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NZDF personnel board a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules bound for Afghanistan in 2020. (Photo: NZDF/Supplied)
NZDF personnel board a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules bound for Afghanistan in 2020. (Photo: NZDF/Supplied)

The BulletinJanuary 24, 2024

New Zealand enters a new Middle East conflict

NZDF personnel board a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules bound for Afghanistan in 2020. (Photo: NZDF/Supplied)
NZDF personnel board a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules bound for Afghanistan in 2020. (Photo: NZDF/Supplied)

A NZDF team is being deployed to protect shipping lanes in the Red Sea. Critics say we risk being dragged into another endless war, writes Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Six-member NZDF team heading to the Red Sea

Six NZ Defence Force personnel are to be deployed to help protect shipping in the Red Sea from Houthi attacks. Prime minister Chris Luxon announced the move at yesterday afternoon’s post-Cabinet press conference, the first of 2024. The team will be part of an international coalition carrying out “collective self-defence of ships in the Middle East, in accordance with international law”, said the PM, but they will not enter Yemen, where the Houthi movement is based. The Houthis say their attacks are in response to Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza. “They say they are targeting ships which are Israeli-owned, flagged or operated, or which are heading to Israeli ports,” writes the BBC in an explainer on the situation. “However, many [ships] have no connections with Israel.”

Red Sea crisis a separate issue to Israel-Gaza, says Peters

While the Houthis are avowedly anti-Israel, foreign affairs minister Winston Peters said the NZ military action should not be conflated with its position on the Israel-Gaza conflict. “We are contributing to this military action for the same reason New Zealand has sent defence personnel to the Middle East for decades – we care deeply about regional security because our economic and strategic interests depend on it.” New Zealand supports a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine situation, and its official position on the current conflict is that Israel has a right to defend itself but must act according to international law and protect civilians. NZ has twice voted for a ceasefire at the UN General Assembly.

Deployment ‘only likely to inflame tensions’

Despite Peters’ assurances, NZ’s escalating involvement in the Red Sea conflict comes with risks. “[The] coalition government has effectively signed up to fight a proxy group directly connected to an angry and dangerous Iran,” writes Waikato University international law professor Alexander Gillespie. Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman David Parker said the deployment was a mistake given the lack of a UN mandate. “It’s telling that a large number of European countries including the Scandinavians are staying out of this,” Parker told the Herald’s Thomas Coughlan. The Green Party warned the move was “only likely to inflame tensions” and noted it ran contrary to New Zealanders’ “clear support… for our defence force to be focused on peace-building and enduring justice”.

Luxon rejects ‘white supremacist’ comment

The post-cab press conference was also a chance for media to ask about the government’s response to Saturday’s hui aa motu and the heightened rhetoric around race relations in general. Yesterday Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer told Morning Report the government is “anti-Māori and displaying all the traits of typical white supremacists”. Luxon said the comment was offensive. “I outright reject it.” He said his speech at Rātana Pā today will address issues around Māori health and education outcomes, adding that he “wants to see Māori thriving”. On The Spinoff this morning Stewart Sowman-Lund looks at the deepening concerns around the coalition government’s approach to Māori issues, and why all eyes will be on Luxon’s speech this afternoon.

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