Prime Minister Christopher Luxon won't acknowledge link between Israel-Gaza conflict and Houthi Red Sea attacks

When the Prime Minister sent Defence Force staff to the Middle East in response to Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, he insisted there was no link with the Israel-Hamas conflict.      

But it turns out the Government received official advice making a clear connection between the two events.   

Commercial ships were the targets of attacks in the Red Sea at the end of last year.    

"The Houthis are attacking shipping linked to Israel because of the absence of a ceasefire," said Otago University international relations expert Robert Patman.    

In response, in January, New Zealand deployed six Defence Force personnel to the Middle East.  

Asked at the time if he saw the deployment as an extension of the Israel-Gaza conflict, like the Houthis do, Luxon said: "I have to say to you, I think you are absolutely wrong to conflate those two issues. We are standing up for values, very clearly here, about freedom of navigation."   

Newshub's obtained the foreign affairs advice ministers considered.   

It said: "The war between Israel and Hamas has begun to generate broader issues in the Middle East region that are now beginning to directly affect New Zealand's international trade interests."   

The very next sentence went on to talk about Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen undertaking attacks in the Red Sea.   

Luxon continued to say on Monday that the two events shouldn't be conflated.    

"There is definitely a linkage," said Patman. "The Americans recognised it. They said right away they were concerned other actors in the region, probably Iran, might take advantage."  

Luxon on Monday also refused to explicitly acknowledge a link between the two events.   

Asked if he saw the link between the two events, Luxon said: "I have seen Houthi attacks on ships that have got nothing to do with Israel."   

The Government justified the deployment at the time by saying disruption to global supply chains will impact Kiwis by driving up prices. The advice shows businesses were already feeling the effects, with shipping delays, rising transport costs and cancellations.   

It said New Zealand exports to Europe, the UK and North Africa were worth $7.7 billion in the year to September 2023. The value of imports was even bigger - $15.7 billion - with Europe being a major supplier of machinery, vehicles, medicine and vaccines.