Tag Archives: iran

Tom Arms’ World Review

United Kingdom

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is gambling on British xenophobia to return him to Downing Street. Or at the very least limit the damage to his troubled and divided ruling Conservative Party.

Of course, there are other factors he is throwing into the electoral mix. The lowering of inflation, the threat of China and the Ukraine War being a few of the political ingredients he is hoping will counter 14 years of Conservative austerity, corruption and misrule.

But playing on the average British voter’s deep-seated fear and mistrust of foreigners is one of the few issues the prime minister can control. And at the same time claim that the opposition Labour Party will not or cannot control.

Immigration played a major role in the Brexit vote. It should not have. But it did and being tough on it proved to be a vote winner. The average Briton dislikes foreigners, especially when they speak differently, pray differently, dress differently and eat different foods. They are perceived as a threat to British culture.

The “small boats people” – as they are known – are in their own xenophobic category. Not because there are a lot of them (29,347 in 2023), but because they are visible. They are shown on the nightly news and British Coast Guard vessels are sent to rescue them and long-faced quayside crowds watch them land.

Rishi Sunak’s policy of shipping them off to Rwanda as soon as their feet touched British soil has been one of his government’s top priorities. It was blocked by the UK Supreme Court because under British law people cannot be deported to unsafe countries. So the Sunak government passed a law which said parliament had the right to declare a country safe and to overrule the courts if they ruled otherwise.

With the legislation in place, Sunak pledged that the first refugees would be Rwandan-bound “within weeks.” That was another untruth. More legal challenges – and possibly industrial action by civil servants – are planned and would have delayed the Rwandan flights for several more months.

Calling the election for the 4th of July has turned the Rwanda Policy into an election issue. Vote for me, says Sunak, and  we will air freight the refugees to Rwanda. Vote for Labour and the Rwanda policy is lost.

Iran

The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi provides Iran’s political elite with a massive opportunity. They won’t take it.

Elections to replace President Raisi have to be held within 50 days of his death. The candidates for the job are chosen by religious leaders on Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. They could dramatically change their country by opening up the nomination list to reformers.

This would mean that 85-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini would be willing to risk the country taking a different course from the hardline anti-Western, anti-Israeli, heavily Islamic direction that he has pursued. This would be a major break with all past and present policies.

Ebrahim Raisi was more or less hand-picked for the presidential job by Khameini because of his impeccable hardline Islamic revolutionary credentials. His nickname was “Butcher of Tehran” and it was well-deserved. According to Human Rights Watch, during five months in 1988, Raisi ordered the execution of between 2,800 and 5,000 political prisoners.

Raisi was the favourite to succeed the ageing and ailing Ayatollah Khameini. So his death creates a dual problem for the regime – finding a replacement for the presidency and the supreme leadership.

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Observations of an Expat: Poor Bibi

Spare a thought for Bibi Netanyahu. He is caught between a rock and several hard places. He is fighting external wars against Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran; an internal war against his cabinet colleagues and a diplomatic one against the Biden Administration and most of the rest of the world, if not all of it.

The results of this complex picture could be Armageddon, stalemate or any one of the many in between scenarios.

While pondering the fate of the Israeli prime minister you may also want to consider all the other players who are dragging the world to the brink of a Middle Eastern abyss: President Joe Biden, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar. They are locked in a dangerous escalating tit for tat dance of death.

Within the Israeli cabinet there is a four-way tug-of-war between Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and War Cabinet Minister and Opposition Leader Benny Gantz. They all appear to hate and distrust each other.

According to sources, Gallant and Gantz have hardly spoken to each other since Benny Gantz beat out Yoav Gallant for the top military job ten years ago. Itamar Ben-Gvir is an ultra-Orthodox Jew who said Netanyahu should “go berserk” after Iran’s missile attack on Israel. He described Israel’s retaliatory attack on Iran’s third most populous city, Isfahan, as “lame.”

Gallant is not as extreme as Ben-Gvir, but not far off. Benny Gantz is the nearest thing to a dove that there is in the Israeli war cabinet. But even he is calling for the “total destruction” of Hamas. If elections were held today, Gantz would be prime minister.

All four men have conflicting views on a post-war Gaza. Netanyahu wants the army to take over. Gallant wants an ill-defined arrangement with the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority. Ben-Gvir is pushing for replacing the 2.2 million Gazan Palestinians with Israeli settlers and Benny Gantz is keeping his cards close to his chest, but hints at a politically slimmed down two-state solution.

Netanyahu, according to sources, deals with his rivals by ignoring them. All the major decisions since October 7 have been made by the prime minister without – or with the minimum – consultation.

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The Independent View: The enduring Iranian uprising – one year on

From September 16, 2022, Iran changed forever! On that day, in response to the killing of Mahsa Amini, an anti-government protest began that quickly spread throughout the country. What started as a demonstration against the compulsory Hijab soon became a political outcry targeting the entire regime. Chants of “Death to the dictator,” “Death to Khamenei,” and “Death to the oppressor, be it the Shah or the Leader (Khamenei)” echoed from nearly 300 cities across all 31 provinces of Iran. Women played the leading role throughout the uprising.

The regime wasted no time in mobilising its forces to control the situation. Despite the brutal crackdown, which resulted in the deaths of at least 750 protesters, including women and children, and the arrest of over 30,000 individuals, the uprising persisted for several months. It was the regime’s biggest challenge, pushing it to the brink of collapse.

A year later, with widespread discontent among the Iranian people, returning to the pre-September 2022 era is virtually impossible for the regime. The regime’s only way to hold on to power is through more executions, imprisonments, and torture. The failure of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s strategy to quell the uprising has revealed internal feuding within the regime. With chants of “Death to Khamenei” becoming a common refrain from the Iranian people, the authority and legitimacy of Khamenei have significantly eroded. Lower-ranking regime members have also abandoned their positions, contributing to the regime’s decline and instability.

Organised resistance has played a significant role in the uprising, mainly through the Resistance Units affiliated with the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK/PMOI). The activities of the MEK’s Resistance Units have been closely monitored by the regime’s intelligence agencies, signalling their effectiveness and impact. The MEK/PMOI and its President-elect, Maryam Rajavi, have gained support and recognition at the global level. Over 3,600 parliamentarians worldwide and 124 former world leaders have endorsed Rajavi’s 10-point plan, which outlines a vision for a democratic Iran with gender equality at its core

On September 12, more than 1,000 women dignitaries rallied behind Rajavi, urging the international community to stand by the Iranian people, particularly women, in their quest for freedom. They called for blacklisting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The wide-scale support for the MEK/PMOI and Maryam Rajavi’s Ten-Point Plan demonstrates the growing international recognition of a viable and democratic alternative for Iran.

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Don’t follow Iran in banning encrypted messaging like Signal and WhatsApp

This month you received “Your Parliamentary Briefing: standing up to the Iranian regime” in your inbox.
After a British-Iranian woman at Conference Q&As was left “looking for inspiration” as to what she could do “from here in Britain” to fight totalitarianism, Lib Dem MPs have “called on the UK government to take a stronger stance against the Iranian regime”.

Let’s instead start here in Britain.

The Online Safety Bill’s ‘spy clause’ would follow Iran in banning Encryption and by extension Signal, WhatsApp and Proton. Will you oppose?

That was my 25-word question to Ed Davey. Alas it wasn’t asked, so now I get to tell you about it in 750.


I understand Ed, Daisy & their 12 disciples supporting the Online Safety Bill: I did too.
My Fulbright scholarship in technology uncovered the harms of technology dependence, an issue I struggled with as an adolescent as I reveal in my single “Honest” this month.
So I supported in December – onstage at a Unicef conference – the UK’s landmark attempts to hold Big Tech to account for public content they promote to minors like tragic victim Molly Russell.
And I support Wera Hobhouse’s intentions to help protect women and other communities most targeted with public online hate.

But thanks to digital-rights advocates Open Rights Group, we’ve since become aware that the child-protection rhetoric has been twisted to belittle all British citizens. They want OFCOM to scan all of our digital communications.
This potent clause that will require messenger apps to use OFCOM “accredited technology to prevent individuals from encountering terrorism or CSEA content” is buried 4 levels deep (110.2.a.ii), so it’s no surprise that the only Lib Dem who seemed aware of it at my first conference was tech-specialist Lord Clement-Jones.

Though vague, the clause clearly enough intends to break Encryption for Signal – and even WhatsApp who borrow their nonprofit encryption protocol – to cry foul on government surveillance and threaten to pull from UK app stores.
Quick reality check: WhatsApp’s owned by Meta, who recently had to compensate me 300 quid for a privacy-breach. They think HMG is threatening Britons privacy.

No more WhatsApp. Nice, no more Group Chat notifications, and Matt Hancock can get back to serving his constituents.
And no more terrorism or child-abuse?
Not quite. The educated and savvy – baddies included – will still find a way of multiplying their prime numbers to encrypt sensitive comms. About bad things they’re attempting In Real Life.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

USA

America’s looking glass politics dominated the news agenda again this week. Donald Trump is not a perp. He is a victim. And he is exploiting his victimhood to the maximum political advantage.

The ex-president has re-galvanised his base with classic hyperbolic claims about Democratic witch hunts. The sad thing is that in the case of this week’s indictment – the first of a past or present American president – he may actually be right.

The office of District Attorney for South Manhattan is an elected one, and Alvin Bragg won the vote on the back of a promise to bring Donald Trump to trial and convict him. Lady Justice is portrayed blindfolded with her sword and balancing scales. She is not elected.

The law is meant to be based on precedent.  No man (or woman) should be protected by their political position but neither should their political position be the determining factor in their innocence or guilt.

Of course, Donald Trump, is more than prepared to play both sides of the legal coin. His 2016 campaign rallies were marked by the endless chant/rant of “Lock her up” related to Hillary Clinton’s use of private emails for government use. The demand was dropped as soon as Trump entered the White House.

Possibly the saddest aspect of Trump’s indictment is that DA Bragg’s case is the weakest against the ex-president. Secret documents at Mar-a-Lago, the January 6 riots and attempts to fix the Georgia election returns all look more promising. Legal eagles believe he can beat the rap on the Stormy Daniels case – if only on one of several technicalities. If Trump is acquitted then he could use that acquittal to fight off other legal challenges and ride the victimhood express all the way to the Republican Party nomination and possibly beyond.

China

Diplomats say interesting things sometimes. Fu Cong, Beijing’s ambassador to the EU was certainly in expansive and interesting mode when he spoke to the New York Times on the eve of the Macron/von de Leyen state visit to China.

At the top of President Emmanuel Macron’s agenda in Beijing was Ukraine. In fact, his feet had barely touched Chinese soil when he was telling Xi Jinping: “I am counting on you to bring Russia to its senses.”

France, America and the rest of the West are terrified that the Xi/Putin “friendship without limits” will eventually lead to Chinese weaponry supporting Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Ambassador Fu, however, dismissed the “limitless” phrase as “rhetoric.” He also pointed out that Beijing has refused to recognise the 2014 annexation of Crimea or the more recent Russian land grabs in the Donbas.

All of the above is true. It is also encouraging that a senior Chinese diplomat has gone on record to try and balance the debate. But friendship with Russia and Putin remains at or near the centre of Xi’s world strategy. To put it bluntly, Xi sees Russia as key to his plan of eroding the Western-oriented world order and replacing it with one that is more autocracy-friendly.

The Chinese president hinted at his big picture plan in his opening remarks to Macron’s visit when he said that China and France have the responsibility to transcend their differences “as the world undergoes proposed historical changes.”

To realise this plan, Xi wants to drive a wedge between European and American policymakers. To do this he is dangling the financial incentive of improved Sino-European trade links. That is why EU Commission President Ursula von de Leyen and an accompanying herd of French businessmen have been tacked onto Macron’s state visit.

The question remains whether the fine words that come out of the Macron/von de Leyen visit will be mere “rhetoric.”

Finland

Russia’s border with NATO is now 800-miles longer. Finland has ended decades of neutrality and joined the Western Alliance. Simultaneously it has changed its government.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

China

We will probably never know the reason for the removal of Hu Jintao from the recent Chinese People’s Party Congress. Was it the result of the medical problems of a confused old man? Or was it a crude attempt by Xi Jinping to emphasise that he is now totally in charge?

79-year-old Hu was Xi’s immediate predecessor. His administration was known for corruption, market reforms and greater political freedom; all of which are being suppressed by Xi. There must have been some discomfort among the party grandees about Xi amending the constitution to allow himself to serve a third (and probably fourth, fifth…) term as party leader and president.

Publicly humiliating Hu could have been his way of warning off potential critics. There aren’t many left in the upper reaches of the Chinese Communist Party. Xi has used the party congress to eliminate rivals and confirm acolytes. Good for Xi but bad for the world. Having the world’s most powerful dictator surrounded by Yes Men is not good news.

Franco-German Alliance

The Franco-German Alliance has been at the heart of peace in Europe since 1962 when Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle buried a century of brutal animosity in a service at Reims Cathedral.  But what has been termed the “engine room of the EU” is now showing signs of stalling in the face of the energy crisis, the Ukraine War and relations with America.

French President Emmanuel Macron is pushing for an EU-wide agreement to cap gas prices and share resources. Such a move was approved in principle at a recent EU summit but Germany’s Olof Scholz is dragging German feet on agreeing the details. At the same time, the Germans have been using their buying power to secure gas supplies at the expense of less well-off EU members. So far the Germans have filled about 90 percent of their storage capacity while countries such as Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are struggling.

There are also differences over defense and how military and economic aid should be directed towards Ukraine. The Germans are keen to use Ukraine to tie Washington closer to the defense of Europe. France sees the war as an opportunity to increase European defense cooperation and are angry at the Germans’ cancellation of Franco-German projects involving a new generation of fighter aircraft and battle tanks. Scholz and Macron were keen to smile for the cameras and minimise their differences at their most recent meeting, but they also postponed a 26 October regular Franco-German ministerial conference until “sometime in January.”

US and Ukraine

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Putin’s hold on power

Vladimir Putin’s hold on power must be slipping away. But which Kremlin insider might replace him? Well, according to the constitution, the Prime minister – who is Mikhail Mishustin – is meant to succeed the president if he has to suddenly resign or is incapacitated. Mishustin has been responsible for the dealing with the economy which is reeling from sanctions. He has done a reasonable job and is in the front rank of successors, but not regarded as a number one possibility.

That could be Nikolai Patrushev, former head of Russian intelligence organisation the FSB. He is known to be a hard-line ultranationalist. Another hardliner is Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov who has been publicly urging the Russian president to use tactical nuclear weapons. Also in the running is Mikhail Mizintsev, another hardliner who is known as the “butcher of Mariupol” and has recently been brought back from the front to be Deputy Minister of Defense. Dmitry Medvedev kept the presidential chair warm for four years from 2008 while Putin sorted out the constitution. He is another possible and recently warned that Putin “is not bluffing” about nuclear weapons. There are several more potential usurpers in the Kremlin wings. At the moment they all have one thing in common—they are ultra-nationalist right-wingers committed to the war in Ukraine.

China

Public protests involving banners, smoke and loud hailers are rare in China. They are virtually unheard of on the eve of a Chinese Communist Party Congress. The reason is that they can be life-threatening for the protesters.

But that did not stop two brave souls from unfurling banners from an overpass. One read: “Let us strike from schools and from work and remove the dictator Xi Jinping.” The other focused on Xi’s unpopular Zero Covid strategy and said: “No restrictions. We want freedom. No Lies. We want dignity.” The protesters were quickly surrounded by police and carted off, but videos quickly made it onto social media. China’s censors meant they were just as quickly erased from the local internet, but not before they could be reposted for the rest of the world to see. The protests are a huge embarrassment for Xi who is expected to be confirmed as president for a third term by the 2,500 delegates gathering in Beijing on Sunday. The fact that the men were willing to risk – quite possibly sacrifice – their lives for their protest indicates the depth of opposition to Xi Jinping.

Donald Trump

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Christine Jardine: UK Ministers’ response to Iran protests “woeful”

Christine Jardine has used her Scotsman column this week to criticise the UK Government for its lack of action in response to the women’s protests in Iran.

She sets the scene:

The international concern over that state’s pursuit of nuclear capability has been at the centre of diplomatic wrangling and, for the US in particular, the focus of decades of tension.

Perhaps what we have lost sight of is that Iran is a country, a people who like any other want to live their best lives. And be free so to do.

This past week what we have seen is that desire expressed on the streets and universities of Iran, provoked originally by the death in custody of a woman accused of ‘improper’ dress.

International observers, including Amnesty International, say they have not witnessed protests of the scale and intensity that have followed the death of Mahsa Amini.

The UK Government response has been muted compared to European countries and the US, she says:

But the response of our own Foreign Secretary and wider government has been woeful in comparison.

The UK Government should use the Magnitsky sanctions regime, where appropriate, for cases in which human rights abuses and atrocities have clearly been committed.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

UK

The freshly minted British Conservative government of Liz Truss is on the ropes. They have only themselves to blame. The “mini-budget” of Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng has plunged the economy into a downward spiral. The pound is plummeting. Interest rates are rocketing. People are literally on the cusp of losing their homes, and the problems of the world’s fifth largest economy is having a knock-on effect around the world.

The Opposition Labour Party has soared to a 20-point lead in the opinion polls. The Truss-Kwarteng policy of borrowing billions to cut taxes in the middle of a recession has been totally rejected by the markets. One reason for the traders’ emphatic thumbs down is Kwarteng’s refusal to support his budget with an assessment by the independent Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR). Such support is usually a pre-requisite for any budget announcement. The market has interpreted its absence as a sign that the chancellor knew that the OBR would refuse its seal of approval.

Well, now the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, has demanded that Kwarteng organise a retrospective OBR report by the end of October at the latest – and, if the OBR report is as scathing as the statements emitting from the corridors of the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund – amend the budget accordingly. In the meantime, the Truss-Kwarteng duo are doing what every politician does these days when caught in a mess of their own making – doubling down and blaming someone else. In this case Ms Truss has hummed and hahed through a series dramatically misjudged local radio interviews. Putin, Ukraine, covid and world energy prices – everything except Brexit – were blamed for the reaction to the budget. But the fact is every other developed country has the same problems (except self-inflicted Brexit) and they have succeeded in propping up their troubled economies. The markets, therefore, have decided that Britain’s problems can be ascribed to political competence.

Baltic

Who blew up the Baltic Sea gas pipe lines on Tuesday? And who is the legal victim? It is almost universally agreed that the explosions were sabotage that involved a state military operation. But which state? Officially neither the Russians nor NATO are pointing a finger, but both are implying that the other is responsible. Sweden said it detected Russian submarines and surface vessels in the sabotage area shortly before the explosions. Russia retorted with a claim that there were even more NATO naval forces in the neighbourhood. Furthermore, the UN Security Council meeting to discuss the issue has been called by Moscow.

The identity of the attacker is important because the attack occurred in Danish territorial waters which means that it can be construed as an attack on a NATO member. On the other hand, it was an attack on Russian property and so Moscow might be able to claim that it was a NATO attack against them. It is quite possible that we will never know who was responsible because revealing the identity would further escalate the Ukraine War.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Mahsa Amin’s death

They are burning their headscarves and police cars in Iran. Persian women are fighting back against the mullahs’ morality police. The catalyst for their anger is the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amin. The Iranian authorities claim she died of a pre-existing heart condition. Rubbish, say her family, there was nothing wrong with her heart. She died, they claim, because she was beaten in the police van on the way to the station. Ms Amin was arrested because she was wearing her hijab or head scarf improperly. That is common offence which the morality police monitor along with the wearing of tight trousers and leggings, holding hands or kissing in public.

Iran is not the only Muslim country with morality police. Afghanistan has probably the most severe. Iran probably holds the number two slot. Others include Nigeria, Sudan and Malaysia. Then there is Saudi Arabia where the ruling family’s adoption of Islam’s strict Wahhabi sect led to the establishment of the notorious Committee for the Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Better known among Saudis as simply “The Committee.” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, however, has been circumscribing the morality police to the point of near extinction. The backlash in Iran may force the Mullahs to follow suit which can only undermine their wider claim to political legitimacy.

Another lurch to the right in Europe

Europe is taking another lurch to the right. This month two national parties with links to a fascist past have either come to power or are poised to do so.

Sweden has been known as Europe’s most tolerant country towards cultural diversity. But this month the rabid anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats emerged as the second largest party and is forming a government with the centre-right Moderates.

In a disturbing echo of Donald Trump, party leader Jimmie Akesson declared it was time to “Make Sweden Great Again.”

Georgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy has an equally upsetting motto which links her party to its fascist past—“God, family and fatherland.” Ms Meloni is expected to emerge as Italy’s prime minister after Sunday’s vote. Her party is Eurosceptic, anti-immigration, anti-gay, anti-abortion and has expressed doubts about NATO membership.

Italy and Sweden join Hungary, Britain, Czech Republic, Slovakia Austria and others who have lurched rightwards. There are differences between them but the one common element is the disturbing trend to portray their country as a victim.

Iceland

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World Review: Capitol Hill riots, Iran withdrawal, ice cream wars, China and the Taliban

In this weekend’s column, Tom Arms reviews the inquiry into the Capitol Hill Riots and whether the Republicans are right to stay away. The American withdrawal from Iraq after 18 years will allow Tehran to expand its influence and move up to the border with Israel. Ice cream producer Cherry Garcia is crossing spoons with the Israeli government over its decision to stop sales of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with a predictable reaction from the Israeli government. Beijing has made it clear that it is sticking to its policy of non-interference in other in countries’ domestic affairs, despite meeting with the Taliban this week.

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Observations of an Expat: The Real Iranian Elections

Forget about the Iranian presidential elections on 18 June. Actually don’t completely dismiss them. They do have some importance. The key one being how many actually turn out to vote. If the figure is low—as expected—then the regime knows that it is in trouble.

Voters who believe voting is a pointless exercise are more likely to take to the streets. And it really is pointless. To be a candidate in the Iranian presidential elections you have to be vetted and approved by the Assembly of Experts and Guardian Council who are dominated by conservative religious figures.

Out of the estimated 30 “moderates” who put their name forward, only two have been approved, and they are so lacklustre that they are unlikely to be much more than also-rans.

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Tom Arms World Review – 11 April 2021

Northern Ireland was a key part of Britain’s Brexit referendum. Remainers claimed that withdrawal from the EU risked undermining the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and a return to The Troubles which raged through the province for 30 years. “Fear Factor” retorted the Brexiteers. “It won’t happen.” But after a week of sectarian violence it looks as if there was something to fear. The Troubles began in 1968 because the Protestant-controlled Stormont government insisted on anti-Catholic legislation. The Catholics saw their only hope in unification with the Republic of Ireland in the South. The Good Friday Agreement kept the dream alive for the Catholics and kicked it into the long grass for the Protestants. The north/south border was to stay open. Why not? Both countries were members of the EU. The aspiration of Irish unification was allowed to remain on the table, but no date or form was agreed. Perhaps the two EU members would gradually move towards some sort of federation under the auspices of an overarching European Union. After all, the EU was a guarantor of the peace along with the US, Britain and Ireland. Then came Boris Johnson’s easy-peasy-oven-ready-you-can-have-your-cake-and-eat-too deal. In a major concession to Brussels, Washington and Dublin, Johnson stabbed the Protestant Union Democratic Party in the back and agreed to keep open the north/south border and draw a new customs border down the Irish Sea, separating mainland Britain and Northern Ireland. This is the Northern Ireland Protocol. It immediately complicated trade between the Ulster provinces and Britain and it moved the aspiration of Irish unification from the long to the short grass. The result is that this time the Protestants are taking the lead in violence and they can be even more stubborn than and just as nasty as the IRA.

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Stepping up to the plate on Iran

Just how powerful is Global Britain, as the country walks out of the EU door? The question has taken on a certain urgency given the disturbing events of the last few days regarding Iran.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the country’s most senior nuclear scientist, was assassinated on the outskirts of Tehran on Friday. The Iranians immediately blamed Israel, which is not as outrageous a claim as some the Islamic Republic makes. Tel Aviv has made no secret of its wish to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions – as it did earlier with Iraq – and Dr Fakhrizadeh was not the first leading Iranian scientist to be “taken out”. Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has at times made graphic presentations about what he sees as the Iranian nuclear threat.

Disturbingly, reactions in the Iranian media over the weekend included the suggestion that Haifa should be targeted for reprisals – even though would mean civilian casualties. The security situation for the whole region has suddenly got a whole lot worse.

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Observations of an expat: Shifting Arabian sands

Embed from Getty Images

The recent establishment of diplomatic relations and business ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates raises a host of questions, hopes, problems, issues and consequences.

Is it good or bad?  In the constant shifting sands of the Middle East where tribal loyalties overlap with religious and ethnic rivalries it is probably best to say that it is a bit of both, and the need for a supreme balancing act will continue to be the order of the day.

The UAE has at least partially opened the diplomatic floodgates and other Arab countries are expected to soon follow. It is reckoned that the next Arab country to establish links with Israeli will be the Gulf island kingdom of Bahrain. King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa was among the first to congratulate both Israel and the UAE on their bold move. The reason? Sunni king Al Khalifa is terrified of Iran. The Persians have long claimed the island as part of their territory, and 60 percent of the population is Shia.

Next on the likely list is Oman. The late Sultan Qaboos regularly acted as a mediator between Arab and Israeli interests. In 2018 he hosted a visit to Muscat by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Omanis have been praised for their regional diplomacy, not only between Israel and the Arab world, but also between Iran and Arabia.

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Is being bullied by Donald Trump the future for British foreign policy?

The news, as broken by the Washington Post, that the Trump Administration threatened to levy a 25% tariff on British car exports to the US unless Britain warned Iran of violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a deal in which Iran would accept strict rules and oversight of its nuclear activity in exchange for being allowed back into the international community, should concern us all.

Of course, it wasn’t just Britain – the French and Germans were threatened too.

But the difference between us and them is that the French and Germans are part of a bigger group, and …

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14 January 2020 – today’s press releases

  • Tories should be cutting emissions, not air passenger duty
  • Lib Dems call out Johnson duplicity on Iran Nuclear Deal
  • Home Office cover up slammed by Lib Dems

Tories should be cutting emissions, not air passenger duty

Following the reports that the Conservative government is considering cutting air passenger duty on domestic flights as part of a plan to save regional airline Flybe from collapse, Liberal Democrat Transport spokesperson Munira Wilson said:

Flybe looks set to follow Thomas Cook, despite only being “rescued” last year. The way to ensure our businesses stay afloat is to provide certainty, rather than the chaos the Conservatives have presided over

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11-12 January 2020 – the weekend’s press releases

  • Govt must back Lib Dem bill for family reunion rights for child refugees
  • Lib Dems demand statement on arrest of British ambassador to Iran
  • Lib Dems demand reform to protect High Street retailers

Govt must back Lib Dem bill for family reunion rights for child refugees

Responding to an NGO report calling for child refugees to be given the right to sponsor close family members to join them, the Liberal Democrats have urged the Government to support their bill that would do just that.

Without My Family, a report published today by Amnesty International, the Refugee Council and Save the Children, criticises the …

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Observations of an Expat – New Year, Bad Start

2020 was never going to be a good year. A veritable armoury of Damocles swords hangs over us – Brexit, Ukraine, impeachment, tariffs, the cohesion of the Western Alliance, US presidential elections and, of course, that perennial headache, the Middle East.

Donald Trump’s killing of General Qassem Soleimani almost completely severed the threat suspending the Middle Eastern sword. Frantic efforts are being made to retreat from disaster. Hopefully they will be successful, but serious damage has already been done and governments around the world are reassessing their positions in light of the New Year developments.

At the heart of the issue is …

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8 January 2020 – today’s press releases

  • Iran’s actions on US airbases “unacceptable”
  • Johnson’s hard negotiation deadline is unrealistic
  • Farron: Child refugees vote reveals Tory MPs’ true colours
  • Johnson’s govt must stand up to use of death penalty abroad
  • UK Govt must not abandon Iran Nuclear Treaty

Iran’s actions on US airbases “unacceptable”

Responding to Iran’s missile strikes on US airbases in Iraq, Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said:

Iran’s actions against US airbases last night were unacceptable and should be unequivocally condemned.

It is vital Boris Johnson does all he can to ensure dialogue and a de-escalation of this intensifying situation.

The Prime Minister must also take every step

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Ed Davey: We must not allow President Trump to drag the UK into yet another war, like Iraq


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Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, has just written to Liberal Democrat members summarising the party’s position on the Iran crisis:

We are living in dangerous times.

The assassination of a key Iranian leader, General Suleinami, ordered by President Trump, has raised tensions across the Middle East.

It’s too early to know if today’s inevitable if unacceptable Iranian response will lead to further US retaliation but huge diplomatic efforts must be made now to de-escalate.

Britain must continue to work with European allies to lead that diplomacy.

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Lib Dems: Raab defence of Trump not in UK’s interests

Following Dominic Raab’s appearance on the Andrew Marr show yesterday morning, Liberal Democrat Acting Leader Ed Davey said:

Dominic Raab’s lapdog defence of Donald Trump’s reckless action against Iran is seriously misguided and not in Britain’s best interests.

The United States’ so-called strategy with Iran and across the Middle East is so incoherent and inconsistent that it is making the search for peace and security far more problematic. So it is a huge mistake for the Foreign Secretary to give Trump a blank cheque of unequivocal support, especially when the Government was not even consulted before this action and this could backfire

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Iran: War is not the answer


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The assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad international airport, on the specific orders of US President Donald Trump, risks enflaming the whole Persian Gulf region and maybe beyond.

I am no supporter of what the deceased General’s Al Quds brigade has been up to in Iraq and Syria, but the extrajudicial killing of a such a senior Iranian figure is reckless beyond words. And counter-productive.

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3 January 2020 – today’s press release

Lib Dems respond to Iran Crisis

Responding to reports of the death of General Qasem Soleimani by a US Air Strike, Liberal Democrat Acting Leader Ed Davey said:

Iran is governed by a brutal regime which has been openly hostile to the west.

Donald Trump has yet again radically and recklessly escalated tensions in an area where peace-keeping was already on a knife edge.

There is a real danger this will stoke further conflict, undermining peace and stability in the region. Given the severity of the crisis, the Prime Minister must make a statement about the UK’s position immediately.

The UK should

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Liberal Democrats should vigorously oppose a UK war with Iran

The UK representative in the Iranian Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear weapons negotiations, Sir Simon Gaas, now Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) Chair, has often talked about US political perceptions. Sir Simon Gaas explained how shocked he was when it seemed some US politicians thought Iran was a desert country consisting entirely of mad Mullahs running around with Kalashnikovs.

There is such a vast and sophisticated pro-war propaganda machine against Iran that the bare facts of Iran’s alleged drive towards nuclear weapons can be lost beneath the layers.

Brutal to its people though the regime might be, if domestic brutality be …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | 16 Comments

19 July 2019 – live from Brecon, today’s press releases…

  • Lib Dems bring forward legislation to protect EU citizens
  • Lib Dems: Govt must provide urgent clarity on teachers’ pay
  • Lib Dem legislation to protect victims of crime passes second reading
  • Davey: Govt must fund police pay rise
  • Umunna slams economically incompetent Tories
  • Swinson: This is a time for cool heads in the Gulf

Lib Dems bring forward legislation to protect EU citizens

Today, the Liberal Democrats have brought forward a bill to safeguard EU citizens’ rights.

The Bill brought forward by Liberal Democrat peer Jonny Oates would provide a guarantee that, regardless of the outcome of Brexit, the rights of EU citizens and other EEA nationals living in …

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12 July 2019 – today’s press release

Pro-Trump PM could damage relations with Iran

Commenting on the escalating situation in the Gulf, Liberal Democrat Defence Spokesperson Jamie Stone MP said:

We must not allow the next Prime Minister to blindly follow Trump into a volatile anti-Iranian coalition.

It has become increasingly clear that Boris Johnson’s plans for a “global Britain” are just for the UK to be the lapdog of the US.

The EU have been principled and clear in standing firm on the Iranian nuclear deal, which Trump so petulantly tore up. Liberal Democrats will continue to urge the Conservative government, regardless of who the next PM is,

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Observations of an ex pat: Iranian ripples

Donald Trump has dropped a massive boulder in the world’s diplomatic pond. Its ripples will be felt in every corner of the globe and in some cases the ripples could quickly grow  to tsunami proportions.

Let’s start with the epicentre– the Middle East. The region is already peppered with smouldering short fuses: The Arab-Israeli conflict; Syrian civil war; Yemeni civil war; Turks v. Kurd; Qataris v Saudis and Emirates; Saudis v. Iran; The Russian presence; threatened American withdrawal; Hezbollah… .

The Iran Nuclear Accord (aka Joint Consultative Plan of Action) was one of the region’s few diplomatic success stories—albeit a limited one.

Since President Trump announced American withdrawal from the Accord, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini has announced that his country will resume work on building a nuclear weapon.

In return, Israel has bombed an Iranian base outside Damascus; announced the preparation of bomb shelters; called up reservists for air defence, intelligence and home front command units and deployed missile defence batteries in Northern Israel.

Iran’s Army Chief of Staff, Major General Mohamed Bagheri, warned: “If the enemy casts a covetous eye on our interests or conducts even a slight act of aggression, the Islamic Republic will give an appropriate response at an appropriate time.”

Back in Washington they are celebrating. Not the problems in the Middle East, but the release of three American citizens from North Korean prison.  President Trump hailed the release as a diplomatic triumph for his administration and the best of auguries for his forthcoming summit with Pyongyang’s Kim Jong-un.

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Iran Protests – Ayatolld me not to come…that ain’t the way to have fun



So Iran is back in the news again; there’s always something fun going on there! The country seems to have exploded in protests, something many analysts had previously thought near impossible. These protests are complex and still evolving (having only started December 28th), appearing to be various forms of cathartic action with outpourings of anger over food price increases, strict religious rule and corruption. Somewhat negligently, analysts appear not to have predicted instability in Iran (despite the high/volatile food prices, young population and regional instability).

In 2009 the so-called ‘Green Revolution’ made headlines: a series of large protests in response to what people saw as a fixed election. Whilst Iran is not quite a dictatorship, it is not quite a democracy. People do vote for a President and parliament, however, the religious leadership and Ayatollah tightly vet which candidates are even allowed to run. Furthermore the actual authority of the political leadership is capped, as religious figures control the powerful Revolutionary Guard, therefore dictating nuclear and foreign policy. The main differences, however, between the protests we’re seeing now and those of the Green Revolution is that the former were primarily in Tehran and attended mainly by the middle and upper classes. These protests are largely being driven by lower socio-economic status rural and non-Tehranis. This group has long been seen as the Ayatollah’s base and was assumed to be subservient if not content, and their dissent indicates that we may be about to see something big.

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LibLink: Mark Williams on happiness, which is still ground for punishment in Iran

 

Mark Williams has written an article for The Hill, the Washington based news source. Under the eye-catching headline “Happiness is still ground for punishment in Iran” Mark writes:

A couple of years ago, Western audiences were noticeably shocked at the news that several Iranian youths had been arrested for the “crime” of dancing together and posting a video of themselves celebrating life to the strains of an American pop song called “Happy.” It was one in a long series of vivid reminders of repression in Iran. But unfortunately it was one of only a few that have gained significant traction in the Western media. It left the European and American public with the right idea about the Islamic Republic, but also with a potentially incomplete picture of how serious and how pervasive the problem is.

He explains that the incident took place soon after the reportedly moderate Hassan Rouhani had taken over as President, and there was hope that things would change under his leadership.  But hopes were dashed.

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