Australian Spy Agency Warned: Jerusalem Embassy Move Could Spark Violence

Warning was circulated day before Prime Minister Scott Morrison floated idea of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, The Guardian reports

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media in Canberra, October 17, 2018.
Lukas Coch),AP

Australia’s spy agency warned that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s proposal to relocate Canberra’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could “provoke protest, unrest and possibly some violence in Gaza and the West Bank,” according to documents obtained by The Guardian.

In a secret document circulated on Monday, the day before Morrison floated the embassy move idea, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, noted that such a shift in Middle East policy would “attract international attention.”

“We expect any announcement on the possible relocation of the Australian embassy to Jerusalem or consideration of voting against Palestinians in the United Nations may provoke protest, unrest and possibly some violence in Gaza and the West Bank,” according to the ASIO bulletin obtained by The Guardian Australia.

Morrison responded Thursday, saying that there is no evidence "at this time" of any planned violence, The Guardian Australia reported.

Morrison told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday that he is considering recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and transferring the embassy there.

Australia would be the second major country, after the United States, to make such a move.

In an official announcement, issued together with Canberra's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, Morrison said that " the government...should consider recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel" and  "will examine the merits of moving Australia’s embassy to West Jerusalem." 

Morrison, a devout evangelist and leader of the center-right Liberal Party, took office in August. Observers speculate that his announcement was timed to coincide with a critical by-election on Saturday, which could rob the leader of his one-seat majority in parliament.

Morrison cited Australia’s former ambassador to Israel, businessman Dave Sharma, as a major influence in the shift in policy, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Sharma is the Liberal candidate in Wentworth, a district where voters – 13 percent of whom are Jewish – may end up determining whether the Liberals maintain the seat.

The district was previously held by the former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“I am open to further pursuing [moving the embassy] and doing that together with Cabinet colleagues,” the Daily Telegraph quoted Morrison as saying. “I am saying I’m open to considering it.”

Under Turnbull, the coalition government dismissed the idea of moving the embassy to Jerusalem out of concern that it would harm its bilateral relationship with Indonesia, Australia’s close neighbor and biggest buyer of the country’s wheat and cattle.

Indonesia has slammed the propoal, and representatives from 13 Middle Eastern and North African embassies in Australia have condemned it, declaring it a “fatal mistake” that could lead to a breakdown in economic relations with Arab and Muslim nations.

The spy agency also noted that Australian diplomatic facilities in Iran could be the focus of “attacks and violent protests” if the Morrison government withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal – another option the prime minister floated this week.

Trump abruptly reversed decades of U.S. policy in December when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, generating outrage from Palestinians and the Arab world and concern among Washington’s Western allies. Following the recognition, the U.S. embassy was moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May.

Guatemala, a U.S. ally, followed suit in May.