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?

Why New Zealand must stand behind Iran nuclear deal

Yesterday the Prime Minister of Israel made a massive claim: Iran is lying. It is not compliant with the terms of its nuclear agreement with the United Nations Security Council P5 nations plus Germany. The claim, which is one that now brings huge pressure on Mr Netanyahu to deliver is also one he cannot afford to be wrong on if he wishes to retain any credbility.

It is also one New Zealand must make its position very clear on.

Mr Netanyahu has never supported the Iranian nuclear deal and insists that Iran is lying about its commitment to it. He points to 55,000 pages and 183 CDs worth of evidence that the Israeli Mossad allegedly stole

Mr Netanyahu is a proponent of fear. His Government makes Iran out to be an enemy capable of destroying Israel and willing to try. If that were true, it would have done so by now. Except there is one huge problem with Mr Netayahu’s thinking. Actually, two:

  1. The United States would not hesitate to use military force against Iran or any other country that attacks Israel militarily
  2. Iran knows in conventional military combat it cannot beat the United States, and – for fear of W.W.3. – Russia would think long and hard before it came to Iran’s support

But still the fearmongering goes on, both in Tel Aviv and in the United States with willing support from Fox News and Republican hawks.

The regime of the Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei might have also been lost in translation. Whilst there are definitely anti-Israeli forces in Iranian politics and no doubt supported by the Ayatollahs, there have been verified incidents in which Persian dialects have been badly translated by the Western media, leading to the perception Iran wishes to nuke Israel. One such case involving former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad led to mass walkouts at the United Nations when he addressed the General Assembly.

The overwhelming expectation I imagine of the rest of the world is on Mr Netanyahu and that is simple: put up the evidence of Iran not being compliant or shut up.

New Zealand must stand firmly in support of the Iranian nuclear deal. Neither the United States or Israel have come up with a better plan that has the support of the rest of the United Nations Security Council or Germany, much less Iran. I sincerely doubt there is any plan to put a better proposal up.

There is a second reason for supporting the Iran deal. This is more important than ever now. There needs to be a deal that North Korea could potentially aspire to if the political situation on the Korean Peninsula ever gets to the stage where North Korea can be trusted not to use a reactor to make weapons grade material. The type of deal necessary is there – it just needs to be modified to suit the situation with the Korea’s.

But it will not be any use if the key players, the ones with the influence who can show North Korea right from wrong, walk away from it. This is why New Zealand needs to stand its ground, tell the world why we support it and not give an inch to anyone. Because walking away from this deal potentially pitches both parts of the world into a degree of uncertainty and fear that no one benefits from.

No one except the military industrial complex.


New Zealand U.N. vote NOT anti-American

As the furore over the American decision to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel grows, the United Nations Security Council has voted against the U.S. move 14-1. And the United Nations General Assembly voted 128 to 9 with Canada and Australia abstaining

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been very clear on the issue.

Contrary to the popular belief of Fox viewers, the international vote against the United States moving its capital to Jerusalem is not an expression of anti-Americanism. In the context of New Zealand, it is no more so than the 1985 resolution condemning France for the Rainbow Warrior bombing is anti-French. Both were the result of their respective Governments making poor choices on the international stage that the world saw as non compatible with it’s understanding of international law. Many French were horrified by what their country had done and so too are many Americans horrified at what it is doing in the Middle East today, and that has to be recognized.

Anti-Americanism in my view is an act openly contemptuous of America as nation or Americans as a people. It is stated in a way that is deliberately intended to degrade and have a strain of hatred in it. Anti-American rhetoric is what you hear from the Ayatollahs of Iran or the propaganda of such organizations as al-Qaida. I do not see such ugliness emanating from New Zealand or the United Nations General Assembly.

Nor is the vote anti-Israeli. The world has never recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Contrary to the belief of the Prime Minister of Israel, the world has long recognized  that the issue of Jerusalem can only be resolved by negotiations in the broader two state context. Further contrary to his belief, this is not an anti-Israeli vote. The idea that it is, is insulting and inflammatory. Many Israeli’s are quite horrified by the Government of their country and the systematic way in which it is slowly but deliberately taking Palestinian lands and eradicating any evidence of Palestine. They know about the deliberate annexation by stealth using the establishment of new villages to stake a claim to Palestinian land. They know about the demolition of orchards depriving Palestinians of one of only a few sources of income. I assume then they also know that the street names in Palestinian territories are changing as they come under Israeli control. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows full well what his country is doing and even endorses it – he just will not admit it because it would be an own goal and a point blank admission that Palestinians are telling the truth.

I have stated before my position on Israel. What needs to be said is that this requires international co-operation. In return for Israel withdrawing from the lands seized in1967 and 1973, Russia must tell Iran to stop supporting Hezbollah, HAMAS and other militants. Palestine must give recognition to Israel’s 1967 borders and cease all militant activity, disarm them and disband the militant wings of these and other organizations.

Neither side is perfect and both have done things that they should not have. But there are other historic players who need to be acknowledged. Britain and France took over swathes of the Middle East in 1916-17. As part of the British mandate a Jewish state was established as a result of the Balfour Declaration. The Arab interpretation of the Declaration was that an Arab state would also be established. None was and when one looks at the causes of anti-Israeli sentiment today among Arab nation’s, this is is most likely a major reason for such ‘ll feeling.