Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given a politically charged address – including a jab at Palestine – at the official centenary commemoration of the Battle of Beersheba attended by Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten.
Tuesday marked 100 years since Australians of the Light Horse Brigade galloped into live fire to take the Middle Eastern town of Be’er Sheva from the Turks, in what is widely considered the last great cavalry charge in military history.
A packed Australian delegation, including the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, sat in the front row to hear Mr Netanyahu praise the efforts of Australian and New Zealand soldiers at the battle, then go on to promote his own national security credentials.
“We saw here in Be’er Sheva 800 cavalry go against 4000 embedded Turks with machine guns, with bunkers. The few won against the many. That’s the spirit of the army of Israel. It stands today,” he told the 2000-strong crowd of dignitaries, direct descendants and members of the public at Beersheba War Cemetery.
“We set out a simple policy. We seek peace with all our neighbours but we will not tolerate any attacks on our sovereignty, on our people, on our land, whether from the air, from the sea, from the ground or below the ground.”
Watch the address here:
Mr Netanyahu put special emphasis on the words “below the ground”, to cheers from the Israelis in attendance.
Just hours earlier, the Israeli military blew up a ‘terror tunnel’ running from Gaza into Israel allegedly intended to be used by the military wing of Hamas to ferry fighters across the border.
“We attack those who seek to attack us, and those who contemplate that, I strongly advise you – do not test the will of the state of Israel or the army of Israel,” Mr Netanyahu said, again to cheers.
Video: PM Netanyahu's statement following the terror tunnel that was dug from Gaza into our territory and was destroyed yesterday by the IDF pic.twitter.com/B0IGnkKcWu
— Ofir Gendelman (@ofirgendelman) October 31, 2017
The Israeli PM even found an opportunity to segue to his government’s water policy.
“When the Light Horse were charging here, their commanders were worried about the absence of water. Today, we do not worry about that. A few months ago we signed an agreement on water between Australia and Israel that can apply to New Zealand,” he said.
“We can make water. We can change the world. What we established here, with the rise of Israel, the rise of technology, the rise of ingenuity, to better the lives of our peoples and of all people everywhere. That, too, we should remember at the battle of Beersheba.”
If the speech’s domestic flavour rattled Mr Turnbull or Mr Shorten, they did not show it.
The Australian PM remembered the “incredible courage” of the men and horses of the 4th and 12th Light Horse who galloped into enemy fire armed only with bayonets.
Mr Turnbull said he had been personally inspired by the story of “Australian victory, of courage, of determination”.
Mr Shorten also saluted the soldiers’ courage and sacrifice.
“Stockmen, station-hands, ringers and jackaroos, riding on their own horses, mounted the last great cavalry charge in military history,” he said.
“In a conflict so often characterised by stalemates and false dawns, this was a decisive victory that recast the campaign in the Middle East.”
At least one viewer thought Mr Netanyahu’s comments were at odds with the historical nature of the commemoration.
Sandra Eckersley, an opinionated online writer, described it as “absolutely disgraceful”.
— Sandra K Eckersley🔹 (@SandraEckersley) October 31, 2017
More than 1350 Australians died in the Middle East campaigns of World War I, according to the Australian government.