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Tuesday, 10 November 2015
Page: 8200

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (20:05): Last week, I had the great privilege of joining the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Tel Aviv as a participant in the inaugural Beer Sheva Dialogue between ASPI and the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. It was my first visit to the Middle East, and it was an extraordinary, eye-opening time to be there, during the current period of regional upheaval and transition. You can only learn so much from books and maps, as this visit absolutely demonstrated to me.

The Australian delegation included ASPI staff, ably led by Anthony Bergin; the Australian Ambassador, Dave Sharma; my parliamentary colleagues Gai Brodtmann, the member for Canberra, and the Hon. Mark Dreyfus MP, the shadow Attorney-General. The delegation also included Mr Allan Gyngell, Major General Gus McLachlan and Major General Jim Molan, retired. The Israeli delegation was led by Professor Efraim Inbar, the irrepressible director of the Begin-Sadat institute. It included esteemed academics such as Dr Max Singer, founder of the Hudson Institute, and a wide range of senior military and civilian representatives of the Israeli government and the Israel Defense Forces. Most fittingly, this dialogue was named in honour of the famous charge of the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade. The Australian embassy organised two wonderfully memorable commemoration ceremonies in Beersheba at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and at the Park of the Australian Soldier.

This most famous of battles is not widely known today amongst many Australians, but it was a decisive turning point in the First World War, so I would like to take a few moments to share the story with you. Ninety eight years ago, in October 1917, the outcome of the First World War was in no way preordained. At that time, the failure of the Dardanelles campaign, a military catastrophe in Mesopotamia and the setbacks on the Western Front had all combined to greatly damage the Allies' morale. The Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian empire and Germany were all holding fast. Two allied attempts to break the Turkish defensive line running from Gaza, on the coast, to Beersheba, 43 kilometres inland, had failed and the town of Beersheba itself remained in the hands of the Ottoman Empire. A last desperate push was required if Beersheba and its critically important seven wells were to be captured. It was essential to the success of the Commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, General Allenby's, campaign plan.

And so it was that, at 4.30 in the afternoon on 31 October, the 4th and 12th light-horse regiments of the 4th Brigade drew up behind a ridge some four miles south-east of Beersheba, and moved off. Following close behind were supporting forces from the 11th Light Horse Regiment and from the 5th and 7th mounted brigades. Facing sustained enemy fire but moving fast, the mounted infantry quickly fell upon enemy lines. They jumped the trenches, dismounted and then entered the trenches on foot, clearing them with both rifle and bayonet. Though outnumbered, the momentum and the sheer audacity of this surprise attack carried them through the Turkish defences. The light-horsemen took less than an hour to overrun these trenches and, finally, successfully enter Beersheba. The city was captured by nightfall and the Gaza-Beersheba defensive line was finally broken. It was the success and the desperation of the charge, late in the day and by mounted infantry, not mounted cavalry, that has earned it an enduring place in Australian history and also in the history of the First World War. Their success was due not only to their courage but also to their ability to take the initiative, take risks and be disruptive—characteristics that have continued to serve our nation well in successive generations of service men and women and are today seen in our innovators and our entrepreneurs.

At the Beer Sheva Dialogue, Major General Molan reflected on a question he and many of us in this place are often asked: why does Australia get itself involved so often in other people's wars? The simple fact is that we get involved as it is in our national interest to do so. Our national interests extend well beyond our sea borders. Australian military involvement in the Middle East continues today and it is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Today, 1,700 ADF personnel are deployed in the Middle East on seven separate operations.

On my visit to Beersheba, I met Defence personnel at the Beersheba ceremonies serving in two longstanding regional operations. Firstly, I met personnel from Operation Paladin, which supports the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, UNTSO, which itself was established in 1948 to supervise the truce agreed at the conclusion of the first Arab-Israeli war. Since 1956, members of the Australian contingent have supported UNTSO, with 12 personnel currently on deployment in Operation Paladin. Secondly, I met personnel from Operation Mazurka, which supports the Multinational Force and Observers, a non-UN organisation established in 1981 to oversee longstanding regional peace agreements. We currently have 25 military personnel deployed in the Sinai, an increasingly unstable region with the rise of the ISIS affiliated Al Wilayat Sinai, now speculated to be responsible for the downing of the Russian MetroJet flight.

The Beer Sheva Dialogue was highly successful and both delegations discovered there is much to learn from one another. Discussions ranged across counterinsurgency, urban intelligence gathering, coalition war fighting, countering improvised explosive devices, the use of reservists, military procurement processes, and military and civilian resilience. Also in Israel at the commemorative ceremony, somewhat fittingly, was Minister Roy leading an innovation delegation. For me, one of the most significant insights from the trip was Israel's success in high-tech innovations, patents and start-ups. Today, Israel generates more start-ups and venture capital investment than Japan, China, the US, Canada or the UK. It was very clear to me that key to this success was the symbiotic link between Israel as a start-up nation and the Israeli Defence Forces ecosystem. As a result of this visit, I am delighted to advise that the Chief Scientist of Israel, Avi Hasson, a world expert on fostering an innovation ecosystem, has accepted an invitation to address the parliamentary friendship groups that I co-chair with Gai Brodtmann and Senator Dio Wang, the defence and innovation parliamentary friendship groups, later this month.

I would like to conclude by thanking both ASPI and the Begin-Sadat institute on the resounding success of this inaugural dialogue. But, as we all know in this place, successful events such as these never just happen. They are a result of extensive hard work by many people. So I give my particular thanks to ASPI. Peter Jennings, your team did an outstanding job. I give particular thanks to Mr Anthony Bergen, your deputy, and also to Mr David Lang, who successfully herded cats all around Israel and contributed to it being such a success. I also give my particular thanks to AIJAC—Mr Colin Rubenstein and Mr Ahron Shapiro worked very hard to make it the success that it was. I give a special acknowledgement and thankyou to Mr Zeke Solomon for your companionship and your support.

A very special thank you and acknowledgement go to our ambassador, Mr Dave Sharma, and to his team in Tel Aviv. They all provided very dedicated and very professional support, which, again, greatly contributed to the success of this visit.

Lastly, my particular thanks go to the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, and in particular to Professor Inbar, the director of the institute, and to his large team. We hope that you realised as much benefit from this as the Australian delegation did, and we certainly look forward to future delegations and dialogues.

Finally, and, I think, most wonderfully, as a result of this delegation, on this eve of Remembrance Day, it was very clear that the legacy and spirit of our light-horsemen, who so distinguished themselves at Beersheba, live on. Lest we forget.