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Media Microscope: Testing Intelligence

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Allon Lee

 

Reaction to Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's announcement, during her visit to Iran on April 18-19, of a proposed intelligence sharing deal with Teheran to fight Islamic State and handle prospective Iranian asylum seekers was largely sceptical.

On Channel Ten's "The Bolt Report" (April 26) Piers Akerman said the "most disturbing thing" about Bishop's visit was "her sort of naivety" in thinking that the "murderous Revolutionary Guard [is] going to really share any worthwhile intelligence with Australia".

Herald Sun columnist Tom Elliott (April 25) said Bishop is "mad if she thinks Australia should get into bed with Iran."

Regardless of mutual interest in defeating IS, Elliott said, "Iran is an anti-democratic nation ruled by mullahs dedicated to taking over Iraq, developing nuclear weapons and wiping Israel off the map... Iran is almost as extreme in its beliefs as the Islamic State... Australia should share intelligence only with its true friends."

Underwhelmed by a deal "with one of the vilest regimes on the planet", the Spectator (April 25) editorialised, "our part...will involve ‘intelligence sharing' on the whereabouts of Australian Muslims waging jihad in Syria or Iraq... In return, the Iranians have agreed to, er, send a delegation over here to look at the repatriation" of asylum seekers.

In Bishop's defence, the Australian's foreign news editor Greg Sheridan praised her diplomacy, saying she "brilliantly pursued a narrow, important, very specifically Australian agenda in Iran. It is all about returning failed asylum-seekers." He noted that "Australia has not eased its comprehensive sanctions against Iran, whereas both the US and Europe have," (April 21).

ABC Radio National host Phillip Adams canvassed the views of Lowy Institute analyst Rodger Shanahan and federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie.

Wilkie said the deal was "reckless and dangerous." He said Iran was "notorious for its use of disinformation" and that it relies on torture to obtain intelligence material which "makes the value of that material dubious," while sharing "quality" information with a regime which executes "hundreds of people every year" potentially risks endangering more lives.

Adams suggested to Wilkie his views are congruent with what "the hard right in the United States" is saying, and asked "Don't you find yourself uncomfortable with that affiliation?"

Wilkie replied "No... I would be just as critical about Australia's practice of taking intelligence material from Israel."

So, democratic Israel - whose government and security services are subject to judicial oversight - is the same as despotic Iran in Wilkie's book?

Shanahan said he accepted Bishop's declaration that it was an "informal arrangement" and "fairly limited in scope". He backed "pragmatism... over principle" and said that a number of Australia's regional allies in the Middle East use torture to gather information and sponsor Islamist groups, "Late Night Live" (April 27).

A subsequent analysis from Shanahan spruiked the benefits of increased security ties with Iran but suggested that any improvement will likely struggle if Iran continues to support Hezbollah and Hamas which "remain armed and on Israel's border," Australian (May 9).

ABC Radio National's Tom Switzer hosted a discussion with American Enterprise Institute analyst Danielle Pletka and ANU Professor Amin Saikal.

Saikal praised Bishop's visit and agreed Australia should share intelligence with Iran "because there is no better alternative if you want to really defeat IS". He argued that Iran is the only country with "strong leverage on the ground" to "contain and possibly eliminate IS."

Pletka said the idea that Australia should collaborate with the "Shia to defeat the evil Sunni is part of a narrative that doesn't work in the region" and noted that Sunni Turkey and Qatar are backing Sunni rebels in Syria but other Sunni countries like Egypt and the UAE are fighting Sunni extremists in Libya.

Moreover, Pletka said it was short-sighted to partner with Iran's rulers, who are "an absolutely unreconstructed enemy of every value that Australia and the United States stands for... in order to defeat another unreconstructed enemy."

Iran, she said, caused "these problems inside Iraq and elsewhere" through "aggressively enabling Shia militias, extrajudicial militias... arming the Houthis inside Yemen... seeking to destabilise Lebanon... arming Hamas and Hezbollah."

Pletka warned that giving Iran a critical role in defeating IS risks recreating the "experiment of Lebanon" where "there is a nominal government that does nothing and a militia controlled by Iran that controls everything," "Between the Lines" (April 30).

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