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Synergies at stake in better ties with Israel

By Anthony Bergin

As a result of last week’s first visit to Australia by a sitting Israeli Prime Minister, it is possible to discern a more complete grasp by both sides of their shared strategic interests that go beyond resolving the difficult, complex and often emotional Israeli — Palestinian issue.

This was made clear in the joint statement issued by Benjamin Netanyahu and Malcolm Turnbull. Violent extremism is a serious common concern for both states. Both leaders stressed the importance of strengthening co-operation to combat terrorism.

Israel is a prime source of effective counter-terrorism techniques and procedures. There’s scope for both countries to share information on terrorist financing, foreign fighters, the connections between Middle East terrorism and violent Islamist extremism in Asia.

The threats and risks in cyberspace aren’t diminishing — they’re growing in pace, scale and reach. Israel has world-class expertise in cybersecurity. Both countries’ militaries are focused on how to incorporate cyber capabilities into military operations.

The two leaders have committed to a bilateral cyber dialogue. Apart from the military interest, this could examine issues such as internet governance, cybercrime, cyber regulations, information- sharing between government and business, capacity-building and incentives for industry.

Most significant, both leaders affirmed the importance of bilateral defence co-operation and agreed to review opportunities to enhance exchanges between our defence agencies. This is long overdue. There’s been almost no high-level military exchanges between the two countries. Neither side sends officers to study at their military staff colleges. Our defence attache to Israel is based in Turkey.

The Australian and Israeli militaries both operate American equipment. Israel, whose military doctrine is based on self-reliance, can learn from Australia’s experience in military coalitions.

Israel has experience in urban warfare and in the development of unmanned aerial systems an area in which our air force is developing its capability. Israel is a global pacesetter in active measures for armoured vehicle protection, defence against short-range rockets and use of robotics in the battlefield.

Both countries are close to major choke-points along maritime oil and trade routes, making naval affairs an important component of both states’ national strategies. Australia and Israel are both focused on the undersea domain, submarines and deterrence, including the future development of undersea technologies, particularly unmanned subsurface vehicles, notwithstanding the obvious and significant differences in their geographical capability drivers.

Both states’ navies are interested in missile defence from seaborne land-attack capabilities and surface-to-surface missiles. Israel has recently tested a seaborne Iron Dome missile system to protect Israeli offshore oil and gas. In air power, both countries have acquired the F-35, so there might be potential for collaboration, most likely in the broader community of international JSF operators.

There should be regular exchanges between Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group and Israel’s Mafat in areas where there are win-win benefits, such as countering improvised explosive devices. Defence industry end-users and operators should also meet regularly.

An enhanced defence and national security relationship with Israel won’t damage our standing in the Arab or Muslim worlds. Israel has peace treaties with Egypt, the most important Arab state, and with Jordan. Other Arab countries are quietly getting closer to Israel because of the rise of Iran in the region and the fear of radical Islam.

Both states’ intelligence services should enhance their interests by sharing information. Australia is still undertaking military operations in the Middle East. Israel has strong capabilities for intelligence collection and assessments on key countries and issues in that region. Israeli intelligence remains a major source of information on Iran’s and Hezbollah’s activities.

Australia has good information on Islamist extremist groups in Asia that Israel would find of interest. As Mr Netanyahu said in Sydney last week, Israel and Australia had ‘‘superb intelligence services’’, which could be better if they worked more closely together.

The historic visit is likely to produce more recognition by both states of how each contributes to the other’s security interests.

Anthony Bergin is a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and the ANU’s National Security College. He is co-author of “The wattle and the olive: A new chapter in Australia and Israel working together’’

Originally published: The Australian 03 March 2017