for Trump, and using “bot factories” to disseminate material. This is a serious threat that requires collaboration to counter.

He described the threat and benefit of quantum computing as a “game-changer”, saying China is making a massive investment, and we should also collaborate with Israel on this.

He is concerned about the partnership agreement between China and Iran, and said Australia and Israel should work together to bring the US along in the right direction there.

Asked about Iraq, he said that Iraqis don’t trust the West’s intentions, because after the first Gulf War, the US told them to rise up against Saddam Hussein, and then did nothing to protect them when Saddam slaughtered them. Western strategies and Iraqi governments since the fall of Saddam have also been ineffective. It’s important for the Western allies to have a well-considered incentive-based regime, and understand the culture and who is important there, so the strategy needs much recalibration.

Asked about the chances of the next ALP government recognising a state of Palestine without an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, he said the wording that is now included in the party platform is no different to the 2018 resolution on the subject, and it’s an ambition that is within the concept of a two state solution.

It would depend on what’s happening at the time, such as whether there had been free and fair Palestinian elections, while any democratic party would need to be concerned about supporting statehood for an entity that doesn’t support free and fair elections ,doesn’t allow trade unionism and has serious human rights abuses.

He added that Penny Wong well understands that “you can’t come in there doing a unilateral recognition in the context of disrupting a peace process” when there’s still a lot to be resolved between the parties and “also in consultation with the quartet and our key diplomatic partners internationally.” He accepted that people are concerned that it now stands as a specific item among general foreign policy goals, and that if the ALP forms a government, there will be pressure from some to move ahead, but he also suggested that any Australian foreign minister “would be under enormous pressure from allies and from the framework of the process itself to take a more considered approach to it than just simply rushing out to recognize a Palestinian state,” especially  since the Palestinians don’t have a government that represents them all and can act on their behalf.

He added that now  government perceptions have been reshaped by the Abraham Accords, and that in his wide experience speaking to Middle East states, their concern was Iran – Israel never came up. He expects to see more Arab states, including in Africa, joining the Abraham Accords, as long as the Biden Administration continues to encourage this through incentives.

On a free trade agreement with Israel, he said Israel has so much to teach a country like Australia, in building a new, technology-based economy, and how it became a start-up nation, including through commercialising research.

On the Biden Administration policy on Iran, he said it had been a mistake to enter into the JCPOA nuclear deal, with all its flaws, adding that agreements are important, but we know Iran was only willing to participate because of the pressure of sanctions, so “taking the pressure off with releasing the pressure of those sanctions was flawed. I think you only take that pressure off in reward for a proven compliance outcome. And we know that Iran has never given up its nuclear ambitions throughout all this and still pursuing it today.” Iran proceeding to a nuclear capacity, he said, “would be a disaster for the entire region and for the globe.”

To prevent Iran achieving nuclear weapons capabilities without reverting to a military option, he said, “you need to come back to the sanctions regime and…don’t accept the deceit, the deception, the lies, the non-compliance, and…have a rigorous regime of monitoring and validation and compliance…I don’t think you can just say, ‘let’s go back to the old agreement.’ They’ve come far too far down the progress track on developing nuclear weapons. And we have to be very, very hard in our approach to them. And that needs to happen as soon as possible.”

He said one of the reasons he supports Israel is that he gets “incredibly offended by this focus on Israel of all places,” in light of what’s happening to the Uighurs in China, in Syria, in the Palestinian-ruled areas, for example. If people obsess about Israel while turning a blind eye to all those things, for him “ it kind of has to come back to antisemitism in that context.” He added that maybe looking at antisemitism is “about understanding why people have the attitudes to Israel that they do. Where does that come from? Why is it that you can’t accept that there’d be one home for the Jewish people in the world?”

He said people had formed understandings of Israel that have no basis in fact, and he asks that people who are obsessed with Israel  “really examine why that is, in your heart.” He added that we just have to “be relentless in our intent to challenge lies and misinformation.”



One Response to “Dr Mike Kelly talks to AIJAC”
  1. Leon Podebsky says:

    When will Israel’s friends open their eyes and ears and hear and witness the Arab “Palestinian” refusal to accept any two-state delusion that would accept a Jewish nation-state?
    Just listen to what they say, look at what they do and how they behave.
    Wishful thinking will not change those realities.

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