The Israeli-Palestinian issues – settlements, ‘two-state solution’ and the American embassy’s re-location to Jerusalem – hogged the attention during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with President Donald Trump in the White House last Wednesday. The Iran question became a sub-text.
That was rather odd, since for both ‘Bibi’ and Trump, Iran nuclear deal was a historic mistake and they’d sworn to “rip it up”. Clearly, Trump and Netanyahu took a deliberate decision to miss the historic opportunity last week to jointly tear up the Iran deal. The US-Israeli readout on their talks in the White House says:
- The President and Prime Minister agreed on the need to counter the threats posed by Iran and its proxies… so as to create a more secure Middle East to the benefit of all countries. The two leaders agreed that the Iran nuclear deal is a terrible deal for the United States, Israel, and the world. The President assured the Prime Minister that Iran must not, and will not, obtain nuclear weapons capability.
Again, at their joint press conference, Trump simply dodged the questions on the Iran deal – not once but twice – when asked what he intended to do about it.
The message is loud and clear: Iran nuclear deal is here to stay. A Jerusalem Post analysis noted wryly, “They may not like the deal, they may not have made it, and they may enforce it more aggressively than the Obama administration, but attempts to “rip it up” are officially over.”
The US’ European allies are pleased with Iran’s full compliance of the terms of the deal so far and, of course, they see potential trade and economic relations with Iran. Funnily enough, the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini visited Washington recently to stress the importance of the Iran nuclear deal and afterwards claimed that she was assured by top Trump administration officials of their “intention to stick to the full implementation of the agreement.”
The British PM Theresa May rebuffed ‘Bibi’ when he pressed during a recent visit to London that UK should follow Trump’s lead on new sanctions against Iran over its recent missile tests. The snub is significant because the UK has been Israel’s staunchest ally in Europe. Moscow went a step further to assert the Russian-Iranian partnership, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying last Thursday,
- Our position is that Iran is a reliable, stable partner, a near neighbor. Friendly relations between Russia and Iran do not depend on external circumstances. We cooperate with Iran on many issues on various international platforms, including conducting a productive dialogue on the subject of counter-terrorism, which we will continue.
Simply put, if Trump imposes sanctions against Iran, there will be no takers in the international community. Trump also knows that this is an inopportune moment to ratchet up tensions in the Middle East by provoking Iran. (By the way, Tehran showed flexibility at the recent Astana talks where Russia, Turkey and Iran adopted a document last week to form a joint group to monitor the ceasefire in Syria and facilitate the elaboration of confidence-building measures among the warring sides.)
Of course, Tehran senses that these are early days. The Iran Daily newspaper noted in a commentary on Wednesday:
- Iran’s foreign policy apparatus has thus far taken a prudent and wise approach vis-à-vis the White House’s smear campaign. It remains to be seen whether Trump will press ahead with his anti-Iran stance, or he will come to his senses and adopt a more logical tone.
Importantly, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, who was a negotiator at the P5+1 and Iran talks, told the Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee on Wednesday,
- Trump may adopt any scenario, and the worst scenario is, while keeping the JCPOA (Iran deal), put pressure on the Islamic Republic, introduce new non-nuclear sanctions in order to deprive Iran of the benefits of the JCPOA.
Clearly, Iran does not want to be the one to break the deal, but it will be hard-pressed not to react to additional pressure by the Trump administration to deny it the economic benefits. Meanwhile, Iran will not mothball its missile development programme. Trust Iranian diplomacy to wear down the Trump administration. Trump holds a weak hand — and as for ‘Bibi’, Iran always thought of him as just a hot air balloon. Read a spirited interview, here, by Zarif with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
US senators introduced a legislation to impose sanctions on Iran’s aircraft sector for the use of commercial aircraft to “support terrorism,” Senator Marco Rubio said in a press release on Friday.
The bill would require President Donald Trump’s administration to regularly report to Congress if Iran uses civilian aircraft for the purposes of transporting illicit cargo, such as weapons, troops, electronics or rocket or missile components.
“[Lawmakers] introduced the Iran Terror-Free Skies Act, legislation that would counter Iran’s use of commercial aircraft in support of international terrorism and state sponsors of terrorism,” the release stated. “The legislation would also require the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to impose new sanctions against these designated Iranian commercial airlines.”
Additionally, the administration would have to report the use of commercial aircraft to support Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, armed forces, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government or any foreign terrorist organizations.
The US Treasury Department would have to impose new sanctions against Iranian commercial airliners if Trump determines they have engaged in illicit military activities after the Iran nuclear deal was implemented on January 16, 2016.
US officials of the new administration have labeled Iran as the biggest sponsor of terrorism in the world despite lacking evidence proving the claim.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi
Iran says Israel’s atomic weapons arsenal represents the biggest threat to world peace, dismissing new allegations by Israeli and US leaders against Iran’s nuclear program as “hollow” and “worthless”.
The reaction on Thursday came a day after US President Donald Trump called Iran’s nuclear program a threat to Israel during a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.
“The statements did not contain any new point except being a repetition of hollow and worthless allegations against Iran’s peaceful nuclear program,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said.
Terming the nuclear deal with Iran as “the worst” agreement ever, Trump pledged to impose new sanctions on Iran to prevent the country from what he called developing a nuclear weapon.
Qassemi said, “Such claims are repeated while the International Atomic Energy Agency, in its reports, has time and again confirmed Iran’s nuclear program as peaceful – a fact which has been verified many times by different countries.”
“The bitter truth is that these remarks and inadmissible allegations are repeated by a regime which is not committed to any international law and convention and has hundreds of warheads in its atomic arsenal,” he said.
Israel, Qassemi said, “is viewed as the biggest threat to peace and security in the Middle East and the world and its ponderous file of endless atrocities and inhuman actions against the oppressed Palestinian people and other neighbors is recorded in numerous UN reports.”
In their joint news conference, Netanyahu applauded Trump for his harsh stand on Iran which was slapped with new sanctions by the new US administration in violation of the nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
On Tuesday, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano confirmed that Iran was implementing the nuclear agreement under which Tehran has undertaken to scale back its nuclear program in return for lifting of the sanctions.
Qassemi said, “Nuclear weapons are haram (forbidden) from the religious standpoint, corresponding with the fatwa of the Eminent Leader of the Islamic Revolution (Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei) and have no place in Iran’s military doctrine.”
The Islamic Republic, he said, will seriously continue to pursue those components of its peaceful nuclear program which are validated by the United Nations Security Council within the framework of the JCPOA.
Under Resolution 2231, the Security Council has endorsed the nuclear deal, which went into effect in January 2016.
On his campaign trail, Trump threatened to annul the deal, which he has lambasted as “the worst accord ever negotiated” and “one of the dumbest” ones he has come cross.
Washington has taken a tougher line on Iran since Trump took office on January 20. Last month, the US said it had put Tehran “on notice” after the Islamic Republic tested a ballistic missile which is not prohibited by the nuclear deal.
Britain’s sickening infatuation with Israel continues
Here in the UK the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) has initiated a judicial review in a bid to halt UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia on suspicion that they are being used against civilians in Yemen. The indiscriminate nature of Saudi air-strikes makes it highly likely that British weaponry is being deployed in breach of international humanitarian law.
The slaughter has been going on for nearly 2 years leading to a humanitarian crisis of appalling magnitude and great cruelty. Since the Yemen campaign began the British government has granted export licences for more than £3.3 billions worth of war equipment when there was a “clear risk” that some of it would be used in violation of all norms of human conduct.
It is claimed that the Government has ignored warnings by senior civil servants and its own arms control experts, and some records of expressed concern have gone missing. This is no great surprise when we discover that export licensing is overseen by none other than the Secretary of State for international trade, Liam Fox. For Fox has ‘form’ as a crazed stooge of Israel and a sworn enemy of Iran.
Fox, while Secretary of State for Defence, was quoted on the Conservative Friends of Israel website as saying: “…We must remember that in the battle for the values that we stand for, for democracy against theocracy, for democratic liberal values against repression – Israel’s enemies are our enemies and this is a battle in which we all stand together or we will all fall divided.”
And in June 2015 Fox declared: “It is logical to assume that Iran’s intentions are to develop a nuclear weapons capability and any claims that its intentions are exclusively peaceful should not be regarded as credible… Iran’s nuclear intentions cannot be seen outside the context of its support for terror proxies, arguably the defining feature of its foreign policy. The risks are clear.”
Fox was forced to resign as Defence Secretary in 2011 following scandalous goings-on between him, his ‘close friend’ Adam Werritty, the UK ambassador to Israel and Israeli intelligence figures allegedly involved in plotting sanctions against Iran.
Just lately prime minister Theresa May has accused Iran of working with Hezbollah, interfering in Iraq, sending fighters to Syria to help Assad, and supporting the Houthis in the conflict in Yemen. The British Government, of course, can meddle where it pleases and recently concluded another huge arms deal with the Saudis which, says Mrs May, is for the sake of long-term security in the Gulf. She argues that the same extremists who plot terror in the Gulf states are also targeting the streets of Europe: “Gulf security is our security.”
However, public pressure to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia is now so great that the Government has adopted a new export licensing scheme that hides the value and scale of weaponry being supplied.
The reason for the British Government’s current hostility towards Iran was plain from what David Cameron told the Knesset in 2014: “A nuclear armed Iran is a threat to the whole world not just Israel. And with Israel and all our allies, Britain will ensure that it is never allowed to happen.” That position carries forward into the present day and beyond, and serves as an excuse for the rednecks who rule our political swamp to carry on being unpleasant to the Muslim world.
After sucking up to Trump Britain rolls out red carpet to another of the world’s undesirables
Theresa May lost no time in welcoming Mr Netanyahu to London. The two leaders this week agreed to establish a new UK-Israel Trade Working Group to strengthen their existing trade and investment relationship and “to prepare the ground for a post-Brexit trade agreement”. What good that will do in the face of rising popularity among the public of boycotting everything Israeli remains to be seen.
Regional issues including Syria and Iran are to be on the agenda for discussion. And regarding Palestine May repeated the mantra that “We remain committed to a two-state solution as the best way of building stability and peace for the future”…. though she doesn’t say what that will look like.
Netanyahu also met with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and they sat alongside the desk on which the Balfour Declaration was composed in 1917. As for the forthcoming Balfour Declaration centenary celebrations, a statement said that May invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to attend events taking place in the UK “as a Guest of Government” and that Prime Minister Netanyahu “also invited her to visit him in Israel”.
Netanyahu didn’t miss the opportunity to warn that Iran “seeks to annihilate Israel” and called on nations to back renewed sanctions against the Iranian regime.
Israel’s ‘nest of spies’ in London
I looked up one of my old reports about how Craig Murray, a former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, argued five years ago that British policy was being driven in an underhand fashion by the Israel lobby. He linked Matthew Gould, the then British ambassador to Israel, with the Fox-Werritty scandal and raised questions about meetings between Gould, Liam Fox and Fox’s strange friend Adam Werritty. Werritty was referred to as Fox’s adviser but according to reports he was backed financially by Israel lobbyists and had no security clearance and therefore no authorised role.
Murray, with many useful contacts from his days as an ambassador, claimed to have serious evidence connecting Gould with a secret plan to attack Iran, but the Foreign Office and the Cabinet Secretary blocked questions. Murray published his story ‘Matthew Gould and the plot to attack Iran’ here.
In it he pointed out that “Matthew Gould does not see his race or religion as irrelevant. He has chosen to give numerous interviews to both British and Israeli media on the subject of being a Jewish ambassador, and has been at pains to be photographed by the Israeli media participating in Jewish religious festivals. Israeli newspaper Haaretz described him as ‘not just an ambassador who is Jewish, but a Jewish ambassador’. That rather peculiar phrase appears directly to indicate that the potential conflict of interest for a British ambassador in Israel has indeed arisen.”
He went on to say that Gould stood suspected of participating with Fox and Werritty “in a scheme to forward war with Iran, in co-operation with Israel”. The stonewalling by the Cabinet Office and Foreign Office led Murray to conclude that “something very important is being hidden right at the heart of government”.
Labour MP Paul Flynn remarked that no previous ambassadors to Israel had been Jewish so that a conflict of interest and accusations of going native would be avoided. He was immediately rebuked. Flynn also asked about meetings between Werritty and Gould, as some reports suggested that Gould, Werritty and Fox discussed a potential military strike on Iran with Mossad. “I do not normally fall for conspiracy theories,” said Flynn, “but the ambassador has proclaimed himself to be a Zionist and he has previously served in Iran.”
Fox had earlier made the idiotic claim: “Israel’s enemies are our enemies”, and the Jewish Chronicle hailed him as “a champion of Israel within the government”. Furthermore Fox continually rattled the sabre against Iran which, of course, is no threat to Britain but regarded by Israel as a bitter enemy. Iraq too was Israel’s enemy, not ours. Yet Fox, according to the theyworkforyou.com, voted “very strongly” for the Iraq war. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of the war in Afghanistan.
Given that Fox so eagerly waved the flag of a foreign military power and was a man with dangerous beliefs and demonstrably weak judgement, how could those who appointed him not see that he was unfit to serve as a Minister of the British Crown – unless they were similarly tainted?
When the Werritty relationship came to light Fox jumped before being flung from the battlements. But instead of melting into obscurity he has now been rehabilitated into the senior ranks of Government and is once again a Minister of the Crown. And after watching the trail blazed by our former Jewish ambassador to the Jewish State, we now gawp with fascination at the inevitably messy conflicts of interest arising from Trump’s pick for US ambassador to Israel – David Friedman, a Jewish lawyer with scant respect for international law or Middle East sensitivities.
Despite the strong whiff of misconduct David Cameron rewarded Gould with head of The Office of Cyber Security & Information Assurance (OCSIA), which includes e-crime, working with private sector partners on exchanging information, and engaging with international partners in improving the security of cyberspace and information security. Did it seem right for such a person to be in charge of crucial security matters at the heart of our Government? What was in fellow Zionist David Cameron’s mind when he appointed him?
Could it have had anything to do with the UK-Israel academic collaboration ventures with cyber research funding, which involve partnerships between British and Israeli universities and cover research areas such identity management, regulating cyber security, privacy assurance, mobile and cloud security, human aspects of security, and cryptography?
Both countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding on digital co-operation in March 2014. And Gould’s new appointment came at a time when the Cameron government was lecturing us on threats to national security and announcing plans to trawl through our personal emails and web browsers in order to “keep us safe”. Question was, who would trawl Gould’s private emails?
The vipers in our bosom
CAAT expect a decision on the judicial review on arms to Saudi Arabia in 4 to 6 weeks. In the meantime an undercover Al Jazeera report has revealed that a senior political officer at the Israeli embassy in London, Shai Masot, was plotting with stooges among British MPs and other vipers in the political snake-pit to “take down” senior government figures including Boris Johnson’s deputy at the Foreign Office, Sir Alan Duncan, a noted sympathiser of the Palestinian’s struggle. This should have resulted in the expulsion of the ambassador himself, the Israeli propaganda maestro and Netanyahu’s pet, Mark Regev, who took up the post last year. Regev is the sort of person no sensible government would let into their country. But he was let off the hook and the affair hurriedly smoothed over with an announcement from the Foreign Office that the matter was closed.
Craig Murray, however, has been digging again. The Foreign Office deflected his many questions and dismissed the idea that Masot was anything more than a member of the technical and administrative staff at the embassy. “This is plainly a nonsense,” says Murray. “Masot, as an ex-Major in the Israeli Navy and senior officer in the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, is plainly senior to many who are on the Diplomatic List.” He concludes that the Foreign Office is complicit in “a large nest of Israeli spies seeking to influence policy and opinion in the UK in a pro-Israeli direction. That is why the government reaction to one of those spies being caught on camera plotting a scandal against an FCO minister, and giving £1 million to anti-Corbyn MPs, was so astonishingly muted.”
All this and the recent UN resolution 2334, which condemned Israel’s continuing squats on Palestinian land as illegal and an obstacle to peace, has done nothing to disturb the cosy relationship between Her Majesty’s Government and the obnoxious Israelis.
On the contrary, after May’s meeting with Netanyahu a Downing Street spokesperson said they focused on, yes, cyber security: “In their discussions, the Prime Ministers committed to working together to build on our longstanding relationship and the strong ties that already exist between our two countries in a wide range of areas, from trade and investment, to innovation and technology, and defence and security. They talked about the important work we do together on intelligence-sharing and cyber-security, and committed to talk further about how we can deepen this cooperation, to help keep our people safe”.
Stuart Littlewood worked on jet fighters in the RAF then pursued a career in industrial marketing, primarily in oil, electronics, card technology and retail automation. More recently he freelanced with innovation and marketing research consultancies. Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Psychology degree Exeter University. Served as a county councillor (Cambridgeshire) and spokesman on the Police Authority. Associate of the Royal Photographic Society.
Since retiring has been a newspaper columnist and produced two photo-documentary books.
A senior Russian diplomat has expressed surprise at an outcry provoked by the new US administration over Iranian missile work, saying Tehran’s missile tests are not violating any UN bans, legally speaking.
“This outcry about Iran’s ballistic missile launches. I was surprised to hear even American experts speaking on CNN and calling it a violation of bans by the UN Security Council,” said Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin in an interview with RT published Tuesday.
He was referring to Resolution 2231 adopted by the Security Council in July 2015 to underpin the landmark nuclear deal inked days earlier between Tehran and the P5+1 group of states, namely Russia, China, France, Britain, the US plus Germany.
The document terminated the provisions of previous UN resolutions, calling on Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
Explaining the legal language used in Resolution 2231, Churkin said the document merely “calls” on Tehran not to conduct tests of missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons, but does not impose any ban on Tehran.
“Those bans were there before, all those bans were lifted,” said the Russian official. “Technically or legally you cannot argue that they are violating any kind of a prohibition.”
He also said no evidence has been provided to support the claims that Tehran’s missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Late last month, Washington’s UN envoy Nikki Haley slammed a missile test by Iran as “absolutely unacceptable.”
US President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn also said following the January 29 test that Washington was “officially putting Iran on notice,” claiming that the launch was “in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 2231.”
The Islamic Republic has, on numerous occasions, asserted that its missiles are not designed to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and that it is not involved in such missile work.
In March 2016, Russia blocked the potential ratification of a United Nations Security Council resolution against Iranian missile tests in a session called by the former US administration.
Explaining Russia’s opposition to an anti-Iran resolution, Churkin said back then that in the view of veto-wielding Russia, Resolution 2231, which endorsed a nuclear deal between Iran and six other countries, did not legally prohibit Iranian ballistic missile tests.
He said the text explicitly did not ban Iranian missile test-launches.
“A call is different from a ban, so, legally, you cannot violate a call, you can comply with a call or you can ignore the call, but you cannot violate a call,” Churkin said. “The legal distinction is there.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Churkin warned that the United States’ tensions with Iran might work to affect Moscow’s relations with Washington.
“There are so many complexities, so many issues which can create additional problems, including problems which might affect our relations with the US,” he said.
The envoy cautioned the US against behaving emotionally instead of relying on facts when it comes to Iran.
“In international life, you have to differentiate between your emotions, what you want to see and what you have the right to expect from another country,” he said.
Churkin further took on US President Donald Trump’s recent comment to Fox News that the Islamic Republic is “terrorist state number one.”
The envoy pointed to the active role the Islamic Republic is playing in the fight against the Daesh Takfiri terror group, which is mainly active in Syria and Iraq.
Iran has been providing military advisory support to the countries’ respective militaries in their fight against the terrorists, an assistance that has been met with appreciation from both governments.
On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also reacted to Trump’s remarks, saying, “We disagree with this postulate.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged Washington, London and their allies to create a “joint front” against Iran, citing Tehran’s supposedly aggressive behavior as the reason. Iranian analysts told Sputnik Persian that Israel “has no right” to come up with such initiatives since it is the main reason behind regional tensions.
“Israel is the main source of all conflicts in the Middle East,” Hossein Ruyvaran, an expert on the Middle East and the Arab world who teaches at the University of Tehran, said. “Since this state was established in 1948, the region has been plagued by many wars sparked by Israel – in 1948, 1956, 1973, 1982, 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2014. The Israeli regime is the main reason for regional tensions due to its ambitions. This regime has tried to change the geopolitical orientation in the region.”
These remarks came in response to Netanyahu calling on the United States and the United Kingdom to adopt a tough stance on Iran due to Tehran’s ostensibly “defiant aggression” and in light of the country’s “defiance against the international order.”
“Claims that Iran is the key threat [in the Middle East] and the main reason behind all troubles in the region are groundless,” Ruyvaran said. “Israel has tried to use these accusations to turn the West against Iran. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has adopted Resolution 2234 which strongly condemns Israel’s unlawful settlements on occupied lands.”
Hassan Hanizadeh, Iranian political analyst and former chief editor of the Mehr News Agency, expressed similar sentiments. He referred to Netanyahu’s remarks as “anti-Iranian political propaganda.”
“Not many countries are ready to support Israel since everyone knows that Israel has occupied Arab lands, including the Golan Heights, Gaza and East Jerusalem,” he said. “This is why Israel has no right to accuse Iran of aggression since it itself is an aggressor. … Israel has no right to mention or urge to create a front against Iran. If a front against aggression must be created, then it should be targeted against Israel, not Iran.”Netanyahu’s comments came after Iran had tested a new ballistic missile last week. The United States imposed new sanctions on Tehran, with US President Donald Trump tweeting that the Islamic Republic has been “formally put on notice” for conducting the test. He added that Iran was “playing with fire.”
Tehran has repeatedly said that its missile program is defensive in nature and does not threaten other countries. On Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said that the test was not intended “to send a message” to the new US administration.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang
China says it has protested to the US for putting Chinese companies and individuals on a new sanctions list targeting Iran.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Monday Beijing had “lodged representations” with Washington after Trump’s administration imposed sanctions on 25 people and entities on Friday for trade with Iran.
“We have consistently opposed any unilateral sanctions,” Lu told a regular press briefing in Beijing.
Unilateral US sanctions in the past have infuriated China. Last March, Beijing was outraged after the US government punished China’s largest telecom equipment maker ZTE Corps for alleged violations of sanctions on Iran.
China’s Foreign Ministry expressed anger at the action, saying it is “opposed to the US citing domestic laws to place sanctions on Chinese enterprises.”
The new US sanctions list includes two Chinese companies and three Chinese people. Those on the list cannot access the US financial system or deal with American companies.
They are subject to secondary sanctions, meaning foreign companies and individuals are prohibited from dealing with them or risk being blacklisted by the United States.
China has close economic and diplomatic ties with Tehran. Executives of two Chinese companies included on the list said they had only exported “normal” goods to Iran and didn’t consider they had done anything wrong.
Lu said such sanctions, particularly when they harmed the interests of a third party, were “not helpful” in promoting mutual trust.
China has said it is “seriously concerned” about President Donald Trump’s recent hawkish rhetoric on Beijing. Experts say the new administration’s moves are set to further strain relations between China and the US.
Within days of the flawed roll-out for Trump’s Executive Orders regarding Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements and Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, the President’s promises on the campaign trail and his Inaugural Address that the US would not pursue regime change or initiate new foreign interventions and that his administration would pursue a new foreign policy based on engagement, have been called into question.
The week began with President Trump praising, as a success, the administration’s first attack on al Qaeda in Yemen which inexplicably included special ops from UAE. Reports state that the group of Navy Seals unexpectedly walked into an hour long fire fight which contained elements of an ambush including hand grenades and a certain amount of panic with indiscriminate gunfire; leaving one Navy Seal dead with several injured, at least a dozen civilians dead including an eight year old girl and destroyed a $75 million Osprey – you might say the raid was more of the same kind of failure with which the US military has some long-standing familiarity. Black Hawk Down in 1993 comes to mind.
Described by Trump press secretary Sean Spicer as a “very, very well-thought out and executed raid”, the mission began on November 7 when the Pentagon presented President Obama with a plan. From there, the proposed raid went through all the necessary channels arriving in front of Trump Defense Secretary James Mattis on January 24th. Mattis approved and forwarded the plan to the White House for the President’s approval which he gave the next day at a dinner which included several key staff members including special assistants to the White House Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon and after consulting with National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn.
All of the reviews and approvals, however, did not guarantee success as there is reason to believe that the alQ stronghold was expecting an American raid with armed female and AQ snipers on a rooftop. After the raid, anonymous U.S. military officials told Reuters that “Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.” In addition, Reuters quoted three unnamed US military officials that “the attacking SEAL team found itself dropped into a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists.” This does not sound like a surprise raid but more like a disaster waiting to happen.
These unprecedented ‘leaks’ indicate an undercutting of the Administration by anonymous military officials who are in direct contradiction to the timeline as presented by Spicer that the entire plan had been appropriately vetted by the government’s foreign policy structure – with the exception of Rex Tillerson who had not yet been confirmed as Secretary of State.
It has been said that the mission needed to receive a green light to take advantage of a Moonless night and that the mission was to acquire certain computer hard drives with speculation that there was some urgency of obtaining the intel contained potentially embarrassing data regarding the interconnections between the terrorists and certain foreign nations which support terrorists. In any case, it was a botched mission that was poorly planned and executed and appears to have a major security problem given the unauthorized disclosures by anonymous military officials who disagreed about what the public has been told about the raid. So which is it – was the raid properly vetted and the right questions asked – or was it insufficiently vetted?
US CommCentral released the clip that they say was obtained from a series of videos during the raid which shows a black hooded individual giving instructions on how to make a do-it-yourself bomb. The clip, which has no audio and its written instructions are written in perfect English, is now reported to be a decade old AQ training video [sourced from SITE]. It is assumed that the President’s Monday trip to Central Command and Special Ops in Florida was not just a get-to-know-you visit.
As if that were not enough faux pas for the week, General Flynn took an unprecedented place on center stage at a press conference sounding like the Commandant of Stalag 19, stridently warning Iran and spouting old, worn out rhetoric that the “Trump administration condemns such actions by Iran that undermines security, prosperity and stability throughout and beyond the Middle East which places American lives at risk. As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.”
The accusations came after Iran reportedly fired a test of a medium-range ballistic missile on February 1st with Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan stating that “The test did not violate the nuclear deal or (U.N.) Resolution 2231″ and that “… we will not allow foreigners to interfere in our defence affairs,” striking a chord with Trump’s Inaugural statement that “it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.”
On the heels of Flynn’s rant, the Trump administration quickly announced economic sanctions on twenty five Iranian individuals and entities that have unnecessarily escalated tensions with:
“The Islamic Republic of Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and engages in and supports violent activities that destabilize the Middle East.”
“The Trump Administration will no longer tolerate Iran’s provocations that threaten our interests. “
“The days of turning a blind eye to Iran’s hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over.”
The Flynn/Trump obsession against Iran has little basis in rational thought and is not the kind of nation-building and “forming of new alliances” that the President promised in his Inaugural address. Flynn may be myopic on the subject of Iran since Iran supported the insurgents in Iraq during the US invasion in 2003 but he may also be blowing smoke with the realization that the administration must know that any serious effort to eliminate ‘radical Islamic terrorists’ will be dependent upon Iran’s participation.
As Ron Paul has repeatedly suggested, Iran has every reason to want its own nuclear capability, if only as a defensive mechanism to protect itself from Israel and the US. A spokesperson for the EU foreign policy chief in Brussels said that the “Iranian ballistic missile program was not part of the 2015 nuclear pact and hence the tests are not a violation of it.”
On February 3rd, President Trump tweeted “Iran is playing with fire – they don’t appreciate how “kind” President Obama was to them. Not me!” to which Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted “We will never, I repeat never, use our weapons against anyone, except in self-defense. Let us see if any of those who complain can make the same statement.”
If the Trump Administration believes Iran is in violation of the Plan, they have the option to initiate a dispute resolution process or to engage the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which has regular access to all Iranian nuclear facilities to verify that Iran is in compliance. Iran says it will impose its own sanctions and release its own list of US-related ‘entities’ entwined with supporting terrorists.
With an imminent visit to the US, it is not outside the realm of possibility that all this Tough on Iran talk is to impress Bibi Netanyahu who hailed Flynn’s statement with “Iranian aggression must not go unanswered” which sounds reminiscent of Sen. John McCain. As if to tone down the US inflammatory reaction, new Defense Secretary James Mattis said he sees ‘no need to increase number of troops in the Middle East” in response to the Iranian missile crisis.
Of special interest will be how Trump deals with whatever demands Netanyahu has in his pocket and how Trump’s high regard for Israel may be affected, assuming that he is already apprised of Israel’s role in funding ISIS in Syria and its support and participation in fomenting terrorist actions throughout the Middle East. If Flynn/Trump are concerned with who is causing instability in the Middle East, they have no further to look than Saudi Arabia and Israel. It is difficult to image that Trump does not already have an appreciation for Netanyahu’s expectation to continue to run the show otherwise known as US foreign policy.
As if the Trump foreign policy objectives had not already experienced a week of upsets, contradictions and overall confusion, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s diatribe against Russia was stunning in its vitriolic attack on Russia alleging “aggressive actions of Russia” and “dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions.” In addition, Haley asserted, in contradiction to President Trump’s previous position on Crimea that “The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea” and that “Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine.”
In his February 3rd press conference, Trump press secretary backed up Haley with “I think Ambassador Haley made it very clear of our concern with Russia’s occupation of Crimea. We are not — and so I think she spoke very forcefully and clearly on that.”
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin responded that ‘the belligerent rhetoric toward Moscow over the Ukrainian crisis is nothing new” and that “it is Kiev that has escalated the situation there”. He also cited “OSCE reports and surveillance data which places the blame squarely on the Ukrainian government and not the rebel forces.”
After the initial shock at Haley’s level of hostility, an immediate reaction was that as a former Republican Governor of South Carolina, Haley had to have a working relationship with Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), the alter ego of Sen. John McCain who remains an irrational proponent of intervention wherever possible around the globe and that her maiden speech before the Security Council had somehow gone askew as a more combative, divisive script found its way into her file.
However, U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, met with her Ukrainian counterpart “to reaffirm the United States’ support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” according to a statement.
In view of another pending humanitarian disaster as a result of US intervention in Ukraine, the best that the State Department could do, prior to Tillerson taking office, was to issue a statement calling for a ceasefire and return to implementation of the Minsk Agreement.
It is reported, though unconfirmed, that soon after her speech, Haley visited Russian Ambassador Churkin at his home, presumably to reassure him that there was a bureaucratic snafu and that US policy toward Russia was not accurately reflected in her introductory remarks.
As a result of a week of significant snafus, the Trump Administration has either caved in to neo-con pressure like Eliot Abrams (convicted of lying to Congress during Iran-Contra) who is currently vying for the Deputy Secretary position at the State Department or they are dealing with repeated staff blunders and turmoil that are seriously threatening any hope of credibility for Trump’s oft-stated foreign policy goals.
Renee Parsons has been a member of the ACLU’s Florida State Board of Directors and president of the ACLU Treasure Coast Chapter. She has been an elected public official in Colorado, an environmental lobbyist and staff member of the US House of Representatives in Washington DC. She can be found on Twitter @reneedove31
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will face hundreds of protesters when he meets with his British counterpart Theresa May in London on Monday morning.
Pro-Palestine activists have organized a demonstration outside Downing Street, where Netanyahu is due to discuss among other things the rising ‘threat’ of Iran.
A Facebook page advertising the event claims to have support from several activist organizations, including Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition, War on Want and the Muslim Association of Britain.
Some 268 people have confirmed they will attend, according to the page.
Before flying to Britain, Netanyahu said he wants to “tighten” relations with the UK in the face of the “extraordinary aggression” from Iran after the Islamic Republic tested a ballistic missile over the weekend. Tehran denies the test was in breach of the 2015 nuclear deal.
“We are in a period of diplomatic opportunities and challenges. The opportunities stem from the fact that there is a new administration in Washington, and a new government in Britain,” Netanyahu said.
“I intend to speak with both of them about tightening relations, between each side and Israel and trilaterally.”
According to the Telegraph, a Downing Street spokesman said May was expected to raise concerns about illegal settlement building, but it would only form a small part of their discussions.
Netanyahu’s visit comes six weeks after Britain assisted in the passage of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank as a “flagrant violation under international law.”
The resolution was able to pass because the United States made the unusual choice not to exercise its veto power.
Britain played a key role in brokering the resolution, according to the Guardian, which claimed the Foreign Office did not deny it had been involved in the drafting process.
Netanyahu reacted furiously to UNSC resolution 2334, reserving his strongest condemnation for outgoing US President Barack Obama.
In a sign of frustration with London, Netanyahu summoned Britain’s ambassador on Christmas Day for a telling-off.
Nine other ambassadors were also summoned by the Israeli PM, including the US ambassador.
Iran has confirmed the discovery of 15 billion barrels of new in-place oil reserves, but a top official says huge investments and state-of-the-art technology are required to exploit those reserves.
Ali Kardor, the managing director of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), was quoted by domestic media as saying that around 2 billion barrels of the newly-discovered reserves were “recoverable”.
Kardor added that around 1.8 trillion cubic meters (tcm) of in-place reserves of natural gas – around half of which he said were recoverable – had also been discovered. However, he did not specify when and where the new discoveries had been made.
Meanwhile, NIOC Director for Corporate Planning Affairs Karim Zobeidi said the overall volume of Iran’s oil reserves stood at 771.53 billion barrels, of which around 102 billion barrels would be recoverable at a rate of 24.6 percent.
Zobeidi added that Iran’s in-place reserves of natural gas stand at 55 tcm of which 33 tcm could be recovered at a rate of around 70 percent.
The NIOC chief was further quoted by the Persian-language newspaper Iran as saying that a new round of tenders – scheduled for the next few weeks – would pave the ground for international energy companies to help develop the country’s oil and gas reserves.
Kardor also said that Iran’s production of high-quality oil would reach four million barrels per day (mb/d) before April – what could be a landmark success for the country after the sanctions that had kept production a little above 2 mb/d were lifted in January 2016.
US Republican Senator Bob Corker (left) and Democratic Senator Ben Cardin in the US Senate (file photo)
A number of US senators have backed additional sanctions against Iran over the country’s missile program, arguing that Tehran “must feel sufficient pressure.”
Twenty-two senators, including Bob Corker (Republican from Tennessee) and Ben Cardin (senior Democrat from Maryland) pronounced their support in a letter they sent to US President Donald Trump on Thursday. Corker is the chairman of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
“Full enforcement of existing sanctions and the imposition of additional sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile program are necessary,” the senators wrote.
They added that “we look forward to supporting your Administration’s efforts to hold Iran accountable.”
The Reuters news agency reported on Thursday that the Trump administration is expected to announce new sanctions against Iran on Friday to ratchet up pressure on the Islamic Republic.
This is while the US president said on Thursday that “nothing is off the table” in terms of a response to Iran’s latest ballistic missile test.
Hours earlier, Trump said the White House has formally put Tehran on notice over its recent ballistic missile test.
“Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile. Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!” Trump tweeted, echoing his national security adviser’s comments a day earlier.
‘Iran Non-Nuclear Sanctions Act of 2017’
Also on Thursday, a group of Republicans in the US House of Representatives introduced a bill for new sanctions on Iran as the Trump administration is mulling anti-Iran measures.
The measure, called the Iran Non-Nuclear Sanctions Act of 2017, seeks sanctions against Tehran for “supporting terrorism, abusing human rights, and testing ballistic missiles.”
It was presented by New York Representative Lee Zeldin, Illinois Representative Peter Roskam, New Jersey Representative Leonard Lance and Colorado Representative Doug Lamborn.
The proposed legislation comes after US House Speaker Paul Ryan said he would support imposing additional sanctions on Iran over its recent missile test.
“I would be in favor of additional sanctions on Iran,” Ryan told reporters on Thursday at a weekly press conference.
“We need to have a tough-on-Iran policy … We should stop appeasing Iran,” he said.
Washington has said Sunday’s ballistic missile test was in violation of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries.
Tehran insists its missile tests do not breach any UN resolution because they are solely for defense purposes and not designed to carry nuclear warheads.
Arms control experts have also said that Iran’s missile tests are not banned under the nuclear agreement and the Security Council resolution, because Iran’s missiles are not meant to deliver nuclear warheads.
Resolution 2231 calls on Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
The US government has blacklisted 13 individuals and a dozen businesses under the Iran sanctions authority, a day after President Donald Trump’s administration threatened a response over Tehran’s ballistic missile tests.
The Treasury Department posted a listing on Friday, naming the individuals and the companies added to the sanctions list. Eight of the individuals are listed as Iranian citizens, three appear to be Chinese, and two Arab.
Most of the businesses listed in the announcement are based in Iran, though one of the entities is located in the United Arab Emirates, two are in China, and three are in Lebanon.
“Today’s action is part of Treasury’s ongoing efforts to counter Iranian malign activity abroad,” said John E. Smith, acting director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
“Iran’s continued support for terrorism and development of its ballistic missile program poses a threat to the region, to our partners worldwide, and to the United States,” Smith said. “We will continue to actively apply all available tools, including financial sanctions, to address this behavior.”
Meanwhile, the guided missile destroyer USS Cole arrived in the waters off the coast of Yemen on Friday, where it will conduct patrols to “protect waterways” from the Houthi rebels, unnamed US officials told reporters.
“Iran is unmoved by threats as we derive security from our people,” Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said ahead of the announcement. “We will never use our weapons against anyone, except in self-defense,” he added later.