Senate debates

Wednesday, 13 September 2006

Matters of Public Interest

Middle East

12:45 pm

Photo of Ron BoswellRon Boswell (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In the last week of the last sittings, the Greens’ Senator Nettle spoke of the situation in the Middle East. I said at that time that I would respond because Senator Nettle’s speech seemed very one-sided in its criticism of Israel’s defence in the face of attacks by Hezbollah. In Australia Hezbollah is registered as a terrorist organisation. In her speech, Senator Nettle made a number of claims that are either distorted, inaccurate or complete fantasy. For example, Senator Nettle claimed:

Previously all of the milk in Lebanon was supplied by an Israeli company that operated in Lebanon. In recent years, a new organisation had been set up, a consortium of French and Lebanese, to provide milk for Lebanon. That organisation’s factory was targeted in the bombing.

Senator Nettle implied that Israel targeted the bombing out of concern to protect its commercial interests. Even if there used to be a company in Lebanon with a monopoly on the supply of milk products to the Lebanese people, it could not have been Israeli. Lebanese law renders it illegal for any citizen to have any contact with Israelis. Senator Nettle betrays an ignorance of the basics of life in the Middle East.

Senator Nettle also argued that the recent deaths in the Hezbollah-Israel conflict could have been avoided if the Israelis were prepared to trade the only Lebanese citizen jailed in Israel for murdering four people, for its two soldiers. This is an extremely one-eyed view. The deaths could have been avoided if Hezbollah had been disarmed according to UN Security Council resolution 1559, or even if it had not fired rockets from and next to residential buildings throughout Lebanon. Senator Nettle told the Senate:

We now have a devastated country that needs rebuilding. Much of southern Beirut and southern Lebanon is in ruins.

A simple Google search reveals up-to-date satellite photographs of Beirut which show the damaged part of Beirut is limited to exactly those areas Israel said it was targeting: the Hezbollah stronghold in one small area, plus the strategically important runways—but not the buildings of Beirut airport—and other specific targets designed to prevent a rapid resupply of Hezbollah by Iran and Syria.

Senator Nettle talked about Israel attacking some Lebanese army positions, despite its claim to be targeting only Hezbollah. But she failed to point out that Israel attacked some Lebanese army radar stations after they were allegedly used, in coordination with Hezbollah, to guide the missile that damaged an Israeli ship in the first days of the violence. You never get the full story from Senator Nettle, only the bits that suit her view of the world. You never hear the well-known fact that Hezbollah frequently launched rockets from positions adjacent to the UN, putting everyone nearby in danger. This is confirmed by one of the soldiers tragically killed in that accident. According to reports, before his death, he wrote:

... we have on a daily basis had numerous occasions where our position has come under direct or indirect fire from both artillery and aerial bombing. ... This has not been deliberate targeting, but has rather been due to tactical necessity.

The tactical necessity was because of Hezbollah actions against Israel in the immediate area. The Canadian soldier also wrote in his email that the UN position afforded a view of the ‘Hezbollah static positions in and around our patrol base’.

While Senator Nettle claimed that Israeli ‘incursions and invasions into Lebanon have been going on for many years’, she failed to mention the constant cross-border attacks carried out by Hezbollah since Israel withdrew from every inch of Lebanon in 2000. Twenty-seven Israelis were killed by Hezbollah between the Israeli withdrawal and—but not including—the 12 July attacks by Hezbollah. These attacks have taken the forms of rockets, anti-aircraft fire into Israel, small arms fire, mortars and stabbings. Hezbollah had made frequent incursions into Israeli territory to kill Israeli soldiers on border patrol, as well as civilians going about their business. Senator Nettle incorrectly stated that Israel fired on a convoy that had previously been granted Israeli permission to move. An Israeli press release after the accident pointed out that the deaths were tragic, but that Israel had specifically warned the convoy against leaving, as it was conducting operations in the area. Senator Nettle said:

The United Nations and Israel had been in discussions and they had been given the green light for that convoy to head out. Yet, once the United Nations escort left the convoy, the convoy was bombed, killing at least seven people and wounding 36.

She then went on to say:

Part of the lessons we need to learn and part of the wrap-up from this experience is to ensure that there are investigations into any war crimes ...

So Senator Nettle, the Greens senator from Down Under, gets up in this parliament and virtually judges the Israelis guilty of war crimes. The incident referred to is yet another example of Israel attempting to prevent civilian deaths by warning civilians away from conflict but being blamed for their deaths when the civilians disregarded all warnings and drove into a conflict zone. Of the aid convoys that were authorised and coordinated by the IDF throughout this entire period, not a single convoy was hit by IDF fire.

Senator Nettle also incorrectly claimed that:

The calls for peace have been consistent from the Israeli peace movement members, who have been involved in massive demonstrations in Israel throughout this conflict ...

In fact, throughout the conflict, there was near total consensus in Israel that Israel was doing the right thing. Even the left-wing press reported that a peace rally in Tel Aviv was attended by only 2,500 people. I am advised that the recent Tel Aviv rally was noticeable for the presence in significant numbers of Balad supporters. Balad is an Arab political party in Israel whose leader, a member of Israel’s parliament, praised Hezbollah terrorists as heroes in recent weeks as well as before the conflict started.

Finally, Senator Nettle talked about Australia selling some $10 million worth of defence related products to Israel. She said:

Unfortunately, our Prime Minister and our government have been arming one side of the conflict ...

Surely Senator Nettle does not expect Australia to also arm Hezbollah, a terrorist organisation fighting against a close friend, ally and fellow democracy. Australia’s position on this is very clear: Israel had the right to protect itself from terrorist attacks and the Australian government fully supported the exercising of this right. I urge Senator Nettle to be far more judicious in her comments on Middle East affairs, and to check her facts and informants carefully.