Israel won a small diplomatic triumph on Tuesday, when Australia was one of the countries that voted against a United Nations resolution asking the International Court of Justice in The Hague to issue an opinion on the legality of the separation fence.

In most UN votes, Israel receives backing only from the U.S. and a few small countries, but this time, both Australia and Ethiopia supported Israel's position. During a previous UN discussion of the separation fence in October, Australia chose not to take a position.

Also last week, Australia opposed the continued operation of a special UN committee for Palestinians rights and abstained on four other UN votes on Palestinian issues.

Having sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, Australia has become one of the United States' most steadfast allies. Australia's Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer are considered devoted friends of Israel, and are also outspoken critics of the use of terror and of positions adopted by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

There have been other recent indications of Australia's increasingly pro-Israel stance. Last month, it included the military wings of Hezbollah and Hamas on its list of terror organizations and it is considering deeming the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar television station illegal and banning its broadcasts in Australia.

Downer will visit Israel at the end of January. Two weeks ago, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom telephoned Downer to thank him for Australia's decision to expand its list of terror groups; he also asked for Australia's help on UN votes.