Terrorism and China at the center of Be’er Sheva’s dialogue

Israel and Australia face rapidly changing security environments with increasing militarization in their regions. Both are the target of terrorist attacks and attempt to meet the challenges of a more belligerent China.

Faced with this reality, delegations from Australia and Israel gathered online in November for the seventh annual Be’er Sheva Dialogue to discuss how the two nations can work together in areas of interest. common strategy.

The Dialogue is a partnership between ASPI and the International Counterterrorism Institute at Reichman University and brings together officials, parliamentarians and analysts.

There was broad agreement that China was an increasingly intrusive and aggressive power in the Indo-Pacific and the Middle East, but the outlook on this from Israel and Australia were fundamentally different.

For Australian policymakers, the world was seen through the prisms of Chinese power and the partnerships that help manage it, such as AUKUS, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and a host of other multilateral relationships.

For Israel, Iran is the closest wolf to the sled and the state that poses an existential risk through its continued nuclear weapons ambitions and its culture, support and leadership of violent proxy actors, including the Hamas and Hezbollah. They share the Iranian regime’s desire to wipe out the State of Israel.

Beijing’s relations with Iran, Israel, and other important states in the Middle East are what make China important to Israel. And how the engagement of the United States and the European powers with Iran and China reinforces or contains Iranian aggression is key here.

With these different prisms, there is a tremendous opportunity for Australians and Israelis to implement policies and strategies that work for each nation and for both nations collectively. Already, Israel has acted to stop sharing military technology with Beijing due to the now clear trajectory of the policies of the United States and other security partners on China under Xi Jinping.

But the intertwined nature of the Chinese challenge, with its strategic, technological and economic issues, means that things just aren’t that simple, either for Australia or Israel.

Beijing sees opportunities to expand its presence in the Middle East as the United States confronts China more systemically in the Indo-Pacific. This illustrates the continuing dilemma for the United States when seeking to redefine its priorities and refocus geographically, as it increases the chances of creating pressure points to be used against it elsewhere. This kind of dilemma will become more familiar to China as it seeks more power and influence beyond its immediate region.

Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton noted geography alone had never determined Australia’s strategic direction, and Australia was safer when Israel was safe behind secure and internationally recognized borders. Dutton observed that both states were experiencing “gray area” activities outside of armed conflict but designed to irritate, intimidate and injure. These included cyber attacks, commercial interference, disinformation campaigns, the use of paramilitary forces and the militarization of contested elements.

Australian and Israeli defense officials began strategic talks in 2018, and in 2019 Australia appointed a defense attaché in Tel Aviv. Nations had agreed to cooperate closely on cyber issues. “We’re friends, and we’ve always been and always will be,” said Dutton.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the dialogue highlighted strong strategic links on the basis of shared democratic values ​​and common interests. He said it was possible to expand defense cooperation in research and development and industry and highlighted Australia’s contribution to regional stability through peacekeeping.

Gantz said Iran was the biggest exporter of terrorism globally and regionally, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons threatened Israel. Iran was expanding its radical ideology, weapons, funding and workforce across the Middle East and it urged the international community to act.

He noted that Israel was building the city of Be’er Sheva as a cyber center for the Middle East and said that the more Israel could strengthen its economy and security, the more it could expand its relations with countries in the region. The Minister thanked Australia for supporting the Abraham’s Agreements and suggested that they should be extended to other states.

Participants discussed how the Taliban victory had spurred extremist movements around the world. Afghanistan could face a growing internal conflict between the Taliban, Islamic State Khorasan and al-Qaeda-linked groups and become a magnet for foreign fighters who ultimately seek to rebuild their ability to strike targets Western.

If the Taliban consolidated their control, they could apply their extremist state version of Sharia law, and they could reach Middle East and Indo-Pacific politics in strange ways. A Taliban state recognizing Hamas as the legitimate governing entity in Gaza and the West Bank or recognizing violent separatist movements seeking to establish caliphates in Southeast Asia are two examples.

For Israel, the big winners of the Taliban victory were Pakistan and Iran.

An Australian delegate said boosting the motivation of Islamist groups would not automatically translate into strategic momentum unless allowed. And Russia, India, China and Iran should all devote more time and energy to managing their own interests and mutual relations in and around Afghanistan.

A striking observation about the future of terrorism and extremism that floated through the dialogue was how the bizarre partnerships emerging with far-right groups inspired by the Taliban and Islamists made a more dispersed, interconnected threat. and amorphous. Far-right extremists praised the Taliban for their policies and behavior towards women and celebrated the images of male warriors being propagated about Taliban fighters. They saw parallels with the “nativist” behaviors they want in their own country.

While Islamist terrorist violence would remain dangerous and damaging, an increase in far-right terrorist violence was in some ways a more difficult problem for governments. Some of the rhetorics and narratives they use are close to traditional political debates and narratives, and they can directly threaten democratic institutions, creating the classic counterterrorism dilemma: how to defend democracy without letting terrorism linger. erode.

Even if the level of violence of far-right attacks remains less dangerous than the historic attacks with many victims, this appropriation of a domestic political narrative or worldview can be divisive and corrosive in democratic societies. . The same will be true in a world where violence and extremism are escalating due, for example, to concerns about the environment or climate change.

Israelis hailed Australia Hezbollah list as a terrorist organization, but expressed concern over what they saw as a rushed attempt by the United States to revive the nuclear deal despite Iran’s belligerence.

While Australians thought their nation was ‘the canary in the coal mine’ of Chinese coercion, Israelis said they were just beginning to wonder how China’s superpower status would play out in the Middle East. . China is Israel’s third-largest trading partner after the United States and the EU and has a keen interest in Israeli technology.

Several delegates said that in Europe, Britain and the United States, Xi had shifted from a positive view to a negative view of China. The development of the Quad and the UKUS is his responsibility.

There were concerns that China’s power and influence in the Middle East would grow as countries increasingly looked to Beijing as a long-term partner as the United States withdrew from the region. Almost half of China’s energy needs come from the region, especially Iran. He has invested heavily in ports and infrastructure, including a new terminal in Israel haifa port, operated by the state-owned Shanghai International Port Group.

China had a strategic ally in Iran, which used China to circumvent sanctions. In March, Beijing and Tehran signed a 25-year strategic agreement that should see China help develop Iran’s military capabilities. China’s relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are developing.

Due to concerns in Washington over China’s growing engagement with Israel, Israel has transferred its foreign investment control committee to the National Security Council, under the control of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Both delegations feared that President Joe Biden would continue the trend of recent administrations in decreasing the US presence in the Middle East. While Australia was concerned about China and Israel primarily about Iran, the common denominator was doubts about America’s resilience.

It has been suggested that Australia should work more closely with Israel in the Pacific Island region, given the Good will there to Israel. Israel could work with Australia on water and agriculture projects in the islands and could create an incubator for application development. With many blockchain projects and digital currencies Being developed in the region, Israel could help strengthen e-commerce security systems. The Israel Defense Forces could help train military personnel in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga.

With the Quad grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the United States gain momentum and by focusing on critical technologies, Israel could contribute to its work. Israel is already working on critical technologies in “another Quad” with the United States, India and the United Arab Emirates.

The barriers to entry to the Quad are expected to be lower than for AUKUS, which is made up of some members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group. Israel could collaborate with AUKUS in areas such as cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

Britain and Israel have Okay to deepen ties in areas such as cybersecurity, AI and quantum computing and an AUKUS-plus agreement between Australia and Israel could be based on this model to jointly deliver new capabilities. It would be timely to refresh the 2017 Defense Memorandum of Understanding between Australia and Israel.

Australians called for an upcoming ministerial meeting to set terms for closer defense and security cooperation and urged Israel to join ASPI 2022 Sydney Dialogue which focuses on emerging, critical and cybernetic technologies.

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