12 June 2010

Flitton on the relationship with Israel

Diplomatic editor Daniel Flitton had a very worthwhile opinion piece on the strains in the relationship with Israel in the Friday 11 June edition of The Age – see Sparing Israel the rod spoils the friendship.

After noting that the interests of the two countries are not automatically in sync (something one could wish that the two major political parties had recognised many years ago) and discussing the case of the stolen/forged passports, he observes in relation to the intelligence sharing relationship that Australia has many sources of intelligence about the Middle East, notably the long-standing intelligence sharing arrangements with the United States and the United Kingdom, and observes:

Israel may well have a better idea of what is going on in its region than does Australia - precisely because it is Israel's region. Australia's interests in the Middle East are rightly more limited. Having a good understanding of what is going on in the world should not be confused with wasting time on problems that have little direct impact on our interests. Bureaucratic resources are not infinite and hard decisions must be made about where our priorities lie.

Besides, with few exceptions, when countries share intelligence it is received with a big question mark over why the information is being passed along. Is the material intended to inform, or to influence? Australia might be a friend of Israel but, as the passport episode has shown, there is good reason to carefully assess the motives of its spy agencies.

The question about whether intelligence is passed on to inform or to influence is of fundamental importance and applies to all our intelligence relationships. We should not always assume that what we are being told by our great and powerful friends can be taken at face value.

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