Farah Abdurahman: Michael West Media

Australia is licensed to produce “unguided dumb missiles” which explode shrapnel, killing all soft targets within 50m of the blast, and causing lethal harm to those within a 150m blast radius. 

Here Farah Abdurahman,  with Australia’s leading investigative news site Michael West Media, confronts the shroud of secrecy over weapons sales to Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of Israel.

In the same week that the Australian prime minister, along with a number of senior parliamentarians were referred to the International Criminal Court for complicity in genocide, negotiations to make Australia the quasi 51st US state for weapons production gains momentum.

According to the New York Times, Australia is on the verge of producing thousands of GMLRS guided missiles – the multiple launch rocket system that can hit targets from more than 80kms away with 90kgs of explosives.

The weapons will be produced at the Mulwalla explosives factory in NSW.

Australia is already licensed to produce M107 155mm artillery shells which are unguided dumb missiles with poor accuracy. They are designed to explode shrapnel, killing all soft targets within 50m of the blast, and causing lethal harm to those within a 150m blast radius.

In August 2023, prior to the assault on Gaza, Israel bought $60 million worth of 155mm shells produced by Elbit systems, the same arms manufacturer based on occupied Palestinian land in Haifa, and whose bombs are currently raining down on Gaza.

Last December, Greens Senator David Shoebridge acquired documents under the Freedom of Information Act, which detailed Australia’s Future Fund had invested almost half a million dollars directly into Elbit systems, despite it being formerly blacklisted due to ethical concerns relating to activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.

“This investment is in addition to the hundreds of millions that Future Fund has invested in its broad aerospace and defence portfolio such as Boeing, BAE Systems, Thales, Lockheed Martin and Rheinmetall AG who are all producing weapons currently employed in the genocide on Gaza,” Shoebridge said.

In total, the FOI document revealed that Future Fund had invested more than $650M in 30 ‘Aerospace and Defence’ companies as of October 31, 2023.

This includes:

  • $71.3M in Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of the F-35 fighter jets that Israel uses in the bombing of Gaza; 
  • $43M in Northrop Grumman Corp, which produces artillery and mortar systems and battle tanks; 
  • $3.5M in Thales, a manufacturer of assault rifles, sophisticated surveillance, and weapons control systems; and 
  • $72.4M to RTX Corporation (formerly Raytheon), which produces Patriot Missiles used by the Israel Defence Force.

“There has been an ongoing push by the Coalition and Labor for at least a decade to make Australia one of the top tier global leaders in weapons export,” Shoebridge said.

“Australian leaders openly wanting to become the 51st US state for the purpose of arms production is concerning, to say the least. I doubt there has been full consideration made to the international legal ramifications of being part of the US military-industrial complex and its supply chains. 

“It is implicit in the US that by accepting any transfer of military tech to Australia that we will have to follow them into a military conflict with China. If there was any question about our loyalty in willingness to follow the US in such conflicts, we would be denied access to these military exports.”

Complete surrender

This move demonstrates a complete surrender of our sovereignty and removes any capacity we have to form an independent military policy and foreign policy.

Senator Shoebridge said the move to produce US arms on Australian soil provided a loophole for the US government to bypass its own stringent congressional reporting and review processes around weapons exports.

In February 2023, incumbent US President Joe Biden signed the National Security Memorandum on the United States Conventional Arms Transfer Policy. 

Under Section 2: United States Conventional Arms Transfer Policy Scope and Objective, the document states that the CAT Policy must support the following US foreign policy and national security objectives:

  • Promote international peace and stability and the settlement of international disputes through diplomacy and deterrence;
  • Strengthen United States national security by reinforcing respect for human rights, international humanitarian law, democratic governance, and rule of law;
  • Prevent arms transfers that risk facilitating or otherwise contributing to violations of human rights or international humanitarian law;
  • Strengthen ally and partner capacity to respect their obligations under international law and reduce the risk of civilian harm.

Under Section 3: Arms Transfer Decisions; weapons exports must meet the consideration requirements of all applicable statutes and clauses, including:

  • The risk that the recipient may use the arms transfer to contribute to a violation of human rights or international humanitarian law;
  • The risk that the transfer will have adverse political, social, or economic effects within the recipient country, including by negatively impacting the protection of human rights, fundamental freedoms, or the activity of civil society; encourage or contribute to corruption; contribute to instability, authoritarianism, or transnational repression; contribute to impunity of security forces; or undermine democratic governance or the rule of law.

The memorandum continues to state:

In light of these considerations, and consistent with applicable law, no arms transfer will be authorised where the United States assesses that it is more likely than not that the arms to be transferred will be used by the recipient to commit, facilitate the recipients’ commission of, or to aggravate risks that the recipient will commit:  genocide; crimes against humanity; grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, including attacks intentionally directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such; or other serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, including serious acts of genderbased violence or serious acts of violence against children.

US – breaking its own weapons rules

In contravention of its own Arms Transfer Policy, the US persisted in providing more than US$14.3 billion in military exports to Israel since October 7, in addition to the more US$3.6 billion in annual military support it has received annually for the last 50 years.

The Obama administration in 2016 announced the biggest military assistance package to Israel ever, pledging around $38 billion to the occupying entity over the next decade. 

Author of The Palestine Laboratory and co-founder of Declassified Australia, Antony Loewenstein, said Israel could not continue its war without the US who has granted the occupying entity carte blanche in its disproportional response and collective punishment of Palestinian civilians. 

“US support has ensured that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge over neighbouring Arab countries by having more advanced weapons systems, something the US Congress wrote into law in 2008,” Loewenstein said.

Australia, the client state

“Australia has always been one of Israel’s greatest global supporters and ignorantly believes that as a client state of the US, our alliance with Israel is cost free, but that is simply untrue.

“The current devastation in Gaza surpasses the tragedy of the Nakba [in 1948] with more displacement and far more death.”

The current death toll nears 31,000 people, with women and children accounting for 67 per cent of victims.

“The dehumanisation of the Palestinian people has been so systemic and constant since the inception of the Israeli state that Palestinian blood is not viewed as equal to Jewish lives]”, Loewenstein said. 

“The actions of Israel and the ramping up of radical right-wing supporters in Israel and globally puts the Jewish diaspora in a position of moral collapse. 

“I would caution the Australian government in its unquestionable support for the US and Israel particularly when all facts demonstrate how embarrassingly incompetent the US and the West is at ‘winning’ wars.

“The only thing achieved by greater weapons production on Australian soil is to one – taunt China, and two – decrease Australia’s security and worsen global insecurity.” 

The Department of Defence was approached for comment but failed to respond. 

Farah Abdurahman is a former political reporter for Fairfax Media. She has almost 20 years of media and communications experience in senior and executive roles working across government, research and innovation, and the private sector.