“Jerusalem has lost friends” is the headline on this Age story:
This vote is clearly an act of retaliation by Australia – and by Britain, France and Germany. Israel has lost friends thanks to the sordid affair in Dubai concerning fake passports and murder, and the stink will hang in the air a good while yet.
Australia has made a calculated switch away from backing Israel’s complaints about bias in the United Nations system. Don’t be fooled. There are plenty of gripes about how Israel is unfairly targeted in the UN, but Tel Aviv takes these votes very seriously and lobbies hard to win countries to its side.
Now Israel has lost key supporters. In New York on Friday night, Australia abstained from a resolution calling for further investigation of the 2009 Gaza conflict and war crimes allegations. Not so long ago Australia was one of 17 countries to join Israel to vote against a similar resolution. The message is clear.
Britain and France went further. Having abstained in the vote last November, on Friday both backed the need for further investigations. Germany switched along the same lines as Australia, while Ireland – the other country caught in the visa scandal – has voted for investigation both times.
The fact is the war crimes questions arising from Gaza are separate from the passport affair and Australia should vote consistently. But the UN is first and foremost a venue for power politics.
This can take many forms, and subtle changes to behaviour can send a strong message.
Australia has demanded Israel co-operate with an inquiry to determine how three Australian passports ended up in the hands of an apparent Mossad hit squad. But if Israel continues to hide behind a policy of ”never confirm or deny”, Australia has little choice but to seek alternative ways to apply pressure for co-operation. For all the talk of close ties between the two countries, Australia has little other leverage.
More revelations are to come from this Dubai affair. The local authorities claim more suspects will soon be identified and are demanding the countries caught up in the scandal do more than condemn the forgery of their passports but help catch the killers. Australia will also feel the pressure to take strong action in the weeks ahead.
And here’s the anonymous quote that explains Australia’s position:
One Department of Foreign Affairs source told the Herald there was no doubt the decision to abstain [at the UN] was intended as a sign to Israel not to take Australian support for granted.
”A number of things made it easier for us to switch our vote,” the source said.
”Firstly, the Americans helped the Palestinians to soften the wording of this resolution compared to the last one. Secondly, a number of other countries had indicated that they were toughening their own positions on Goldstone. But there is no question that the debacle surrounding our passports being used in Dubai helped to make up the government’s mind to abstain. The final decision was taken late on Friday, Australian time, just a few hours before the vote.
”Our pattern in the past has been to vote with the US when it comes to Israel, to show as much support for Israel as possible.
”We were also aware that the UK’s decision to vote in favour of the resolution was influenced by the fact that so many of their citizens had been caught up in the Dubai assassination.”
The opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julie Bishop, yesterday accused the government of downgrading its support for Israel as part of its campaign to win a UN Security Council seat.
”I don’t understand the government’s change of heart,” she told the Herald.
”The Coalition’s position has been consistent. Having voted against the Goldstone report, we would continue to vote against it ”¦ Since coming to office the government has weakened Australia’s long-held position of supporting Israel at the UN.”
This opinion article in the Sydney Morning Herald, by academic Amin Saikal, is strong and headlined, “It is time for Israel’s friends to condemn its acts of terrorism”:
By and large a one-dimensional approach has characterised our approach to understanding the phenomenon of terrorism. However, the recent gruesome killing of a Hamas figure, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai should make us cast our net wider to focus also on state terrorism.
The Dubai police have claimed with almost undisputed evidence that the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, was behind the killing. Israel has as usual maintained a policy of ambiguity by neither confirming nor denying Mossad’s actions, although some of its political leaders, specifically the Opposition Leader, Tzipi Livni, have applauded the killing on the grounds that Mabhouh was a terrorist and deserved to be eliminated.
If it is proved beyond doubt that Mossad agents, using forged passports in the names of British, French, Irish, German and Australian citizens, perpetrated the act, the killing clearly underlines a very disturbing aspect of Israeli behaviour.
It constitutes a blatant act of state terrorism, which places Israel in a position parallel to the very forces that it has unfailingly condemned as terrorist groups or networks.