Skip to main content

NZ Army Officer earns New Year Honour for work in Sinai peacekeeping

Empathy, humility, patience and perseverance are the secret to working in the Middle East, according to New Zealand Army’s Major General Evan Williams.

30 December, 2023

It’s these traits, displayed in his role as force commander for the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, that have helped him become an Officer of The New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2024 New Year Honours.

The MFO is a neutral arbiter in monitoring the security provisions of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. It comprises about 1100 international military personnel and an additional 700 local civilian staff. 

The posting is his swansong before retiring after 39-plus years in the NZ Army, topping out a wide range of leadership and command positions in the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF).

Major General Williams, from Te Aroha, started the MFO role in late 2019 and was intending to retire in September 2023. However, the MFO asked him to return and he will continue as force commander until March 2024.

“It’s about four words - empathy, humility, patience and perseverance,” Major General Williams said.

“That’s it. If a force commander can master those four traits, it’s as simple as that.”

Major General Williams’ citation lauds his leadership and drive as the MFO continued to carry out operations despite being hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic and an ongoing ISIS-led insurgency. He also worked tirelessly to establish and develop personal relationships and trust with the Egyptian and Israeli militaries.

An example of his value as a broker and negotiator between the two parties was the signing of only the third amendment to the Treaty of Peace in its 40-year history.

His strategic leadership and diplomatic acumen brought great credit to New Zealand and the NZDF.

“That’s my job; managing strategic relationships,” Major General Williams said.

“I stay focused on that and rely on some bright and capable staff officers to do the detail stuff. That’s where you earn your money as a two-star general, not by planning vehicle patrol routes in the desert.”

Major General Williams said the MFO – a world-class peacekeeping operation - was working with two very proud peoples from two culturally different countries in a complex environment, and sometimes there was tension.

“People who come here get their eyes opened hugely when they see how complex the Middle East is. It’s a great professional experience.”

Tragically, Major General Williams’ wife Kristin died of cancer at the end of 2021. The citation says she played an exceptional role as part of the MFO leadership team, and was an empathetic and generous host who always provided steadfast support.

Despite this loss, Major General Williams remained in command and accepted the role extension to ensure important initiatives were completed.

“She always said she wanted me to go back and finish this,” he said.

“It’s a great way to finish a career.”