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The taxpayer-funded Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which operates with Defence Department money, is collaborating with a hard-right Israeli think tank that supports retaining Islamic State and a “mowing the grass” approach to Palestinians, and contains a number of extremists.

ASPI is conducting the second Australia Israel Beer Sheva Dialogue in Sydney today, with the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies (the first was conducted a year ago in Tel Aviv). A paper for today’s event, trying to craft a case for greater military co-operation between Australia and Israel — and Australia acting as a lobbyist for Israel with regional states like Indonesia — was prepared and dropped to right-wing foreign policy pundit Greg Sheridan.

The BESA Centre, as its calls itself, is strongly aligned with the right in Israel, criticises a two-state solution and backs increased Israeli settlements as a fix for Israeli-Palestinian relations: “… there is no substitute for troops on the ground and for civilian settlements that anchor a dominant presence,” one recent “Perspectives Paper” reads; “an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank would therefore be ill-advised, and a Palestinian state would in any case inherently undermine Israel’s security.”

Another paper attacked Middle Eastern Muslims in general:

“The majority of Muslims in the region do not condone abhorrent terrorist acts, but they are largely silent. Many who would not participate in such acts show understanding when they are committed by others. Most tragically, they are reluctant to take responsibility for bringing their societies into the twenty-first century.”

Both authors participated in last year’s Dialogue; the second was authored by Efraim Inbar, the head of BESA.

Inbar opposes the stated goal of both the US and Australia in Iraq and Syria, the destruction of Islamic State. Instead, he wants IS to be retained to attack other Muslim groups that Israel opposes:

“Hizballah — a radical Shiite anti-Western organization subservient to Iran — is being seriously taxed by the fight against IS, a state of affairs that suits Western interests … The Obama administration has inflated the threat from IS in order to legitimize Iran as a ‘responsible’ actor that will, supposedly, fight IS in the Middle East. This was part of the Obama administration’s rationale for its nuclear deal with Iran and central to its ‘legacy,’ which is likely to be ill-remembered. The American administration does not appear capable of recognizing the fact that IS can be a useful tool in undermining Tehran’s ambitious plan for domination of the Middle East.”

Inbar is well-known for naming and lauding Israel’s strategy of managing relations with Palestinians by “mowing the grass” regularly — i.e. launching punitive attacks on Gaza. “Israel simply needs to ‘mow the grass’ once in a while in order to degrade enemy capabilities,” he has written.

Other BESA members hold more extreme views. One speaker at last year’s (almost entirely male) dialogue, Yaakov Amidror, has urged the execution of Israeli soldiers who refuse to attack. Another has said he prefers an Iranian nuclear bomb to be dropped on Tel Aviv than a two-state solution or removal of settlements.

Another prominent member, Eran Lerman — like BESA itself, a strong opponent of the Obama administration’s less hostile relations with Iran — has lamented “the false Palestinian narrative of one-sided victimhood is a major hindrance to all efforts in the direction of Israeli-Palestinian peace” and wants the world to pressure the Palestinians to make “difficult compromises” with Israel.

Still another, publicist David M. Weinberg, has criticised the reaction to IDF soldier Elor Azaria’s cold-blooded execution of a wounded and neutralised Palestinian terrorist earlier this year, saying it was a “wrinkle in operational conduct … this was a minor incident in our long war against Palestinian terrorism.”

From the Australian side, luminaries such as neo-con Peter “the Chinese hacked the census” Jennings, failed Liberal candidate Jim “Fallujah” Molan, right-wing Israel lobbyist Colin Rubinstein, Labor’s Mark Dreyfus and ASPI chairman Stephen Loosley attended last year, and the event was supported by Australia’s ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma.

According to ASPI’s 2014-15 annual report — it has not yet released its 2015-16 annual report — it still relies on the Department of Defence for over half of its funding.

Peter Fray

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