At the end of a long day on the 31st of October 1917, the Australian Light Horse realised that they had achieved a remarkable victory. However, little did they know that the geo-political outcomes of that victory would change the face of the Middle East and world history forever. They also had no idea that their victory and indeed the whole Middle East Campaign would be the genesis of an enduring bilateral relationship between our two countries. In Australia, there’s a tendency to see Israel purely through the lens of the Palestinian issue and the peace process. But that is a very myopic view as there is no country in the Middle East whose interests are more closely aligned with Australia’s than Israel.
I would like to give two examples of how the legacy of their victory endures today.
The Beersheba Dialogue
Named in honour of the historic Anzac Light Horse victory at the Battle of Beersheba during World War I, it alternates its location between Australia and Israel each year. The “Beersheba Dialogue” is a partnership between the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Reichman University and brings together officials, parliamentarians and analysts from both nations. The inaugural meeting was on November 5th, 2015 nearly one hundred years after Beersheba! I would firstly like to quote from the former Australian defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ speech in 2020.
Australia is safer and more secure, when Israel is safe behind secure, internationally-recognised borders
Linda Reynolds said, “that we are witnessing the most strategic realignment since WW2”. The minister observed that “the two states (Australia and Israel) were now experiencing “grey-zone” activities which fall short of armed conflict but are designed to irritate, intimidate and injure, such as cyber attacks, trade interference, campaigns of disinformation, the use of paramilitary forces, the militarisation of disputed features, and the strength of the bilateral relationship deserves special recognition.”
Current Australian Defence Minister, Peter Dutton made a very significant statement at the Beersheba Dialogue last year, when he said, “Australia is safer and more secure, when Israel is safe behind secure, internationally-recognised borders”. It is of some significance that he made reference again to the “Grey Zone War” being waged upon us that Reynolds referred to. It is a little known fact that we draw heavily on Israeli technology for our Defence Force and National cyber security. Elbit Systems of Israel produce much of this technology and actually assisted the Australian Light Horse Association Centenary of Beersheba Commemoration in 2017, with a donation of $10,000.
The ANZAC Museum in Beersheba and Beersheba Vision Inc
This wonderful museum, funded mainly by the Jewish National Fund, showcases our Light Horse History and thousands of Israeli students visit the museum every year. Beersheba Vision in partnership with the museum have designed an educational project to further educate Israeli students on this important part of their modern history. Beersheba Vision is a non-profit organisation, started some years ago, by the late Peter Kentley under the patronage of Tim Fischer AC, MP and deputy PM at the time. Beersheba Vision is providing funding for a literary and art competition on the subject of the Light Horse and its exploits. Seventy-three teachers from Israeli schools attended the launch of the project. As the epitaph on their Light Horse Memorial in Semakh says, “The Australian Light Horsemen keep galloping on”.