‘A frightening precedent’: New Zealand to send military personnel to target Houthis

Jan 25, 2024
Christopher LUXON, New Zealand Prime Minister

Bombing one of the most impoverished nations on Earth over its sea blockade to stop genocide in Gaza reflects Kiwi values, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon says.

A decision to send military personnel to the Red Sea to help bomb Yemen reflects New Zealand’s values and a desire to protect the “rules-based international order”, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Christopher Luxon says.

Addressing his first post-Cabinet media stand-up on January 23, Luxon announced the deployment of six NZDF members to target Houthi assets for UK and US bombing missions. The deployment is to last up to 31 July.

Luxon was accompanied by Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Defence Minister Judith Collins.

The decision was greeted with alarm by a range of politicians and peace campaigners.

In Context revealed in December the government was weighing up a request from the US to send military assets to support Operation Prosperity Guardian, a naval coalition formed to confront Ansarallah/Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in response to Israel’s military onslaught against Gaza.

Yemen has now been targeted in strikes on eight separate occasions since it was first attacked on January 12, a move New Zealand backed in a joint statement by 10 countries. The US has said the bombing campaign is separate from and not associated with Operation Prosperity Guardian.

In the latest attack on January 22, Yemen’s capital was hit Sanaa as up to 30 strikes on targets across the country aimed at degrading drone and rocket capabilities were recorded.

Luxon said the NZDF personnel would not enter Yemen and would be used in an intelligence gathering capacity, based at an undisclosed location outside of New Zealand.

New Zealand military officers already operate out of a US base in Jordan, working alongside others as part of Operation Gallant Phoenix. The intelligence cell of about 250 personnel was originally set up in 2013 to monitor foreign Islamic State (IS) fighters in Iraq and Syria, but is said to target “terrorist” groups across the region regardless of ideology.

The US Department of State announced on January 17 it was designating the Houthis as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group.

The Yemeni forces announced in November shipping destined for Israel and vessels linked to the country would be targeted in response to Israel’s Western-backed genocidal onslaught in Gaza, which began after the Hamas attack on October 7.

Houthis ‘destabilising’

The Houthis have targeted other naval and commercial ships, including those owned by US and UK interests. In response, shipping giants have decided to use travel around Africa, through the Cape of Good Hope, rather than attempt to use the Suez Canal, adding up to 10 days to journeys. Approximate 400 commercial vessels use the route at any one time.

Luxon said: “Houthi attacks against commercial and naval shipping are illegal, unacceptable and profoundly destabilising.

“This deployment, as part of an international coalition, is a continuation of New Zealand’s long history of defending freedom of navigation both in the Middle East and closer to home.”

The Israeli bombardment of under-siege Gaza has officially killed nearly 26,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, with many of the strip’s displaced residents now on the verge of starvation and threatened by disease. A leaked Israeli government document revealed last year Israel would like to expel the 2.3 million population into Egypt’s Sinai desert.

In an often-incoherent appraisal of the New Zealand’s foreign policy settings, Luxon said his government’s decision to help bomb one of the most impoverished nations on Earth at the behest of the US was ethically grounded and necessary to maintain a rules-based international order, a descriptor for US hegemony.

“It’s about values. It’s about standing up for things we believe in and we need to talk about them, but we also need to do something about it as well to make sure that we put real capability alongside our words and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

As Israel prepared a ground assault in Gaza in late October, US and UK naval and military assets were deployed to the region to deter the so-called Axis of Resistance – Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran and Yemen’s de facto government – from intervening in Israel’s operation, which was described by South Africa at the International Court of Justice earlier this month as a genocide.

As the Gaza killings continue, Israel’s repeated bombing of neighbouring Lebanon and Syria over the past month, with the killing an Iranian general in Damascus and a senior Hamas figure in Beirut, threatens to create a catastrophic regional conflagration.

Wrong to ‘conflate’ issues – Luxon

Luxon said it was wrong to “conflate the two issues” of Houthi attacks and Israel actions in the Middle East. He claimed that 31 attacks from Yemen that had affected 60 countries were “hugely indiscriminate” and that attacks on shipping would have happened regardless of Israel’s operation in Gaza.

“What is obvious is they’ve tried to run an argument but it’s not held up in fact. It’s been a really indiscriminate attack in commercial shipping,” he said.

The Houthi disruption of shipping had the potential to cause starvation, he added.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the attacks on commercial shipping routes had affected hundreds of millions of people. He said the Houthi actions also threatened New Zealand’s national interests as a trading nation and necessitated military action. He said the government would “not be intimidated” by the threat of Houthi attacks on Kiwis.

Defence Minister Judith Collins said the US-led coalition’s response was an inevitable consequence of Houthi actions and were designed to address “a serious threat of global stability”.

Palestinian Solidarity Network Aotearoa (PSNA) spokesman John Minto called the government’s justifications for sending personnel “shamelessly hypocritical” and said it would only add fuel to the fire.

“Luxon should be condemning Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza as ‘illegal, unacceptable and profoundly destabilising’ and yet Mr Luxon refuses to utter a single word of criticism on Israel despite the death toll of over 25,000 Palestinians – including over 10,000 children,” he said.

“Foreign Minister Winston Peters saying the deployment should not be linked to recent developments in Israel and the Gaza strip is simply laughable.”

Without Parliamentary mandate – Te Kuaka

New Zealand foreign policy group, Te Kuaka, called the deployment “deeply alarming”. Co-director, Dr Arama Rata, said it would “inflame regional instability and cause more civilian deaths without addressing the root cause of the Houthi actions, which is ending the genocide in Gaza.”

She said the decision was made without a Parliamentary mandate and that there had been no explicit authorisation of military action in self-defence against Yemen by the UN Security Council.”

“This sets a frightening precedent for how foreign policy decisions are made. There are huge risks to not just the Middle East, but New Zealand directly when we take the side of the US and the UK, nations that have a long history of oppressive intervention in the Global South.”

Peters told media the opposition had not been consulted about the decision because the government didn’t think it needed to.

Rata added: “We need to have an honest reflection about our positioning alongside the US and the UK. Instead of colluding with these colonial powers, we should be standing with countries like Brazil and South Africa, which are challenging old colonial regimes, and represent the majority of the international community.”

The Green Party said the government should be focused on de-escalation.

“We are horrified at this Government’s decision to further inflame tensions in the Middle East by sending New Zealand Defence Force personnel to the Red Sea,” co-leaders of the Green Party, Marama Davidson and James Shaw said.

“It seems inconceivable for this government to be so dangerously naïve to say that this deployment has nothing to do with the horrific violence that continues to suffocate Gaza. The Government should be using every opportunity to push for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.”

As well as failing to call for an immediate ceasefire, the government has failed to support South Africa’s application to The Hague for an interim injunction to stop Israel’s military operation in Gaza while the court makes a determination on whether Israeli is guilty of genocide against Palestinians.

There were also moments during the post-cabinet media event where a duplicity in paying lip service to the notion of Palestinian statehood seemed exposed.

When asked if the government would recognise the state of Palestine a clearly bemused Luxon deferred to Peters, who claimed the government supported a two-state solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict, but would not recognise Palestine as a state as its borders were not defined.

The Oslo peace accords of the 1990s clearly defined the borders of a future Palestinian state.

When pressed over the fact borders were defined, so why not support Palestinian statehood, a befuddled Peters replied: “Because the Prime Minister of Israel made a statement to the contrary… he didn’t support the two-state solution”.

Luxon bizarrely added it was because Palestinians didn’t have a functional government.

Over the weekend, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the idea of Palestinian statehood as an existential threat to Israel. He posted on social media: “I will not compromise on full Israeli security control over the entire area west of [the river] Jordan — and this is irreconcilable with a Palestinian state”.


First published by Mick Hall in Context January 23, 2024

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