How NZ Defence Force will contribute in Middle East amid Houthi strikes

A small team from the New Zealand Defence Force is being deployed to the Red Sea in the Middle East as tensions continue to escalate over Houthi attacks.  

The six highly-trained personnel will help protect shipping routes and will be involved in bombing targets in the parts of Yemen controlled by the Iranian-backed rebels. Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said the Houthi attacks are illegal, unacceptable and profoundly destabilising.  

US and UK air forces struck missile and surveillance sites in Yemen overnight, targeting Houthi rebels who've been attacking ships in the Red Sea, which is a major trade route.   

New Zealand is now joining the action.  

Houthis - Iran-backed rebels - have been attacking ships in the Red Sea since November. The Houthis say their targets are Israeli ships and they've also been firing missiles and drones toward Israel since the beginning of the war in Gaza.    

But the Red Sea attacks on commercial ships are affecting global trade routes.  

"This is in response to Houthi actions which threaten commercial shipping," said Luxon. "Freedom of navigation is an integral part of New Zealand's national prosperity and our trade security."  

The US has been carrying out counterstrikes. And now they want our help - the US making a direct request for assistance.  

"The logical consequence that we join international partners in tackling this ongoing threat to security," Luxon said.    

The Government said the six Defence Force personnel will be involved in collective self-defence of ships in the Middle East, from operational headquarters in the region and elsewhere.  

"The Houthi attacks are illegal, they are unacceptable and they are profoundly destabilising," said Luxon. 

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said that "piracy threatens the existence of hundreds of millions of innocent consumers worldwide" and defies the international rules-based order.  

Defence Minister Judith Collins said this was a very important issue for New Zealand given our dependence on trade.  

New Zealand's more recent defence deployments have been in a peacekeeping or training capacity.  

Collins said the personnel in this case will "support coalition forces in carrying out precision attacks on identified military targets" and will be based in operational headquarters in the wider Middle East and not go into Yemen.  

The minister said the Government didn't expect they would be involved in combat.   

But that doesn't mean our force's actions won't result in strikes on Yemen.    

Collins said the strikes will be "wherever they are needed to be". 

Peters said this action should not be conflated with our response to the Israel-Palestine conflict.   

Earlier on Tuesday, he made a statement that New Zealand was deeply concerned at recent comments made by members of the Israeli Government that fuel tensions and imperil the two-state solution, which New Zealand supports.  

Peters pointed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement that he "did not see the two-state solution being viable".  

"It was the bluntness of that statement which caused us to repeat what we have viewed and said for a long, long time." 

Though Peters would not commit to fully recognising Palestine as a state.  

Luxon said the Government hasn't recognised Palestine as a state "because actually, there isn't actually a functioning Government there and an actual state in place".  

He said the Government remained supportive of a two-state solution.   

While they are tiptoeing around the Gaza Strip, they're taking to the Red Sea with vigour.  

"You can't just keep the peace. Sometimes those that offend the peace have got to be stopped," said Peters.  

Luxon said it was about values and standing up for things New Zealand believes them. He said there needed to be capability alongside words.  

Values tests don't come bigger than conflict.