Tom Arms’ World Review

USA and Israel

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week subtly attacked Benjamin Netanyahu.  He didn’t directly criticise him, but the inference was clear. With a poker-faced Netanyahu standing next to him, Blinken pointedly listed the “core values” that the US and Israel shared: “respect for human rights. The equal administration of justice for all. Equal rights for minority groups. The rule of law, a free press, an independent judiciary and a robust civil society.”

Israel’s conservative press immediately and viciously attacked Blinken for “interfering in domestic Israeli politics.”  This is because by highlighting these “core values” Blinken implied that Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist government is veering away from them and heading towards what Hungary’s Viktor Orban calls an “illiberal democracy.”

The government’s claim to the disputed West Bank (now populated with 400,000 Israeli settlers) undermines Israeli claims that it protects human rights and the equal rights of minority groups. As did the continuing and spiralling violence which in January claimed 30 Palestinian and seven Israeli lives.

The rule of law and an independent judiciary is threatened by plans to politicise the Israeli Supreme Court and empower the legislature to override Supreme Court Decisions. It is further damaged by the fact that Netanyahu himself has been indicted on charges of fraud, breach of trust, bribery and corruption.

Azerbaijan and Armenia

Nagorno-Karabakh is threatening to explode again. Either that or an estimated 120,000 Armenian civilians, including 30,000 children, will starve to death or die of disease because of an Azerbaijani blockade.

The Azerbaijan-Armenia dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh goes back to the 1917 break-up of the Russian empire. Stalin’s purges pushed it into the background but when the Soviet Empire dissolved frictions reappeared. The two countries have gone to war over the region in the 1990s, 2016 and most recently in 2020.

In each case Russia backed its traditional proxy Christian Armenia (the oldest Christian country in the world) and Turkey supported Muslim Azerbaijan. Turkish support has paid off for autocratic oil-rich Azerbaijan which has been able to buy the latest military equipment from Turkey. They soundly defeated the Armenians in the last conflict and substantially reduced the territory occupied by Armenians.

But that is not good enough for Azerbaijani President Ilhan Aliyev. On 12 December he sent in troops to block the Armenian community’s only access to the outside world, the Lachlin Corridor. He then told the Armenians they could either leave their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh, become Azeri citizens or starve.

They are starving. They are also without medical supplies, electricity is rationed, schools are closed and there is limited communication with the outside world. The Armenian Society of Fellows claims that Ilhan Aliyev is guilty of attempted genocide. The blockade has condemned by the EU, the US, The Council of Europe, Amnesty International and just about every developed country and a big chunk of the rest of the world.

But Aliyev ignores them all. His hand is strengthened by 1- Russia being distracted by Ukraine and 2- oil. Armenia was the birthplace of modern oil production and remains one of the world’s top producers. The current energy crisis is keeping prices high and allowing to hold at bay energy-poor Europeans. In the meantime, the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh starve.

Tyre Nichols, USA

The sad case of Tyre Nichols has highlighted America’s problem of police brutality. It doesn’t matter if it is blue on black, black on black or white on black; America has a problem with police forces too quick to resort to violence.

There are a number of contributing and overlapping factors to this problem: Recruitment, training, racism, the gun culture, a them and us attitude and the little person with a lot of power syndrome.

None of the above issues will be resolved quickly, but a start could be made by instilling every police man and woman with the creed that they are servants of the public and that that public includes every man, woman and child regardless of race, creed, gender or even criminal record.

Of course, part of the problem is lack of gun control. There are 100 million more guns than people in the US, and that is just the registered weapons. Lack of gun control is exacerbated by conservative politicians and the gun lobby arguing that people need guns to protect themselves not only from criminals, but from their own government as well.

The police are a key part of the governmental structure and so they need guns to protect themselves from gun-toting criminals and people carrying guns to protect themselves from the police. The result is a downward spiral as the police move ever closer to a quasi-military position when their mind-set should be evolving towards a quasi-social service stance.

Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is employing a forest of sticks and a field of carrots in preparation for this spring’s presidential and parliamentary elections. And he needs them because it looks as if his 20-year rule is under its severest threat ever.

First the carrots. The minimum wage has been doubled. Subsidies for gas and electricity have been raised and retirement age limits have been scrapped.

Now for the more numerous sticks. His chief opponent, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, has been sentenced to six years and seven months in prison and banned from public office for “insulting a public official.” The sentence has been appealed. The bank accounts of the opposition Kurdish People’s Democratic Party have been frozen.  The electoral board has been restructured – along with judicial oversight officials – and packed with members of Erdogan’s AKP Party and a “fake news” law has been passed that means anyone distributing “disinformation” on social media or elsewhere can be jailed for three years. The government decides what is “disinformation.”

There are other sticks such as shortening the approved campaign period so that opposition candidates have insufficient time to put their message across.

But the carrots and sticks do not appear to be having the desired effect which Erdogan would like. Polls show the ruling AKP either neck and neck with or lagging behind the coalition opposition in the battle for parliament.  For the presidency, Erdogan’s main opponent has yet to be announced but it is likely to be the mayor of Istanbul if the courts allow him to stand. Imamoglu is popular with urbanised European Turks. Erdogan’s base is in the socially conservative rural areas.

Erdogan, however, is even losing support in his strongholds due to his rather bizarre policy of controlling inflation by lowering interest rates. Every economist told him it wouldn’t work. And it didn’t. Inflation peaked at 85 percent in October.

There is also growing dissatisfaction with his one-man autocratic rule. The six main opposition parties (dubbed the Table of Six) have put forward a plan to roll-back the political prerogatives he has accumulated over 20 years. The executive presidency established by the 2017 constitution would be scrapped. The prime minister’s power would be increased and the non-executive president would be limited to one seven-year term.

Erdogan’s rule has been marked by dissension with the US, NATO and the EU. The opposition announced that it wants to reverse that as well and put Turkey back on the road to “full membership of the EU.”

Defeating Erdogan will be a tough task. Tens of thousands of his opponents have been arrested and jailed. He has packed the courts and the electoral boards. Campaign laws have been adjusted to favour the incumbent and the AKP is estimated to control 90 percent of the media. But the polls show the two sides neck and neck.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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13 Comments

  • Mel Borthwaite 5th Feb '23 - 11:21am

    Interesting commentary, as always, but a few observations:
    In light of the attempted ethnic cleansing taking place in Nargorno-Karabakh, why is it that the countries which have imposed an oil embargo on Russia are not equally willing to refuse to buy Azeri oil? Is it because NATO/the West is of the view that Russia is the greater threat to their interests and therefore choose to buy oil from the lessor of the two evils? Or is it that NATO can’t take a stand against Azeri actions due to the fact that NATO member Turkey is their principal backer? Either way, the impression given is that NATO actions are driven by strategic interest rather than principle.

    As for gun control in the USA, the point you failed to mention is that the Constitution contains the phrase ‘…the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed’ and many of the suggested gun control measures that have the effect of infringing on the right to keep and bear arms are likely to be declared unconstitutional by the courts. Of course, if the Democrats believed they could win a presidential and congressional elections by pledging to introduce a constitutional amendment to restrict the right to keep and bear arms, they would do so. (Whether they could ratify it is not relevant.) Therefore I conclude that until making such a pledge of a constitutional amendment becomes a vote winner, the status quo will prevail. That is democracy in action.

  • @Mel: You are absolutely right to highlight EU double standards towards Azerbaijan. In fact, you could have mentioned that Ursula van der Leyen was recently in Azerbaijan to negotiate an oil deal. The issue of a hypocritical diplomacy is one that bedevils western foreign policies. Time and again respect for human rights comes up against realpolitik and the economic interests of the voters. Squaring that particular circle is a difficult task and I think we should develop mechanisms to deal with it.

    As for gun control. The second half of the Second Amendment reads (if memory serves me correctly) “as part of a militia.” This half is studiously ignored by the NRA and the rest of the gun lobby. In fact the NRA has only the first half chiselled in granite over the entrance to their Alexandria offices.

    I am a great admirer of the US constitution and its founders. They were extremely far-sighted and politically revolutionary. But they were also a product of their times. There was in 1783 a real fear of standing armies based on the colonies’ experience with the British army. Thus they decided to rely on a citizens’ militia to provide defense. This required the population to be armed. Those days are long gone. For more information read my book “America Made in Britain.” (apologies for the blatant plug)

  • Martin Gray 5th Feb '23 - 12:04pm

    “Either way, the impression given is that NATO actions are driven by strategic interest rather than principle”…

    That’s always been the case…

    Western governments and their support for the despotic regime in Saudi, is a classic example of where they stand on human rights..

  • George Thomas 5th Feb '23 - 12:22pm

    I don’t always agree with your viewpoint but I do appreciate you doing this as often as you do. Usually gets me thinking about something new.

  • Thank you George. I believe that your comment is one of the highest praises a journalist of the highest praises a journalist can receive as I believe that the job of the journalist is to stimulate as well as to inform.

  • Mel Borthwaite 5th Feb '23 - 10:21pm

    @Tom Arms
    Yes, the Supreme Court decided in 2008 (the Heller case) that there was an individual right to own and bear arms, for traditionally lawful purposes such as self-defence, that was unconnected to service in a militia. I suppose it is possible that a future liberal Supreme Court could choose to reverse this judgement and remove this right – just like the current conservative court reversed the 1973 judgement that established a federal right to abortion and returned the matter to individual states – but the fallout from tens of millions of extremely angry, and armed, citizens would be a huge and dangerous challenge for those trying to enforce any restrictions on what many regard as their birthright as Americans.

  • David Le Grice 5th Feb '23 - 11:37pm

    It’s good to see Nagorno Karabakh finally getting some coverage here, however it is wrong to portray Armenia as bieng a russian ally.

    Russia has long been playing both sides but considering that the transport corridor is supposed to be kept open by Russian peace keepers and that they are refusing to do their jobs (the blockade is bieng carried out by a small crowd of civilian employees of state companies so be easy to move) it’s clear that Russia is now fully taking Azerbaijan’s side.

    Most likely because the extra oil and gas the EU is buying from Azerbaijan is actually russian gas bieng supplied via Azerbaijan. Meaning the EU is still buying russian oil and gas but doing so in a way that is funding a second Armenian genocide!

  • David Garlick 6th Feb '23 - 9:52am

    The plight of those in Northern Ireland during the conflict and how it has been soothed, if not dealt with completely, should be a source of inspiration to all. There is nothing that Israel can do to live at peace without major shifts in attitudes and policies.
    I have no respect left for Israel at present.

  • Cllr Clare Cape 6th Feb '23 - 1:41pm

    I was disappointed that Blinken didn’t take the opportunity to be significantly less subtle in pointing out the ultra right wing “illiberal democracy” that Israel is becoming. As Liberal Democrats we have a responsibility to support our left leaning Jewish friends in the UK and Israel; and to call out the atrocities – murders, attacks and property damage / house demolitions – that our Palestinian friends consistently endure. Much of this is based around the settlements in the West Bank which are, as we know, illegal under international law.
    Our policy motion at the Autumn Conference in 2021 reaffirmed the Lib Dem position including:
    A two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine both exist with secure boundaries based on the 1967 lines with two capitals in Jerusalem recognised in international law
    The right of Israel and Palestine to territorial integrity under international law,
    Condemnation of all threats and acts of violence and unlawful use of force such as war crimes and crimes against humanity, or extra-judicial killing,
    Immediate recognition of Palestine as a sovereign independent state by the UK Government based on the 1967 lines.
    (https://www.libdems.org.uk/conference/motions/autumn-2021/f39)
    I’m noticing a significant ramping up of pre-right wing Israeli propaganda on social media; I have no doubt as to where the drivers for this originate.

    Tom also mentions Turkiye: I have close friends there with friends and families in the south-east. My thoughts and prayers are with the people around Diyabakir, Malatya and Gaziantep affected by the terrifying earthquakes this morning.

  • David Le Grice 5th Feb ’23 – 11:37pm:
    …the extra oil and gas the EU is buying from Azerbaijan is actually Russian gas being supplied via Azerbaijan.

    Indeed…

    ‘Controversial Russia-Azerbaijan Gas Deal Raises Questions For EU’ [November 2022]:
    https://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Controversial-Russia-Azerbaijan-Gas-Deal-Raises-Questions-For-EU.html

    The recently closed gas deal between Baku and Brussels didn’t specify where the gas comes from.

    LNG isn’t embargoed….

    ‘Europe continues to import large amounts of Russian LNG’ [January 2023]:
    https://www.brusselstimes.com/business/349852/europe-continues-to-import-large-amounts-of-russian-lng

    Between January and September 2022, EU countries imported 16.5 billion cubic metres (bcm) of Russian LNG last year, up from 11.3 bcm in 2021. Unlike pipeline oil, there is currently no European embargo on deliveries of Russian LNG.

    For the EU, sanctions are little more than words…

    ‘How can anyone seriously campaign to rejoin the EU after reading this? – PART TWO’:
    https://facts4eu.org/news/2023_feb_eu_and_putin

    EU’s imports from Russia have totalled €153.6bn since the illegal invasion

    1. EU’s and UK’s sales to Russia, Mar-Nov 2022

    • Brexit Britain has REDUCED its sales to Russia by -47.2%
    • The EU27 have INCREASED their sales to Russia by +40.0%

    2. EU’s and UK’s purchases from Russia, Mar-Nov 2022

    • Brexit Britain has reduced its purchases by 97.1%
    • The EU27 have reduced their purchases by only 42.4%

    [Sources : EU Commission’s statistics agency and the UK’s Office for National Statistics.]

  • John McHugo 7th Feb '23 - 10:40pm

    @Clare Cape – well said.

    @Tom Arms – thank you for highlighting Blinken’s visit to see Netanyahu. I am broadly in agreement with much of what you said. However, it’s disappointing that you referred to “the disputed West Bank”. This is the expression beloved of the Israeli government’s (and the Israeli embassy’s) spin machine. It is used to insinuate that Israel has some sort of claim to the area, when it is quite clear in international law that it does not. The area is under Israeli military occupation which in itself precludes Israel from advancing territorial claims there. It would therefore be much better if you could refer to the area as “the occupied West Bank”.

  • Mark Frankel 8th Feb '23 - 8:03am

    The Palestinians are their own worst enemies. They had a chance with the Oslo Accords and blew it; they reject the Abraham Accords out of their policy of anti-normalisation. These people are beyond help.

  • Peter Hirst 9th Feb '23 - 4:50pm

    President Biden could have directed his remarks on values to his home audience and perhaps in part that is what he intended. It was however a stern rebuke to the present Israeli administration if Tom’s words are accurate. Whether they will lead to a change in how the USA views and deals with Israel is a different matter and one that many will watch with interest.

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