Houthi helicopter attack on Red Sea cargo ship
Australia will participate in a virtual US-led meeting on moves to protect shipping in the Red Sea. Image by AP PHOTO
  • politics

Defence chief to join US talks on Red Sea security

Dominic Giannini December 19, 2023

Australia’s defence force chief will join a virtual meeting hosted by US officials as Washington mounts a new operation to combat rebels attacking ships in the Red Sea.

General Angus Campbell will represent Australia late Tuesday night after a US request for a warship, in response to Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen enforcing a blockade on ships as a show of support for Palestine.

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin set up Operation Prosperity Guardian with the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain.

It will focus on security in the Red Sea and seek to protect against missiles and drones being launched by the rebels against merchant ships.

Current and former Australian parliamentarians are also ramping up pressure on the Albanese government to strengthen its stance against Israel and call for a permanent ceasefire.

Destroyed building in central Gaza
 There are growing calls for a permanent ceasefire in the war-ravaged Gaza Strip. Image by AP PHOTO 

Federal and state Labor MPs joined more than 200 current and former parliamentarians and councillors in signing an open letter.

The letter expresses support for “an immediate, permanent ceasefire and a just and lasting peace” and says international law and human rights must be upheld.

“For too long the human rights of the Palestinian people have been grossly violated, in the context of broader circumstances that also breach international law and pose a grave threat to international peace and security,” it reads.

“These violations began in 1948 with the violent displacement of some 700,000 Palestinian people from their homeland.”

It says the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel was “intolerable and to the shame of the international community”.

“It is beyond dispute that Israel is committed to policies designed to entrench the domination of one people over another in the territories of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories,” it continues.

“Attempts to deny this, or smear those who allege it, are an attempt to defy truth and reality.”

The deliberate or reckless killing of innocent civilians – by both Israel and Hamas – should form part of an investigation by the International Criminal Court, the letter says.

It condemns both the killing of civilians by Israel and the October 7 attack by Hamas, designated a terrorist organisation by Australia, and calls on the government to recognise Palestine as a state.

The Labor Party policy is to recognise Palestine but with no timeline attached.

The letter has been signed by former foreign affairs ministers Gareth Evans and Bob Carr, all current and former leaders of the Australian Greens and federal Labor members Louise Pratt, Fatima Payman and Maria Vamvakinou.

Eleven NSW Labor MPs have also signed.

Some Liberals and Nationals are among the signatories, including former Liberal immigration minister Ian Macphee.

The letter was co-ordinated by NSW Labor MP Anthony D’Adam and NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong with the help of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.

Bob Carr
 Former foreign minister Bob Carr is among prominent Labor figures calling for action. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

The federal Labor government has been walking a political tightrope between calls from the Greens to use stronger language to condemn Israel and attacks from the coalition over agreeing to a United Nations resolution calling for a humanitarian ceasefire.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Foreign Minister Penny Wong and senior members of cabinet have supported a humanitarian ceasefire as well as Israel’s right to defend itself following Hamas’ attack.

But they’ve also said how Israel defends itself matters and that it needed to act within the confines of international law.

The Palestinian death toll is nearing 20,000, according to Gaza health officials, with thousands more buried in rubble.

That at least 8000 of those killed were kids was unconscionable, Save the Children Australia CEO Mat Tinkler said.

“Violence against civilians, including children, is completely unjustifiable and pressure must be maintained to ensure adherence to international law,” he said.

He also called for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages and the free flow of adequate and unrestricted humanitarian aid into Gaza.

About 1200 people were killed in the Hamas assault and more than 200 others were taken hostage, according to Tel Aviv.