Federal Police have been asked to investigate how secret security advice warning of possible violence in response to Australia considering moving its embassy in Israel was leaked to a news outlet.
The Guardian Australia has today published extracts of an “ASIO bulletin” which reportedly warned that raising the prospect of relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem may “provoke protest, unrest and possibly some violence in Gaza and the West Bank”.
The advice, marked “Secret” and “AUSTEO” (Australian eyes only), was apparently distributed on October 15 — the day before Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Government was examining the controversial idea.
“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,” the Guardian Australia quoted ASIO as saying in its advice.
“It is possible Australian interests may be the target of protest activity following any announcement.”
The Prime Minister said his announcement coincided with an imminent United Nations vote on the Palestinian Authority being recognised as the chair of the G77 group of developing nations, and Australia’s decision to vote “no”.
Scott Morrison has today told Parliament that ASIO director-general Duncan Lewis has assured him the agency has no current evidence of possible violence.
“I want to … reassure Australians that ASIO has no evidence at this time of any planned violence in response to the government’s announcement on 16 October and the matter was fully discussed by Cabinet,” Mr Morrison said.
Mr Morrison also suggested the source of the security leak may be a state Labor government.
“ASIO as a matter of routine provides this advice to Commonwealth and state governments on security matters, as it should,” Mr Morrison told Parliament.
“The director-general has advised me that he’s spoken with the Federal Police Commissioner and will formally refer this matter to the AFP for investigation,” he added.
The spy agency also foreshadowed protests at Australia’s embassy in Iran because of the Government’s decision to launch an inquiry into whether Australia should abandon support for the Iran nuclear deal, from which the US has withdrawn.
The embassy move would follow the decision by United States President Donald Trump, who reversed decades of foreign policy by opening a US embassy in Jerusalem earlier this year.
The US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital infuriated Palestinians and other Middle Eastern nations because the Palestinians want to one day establish their own capital in the city.
Dozens of Palestinians were killed during protests in May sparked by the opening of the US’s new diplomatic outpost.
Mr Morrison’s announcement followed talks with the Liberal Party’s candidate for this weekend’s crucial Wentworth by-election, former ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma.
At the 2016 Census, Jewish people made up about 12.5 per cent of the population of Wentworth, a seat made vacant by Mr Turnbull’s resignation.