World

Adelaide may lose subs; ASIO files reveal AFP link to Yugoslav intelligence.

By Hamish McDonald.

Netanyahu plays into the hands of Hamas

Smoke rising over Gaza after shelling by Israel last week.
Credit: AFP

Gaza is part of a long story of David turning into Goliath, or so it seems.

With about 1220 Palestinians killed from 3000-plus air and artillery strikes, and 56 Israelis dead by midweek, the suffering is certainly asymmetrical − even more so if civilians are extracted from the total death toll, close to 1000 on the Palestinian side, three on the Israeli. On Tuesday, when a short truce broke down, explosions destroyed the only power plant, threatening a humanitarian crisis for Gaza’s entire 1.8 million population from the loss of power, water and sewage treatment.

Yet Israelis can’t be feeling all that triumphant. Hamas and its offshoot Islamic Jihad have not been cowed and keep firing their rockets. They scored a minor win when one landed close to Israel’s main airport at Tel Aviv, causing international airlines to cancel flights. Tourist and business visits have dropped. Even if the hardline approach of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government does end this latest conflict, hatred will have deepened, better rockets will be built.

While organisations in the Jewish diaspora have rallied to defend Israel’s actions, as they always tend to do, at least a big minority of Israelis are asking where it will all end. The obvious questions are why Netanyahu had to leap into a ground war with Hamas, and why he is doing what Hamas wants him to do at every stage. Hamas is doing what every insurgent or people’s war movement does: hiding among the civilian population and inviting retaliation that they hope will increase popular support.

What’s the way out? It’s a maze. Statesmen should put aside hopes of a quick fix and a Nobel peace prize. More than 20 years after the Oslo Accords, supposed to start detailed negotiations on a two-state solution, we still have one part of the putative Palestine run by a movement that denies the right of Israel to exist, and an Israel set against denying that Palestine the full rights of a state. Meanwhile, the reward for moderation by Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority is creeping expansion of Jewish settlements. Somehow, stabilising Gaza, with the Israeli army out and the rocketing and tunnelling stopped, has to be an immediate goal. Surely policing a strip 41 kilometres long and 10 kilometres wide should not be beyond the world’s peacekeepers?

One false step would be to isolate Israelis. The so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign some are trying to extend into Australia’s universities is the opposite of what’s required. It will leave the field even more to the right-wingers and hardliners
who dominate the Israel lobbies here and in the US, and the like-minded guests they invite.

Sinking feeling in Adelaide

South Australia be afraid. The issues paper put out by the Defence Department this week for public discussion ahead of next year’s defence white paper has some ominous words for the Australian Submarine Corporation in Adelaide, waiting on the selection of a new submarine for the navy. 

“The government’s position is that capability acquisition and sustainment decisions are made on the basis of defence imperatives and considerations of cost and risk,” it states. “Decisions are not made on the basis of industry assistance or regional assistance imperatives.” South Australia clearly hasn’t helped itself by not voting Liberal enough.

ASIO files link AFP to Yugoslav spooks

Terrorism is almost always associated with Islam these days, but not so long ago the usual suspects were Roman Catholics, either Irish or Croatian. 

Some readers may recall a long piece I wrote for The Sydney Morning Herald in 2012 about the case of the “Croatian Six”, who were young Croatian-Australian tradesmen given 15-year sentences in 1981 for an implausible plot to plant bombs around Sydney. It still looks like our own Birmingham Six or Guildford Four case, notwithstanding a recent attempt to dismiss the idea by the NSW Supreme Court, partly by citing the views of Roger Rogerson, one of the cops involved in the case, now in Silverwater prison facing trial for the recent murder of an amphetamine dealer.

Also exercised by the case is Sasha Uzunov, a young former soldier of Macedonian descent, who runs his own video-blog (teamuzunovmedia.blogspot.com). He’s been searching ASIO files in the National Archives, and is turning up fascinating detail on the war inside Australia by the intelligence service of the former Yugoslavia, the UDBa, against regime opponents in the immigrant community. This was the background to the set-up of the Croatian Six.

The files show ASIO hot on the case of the Yugoslav spooks, whose station chief in the late 1970s appears to have been the Yugoslav consul-general in Melbourne, Dr Georgi Trajkovski, and his predecessor as consul-general, Dejan Popovic. Among the local politicians they cultivated was the Victorian left-winger Lewis Kent, an ALP federal MP throughout the 1980s and a stalwart of various Yugoslavian friendship societies.

In a 1982 ASIO file on Kent, apparently based on monitored conversations, Kent suggested to the Yugoslavs in 1964 that “they set fire to the home of Srecko Rover [controversial Croat leader in Melbourne, Australia] and that other known fascists would be given attention (either by fire, bombing or by kidnapping)”. The same year he was also reported to have said “we will have to burn ROVER’s home, then the church, everything”.

Meanwhile the Australian Federal Police were cosy with the UDBa, even after the Croatian Six case. A 1986 file dug up by Uzunov has ASIO reporting on telephone intercepts showing how a federal police officer helped Trajkovski (then visiting Canberra) and his Yugoslav spies identify the source of an anonymous tip about a bomb threat to their Canberra embassy. The Yugoslavs then sent two of their people around to the house of the informant. ASIO was indignant: “We now have the extraordinary situation of the AFP doing owner-occupier checks for YIS [Yugoslav Intelligence Service] officers enabling them to carry out intelligence gathering interviews in Aust.”

What a heritage to take into the new war on terror. Their political masters have long just hoped it would fade into oblivion, but ASIO and the AFP could look at their files to see to what extent, consciously or not, they were manipulated by the UDBa into a great injustice.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 2, 2014 as "Netanyahu plays into the hands of Hamas". Subscribe here.

Hamish McDonald
is The Saturday Paper’s world editor.