Australia/Israel Review, Featured


Editorial: Australia needs to join the Iran consensus

Nov 22, 2022 | Colin Rubenstein

(Image: Flickr)
(Image: Flickr)

Recently, a consensus has finally been developing among Western governments about the hostile intentions and rogue behaviour of the Iranian regime. 

As Walter Russell Mead writes in this AIR (p. 23), thanks to both the bravery of Iranian anti-regime protesters and Iran’s blatant complicity in Russian crimes in Ukraine, Western advocates of appeasement, bend-over-backwards deal-making and trade as a cure-all with respect to Iran have now mostly been silenced or sidelined. 

The widespread, inspiring protests inside Iran over the regime’s long-standing trampling of the human rights of its own people – sparked initially by brave young women but later spreading to numerous other groups and classes – have been met with a ruthless, violent response before the eyes of the world. 

At the same time, Iran has shamelessly allied with Russia’s Putin to supply Moscow with deadly suicide drones and ballistic missiles to bomb Ukrainian cities, in defiance of a UN embargo. 

Iran also continues to funnel arms and war chests to its proxies in Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen and elsewhere, even while the local populations suffer worsening poverty. And Iran is not only blatantly sprinting toward nuclear weapons capabilities, it is now effectively blocking most International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) scrutiny of its nuclear facilities and flagrantly stonewalling urgent IAEA questions about man-made uranium particles found near three undeclared sites. 

This is after generous offers to Iran to agree to return to a weakened version of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal have been rebuffed. 

Even policymakers who have been blindly dedicated to the idea that the always deeply flawed JCPOA is the one and only way to contain Iran’s nuclear program are now admitting a return to that agreement is likely impossible.  

The US Biden Administration appears to be listening. Recently, it has stopped turning a blind eye to Iran’s soaring illegal oil sales by imposing sanctions on shipping companies engaging in this illegal trade. The US has also repeatedly added sanctions on Iranian companies that manufacture and develop drones, as well as top officials in Iran’s security forces and state-run media for their role in the persecution of anti-regime demonstrators. And after years of blinkered obsession with returning to the JCPOA, the Administration is now admitting this is no longer on the agenda, at least for now. 

The EU, long dominated by JCPOA cheerleaders and self-interested advocates of increased trade with Iran, has similarly ramped up its own sanctions on Iran over human rights issues at least three times in recent weeks. 

Also imposing sanctions have been numerous individual European states, such as the UK, Germany and France. Meanwhile, Canada has become a global leader in pursuing human rights sanctions on Iran. 

Yet, unlike almost all our Western allies, as of Nov. 21, Australia had not introduced a single sanction on any Iranian individual, institution or entity in response to Iran’s rogue behaviour and recent bloody crackdown on protesters. This is despite the fact that Australia last year passed, on a bipartisan basis, a “Magnitsky-type” law designed to facilitate exactly such targeted sanctions on gross human rights violators. The Government has issued statements condemning Iran over its treatment of the protesters on several occasions, but we had done next to nothing beyond these rhetorical gestures. Moreover, Australia was yet to even verbally condemn Iran over its illegal weapons sales to Russia. 

Virtually the whole Western world today understands the danger to global stability from a nuclear-armed, revisionist, rogue actor on the shores of the Persian Gulf. They also know that Iran is becoming ever more closely allied with even more powerful actors threatening international peace and stability – Russia and China – and that allowing Iran to flout international norms, organise aggression against its neighbours and illegally build nuclear weapons will only strengthen, embolden and empower Iran’s dangerous allies. And our allies want to assist the incredibly courageous Iranian people in their fight for basic human rights. 

It is hard to see any justification in terms of Australia’s national interest for refusing to join that Western consensus. Yet that is where we seem to be. 

Meanwhile, Canberra – with the assistance of AIJAC – has just hosted the eighth annual Beersheva Strategic Dialogue, bringing together apolitical defence officials, advisors, experts and strategists from Israel and Australia. This year, as every year, there was intense and insightful discussion on numerous matters of global and regional concern. However, the Beersheva Dialogue has always aspired to be about more than just talk, and every conference has ended with ideas on how to translate the discussions into actions that could materially contribute to the security of both Australians and Israelis. 

This year’s Dialogue made it clear that both Australia’s Government and Opposition, as well as most of Australia’s top strategic and defence experts, strongly believe that this country needs to rapidly expand and upgrade our defence capabilities and self-reliance in the face of an increasingly dangerous strategic environment – which is expected to worsen over coming years. There is definite interest in exploring if Israel can help Australia to do so. 

Meanwhile in Israel, Prime Minister-elect Binyamin Netanyahu’s political comeback after the country’s Nov. 1 election has returned an outspoken voice against Iranian aggression to the world stage. Netanyahu has stated many times that Israel is prepared to act alone, if necessary, as a last resort, to prevent Teheran from obtaining weapons of mass destruction that regime officials openly threaten to use against Israel. 

Netanyahu is known to have an appreciation for Israel’s relationship with Australia – but his government is likely to be concerned, like other friendly nations, if Australia remains the Western odd-man-out on Iran. 

The reality is Australia cannot possibly prepare to cope with our worsening strategic environment without help from our allies and friends, of which Israel is of course only one. This is yet another reason why our seeming “not our problem” stance on Iran, completely out of step with our allies, is so hard to comprehend and hopefully will change soon.  

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