FRESH AIR

Australia’s security chiefs highlight benefits of intel sharing with Israel

Sep 10, 2019 | Sharyn Mittelman

Duncan Lewis

Retiring ASIO Director-General of Security Duncan Lewis recently addressed the Lowy Institute and reflected on the importance of exchanging information on security threats with international partners to disrupt planned terror attacks.  As an example, he highlighted that in July 2017 Israel shared intelligence with Australia that helped stop the bombing of an Etihad plane on the Sydney-Dubai route, in what is now known as “Operation Silves”.

Mr Lewis said“This plot involved a direct attack, a direction that came from ISIL members in Syria against aviation targets here in Australia.  This incident represents a serious and sophisticated threat.  It was a sobering reminder that the aviation sector remains an enduring and attractive target for some transnational groups.  This was an example where Australia benefitted from an intelligence lead from an international partner, in that particular case, the State of Israel.  The sharing and joint development of intelligence capabilities continues to strengthen our individual and collective ability to detect, to monitor and respond to threats.”  

Israel’s role in helping to thwart the terror attack has also been previously noted by senior figures in Australia and Israel.  Last year, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton confirmed Israel helped Australia stop a plot to blow up an airliner. His comments followed remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israeli intelligence services had prevented an attack of an “Australian airliner” as part of wide-ranging international intelligence-sharing.

The importance of protecting this intelligence-sharing relationship was also raised by Australia’s Director-General of National Intelligence Nick Warner at a hearing of the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security Committee.  The hearing was part of an investigation into whether there are sufficient legal protections in place for journalists and whistleblowers, following the Australian Federal Police raids on the ABC’s Sydney headquarters and the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst over separate stories that were allegedly based on leaked classified information.

According to an ABC news report (Aug. 7), “[Warner] cited intelligence received from Israel which helped to foil a plot to blow up an Etihad flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi in July 2017, with a bomb hidden inside a meat grinder.  ‘The unauthorised disclosure or publication of foreign partner information could have serious ramifications, including putting at risk Australia’s relationship with those partners and that country,’ Mr Warner said.   ‘Put simply, if those partners do not trust Australian intelligence agencies to keep their intelligence information secret, they will not share it.’”

It appears very clear that the close relationship between Australia and Israel is deeply valued by Australia’s most senior officials working in the intelligence field.  This partnership has already apparently saved hundreds of Australian lives by stopping the aviation terror attack of 2017.

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