4. Cabinet sets for big Middle East decision later this year

The Government is set to make a number of significant decisions about New Zealand's military deployments before the end of this year. Photo: NZDF.

The Government has temporarily extended another of its military deployments to the Middle East, setting up a cluster of crucial decisions to be made before the end of the year.

Newsroom Pro understands Cabinet on Monday approved a three-month extension to the NZ Defence Force’s mandate to participate in the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) international peacekeeping mission in Egypt.

New Zealand has participated in the MFO since its creation in 1982 to oversee the terms of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

The NZDF has deployed up to 28 personnel on the Sinai Peninsula, including drivers, electricians, engineers and a command team.

The MFO mandate was due to expire at the end of this month, but the three-month extension to September 30 suggests a longer-term decision will now be made at the same time as other significant deployments.

Last month, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the mandate for New Zealand’s deployment in Afghanistan had also been extended until September 30.

The decision to go for a three-month extension rather than a one-year rollover was so the Government could make a number of related decisions on deployments in the Middle East.

There are currently 11 NZDF personnel working as trainers in Afghanistan, with over 3500 Kiwis having served there since troops were first deployed in 2001.

A decision on New Zealand’s role in training troops at Camp Taji in Iraq needs to be made by November, although Ardern said it was likely a call would be made “some time before that”.

The Government may opt for a “big bang” approach, making all three decisions at once.

Arriving at a position which satisfies all the coalition parties may be difficult.

New Zealand First has in the past pushed for a doubling of New Zealand’s defence spend, with party MP Ron Mark currently serving as Defence Minister.

The Greens have traditionally been less enthusiastic about the country’s military efforts, with the party’s defence spokeswoman Golriz Ghahraman recently questioning the decision to invest in “the war industries” by purchasing four P-8A Poseidons for $2.3 billion.

Renewing any of the NZDF mandates will hit the Government in the pocket: this year’s Budget cut operational funding for Vote Defence Force by $18.2 million, based on the projected expiry dates for the missions this year.