The border crossing between Israel and Lebanon is on a coastal road on the edge of cliffs that plunge into the Mediterranean. I was there to meet a member of the UN Fiji peacekeepers. There was a delay. Looking around, I noticed halfway down the cliff face a railway line. It produced a "how did they build that?" thought.
"The British built the railway during the First World War to support their advance against the Turks," said my liaison officer.
Seeing a path, I climbed down to have a better look. It is a marvel of engineering. There was a plaque on the tunnel entrance. Brushing aside the dust, I read the inscription. I was stunned.
When I climbed back I said to my guide: "Don't you ever tell anyone again that the British built that railway. The plaque says 'built by the New Zealand Army Corps of Engineers 1918'."
"What were New Zealanders doing here?" asked my incredulous guide.
All around us were signs that armies had fought over the land, from modern barbed wire to crusader castles. I felt proud that we left a railway line, but why were we there?
Historians are still arguing over what WWI was about.
Some say no new global power has ever arisen without a war with the existing power. All agree the participants, without thinking, blundered into war.
As I said in my December column, "Nanaia Mahuta began as Foreign Minister by putting out a bold statement on Hong Kong. China responded by threatening to tear out our eyes". She had, without thinking, co-signed a statement from the Five Eyes intelligence organisation.
A less appropriate body to offer criticism would be hard to find. Five Eyes had a major listening post in Hong Kong wiretapping China.
When did Cabinet agree to put the spooks in charge of our relationship with our biggest trading partner? Our record on Hong Kong does not stand analysis. The West imposed unequal treaties on China to acquire Hong Kong. Britain only promoted democracy once it was leaving.
China's economic rise is no reason to turn the Five Eyes agreement into an anti-Chinese alliance.
As a country dedicated to the rule of law, New Zealand should raise our concern over the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong, human rights abuses against ethnic Uighurs and China's actions in the South China Sea. We should make our views known as an independent nation and with like-minded countries but never as part of a spying collective.
Jacinda Ardern was reckless letting Ron Mark attend a Five Eyes meeting. He apparently raised no objection to the change in role. Winston Peters added his name to Five Eyes' anti-Chinese communiques, to China's outrage. The New Zealand First ministers were blundering New Zealand into a trade war with China.
Mahuta last week — in a significant speech and then her first meeting with the Australian Foreign Minister— set out New Zealand's objections to extending Five Eyes beyond intelligence sharing.
Mahuta's "the dragon and the taniwha" speech may have confused listeners, but her message was clear. New Zealand does not agree with the US, UK, Canada and Australia turning an intelligence agreement into an alliance against China. It is one of the most important speeches ever given by a New Zealand Foreign Minister.
She has been strongly criticised by hawks in the UK saying we are putting trade ahead of principle. They have called for New Zealand's expulsion from the Five Eyes. It is hypocritical. The UK is the world's second largest arms exporter. Its customers include nasty dictatorships. None of her critics addressed whether the spooks should be making policy.
The credit for applying some thinking to our foreign policy before we blunder into a trade war must go to our new Foreign Minister.
No doubt the Left will denounce Mahuta for refusing to withdraw from the intelligence agreement. Again, Mahuta is correct. We share security issues with our Five Eyes partners. Long may the Seventh Fleet dominate the Pacific. It is in our national interest to support Five Eyes intelligence gathering capacity. If the US and UK had had better intelligence, the Iraq War would never have happened.
Anzac Day reminds us we are again in a dangerous era with the rise of a new global power.
New Zealand, while being true to our principles, should do what we can to ensure China's rise is a peaceful one. Our contribution has already been very significant. New Zealand was the first country to sign a trade agreement with China to allow it to join the World Trade Organisation.
We should say to our Five Eyes partners that the best way to respond to the economic challenge of China is for the US and the UK to join the TransPacific Partnership.
- Richard Prebble is a former leader of the Act Party and former member of the Labour Party.