28 July 2006

The Australian Foreign Legion(s)

I expected more media comment about the matter, but only Michael Pascoe in Crikey (not online) of those I've read draws attention to the different official and media attitudes to two Australian citizens: Asaf Namer, who was killed while on active service with the Israeli army (he was also an Israeli citizen); and David Hicks, who continues to languish in Guantanamo Bay.

Sgt Namer's death, like every other one in the present undeclared war, is regrettable, yet it has brought to light that, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, "
dozens of Australian soldiers serving in the Israeli Army and hundreds who are eligible to be called up for compulsory reserve duty".

The story headline "Serving here is part of our Australian heritage" raises some very interesting questions, including what mght happen if and when, as News.com.au reports, a UN peacekeeping force including Australians is formed and it meet s Australians serving in the Israeli army. The RSL might have a view about Australian citizens serving in the armed forces of a foreign country, even one to which we are not unfavourably disposed. It does set a precedent for future situations. How many Foreign Legions will Australian citizens be allowed (or encouraged) to serve in?

Update 29 July

Today's Weekend Australian has an article"Aussie passed up desk job for front line" and several letters reflecting a variety of perspectives about Sgt Namer, including one drawing a comparison with the Hicks situation. The article refers to "
Australian-Israeli army spokesman Guy Spigelman", an ambiguous though not inaccurate description , who confirmed that "more Australian-Israeli dual nationals could be called up to fight in the war, with between several dozen and 100 already on active service in the Israeli Defence Force."

This was juxtaposed with a comment from the (Australian) Prime Minister who "said he did not have a problem with Australian dual nationals fighting for Israel because they were fighting for that country's armed services. But he said if Australian citizens attempted to fight for Hezbollah they could be breaching the law. " Perhaps Mr Howard should clarify the first part of his statement in case it comes back in another context to bite him. As for the second part The Age reports that the PM is awaiting further advice to see whether, because Hezbollah is banned under our counter-terrorism laws, Australian citizens who fight for it are breaking the law.

The Age also reports that Attorney-General Ruddock expects David Hicks to be put on trial "soon", a claim which is taken with a pinch of salt by David McLeod, Hicks's Adelaide based lawyer. The paper also prints several letters on the Lebanon situation in general and the foreign enlistment aspect in particular.

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