News National ASIO warning on Israeli embassy move

ASIO warning on Israeli embassy move

Always at flashpoint, a further eruption of conflict in Gaza could be the catalyst for even more instability. Photo: EPA/Haitham Emad
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Australia’s spy agency warned federal government ministers that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s idea to relocate the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem could provoke violent unrest in Gaza and the West Bank.

A secret ASIO bulletin obtained by Guardian Australia was reportedly circulated the day before the prime minister proposed the major shift in Middle East policy earlier this week.

The bulletin also flagged possible ramifications of voting against Palestine in the United Nations, which Australia did two days later.

“We expect any announcement on the possible relocation of the Australian embassy to Jerusalem or consideration of voting against Palestinians in the United Nations may provoke protest, unrest and possibly some violence in Gaza and the West Bank,” the bulletin said, according to the Guardian.

It also warned Australian interests and diplomatic facilities could be the focus of protest activity if the Morrison government withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal – another idea the prime minister floated.

Mr Morrison raised the idea of moving the embassy on Tuesday, days from a by-election in one of Australia’s most Jewish electorates.

Labor has seized on furious messages sent to Foreign Minister Marise Payne from her Indonesian counterpart, warning moving Australia’s Israeli embassy to Jerusalem would be a slap in the face.

A screenshot of the Whatsapp messages, obtained by Seven News, shows a series of terse messages sent by Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.

“Is this really necessary to do this on Tuesday,” Ms Retno wrote, on the day she was due to meet visiting Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.

It will be a really big blow. It will slap Indonesia’s face on the Palestine issue. This will affect bilateral relations.”

Ms Retno also issued a public warning against the move.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong was scathing of government for creating the political tension with Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country.

“This is the price you pay when you put politics before good government,” Senator Wong told reporters on Thursday.

“Scott Morrison is a man who time and time again we have seen puts politics before good government, puts the Liberal Party before the nation, puts his personal political interests before those of Australia.”

The federal government has played down concerns Mr Morrison’s idea to shift the Israeli embassy could derail a soon-to-be-signed trade deal with Indonesia.

Arab ambassadors are also deeply concerned at the idea of moving Australia’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

The Council of Arab Ambassadors in Canberra says the move would do nothing to kick-start stalled peace talks between Palestine and Israel.

“His assertion that an embassy relocation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a ‘sensible proposal’ is certainly regrettable and unhelpful,” they said in a joint statement.