New Zealand’s defence minister has defended a decision to send six NZ Defence Force staff to the Middle East to help “take out” Houthis fighters as they are “essentially holding the world to ransom”.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Defence Minister Judith Collins confirmed the plan at the first Cabinet meeting for the year.
The deployment, which could run until the end of July, will support the military efforts led by the United States to protect commercial and merchant vessels.
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No NZ military staff would be entering Yemen.
The Houthis attacks are disrupting supply lines, and forcing ships to voyage thousands of kilometres further around Africa in protest against the Israeli war on Gaza.
But opposition parties have condemned the government’s plan, saying it had “shades of Iraq”.
‘Firmly on side of Western backers of Israel’
A security analyst also said the US-requested deployment could be interpreted as New Zealand “planting its flag firmly on the side of the Western backers of Israel”.
Speaking to RNZ Morning Report, Defence Minister Judith Collins denied it showed New Zealand being in support of Israel over the war on Gaza.
She said it was a “very difficult situation”, but not what the deployment was about.
“It’s about the ability to get our goods to market . . . we’re talking about unarmed merchant vessels moving through the Red Sea no longer able to do so without being attacked.”
Collins said New Zealand had been involved in the Middle East for a “very long time” and it needed to assist where possible to remain a good international partner and to make sure military targets were “taken out”.
Houthis had been given a number of serious warnings, Collins said, and its actions were “outrageous”.
“They are essentially holding the world to ransom.”
NZ would not allow ‘pirates’
New Zealand was part of the world community and would not stand by and allow “pirates to take over our ships or anyone’s ships”.
Collins said she was not expecting there to be any extension or expansion of the deployment which would end on July 31.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been attacking ships in the Red Sea, which they say are linked to Israel, since the start of the Israel-Gaza conflict. In response, US and British forces have been carrying out strikes at different locations in Yemen, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands, according to a joint statement signed by the six countries.
The opposition Labour Party is condemning the coalition government’s deployment of Defence Force troops to the Middle East, saying it has “shades of Iraq”.
Labour foreign affairs spokesperson David Parker made clear his party’s opposition to the deployment.
“We don’t think we should become embroiled in that conflict . . . which is part of a longer term civil war in Yemen and we think that New Zealand should stay out of this, there’s no UN resolution in favour of it . . . we don’t think we should get involved in a conflict in the Middle East.”
‘Deeply disturbing’, say Greens
The Green Party’s co-leaders have also expressed their unhappiness with the deployment, describing it as “deeply disturbing”.
In a statement, Marama Davidson and James Shaw said they were “horrified at this government’s decision to further inflame tensions in the Middle East”.
“The international community has an obligation to protect peace and human rights. Right now, what we are witnessing in the Middle East is a regional power play between different state and non-state groups. This decision is only likely to inflame tensions.”
Davidson and Shaw indicated they would call for an urgent debate on the deployment when Parliament resumes next week.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.
“How dare we have a conversation about trade when there are children right now being treated without anaesthetic?”
British journalist Myriam Francois on the Houthis blockade of shipments in the Red sea amid Israel’s war on Gaza. pic.twitter.com/Yg9RV2ek4p
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) January 24, 2024