Taiwan sets up task force to study Israel-Hamas war

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Taiwan has set up a task force to draw lessons from the surprise attack by Hamas on Israel, Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said on Thursday, saying intelligence is key to preventing a war as the island works to counter China’s military threats.

Taiwan, claimed by China as its own territory, has come under increasing military and political pressure from Beijing, including two major sets of Chinese war games near the island since August 2022, heightening fears of a conflict that would have global ramifications.

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Although there are major differences between the threat Taiwan faces from China and what is happening between Israel and Hamas - China for example would have to cross the Taiwan Strait to invade the island - the war has focused attention on the possibility of a Chinese attack.

Chiu, asked by reporters at parliament about what lessons Taiwan has learned from Israel’s conflict with Palestinian Hamas militants, said the ministry had set up a task force to monitor the situation.

“The initial (lesson) is that intelligence work is very important. With intelligence, many countermeasures can be made. A war can even be avoided,” Chiu said.

He said the fighting between Israel and Hamas demonstrated the horror of war, and although the military was working to boost combat readiness, it will not conflict.

“It is everyone’s shared expectations to avoid a war,” he said.

Taiwan’s government has condemned the Hamas attack, with President Tsai Ing-wen saying Taiwan remains “committed to working with like-minded countries to fight threats and violence and to safeguard freedom and democracy”.

Taiwan holds presidential and parliamentary elections in January, which the main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), has cast as a choice between war and peace. The KMT has accused the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of taking Taiwan to the brink of war by intentionally provoking China, which it strongly denies.

On Sunday, KMT chairman Eric Chu said what happened in Israel has “made everyone feel what it means to be threatened by war”.

“We believe that peace across the Taiwan Strait is what everyone expects. No Taiwanese wants to see war,” said Chu, whose party traditionally favors close ties with Beijing.

Senior DPP lawmaker Wang Ting-yu, responding on his Facebook page, criticized the KMT for not condemning China and its threats against Taiwan.

“These people are not pacifists; they have intentionally or otherwise become pawns of the aggressor,” Wang wrote.

Tsai has overseen a military modernization program to bolster Taiwan’s defenses.

Former Australian prime minister Scott Morrison told a forum in Taipei on Wednesday that with China’s threats against the island, it was important to strengthen Taiwan’s resilience but that Taiwan needed to do more itself.

“Such urgency must also be demonstrated by Taiwan itself. Israel is an even smaller nation than Taiwan and likewise lives under constant threat,” he told an audience that included Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu. “But they spend considerably more proportionally on its defense than here in Taiwan.”

The overall defense budget proposed by the government for next year amounts to 2.5% of Taiwan’s GDP. Israel’s amounts to 4.5% for this year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

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