Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds will meet with Cabinet colleagues tomorrow to decide the fate of Australian troops and diplomatic staff stationed in Iraq.
- The National Security Committee of Cabinet will meet on Thursday to discuss the situation in the Middle East
- Prime Minister Scott Morrison discussed operations with US President Donald Trump on Tuesday
- Mr Morrison confirmed all Australian defence personnel and embassy staff were safe following Iranian rocket attacks on Wednesday
And the anticipated statement from US President Donald Trump on Thursday morning — and what the US military might do before then — is set to be a decisive factor.
Mr Morrison revealed that he had discussed operations in Iraq with President Trump on Tuesday, following the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
He confirmed Australia’s plans were going to be heavily influenced by the US response.
“We will work continually closely with them,” he said.
There are now approximately 300 defence and diplomatic staff stationed in Iraq after recent withdrawals, mostly working to train the Iraqi military.
The Prime Minister confirmed all were safe on Wednesday but the troops remain on high alert.
Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said he expected American strikes overnight.
He described the dangers for the Australian contingent in Iraq as “heightened” but was not anticipating an immediate withdrawal.
“I think there’s a longer-term question for the Government, which is how long do we keep our trainers there when really the original purpose for their going, which was to deal with [the Islamic State group], is now in the past,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re out this year, but not as a result of today’s events.”
Fear for Strait of Hormuz
Military strategist David Kilcullen said despite Australia’s ongoing support for its allies in the region, “we didn’t sign up for a war in Iran”.
He said a conflict between Iran and the US would place Australia’s naval personnel deployed to protect shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran at highest risk.
“Certainly you could make the case that Australia should think of [protecting shipping] as a very important issue that it needs to be involved in, but I think it is a very long stretch from that to saying we should automatically support military action against Iran.”
Australia announced in August last year it was sending a warship, surveillance aircraft and Defence Force personnel to the Strait of Hormuz.
The Prime Minister’s Office today confirmed the departure of the frigate was on schedule and it was due to leave soon.
Mr Jennings said we should be “seriously worried about” Australians in the Strait of Hormuz.
“The dangers of the Straits are quite high because you have fast attack speedboats — I imagine feeling pretty annoyed about the fact that they’ve had their commanding officer killed — that aren’t always operating at the bid and call of Tehran,” he warned.
“Whether or not a bit of freelance action might present dangers for our ships or for civilian tankers, I think that’s something that we’ve got to be seriously worried about.”
Majid Takht-Ravanchi, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in a letter to the UN Security Council that his country did not seek war, but “it seriously warns against any further military adventurism against it”.
“Iran will take all necessary and proportionate measures against any threat or use of force.”
Tensions in the region have been escalating and as recently as Tuesday the Australian Government indicated it had withdrawn embassy staff from Iraq.
Leaders urge restraint
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said he had received an initial briefing from the Prime Minister and was expecting another later today with more detail, but agreed that the safety of Australians was the first priority.
He also gave some indication of how close Australians were to the military action.
“The Australians are located very close to where the Americans are located in the area that has been targeted in Iraq,” he said.
“They’re just next door.”
Mr Albanese called for all parties to exercise restraint.
“The actions of the US have led to another response from Iran — this is potentially very dangerous indeed,” he said.
“I don’t want to see Australia drawn into a military conflict in the Middle East.”
He flagged senior Labor MPs would discuss the latest developments in the Middle East at a meeting in Adelaide tomorrow.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale also urged restraint.
“Deeply concerned by reports of Iranian attack on American troops in Iraq,” he posted on Twitter.
“We condemn the actions of the Iranian Government, just as we condemn the provocative, illegal assassination undertaken by the US Government.
“We urge all sides now to show calm and restraint.”
Read more about the tensions between the US and Iran: