Little appetite for war against Iran


Ever since the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal the risk of a war between the two nations has increased. Ayatollah Khamenei began to increase the rhetoric against the United States, saying how it wanted war. President Donald Trump believed that the deal was fundamentally flawed from the start, and at the behest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who believed it compromised Israeli national security, withdrew from it. Initially Iran said it would continue to comply with it in full. But when it was revealed that the other powers signatory to the agreement were not complying with their end of the deal in full, Tehran immediately said that should they not resume within 60 days it would withdraw.

Which is precisely what Mr Netanyahu and Mr Trump wanted. But now with the war hawks attempting to ratchet up the drum beat of war to another level, it is time to look at why the hawks could be in for a brutal surprise should Iran and the United States come to military blows.

There is a distinct difference though between the Iraq War and how any war against Iran in terms of the support that the United States has. Whilst many nations friendly to America expressed considerable reservations or expressed condemnation of its 2003 invasion of Iraq, it did have the support of a few nations. They included the United Kingdom, Spain, Australia, the Netherlands, Iceland, Portugal, Japan and South Korea, along with a number of eastern European, central Asian and Latin American countries.

In many respects the United States and Israel would be facing a very different foe to the demoralized Iraq that was invaded in 2003. Among the primary reasons:

  • Iran has not suffered a major conflict since the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988 and has rebuilt
  • Iraq’s military was severely depleted, badly trained, paid and resourced – much of its equipment was useless for lack of parts, ammunition
  • Iran has significant powerful allies including Syria and Russia
  • Its compliance with the nuclear deal means the grounds for military action based on a grave and present threat are non-existent, which American allies generally recognize
  • International support for a war against Iran is almost non-existent
  • Much of the promotion of a hard line against Iran has more to do with bolstering the military industrial complex and certain politicians than achieving any real good
  • The risk of an Iran-U.S./Israel conflict becoming a direct clash between the U.S. and Russia is real

Iran is suffering under heavy American sanctions and diplomatic pressure on other countries to stop buying Iranian oil. However several nations including South Korea still do so. It has refused to have anything to do with the petro-dollar and some are suggesting it might be investing in crypto-currency such as Bitcoin.

None of this is to say that the Iranian Government or the Ayatollahs are saints. They are not. Iran has one of the most appalling records of any nation in the Middle East when it comes to womens rights, the death penalty, torture, arbitrary detention and extra-judicial killings. Human rights activists such as Nasrin Sotoudeh are regularly imprisoned without justification, and almost always on trumped up charges such as posing a threat to the Islamic Republic

Nor is it to say that Iran respects its neighbours. During the Iraqi sectarian violence following the U.S. invasion in 2003 it armed militias to destablize the country and disrupt the attempt to restore the country. It arms Hezbollah militants fighting against Israel, by supplying them with Qassam and Katyusha rockets, drones and small arms. It point blank refuses to recognize the state of Israel in any form. Iran may have interfered in the Afghanistan war and its chief regional rival is Saudi Arabia.

But if we take all of this and acknowledge the willingness of Russia to exercise veto powers when U.N. Resolutions against Iran are proposed, the extent to which Russia has enabled Hezbollah to be armed, and so forth, it is clear Russia has a significant stake in Iran’s well being.

To the extent it could be compared with America’s in Israel.

Netanyahu’s re-election will not help Israel-N.Z. relations


On 9 April 2019 Israel will go to the polls to elect a new Government. The poll will be a referendum on incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the right wing leader of the governing Likud Party. It will be a referendum on whether Israel continues the hugely divisive approach it has adopted towards its neighbours and the Palestinian people.

Mr Netanyahu, who is fighting allegations of fraudulent activity and bribery, has long since maintained a hard line on Palestine. His tenure as Prime Minister has been marked by a progressive worsening of the relationship, which has seen Israel announce it has full jurisdiction over Jerusalem – a city and holy site not only for Jews, but Muslims and Christians as well; progressive annexation by stealth of Palestinian lands and as of today, an intention to annex the West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu has maintained an even harder line on Iran. During his tenure, he has done his utmost to sabotage the globally recognized deal worked out between President Barak Obama and Iranian leaders over Iran’s nuclear programme. Under the deal worked out, Iran will shed any capacity it had to make the weapons grade uranium needed for nuclear weapons. It will hand over enough centrifuges that it cannot proceed Highly Enriched Uranium manufacture. It will modify its reactor so that it cannot process radioactive material into anything other than low grade waste.

In New Zealand I have heard very little support for Mr Netanyahu from New Zealanders, once they have been made aware of his policies and conduct on the international stage. Many have openly doubted whether Israel seriously wants peace in Gaza, or whether it is conducting a policy of annexation by stealth, because to do so in public would be to invite huge international condemnation and possibly an uncontrollable outbreak of violence.

As a nation that supports the two state solution New Zealand will not benefit in any way from the re-election of Mr Netanyahu. Nor will our Jewish, Muslim or other religious communities with significant representations in Israel or Palestine. Mr Netanyahu has made very clear by his on going annexation of Palestine that it has no place in his vision of the Middle East, and that Israel is somehow the rightful occupier of Palestinian lands.

As a nation that has a strong tradition of international law and peace, the re-election of Mr Netanyahu will serve to undermine the respect New Zealand has for Israel’s commitment to any peace negotiations – namely because Mr Netanyahu himself has no time for them. His recent annexation of the Golan Heights, long occupied by Israel and now recognized by the United States Government has enraged many in the Arab world and further shown the lack of regard to international law that permeates Israeli politics.

In both the short and long versions of this post Israel will be doing itself and the world around it a favour if Mr Netanyahu is not returned to office on Tuesday 9 April 2019.

New Zealand’s love-hate relationship with Israel


Yesterday the Jewish state of Israel turned 70. יום הולדת שמח (Happy Birthday). As Israel begins its 71st year as a modern nation, it is one of the wealthiest nations for its small size on the planet, yet also one of the most divisive.

I have said this in the past, so it should not be anything new to anyone:

Israel has a right to exist. And like all nations it has a right to self defence.

What it does not have the right to do anymore than any other nation is to annex territory, whether it is by stealth using creeping occupation or annexation by military force. Israel is practicing the former in Palestine. It has also used military force at times involving the use of illegal weapons such as cluster munitions and white phosphorous. The 2008-09 war involved artillery bombardment and heavy use of air power.

Unfortunately, whilst the U.S. and – if it goes to war with Iran – Saudi Arabia turn a blind eye to its disregard for international law, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has all but said Palestine does not exist will continue to show contempt for the international community.

I have met people from Israel and I have met people from Palestine. One of the casual staff at work is a Palestinian. When I was moderating a group on Yahoo! for expatriates living in New Zealand, I met an Israeli couple and their young daughter. I don’t judge either by what is going on in their respective lands. Both the Israeli family and the Palestinian colleague have told me they moved to get away from the violence.

I cannot say I blame them at all. Like I think is the case with a lot of New Zealanders, I look at the current violence in the Middle East with frustration, sadness and – if I am honest – a bit of fear about where the simmering conflict in Syria could end up. It is a conflict we cannot really have any influence over, though there were many, like myself who were very proud when New Zealand and other countries passed a resolution condemning Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands in the dying days of its chairmanship of the U.N. Security Council.  I look at the looming confrontation between Israel and Iran. Age old hatred and suspicion will never die among the older politicians and citizenry who never knew peace, or – in Iran’s case – the right to dissent against bigotry.

Those who have been to Israel have been really impressed with its history, its culture and there is no doubt that Israel as a modern nation has contributed much to the world. Its companies have created an impressive array of technologies. It has a well educated population. I had the honour of attending a Jewish wedding in the United States in 2017, which I thoroughly enjoyed learning the customs of.

And as the 70th Anniversary of the Day of Nakba (yawm alnakba)is commemorated in Palestine, I hope that all those near the border districts will hold their commemorations peacefully. Israeli’s and Palestinians can argue over who is to blame, but I suspect I speak for a lot of New Zealanders when I say that all I really want is some sort of peace.

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.

Iran deal still alive


On Wednesday morning, New Zealand Time, United States President Donald Trump announced that the United States is withdrawing from the multi-lateral agreement struck over Iranian nuclear weapons. Mr Trump said that the deal was bad for the United States and Israel. But was it really?

The Iran deal is still alive. It has the support of the other five signatories plus Iran. The deal is sufficiently robust in that it ensures Iran has no Highly Enriched Uranium, which is essential for nuclear weapons with a uranium core. It ensures that Iran has not got sufficient to allow the manufacture of the H.E.U. The guarantee of the German, French, British, Russian and Chinese Governments that Iran will be held to the terms of this agreement should be sufficient to:

  • Guarantee that Iran still has international obligations to meet
  • Guarantee that in return for meeting those obligations the agree concessions will be enabled in full

I am not convinced that either Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or the President of the United States, Donald Trump want peace. The reactions of both when the Iranian deal was signed was totally negative.

Mr Netanyahu has not supported the agreement from Day 1. He has insisted that Iran will not comply and that it would pose an undue security threat to Israel. Mr Netanyahu has even gone so far as to claim Iran has lied and that a clandestine nuclear weapons programme continues in the background. Yet this same Prime Minister of Israel has yet to present the evidence that he is confident he has of Iranian non-compliance to the United Nations General Assembly. And until he does, Iran must be given the benefit of the doubt in the same way the accused is not guilty until proven so.

Contrary to Mr Trump’s assertion that he supports the Iranian people, he is pushing them towards arms of the Mullahs. The Islamic hardliners no more wanted this deal than Mr Trump did and as a result would be quietly delighted i Iranians started supporting them. Iran is anathema to Mr Netanyahu, whose tone has become openly hostile towards the Persian state. Mr Netanyahu claims that he has no desire for war, but seems to be openly contemptuous of what might be the best chance at a lasting peace in 50 years or more.

Is Iran perfect? Absolutely not, and it has supplied Hezbollah and other Islamic militant groups with rockets of increasing firepower, range and accuracy. Iran has had highly contentious elections such as the 2009 one where former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – who I saw nick named Iwannajihad in one political group during his time in office – was re-(s)elected. The 2009 election was characterized by heavy rigging, stuffed ballots and lethal violence when Iranians realized what was happening.

But nor is Israel. It is a country with an estimated 100-200 nuclear warheads, yet is the first to grumble if anyone in the Middle East favours so much as a nuclear reactor not capable of converting low grade uranium to weapons grade material. There are separate articles about how Palestine has been poorly treated and that is beyond the scope of this article. What is not beyond the scope is the effort of the Israeli military gearing up for war. It has taken delivery of bunker busting bombs that can penetrate deep bunkers

Their proxy super powers have their own problems, ongoing and increasingly capable of accidentally causing W.W.3. before anyone actually realizes that on that particular day, it is for real. Neither Russia or the United States are squeaky clean around human rights abuses, but human rights abuses seem  to be going unchecked. So, when will they be?