Israel up close for editors

John Lehmann, speaking at the Rambam Program luncheon. Photo: Shane Desiatnik

THE editor of The Australian newspaper, John Lehmann, said he gained a deeper understanding of how Iran has emerged as Israel’s biggest threat by attending a Rambam Fellowship Program journalists’ mission to the Jewish State last month.

Lehmann was one of almost a dozen participants of the intensive study tour offered by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC).

The group included News Corp’s national political editor for Sunday titles Annika Smethurst, Sky News digital editor Jack Houghton, Hobart Mercury editor Chris Jones and Adelaide Advertiser journalist Erin Jones.

“On the ground in Israel, from our first meeting with Jonathan Spyer [editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs] to our last meeting in Tel Aviv with [Israeli security expert] Brigadier-General Yossi Kuperwasser, the topic of Iran and its use of proxies was a constant feature of discussions,” Lehmann said at a Rambam luncheon in Sydney last week.

“We saw for ourselves the activities of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border, where military forces discovered tunnels crossing into Israel [designed to be] used to funnel thousands of [Hezbollah] fighters into Israeli townships.

“On the same day, we stood in the Golan Heights near the border and looked down on Syrian villages where a motley crew of fighters affiliated with so-called armies including ISIS have been really active in recent times.

“It brought home the point that the Golan Heights, and that border [in particular] is really critical to Israel’s security moving forward.

“And I can say that [upon his return], The Australian published last Monday a front page article, including powerful photographs, about the masked Iranian soldiers that took over a British [oil tanker] vessel in the Strait [of Hormuz] – something I’m sure will continue to be followed very closely.”

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lehmann said, “The Palestinian Authority, and the PLO which underpins it, I would say has little interest in making peace today.

“We visited a Palestinian refugee camp, where we saw shrines erected for suicide bombers.

“I think the [Palestinian] education system in the West Bank, if what we are told is correct, is a great concern, and we wonder how change can occur with this mindset that is fed to those children.”

Lehmann added, “It seems to me there’s an acceptance almost of a ‘new normal’ in Israel – that the situation is what it is, and the people will press on in the hope that things might improve in the future, and you see this can-do culture right across the country.”