Launching a new chapter in Australia–Israel relations
31 Oct 2016|

In conjunction with the Begin-Sadat Center of Strategic Studies, ASPI has released a new report, The Wattle and the Olive: A new chapter in Australia and Israel working together.

The cover photo of the report (and above) by official Australian war photographer in both world wars, Frank Hurley, was carefully chosen: it’s an iconic picture of an Australian Light Horse regiment marching up to the old city of Jerusalem, in the wake of the surrender of the Ottoman forces in December 1917.

The Australian Light Horse’s battlefield prowess in Palestine during WW1 helped lay the groundwork for the eventual creation of the modern Jewish state. Jerusalem symbolises the modern Jewish state. The cover picture brings both together.

The study looks at what strategic interests Australia and Israel have in common and what each side can bring to the relationship across traditional and non-traditional security realms. It examines the strategic rationale for a stronger working relationship, rather than just relying on the common values both states share.

There’s really no country in Middle East whose interests are more closely aligned to Australia than Israel. In particular it’s a bulwark against violent extremism in the region. Unfortunately in Australia there’s a tendency to see Israel purely through the lens of Palestinian issue and the peace process. The ASPI-BESA study wanted to get away from that prism.

The report highlights areas cooperation where interests are aligned, like countering terrorism and counter proliferation. Cyber security is another obvious area. Israel is very advanced in cyber deterrence. It’s probably subject to more cyberattacks than any other country.

The report’s key message is that Australia and Israel can cooperate in strategic affairs to the benefit of both countries. Israel should be seen as strong middle income country: it qualified to join the OECD, the top industrial countries group, six years ago, so the idea of ‘tiny’ Israel is rather out of date.

Let me just pick three areas to highlight for bilateral cooperation—one in hard, traditional security and two in the soft, non-traditional security space.

In traditional security, there’s been almost no high-level military exchanges between the two countries. Israel doesn’t have a uniformed military attaché in Canberra (although it’s posted a Ministry of Defense civilian). The Australian military attaché to Israel is based in Ankara, Turkey.

Both the ADF and the Israel Defense Forces would benefit from enhanced cooperation: both operate American equipment and both states’ militaries have invested heavily in world-class technology.

Israel has proven to be a prime source of effective counterterrorism and counterinsurgency tactics, techniques and procedures. On Australia’s side, there’s been unprecedented growth in its special forces’ capability. Israel, whose military doctrine is based on self-reliance, can learn from Australia’s experience in operating as part of military coalitions.

Israel has experience in urban warfare and the development of unmanned aerial systems for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and combat. It has expertise in countering improvised explosive devices, an area where Australia also has considerable expertise, and is a global pacesetter in active measures for armoured vehicle protection, defence against short-range rocket threats, and the techniques and procedures of robotics. Israel has also developed a range of capabilities for battlefield intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and advanced munitions.

Both countries’ militaries are focused on how to incorporate cyber capabilities into their military operations. Both countries are near to major choke-points along maritime oil and trade routes, making naval affairs an important component in their national strategies. In air power, both countries intend to acquire the F-35A variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. As two operators of the same variant, there might be potential for collaboration: in the technical domain, that’s most likely to occur in the broader community of international operators of the F-35A.

The RAAF is developing its expertise in the use of unmanned aerial systems. There’s much Australia can learn from Israel’s pioneering extensive development and operational deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles. Starting in 2017, Israel and Australia should look to develop a strategic dialogue involving senior uniformed and civilian defence personnel. The dialogue should look at strategic thinking, military-to-military cooperation, US alliance issues, cybersecurity and defence industry cooperation.

In the area of soft security, societal resilience is an obvious area for information sharing: Israel has been hit with terror and rockets while still preserving social capital. As a country that’s endured decades of conflict and terror, yet still managed to build a flourishing economy and vibrant democracy, Israel offers insights into individual and societal resilience.

Water management is another area where we can share expertise. Israel is a world leader in dryland farming, drip irrigation and waste water recycling. This is an obvious area for cooperation in international development programs in the Asia–Pacific and Africa, one that will support Australian foreign policy objectives.

Right now the relationship between the two states is underachieving. The Wattle and the Olive suggests that both countries use next year’s centenary of the battle of Be’er Sheva, and the centenary of the Balfour Declaration that led to the creation of the modern state of Israel, to revitalise the relationship.

We can transform our longstanding friendship by opening a new chapter in our relations through deepening existing areas of cooperation and catalysing new ones, such as defence cooperation.

Our two countries will need to be as bold as the 4th Light Horse Brigade at Be’er Sheva if we’re to succeed in forging a new strategic partnership.