Australia

Israel embassy move kept from military chiefs until after media briefing

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Heads of the Australian Defence Force were told about a potential shift of Australia's Israel embassy just hours before members of the media were briefed.

Australia's most senior military commanders were not told of a major shift in Middle East policy until after the media was briefed.

Defence Chief Angus Campbell concedes he would have preferred if it were the other way round.

Senior Defence officials learned about a planned announcement regarding the possible relocation of Australia's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last Monday afternoon.

However, operational commanders in the field were not informed until the following day, after the proposal was published online and splashed across newspaper front pages.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison then detailed the controversial idea during a press conference on Tuesday morning.

Despite the unusual chain of events, General Campbell said he had no concerns for the protection of Australian troops.

"I am comfortable that they remained at all times safe and measures in place were appropriate," General Campbell told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Wednesday.

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Jerusalem embassy move triggers Indonesian tensions for PM.
Jerusalem embassy move triggers Indonesian tensions for PM.

Asked by Labor senator Penny Wong whether he would have preferred commanders to find out first, General Campbell said he was "very comfortable" they were given enough time to review the protection of their forces.

Senator Wong pressed on, asking whether it was "better practice" for top military brass to be advised before the media.

General Campbell paused for 10 seconds to consider his response.

He clasped his hands and looked upwards before leaning in to the microphone.

"Yes, senator," General Campbell replied.

While senior Australian Defence Force personnel were told about the Israeli embassy idea on Monday evening, it was evening before the acting chief of defence, David Johnston, was informed.

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The President of International Red Cross on Australia's embassy move.
The President of International Red Cross on Australia's embassy move.

General Campbell, who was on a plane to Washington at the time, found out once he landed.

Senior officials from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet confirmed earlier this week they were also told of the planned announcement the day before it was made.

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