Iran vs Israel: the confrontation no one should ignore


The day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced to the world that he had conclusive evidence that Iran was non compliant with the conditions of the J.P.C.O.A. plan to ensure Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons, I had two thoughts and two thoughts only: Either Netanyahu really does have evidence or this is a false flag attempt to start a major war.

The moment Mr Netanyahu made this claim, the onus was – and still is – on him to show the evidence. Simply showing the number of C.D. or D.V.D.’s that he had in display cabinets is not enough. Open the files and show us what is in those files.

Why has that evidence not been laid in front of the United Nations Security Council, and in particular the Permanent Five nations (United States, France, Britain, Russia and China)? Is that evidence going to be laid out at all? Will the General Assembly get to see it? If not, why not?

The potential consequences of an Iran vs Israel confrontation are, short of World War 3, almost too depressing to contemplate. I see the following potential outcomes happening:

  • A potential Middle East regional conflict dragging in nations such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon
  • Israel and Iran reach some sort of uneasy peace that has a long term risk of flaring up again
  • The war remains between the current states due to awareness of the danger of escalation
  • The war escalates, with Russia and U.S. both ratcheting up involvement
  • World War 3

Neither Russia or America will want to be the nation that started World War 3. In the Middle East where life is considered cheap and the values placed on humanity are not the same as the West, there may be restraint. But will Israel and Iran share the same view? I hope that they do, but I fear not.

The old wounds of the colonial era and more recent spats might be tearing asunder, unable to constrain the geopolitical pressures internationally and the domestic pressure within, may begin to tear open along pre-existing lines.

This is a sad indictment on the whole world. Sure there has been much provocation. Sure the east vs west of the Cold War has never really gone away. Sure the world changed on 11 September 2001.

But there have been some huge opportunities for peace that were not taken. And some huge ones that certain nations refuse to take even though, many of their adversaries would cease to exist if those opportunities had been. Lasting peace between Israel and its neighbours is just one example. Palestinian leasderder Yasser Arafat’s inability to accept a peace deal, another. In terms of  post Cold War disarmament, a deal in say 1995 to reduce nuclear weapons right across the permanent five would have vastly undermined the rationale for any one else having them.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the price we pay for being in the grip of the military-industrial complex that sends our finest off to fight wars and grow the list of servicemen and women lost in the wars. This is the price our allies – I don’t speak for them, but certainly imagine the pain and suffering of their citizenry in war – pay as well. When the dollar trumps the international and moral good. This is also the price we pay for a toxic fear permeating all aspects of life and politics where fear of the unknown becomes an irrationally powerful, toxic, all consuming paranoia that turns neighbours against neighbours and in the context of international geopolitics, country against country; ideology against ideology.

This is the real reason why wars like the one potentially about to start in the Middle East must be uniformly and unflinchingly frowned upon by the most powerful people in the world.

Right now, they are smiling on it.

New Zealand should keep itself at arms distance from U.S., Russia


A while ago Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated that she thought the nuclear moment of our present time is climate change. She said it, stating that New Zealand needs to take a decisive leadership role in reducing our carbon emissions. An admirable thing and certainly something that needs to happen.

But it is not the nuclear moment of NOW. That is playing out in the Middle East and has the potential to become much more immediate than climate change, which – whilst affecting us already – does not (so far as I know)have the ability to usher in a global holocaust in a matter of ours. It does not have the ability to accidentally usher in a nuclear exchange before people even realize what is happening.

I honestly never thought, until about early 2014, when Russia began its military build up in Syria and started testing western resolve over Ukraine that the risk of an East-West military confrontation would revive in my life time. Whilst since 2000 the risk had certainly been growing from one year to the next, the immediacy of the danger was not there. It is now. And the causes of it are dubious to say the least.

Neither the United States or Russia are playing an entirely honest and responsible game in Syria. Both have agenda’s that are more about suiting their foreign policy ambitions than helping to end a bloody civil war that has gone on for much too long. Both have the power and the means to end it today, but the strangulation of their geopolitical objectives mean their peoples are captive to politicians being jerked around – willingly – by the military industrial complex. For this is not about Syria anymore, but about who will be the decisive power in the Middle East. This is about raw ambition.

Perhaps it is telling us something that Russia has used its veto power as one of the Permanent 5 in the United Nations Security Council to block 12 separate resolutions on Syria. Perhaps it is telling us something that none of the N.A.T.O. countries purportedly standing for the rule of international law attacked suspected chemical weapons sites before United Nations personnel could verify that that is what they actually were.

But also the danger level in this conflict brings the world as close to an international incident – an incident that could potentially trigger a nuclear exchange by accident – as any conflict during the First Cold War. An accidental attack by N.A.T.O. forces on Russia, or vice versa could very easily escalate into a world conflict. If it does not do that, at the very least it would result large scale deployment of N.A.T.O. and Russian forces including potential nuclear forces.

What the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters should be doing is telling our international partners in no uncertain terms we only abide by international law. If they want our cooperation, they need to abide by it too.

What New Zealand should be doing is four fold:

  1. Demanding all countries comply with international law – and telling them New Zealand will have no participation in anything judged to be against said law
  2. Demanding an immediate cessation to hostilities
  3. Letting United Nations inspectors in with unfettered access to all sites of concern in Syria
  4. Let Red Cross have unfettered access to all victims of war

Our nuclear moment I do not think is climate change. Our nuclear moment is stopping this war turning into a nuclear moment.

I know not what weapons World War 3 will be fought with, but World War 4 will be fought with sticks and stones

ALBERT EINSTEIN

Onset of Russophobia, or credible fear?


13 nations around the world including France, Britain, Australia and America have joined Britain in expelling Russian diplomats and spies from their soil as part of a raft of measures against the Putin regime. So, I ask the question: Are there Russian spooks in New Zealand? There might well be. Since the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.

People ask what is New Zealand doing about this?

Rather than rush in having made a rapid and possibly hasty – judgement that is not necessarily accurate, New Zealand’s response could be more consistent with waiting for the facts to be proven and taking action based on them. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says that the Secret Intelligence Service has found no evidence of Russian spies in New Zealand. Ms Ardern further says that if the opposite were true, as Prime Minister she would reserve the right order their expulsion.

From blocking United Nations attempts to pass resolutions against Syria and Iran for breaches of international law to the poisoning using polonium against a former spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. From the attempted annexation of the Crimea so Russia could gain better access to the Black Sea, to the suppression of the domestic opposition parties to ensure Mr Putin is returned as President, the Putin regime has continued to show scant regard for the law.

Whilst it is true many Russians love Putin and see him as a continuation of Russia’s line of strong leaders, there are many many more who absolutely despair. Corruption is rife. But few dare report it as journalists are frequently subject to harassment. Anyone from a sexual minority runs the risk of grave persecution if they come out. Cold War era arms programmes as well as a slew of new ones have been started – new planes, tanks, missiles are all in progress. All of this started or accelerated under the regime of Mr Putin.

I want to be clear now that this is not an outbreak of anti-Russian sentiment on this blog. It is a response to a pattern of increasing Russian belligerence that began with the election of Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2000 and which in that time has grown considerably both in terms of scope, in terms of the consequences and in terms of international tensions.

 

The reason why this is not an attack of Russophobia is because if it is that, then based on previous articles written for this blog, I have therefore had attacks of anti-American sentiment and anti-Chinese sentiment.

 

But as Mr Putin’s list of crimes that he may be complicit continues to grow, am I the only one wondering how much worse this can get before one side or the other does something they regret forever more?

 

Of trade deals and revived Cold War geopolitics


When New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters commented about trade with Russia earlier this week, there was mixed reaction. Our allies were surprised. Russia, probably grinning and the ordinary Jim and Jane wondering what just happened.

I wonder how many people born post-1989 would recognize that today we are in the midst of the very sort of Cold War geopolitical environment that our parents and grandparents found themselves living through. I wonder how many of the would realize how little it would take to cause an international incident that the whole world regrets. But above all, I wonder how much those in New Zealand who were spared the tensions of the Cold War, realize that just because they are nations that we have traditionally been good friends with does not automatically make Britain or the U.S. automatically right when they make a foreign policy decision.

Mr Peters highlighted the stark differences between New Zealands priorities and those of Britain. The New Zealand priorities which seem to be about securing trade agreements with European nation’s post-Brexit, include a potential deal with Russia, and another with the European Union.

Perhaps New Zealand is being a bit naive. The Russian Government is renown for it’s bullying tactics. It’s attempt at annexing Ukraine was a flagrant attempt at rebuilding the Russian empire of old, whilst also improving access to the Black Sea. Doing a free trade agreement with it sort of seeks to legitimise the activities of a country that violates international law as much as America does.

Whilst needing to be able to conduct trade with nation’s whose agendas and views are not compatible with New Zealand, it needs to be said that our values are too important to compromise for dollars. We were shocked when Russia carried out acts such as the attack on Alexander Litvinenko, and rightly so because the nature of the assassination was one that could only becarried out by someone in a very high position. We were shocked when Russia vetoed moves in the United Nations  to condemn the use of gas on civilians in Aleppo. We have been surprised by the apparent use of a military grade agent last week against a spy and his daughter.

At some point no one should be surprised if there is push back against Russia for this conduct. Russia’s conduct in many respectsrhas been similar to that of the United States. The latter can be accused of invading nation’s and has times propped up dictators such as General Augusto Pinochet, Saddam Hussein, and turning a blind eye to Saudi Arabias war in Yemen.

New Zealand needs to ask itself this:

  1. Does it want to remain blindly supportive of America and Britain even when they are not always right?
  2. Does it want to be seen supporting a nation (Russia) that carries out horrifying assassinations, annexations and most probably supplied the missile system used to down Malaysian Airlines flight MH7?
  3. Pursue an independent foreign policy including trade agreements with whomever we see fit? And at the possible expense or delay of deals with traditional partners?

Whilst wanting Russia to understand it is not helping its own reputation to be carrying out such poison attacks, history is littered with evidence of the other side committing atrocities  as well. When a weakened Prime Minister of Britain goes up against the nuclear power that is Russia and its leader says in a threatening voice not to threaten a nuclear power, who is prepared to continue with such a black and white threat?

Mr Peters and New Zealand First should learn from this.

Hawaii missile warning a reminder of the times


Yesterday’s ballistic missile scare in Hawaii had haunting echoes of a time I had hoped had long since past. It only lasted about 40 minutes before officials announced it was a false alarm, but in that time, Hawaii had a terrifying taste of what to expect in the minutes before an actual missile strike. And more than 70 years after the first nuclear weapons test, it is a reminder of what a volatile world we live in and what we are bringing our children and grandchildren up in.

But let us have a brief look back in the time line of war scares and see how we compare today with earlier times. In 1947, a bunch of concerned scientists called themselves Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and instituted the Doomsday Clock.

The doomsday clock is no ordinary clock. Whereas an ordinary clock continually goes forward, except when the hour hand is wound backwards for the end of daylight savings, this one goes forward and back. It is designed to show how close the world is to nuclear midnight, a time at which if – heaven forbid – we ever get there, the world, or part of it, will be understood to be in the midst of some sort of thermo/nuclear conflagration.

Timeline of the nuclear doomsday clock (Source: Bulletin of Atomic Scientists).

The timeline shows how the clock has moved backwards and forwards over the years, depending on the level of international tension. It started life in 1947 at 23:53PM and kept slipping progressively forward as tensions between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. increased. The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis should probably be the lowest point (closest point to nuclear midnight)as during the 13 days of this crisis the United States was actively preparing to invade Cuba to destroy medium range missile sites installed by the U.S.S.R., aimed at the U.S., not away that short range sites also existed and could be aimed at the invasion beaches. At this stage, though not shown due to the short duration of the crisis it was probably 23:59. It improved after that, through the 1970’s, but started to deteriorate again to reach 23:58 in 1984 as a result of major wars between Iraq and Iran, and the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan.

When the Cold War ended at the end of 1991 it was 23:47, with major cuts happening in military forces across the world. The threat of nuclear war had receded. The major proxy conflicts between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. with their client states had ended.

A bigger problem was who or what would fill the void left by the collapsed U.S.S.R. Initially that was unanswered. Later in 1994-95 Russia began trying to reassert its influence by destroying a separatist movement in Chechnya. In 2000, current Russian President Vladimir Putin was elected for the first time. Nationalism began to infiltrate Russian politics and defence spending began to increase once more.

In China another rival of the U.S., the Chinese economy and military spending were both growing in near double digit figures. Their large, Soviet inspired military of the Cold War began a massive transformation into the second most powerful military machine in the world today, slimmed down in size but with weapons, tactics and training fit for the 21st century. With a roaring economy came a roaring demand for raw material – coal, oil, gas, wood, steel. And most recently a Chinese agenda for a century of the Dragon.

Decades of interference by the C.I.A. in other countries affairs bit America on 11 September 2001. Whilst the world and the U.S. were rightfully horrified at the huge loss of life, such interference was always going to eventually boomerang on them. The then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld may have been looking into a crystal ball when he said that the war might last 15-20 years and involve multiple invasions. Whatever the case, that has happened. But with a lack of obvious outcomes apparent, many have tired of the constant American emphasis on terrorism, especially when some of their actions have undermined the cause.

And all this time, the Kim dynasty of North Korea has quietly gone on its way observing events world wide and learning from American actions. With unfathomable brutality he and his daddy and grand daddy have made North Korea a vast prison camp with nuclear deterrence. With China (reluctantly and most likely more interested in their own one party state) acting as an insurance policy against American invasion, Kim Jong Un probably felt quite safe until Donald Trump assumed the Presidency.

We should not take anything for granted here in New Zealand. We should consider how we can mitigate the consequences of a war on the Korean peninsula – assuming in the first instance it is a conventional war with no nuclear, chemical or biological weapons involved. The political and economic fallout will be huge with huge loss in just about all sectors of the economy, and in particular the flow of international tourists to and from N.Z, but also various trading sectors.

Obviously I sincerely hope that the tensions de-escalate on the Korean Peninsula. However the level of fear and panic that was caused by the false ballistic missile warning in Hawaii, shows what would happen in the event of an actual attack, irrespective of whether it was in Japan where several warnings from actual missile over flights, or somewhere further afield.

These are fascinating times without doubt, but for all the wrong reasons. I don’t think I am the only one who really wants a de-escalation on the Korean Peninsula, whilst being acutely aware it could get much, much worse.