New Zealand sends Defence Force team to Middle East amid Houthi attacks in Red Sea

 New Zealand sends Defence Force team to Middle East amid Houthi attacks in Red Sea
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New Zealand is deploying a Defence Force team to the Middle East amid Houthi attacks on commercial and naval ships in the Red Sea.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon announced the six-member Defence Force deployment to "uphold maritime security" in the Red Sea as part of an international coalition. 

He said this was a "continuation of New Zealand’s long history of defending freedom of navigation both in the Middle East and closer to home".

The Houthi, which control much of Yemen and are backed by Iran, have been attacking ships in the Red Sea since November, disrupting international trade. The group have argued the attacks are a response to Israel's strikes in Gaza and that they have been targeting Israel-associated vessels. 

The United States and the United Kingdom have carried out strikes against the Houthi in recent weeks, including on Tuesday. New Zealand has previously expressed support for the strikes. 

Luxon said the New Zealand team will contribute to the "collective self-defence of ships in the Middle East, in accordance with international law, from operational headquarters in the region and elsewhere". 

He said that no New Zealand Defence Force personnel will enter Yemen and this deployment was part of a continuous defence contribution to maritime security in the Middle East since 2013.  

No specific details have been provided about what the personnel will be doing, other than they will be in involved in "precision targeting", but they will not be involved in combat. Luxon said it follows an American request for support.

The six-person commitment goes through to no later than July 31.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said New Zealand relied on the free flow of trade.  

He said this deployment shouldn't be conflated with its position on the Israel-Gaza conflict. 

"Any suggestion our ongoing support for maritime security in the Middle East is connected to recent developments in Israel and the Gaza Strip, is wrong.  

"We are contributing to this military action for the same reason New Zealand has sent defence personnel to the Middle East for decades - we care deeply about regional security because our economic and strategic interests depend on it." 

Defence Minister Judith Collins said the Houthi attacks show a disregard for international law, peace, and stability and the coalition response is an inevitable consequence of their actions.  

"Our NZDF personnel are highly trained and this deployment will see them work alongside their counterparts on an important mission. New Zealand supports global stability and this deployment shows our commitment to efforts to address a serious threat to that stability." 

Israel is currently undertaking attacks on Gaza, in response to the October 7 incursion into Israeli territory by Hamas, which is based in Gaza. It has faced allegations that it is conducting genocide, which it denies. 

Earlier on Tuesday morning, Peters said New Zealand was deeply concerned by some comments by Israeli Government members "that fuel tensions and imperil the two-state solution".  

"New Zealand has always supported a two state solution - and has consistently engaged w/Israel & the Palestinians on that basis."