Trump recognises Israel’s annexation of Golan Heights

Sovereign over the Golan Heights has been a contentious issue in the Middle East since Israel captured two thirds of the area from Syria in the Six Day War in 1967, and effectively annexed in 1981.

Donald Trump has earned praise from the embattled President Netanyahu by recognising Israeli sovereignty, the only country to do so, but could stir up tensions again in the Middle East.

Since the 1967 Six-Day War, the western two-thirds of the Golan Heights has been occupied and administered by Israel.

From 2012 to 2018, the eastern Golan Heights became a scene of repeated battles between the Syrian Arab Army, rebel factions of the Syrian opposition including the moderate Southern Front, jihadist al-Nusra Front, and ISIL-affiliated factions. In July 2018, the Syrian government regained control of the eastern Golan Heights.

Construction of Israeli settlements began in the remainder of the territory held by Israel, which was under military administration until Israel passed the Golan Heights Law extending Israeli law and administration throughout the territory in 1981.

his move was condemned by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 497, which stated that “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect”, and Resolution 242, which emphasises “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”. Israel maintains it has a right to retain the Golan, also citing the text of UN Resolution 242, which calls for “safe and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force”.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golan_Heights

Washington Examiner – Trump: Time for US to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights

The announcement comes just weeks before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facingpotential criminal corruption charges, is up for re-election. Netanyahu, who has leaned heavily on Trump’s support, praised the announcement Thursday.

Speaking beside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Israel on Thursday, Netanyahu thanked Trump for recognizing the region.

“President Trump has just made history. He did it again. First, he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. embassy here, then he pulled out of the disastrous Iran treaty and re-imposed sanctions, but now he did something of equal historic importance.”

Haaretz: Trump Signs Order Recognizing Golan Heights as Israeli Territory

In a joint press conference, Trump said: “We do not want to see another attack like the one suffered this morning north of Tel Aviv,” adding: “Our relationship is powerful.” Trump then said: “We will confront the poison of anti-Semitism.”

Netanyahu said he brought Trump a “box of the finest wine from the Golan Heights.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin welcomed the proclamation, calling Trump “a true friends of the State of Israel.” Opposition head Shelly Yacimovich, as well as Labor chairman Avi Gabbay, also commended the move.

Syria’s foreign ministry called the decision a “blatant attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Syria on Monday, in a statement carried by state news agency SANA.

In a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Netanyahu said, “We feel that it’s a Purim miracle, President Trump made history today.” According to Netanyahu, “Trump recognized Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan Heights at a time when Iran is trying to use it as a platform to destroy Israel.”

The move by Trump caused an instant international uproar of protests: under international law, the Golan Heights are considered to be Syrian territory occupied by Israel, like East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel captured the Golan Heights, which is populated by around 25.000 Druze, in 1967 and de facto annexed the territory in a 1981 law.

After the Trump tweet, a European Union spokesperson in Israel told Haaretz the EU will not change its position regarding the Golan Heights in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaration. Representatives of Russia, Turkey, multiple actors in the Arab world including Palestinians and Syrians also condemned the move.

Washington Examiner – Netanyahu to Trump: ‘Israel has never had a better friend than you’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Trump on Monday that “Israel has never had a better friend than you”.

“Mr. President, over the years Israel has been blessed to have many friends who have sat in the Oval Office. But Israel has never had a better friend than you. You have showed this time and again,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu, thanking Trump, said of the formerly Syrian Golan Heights: “We hold the high ground and we shall never give it up.”

Al Jazeera: Why Trump recognised Israel’s claim on the Golan Heights

While the US decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is primarily being explained away with geopolitics, it, in fact, has much more to do with US domestic politics. With this move, President Donald Trump aims to cement the gradual shift in partisan support of Israel from the Democrats to the Republicans and rally evangelical Christians around his presidency.

He chose to sign the Golan Heights sovereignty decree on March 25 as American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main Israel lobby group in the United States, was holding its annual conference in Washington. This year, the event took place against the backdrop of Democratic House Representative Ilhan Omar’s comments criticising the lobby and the decision of a number of Democratic presidential candidates to boycott it.

Trump and members of his administration took the opportunity to attack the Democratic Party, with Vice President Mike Pence rebuking the Democratic party for being “afraid to stand with the strongest supporters of Israel in America”.

A few days earlier, Trump was even more explicit: “I don’t know what happened to them, but they are totally anti-Israel. Frankly, I think they are anti-Jewish.”

The White House is purposefully feeding a narrative that the Democrats’ commitment to Israel is wavering and that there are growing signs of what one former Trump campaign aide has called “Jexodus” – the supposed exodus of American Jews from the Democratic camp, which they have traditionally supported, to the Republican one.

There has always been a complex political symmetry between Israeli and US politics. Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never got along with two liberal US presidents; Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. However, Trump is the gift that keeps on giving.

The current collusion between right-wing leaders in both the US and Israel is unprecedented and is marginalising the left in both countries and pushing back against what they perceive as liberal institutions, most notably the media and the judiciary branch. Trump hopes to use this alliance to engineer a sway to the right in US politics, similar to the one in Israel.

While political decisions favouring Israel are certainly boosting Trump’s and Netanyahu’s chances of re-election, they are conflicting with other US objectives in the Middle East. Pompeo’s March 22 visit to Beirut, for example, was eclipsed by Trump’s decision on the Golan Heights, which undermined his call on local political forces to deter Hezbollah.

The Trump-Netanyahu alliance is putting Arab allies of Washington in a difficult position, as unconditional US “gifts” to Israel are increasingly antagonising the Arab public. These policy distractions undertaken by the Trump administration are undermining the US’s attempt to deter Iran and are in many ways helping Tehran’s anti-US narrative.

The growing alliance between the US evangelicals and the Israeli right is polarising US and Middle East politics and, while it may secure short-term electoral gains for Trump and Netanyahu, in the long term, it may prove disastrous.

Dina Badie (Channel NewsAsia):  Why Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory matters

Trump is popular in Israel, particularly after recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocating the American embassy there from Tel Aviv. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently using the American president’s photos in his re-election campaign posters to take advantage of this.

In fact, some analysts and reporters have suggested that the timing of this announcement was politically calculated to bolster Netanyahu’s campaign in the upcoming Israeli elections on Apr 9.

So claims that both Trump and Netanyahu see election advantages foe themselves over the move by Trump.

I expect that the decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights will run into the same difficulties that afflicted the Trump administration’s change in policy with regards to Jerusalem for two reasons.

First, it reverses decades of consistent US policy that demanded any territorial recognition come as a result of direct negotiations, rather than unilateral declarations.

Second, it runs counter to international law, which does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over territories occupied during the 1967 War.

To be sure, Trump’s move is a symbolic, rather than legal, gesture. But given the dimensions of America’s global influence, US recognition could lend some legitimacy to Israel’s controversial annexation policy.

And I believe Trump’s approach to contentious issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict will further undermine the US government’s claim to be an honest broker. In my view, it makes peace in the Middle East less likely.

And claims that there could be flow on effects of this move by Trump.

Heather Timmons (Quartz): Why Trump’s Golan Heights move should worry India and Taiwan

By ignoring the United Nations charter pledge to refrain from “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,” Trump is putting the future of other long-disputed territory in jeopardy, foreign policy experts say.

“It sets a terrible precedent,” said Edward Goldberg, a professor with New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. “If the US doesn’t recognize international law as the ‘cop,’ then who does?,” he said.

“What if China goes into Taiwan tomorrow, isn’t that the same thing?,” Goldberg said, “or Pakistan into Kashmir?”

Russia’s neighbors may also be affected. Russia has already called outUS “hypocrisy” over sanctions related to the Russian annexation of Crimea, notes Stacie Goddard, a professor of political science at Wellesley College.

“In the short run, this is most likely to bolster Russia’s confidence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” the breakaway territories that were once part of Georgia, but now supported by Russian military.

Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and the United Nations immediately condemned Trump’s proclamation, and the UN declared Israel’s annexation of the area “null and void.”

Stephen Blank (The Hill): Trump’s Golan Heights announcement will backfire for Netanyahu — and US

While the military situation in the Golan has not changed, Trump’s decision fundamentally alters the political context there. Rather than enhancing Israeli security this decision actually diminishes it. Trump’s statements have made it impossible for any future Syrian government, not only Bashear Assad’s regime, to make peace with Israel. No Syrian regime of any stripe will accept Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights leading to Damascus.

Moreover, Israeli annexation of the Golan furnishes an ideal and enduring pretext for Iran, and its client forces like Hezbollah, to stay in Syria to defend against the “Israeli threat.”

Thus, Iranian forces and terrorists associated with them will not only stay in Syria and threaten Israeli forces and civilians in the Golan and Israel proper, their belief in their cause and their recruitment will grow, causing major new security challenges and costs to Israel.

Likewise, it also furnishes an outstanding pretext for Moscow to strengthen its military bases in Syria. That also challenges U.S. and NATO forces in the Mediterranean. This will make Moscow even more resolute about trying to undermine U.S. policy across the entire Middle East and Africa as it is now doing with visible success.

Clearly, the U.S. has no viable strategy for building peace in the Middle East or for confronting the Palestinian or Iranian challengers to peace.

Nothing is simple in the Middle East. I think it’s difficult to predict what effect Trump’s recognition of the annexation of the Golan Heights will have, but it is unlikely to improve peace prospects.

Blatantly intervening in Israel’s politics ahead of an election, we have undercut our argument to everyone else that Russia (and implicitly China) must be countered because they interfere in our and our allies’ domestic politics. Here again, we have sacrificed principle for expediency and given our opponents the means to stigmatize our policy as being hypocritical.

Like Russia, the US is guilty of trying to influence and interfere in elections around the world for a long time.

Cynical politics rules.

US to leave 200 ‘peacekeepers’ in Syria

Donald Trump’s sudden announcement in December that the US troops would withdraw from Syria took the world by surprise, and serious concerns were expressed in the Respected US. Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis resigned immediately.

Trump said in a video released on Twitter:

“We have won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

That was questioned and ridiculed as fighting continued against ISIS.

And a  complete US withdrawal would have left Syria, Iran, Turkey and Russia in positions of influence.

The plan has now been adjusted, with 200 peacekeepers to remain.

Reuters:  U.S. to leave 200 American peacekeepers in Syria after pullout

The United States will leave “a small peacekeeping group” of 200 American troops in Syria for a period of time after a U.S. pullout, the White House said on Thursday, as President Donald Trump pulled back from a complete withdrawal.

Trump in December ordered a withdrawal of the 2,000 American troops in Syria, saying they had defeated Islamic State militants there, even as U.S.-backed Syrian forces continued a final push against the group’s last outpost.

But Trump has been under pressure from multiple advisers to adjust his policy to ensure the protection of Kurdish forces, who supported the fight against Islamic State and who might now be threatened by Turkey, and to serve as a bulwark against Iran’s influence.

“A small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

The decision was announced after Trump spoke by phone to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. A White House statement said the two leaders agreed, regarding Syria, to “continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone.”

Leaving even a small group of U.S. troops in Syria could pave the way for European allies to commit hundreds of troops to help set up and observe a potential safe zone in northeast Syria.

The commander of U.S.-backed Syrian forces has called for 1,000 to 1,500 international troops to remain in the country to help fight Islamic State and expressed hope the United States, in particular, would halt plans for a total pullout.

The decision to retain peacekeepers could help Trump overcome criticism that he had ordered a precipitous withdrawal from Syria that could lead to Islamic State regaining strength.

It would also have left the Kurds, who the US had supported in Syria, in a precarious position with Turkey.

The decision to retain peacekeepers could help Trump overcome criticism that he had ordered a precipitous withdrawal from Syria that could lead to Islamic State regaining strength.

And it would have strengthened Iranian and Russian influence.

US senator Lindsey Graham had been strongly against the announced withdrawal.

Real Clear Politics (20 December 2018) – Sen. Graham: Trump Withdraw From Syria “A Stain On The Honor Of America”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) delivered a fiery speech on the Senate floor Wednesday night blasting President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Graham called Trump’s declaration that ISIS has been defeated “fake news” and leaving the country would be a “stain” on America.

Graham Statement on Syria (11 January 2019):

“From an American point of view, we have strategic objectives that must be accomplished in northeastern Syria.  The Iranians, Russians and Assad should not be allowed to be the biggest winners of our withdrawal.

“The mission in Syria is not yet complete and we must continue to work with our partners and allies to ensure that ISIS is destroyed and never returns.”

ABC News (17 January 2019):  Graham says Trump’s statements have emboldened ISIS in Syria

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a top ally of President Donald Trump, expressed concerns on Wednesday that Trump’s comments about withdrawing troops from Syria have emboldened terrorist groups like ISIS, and that he hopes Trump thinks “long and hard” about his next moves when it comes to withdrawing troops from the war torn country.

“My concern by the statements made by President Trump is that you have set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we are fighting. You make people we are trying to help wonder about us.”

Task and Purpose (20 February 2019): Sen. Graham tells Shanahan that leaving Syria is ‘the dumbest f*****g idea I’ve ever heard’

“That’s the dumbest f******g idea I’ve ever heard,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reportedly replied when Shanahan confirmed the Trump administration still plans to complete the Syria withdrawal by April 30.

Later, Graham told Shanahan, “I am now your adversary, not your friend.”

The blow up came during a Feb. 16 meeting in Munich with Shanahan and three dozen lawmakers from both parties, according to Breitbart, the Washington Post, and NBC.

Graham’s spokesman Kevin Bishop did not dispute media reports of Graham’s comments during the meeting, adding the senator declined to comment for this story.

While he rarely criticizes the president, Graham initially called Trump’s decision to pull all U.S. troops from Syria a “huge Obama-like mistake.”

The pressure on Trump to think long and hard – something that seems alien to his personality – seems to have worked.

After the announcement that the US would leave troops in Syria, Graham issued this statement:

“This will ensure ISIS does not return and Iran does not fill the vacuum that would have been left if we completely withdrew. This also ensures Turkey and SDF elements that helped us defeat ISIS will not go into conflict.

“A safe zone in Syria made up of international forces is the best way to achieve our national security objectives of continuing to contain Iran, ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS, protecting our Turkish allies, and securing the Turkish border with Syria”.

“With this decision, President Trump has decided to follow sound military advice. This decision will ensure that we will not repeat the mistakes of Iraq, in Syria. For a small fraction of the forces we have had in Syria, we can accomplish our national security objectives.

“Well done Mr. President.”

It still won’t be easy keeping all the different forces at bay and counter the influence of Iran, Turkey and Russia, but at least the US will have a base presence to work from.

There is a heck of a lot of sorting out still to do in Syria.

The Syrian civil war started in 2011, with the US getting involved with an international coalition in  2014. It’s been complicated. From Wikipedia:

The Syrian government and Syrian Armed Forces and its international allies, a loose alliance of majorly Sunni opposition rebel groups (including the Free Syrian Army), the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Salafi jihadistgroups (including al-Nusra Front), and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with a number of countries in the region and beyond being either directly involved or providing support to one or another faction (Iran, Russia, Turkey, the United States, as well as others).

Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah support the Syrian Arab Republic and the Syrian Armed Forces militarily, with Russia conducting military operations since September 2015.

The U.S.-led international coalition, established in 2014 with the declared purpose of countering ISIL, has conducted airstrikes primarily against ISIL as well as some against government and pro-government targets.

Since 2015, the US has also supported the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria and its armed wing, the SDF. Turkey, on the other hand, has become deeply involved against the Syrian government since 2016, actively supporting the Syrian opposition and occupying large swaths of northwestern Syria.

Between 2011 and 2017, fighting from the Syrian Civil War spilled over into Lebanon as opponents and supporters of the Syrian Arab Republic travelled to Lebanon to fight and attack each other on Lebanese soil.

Furthermore, while officially neutral, Israel has conducted airstrikes against Hezbollah and Iranian forces, whose presence in southwestern Syria it views as a threat.

The 200 US troops that will remain in Syria have a few challenges – but will no doubt have a mass of ships and planes and troops not far away in support if needed.

And one of the biggest ongoing battles may be in limiting the damage Trump does with spur of the moment announcements on Twitter that can have serious implications for the Middle East and the world.

I hope Trump has not been given the ability to order nuclear strikes by tweet.

US Senate challenges Trump’s plans to withdraw from Syria

Donald Trump’s announcement and follow up statements about withdrawing US troops from Syria and Afghanistan were typically controversial, vague and contradictory. He surprised and alarmed people in the US, to the extent that his Defence Secretary James Mattis resigned immediately over Trump’s withdrawal proclamation last month.

The criticism continues.

Time: Trump’s Own Intelligence Chief Contradicted Him Several Times

The nation’s intelligence chief contradicted President Trump’s statements on North Korea, Syria and Russia while addressing the Senate on Tuesday, arguing that ISIS continues to pose a threat to the United States despite the Administration’s claims that it has been defeated.

Director of U.S. National Intelligence Dan Coats released the results of the Worldwide Threat Assessment, which describes the biggest international dangers facing the United States, and told lawmakers during the Senate hearing that the U.S. must “keep our eyes on” ISIS.

“While ISIS is nearing territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria, the group has returned to its guerrilla warfare roots while continuing to plot attacks and direct its supporters worldwide. ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria,” Coats said.

As usual Trump thinks he knows best.

Does Trump know that Iran is closely linked to Syria? A US withdrawal from Syria would help Iranian interests there.

These tweets have been criticised – Bloomberg:  Trump Blasts U.S. Spy Agencies as Passive, ‘Weak’ on Iran Threat

Responding to Trump’s criticism, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a tweet that “it is a credit to our intelligence agencies that they continue to provide rigorous and realistic analyses of the threats we face. It’s deeply dangerous that the White House isn’t listening.”

Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on Senate Intelligence, said in a tweet that “the President has a dangerous habit of undermining the intelligence community to fit his alternate reality. People risk their lives for the intelligence he just tosses aside on Twitter.”

Now the US Senate, led by a Republican majority, are pushing back against Trump’s plans (if you can call them plans, they are more like random proclamations).

CNN:  In rebuke to Trump, Mitch McConnell unveils proposal urging troops stay in Syria, Afghanistan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing an amendment to a Middle East policy bill that would acknowledge “al Qaeda, ISIS and their affiliates in Syria and Afghanistan continue to pose a serious threat to us here at home,” a move seen as a sharp rebuke to President Donald Trump’s push to withdraw US troops from Syria.

“It would recognize the dangers of a precipitous withdrawal from either conflict and highlight the need for diplomatic engagement and political solutions to the underlying conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan,” McConnell said Tuesday from the Senate floor, announcing the amendment to the bill, which is currently being debated.

McConnell added that, “while it is tempting to retreat to the comfort and security of our own shores, there is still a great deal of work to be done…..we’re not the world’s policemen, but we are the leaders of the free world.”

The leader of ‘the leaders of the free world’ (that’s increasingly debatable under Trump’s isolationism) might have to do a lot more firing to get his Intelligence agencies onside with his way of thinking, but one president can’t vote out 100 senators.

The US risks becoming the joke of the free world, but given the international situations the lead joker is thrashing around in it is not really a laughing matter.

Trump has surprise visit to Iraq

From Gezza:

In a surprise trip to Iraq, late on Christmas Night US President Donald Trump defended his decision to withdraw US forces from Syria where they have been helping battle Islamic State militants.

“We’re no longer the suckers, folks,” Trump told American servicemen and women at a base in western Iraq. “We’re respected again as a nation.”

Trump said it’s because of US military gains that he can withdraw 2000 forces from Syria. During his first visit to a troubled region, Trump also said he has no plans to withdraw US forces from Iraq.


Members of the military cheer as Trump speaks

He said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has agreed to take out “any remnants” of Isis left in Syria. The US presence in Syria was not meant to be “open-ended,” he said, adding that other wealthy nations should pay for rebuilding Syria.

“The nations of the region must step up and take more responsibility for their future,” said Trump, who said there would be a “strong, deliberate and orderly withdrawal” of US forces from Syria.

More (quite a lot more) …
https://www.stuff.co.nz/world/americas/109612177/president-donald-trump-makes-surprise-visit-to-iraq

More questions asked of Golriz Ghahraman claims

An Australian “accredited specialist in immigration law” who claims to have been working in refugee law since 1990 has raised some serious questions about Green MP Golriz Ghahraman.

Ms Ghahraman is not a refugee or a “child asylum seeker.

Her claims of war and persecution do not stand up to scrutiny.  Her claim to be a “refugee” is disrespectful to the victims of the regime and the millions of Iranians forced to leave the country under threat of torture and death.

MPs have many challenges, often from anonymous people with questionable (or obviously ulterior) motives, but this looks to be a more credible challenge of Ghahraman’s back story and claims.

I think it’s fair to say that, after being touted as a new Green MP with a lot of promise, Ghahraman has had a fairly chequered political career so far. Her activities on social media keep raising questions about her capabilities – and her truthfulness, or possible lack of. I have seen her challenged a number of times for incorrect claims including for repeated incorrect claims.

Some attacks on Ghahraman, particularly in social media, are nasty, reprehensible.

But have been and continue to be valid questions about some of her claims. Her party profile was changed last November after it was questioned: Profile on party website of MP who defended Butcher of Bosnia now changed to be more accurate

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman worked as part of the legal defence team for Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadžić, who was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity.

…her profile page on the Green Party website has now been changed to more accurately reflect the legal defence work she did at the Rwanda Tribunal and The Hague, and the prosecution work she did at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

Her profile page on the Green Party website has now been changed, following her admission that it “could be clearer”.

It previously said: “Golriz has lived and worked in Africa, The Hague and Cambodia, putting on trial world leaders for abusing their power.”

Now it says: “Golriz worked for United Nations Tribunals as part of both defence (Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia) and prosecution (Cambodia) teams.”

Her Green Party current profile begins:

Golriz is an Iranian-Kiwi refugee, lucky to escape war and persecution as a child.

After becoming a list candidate (Newshub May 2017): Ten things you need to know about Golriz Ghahraman

2 She’s a former refugee, and fled Iran with her family without telling anyone

She arrived in New Zealand when she was nine years old, and left Iran with her family not telling anyone that they were leaving forever. “We essentially escaped one of the most oppressive regimes in probably modern history, which is the Islamic Republic of Iran and the repression was just a backdrop to a very bloody war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq,” she says.

Some of this has now been questioned by Australian lawyer Simon Jean in GOLRIZ GHAHRAMAN, GREEN PARTY NEW ZEALAND MP

The Green Party MP, Golriz Ghahraman, came to my attention on 3 August 2018 after she posted a video on Twitter saying, “No human right is absolute.  They are all subject to lawful limits.”  I responded that in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there are many human rights which are absolute, such as the right not to be tortured or suffer cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.  She blocked me on Twitter.

In a NZ Herald article, Meet Golriz Ghahraman, the Green Party’s newest Member of Parliament, 7 October 2017, Kirsty Johnston writes, “Most of Golriz Ghahraman’s childhood memories are of war.  She remembers howling sirens, sending families scurrying into basements.  She remembers people being trapped.”  In her Maiden Speech to Parliament, she said, “I remember the bombs and the sirens, running to a basement and just waiting.  But mostly I remember kids my age who stopped talking from the shell shock, and I still don’t know what happened to them.”

Ms Ghahraman stated in June 2017 that “I’m from Mashhad in the north of Iran”

The significance of Ms Ghahraman’s statement is that she has an affinity with Mashhad, which indicates she was living there and not in Tehran.

Mashhad is the largest city in eastern Iran, near the border with Afghanistan.  It was unaffected by the war, except as a safe haven for many people displaced by the Iran-Iraq war in the west and south.  There were no missiles attacks.  It is 900 km east of Tehran and 1500km from Iraq, well out of Iraqi rocket range.  If she was always living in Mashhad until 1990, the claim of war memories is fictional.

Jean gives more details which suggest at least a lack of completeness in Ghahraman’s Iranian past, and also on her claims to be a war refuge.

Ms Ghahraman makes much of the claim that she is a refugee.  In her Maiden Speech to the Parliament she said:

“I never intended to run as the first ever refugee MP but I quickly realised that my face and my story mean so much to so many, so my fear of tokenism dissipated.”

The claim that she is a “refugee” does not stand up to scrutiny[6].

The claim to be a refugee from Iran is a significant claim, historically and morally.

Ms Ghahraman has described in the NZ Herald and Stuff online how her parents supported the Islamic Revolution, like many people at that time from all sides of politics who came together to oppose the Shah.

She described how she left Iran, with an orderly departure at an airport.  The family was issued with passports, given permission to leave the country and allowed to take a holiday in Malaysia.  The regime had a watch list to stop opponents obtaining passports and departing from an airport.

This indicates that Ms Ghahraman’s family were viewed by the regime as their supporters…

The issuing of passports, permission to leave for a holiday and an orderly departure, is not consistent with people who were persecuted by the regime.

Ms Ghahraman is not a refugee or a “child asylum seeker[7]”.  Her claims of war and persecution do not stand up to scrutiny.  Her claim to be a “refugee” is disrespectful to the victims of the regime and the millions of Iranians forced to leave the country under threat of torture and death.

I think this warrants a response from Ghahraman. Perhaps she can refute Jean’s claims, or clarify.

 

USA versus Iran – big dicks with nukes

Hopefully this is just posturing, but there is a serious risk that one day brash posturing and threats could escalate into a real war.

Reuters: Trump warns Iran to ‘never, ever threaten’ U.S. or suffer consequences

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani:

Addressing a gathering of Iranian diplomats earlier on Sunday, Rouhani said: “Mr Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret,” according to a report by the state new agency IRNA.

“America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani said, leaving open the possibility of peace between the two countries, at odds since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Rouhani also scoffed at Trump’s threat to halt Iranian oil exports and said Iran has a dominant position in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping waterway.

Rouhani’s apparent threat earlier this month to disrupt oil shipments from neighboring countries came in reaction to efforts by Washington to force all countries to stop buying Iranian oil.

In a speech late on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo…

…denounced Iran’s leaders as a “mafia” and promised unspecified backing for Iranians unhappy with their government.

A late night tweet:

Just what the world doesn’t need, big dicks with nukes.

 

Yemeni war continues, as does the arms industry

The war in Yemen has been going for three years, but it doesn’t get much attention still. But like Syria, it is not just an internal battle, it is a battle that regional and international powers are also involved in, with little success except for feeding the arms industry.

Reuters: Saudi-led coalition conducts air strikes on Yemen’s Hodeidah airport

Houthi forces fought to keep control of the airport in Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah on Sunday as Saudi-led coalition air strikes struck the compound, in an offensive that could be a turning point in the three-year conflict.

Losing Hodeidah would deal a serious blow to the Iran-aligned Houthis, cutting supply lines from the Red Sea to their stronghold in the capital Sanaa.

It could also give an edge to the Western-backed military alliance which, despite superior weaponry and firepower, has failed to defeat the Houthis in a war that has killed 10,000 people and created the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis.

The coalition wants to restore an internationally recognized government in exile and thwart what Riyadh and Abu Dhabi believe are arch-foe Iran’s ambitions to dominate the region.

Riyadh is Saudi Arabia, and is Abu Dhabi is United Arab Emirates – so they are battling Irani influences in Yemen. And the US is in the mix too.

The offensive could also have ramifications further afield due to Yemen’s role in a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has fueled instability across the Middle East.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from Iran’s nuclear deal and his embrace of nuclear state North Korea have added to Tehran’s isolation and put pressure on the Islamic Republic to preserve its interests in Yemen and other Arab states.

 

The United Nations says the assault on Hodeidah could trigger a famine imperiling millions of lives. Many residents are bracing for more hardship as the warring sides dig in.

Imperilling millions of lives – the collateral damage. The population of Yemen is about 28 million people.

In March US approves proposed $1bn arms sale to Saudi Arabia

The US State Department has approved a possible arms sale to Saudi Arabia worth more than $1bn.

“This proposed sale will support US foreign policy and national security objectives by improving the security of a friendly country,” the statement read.

But campaigners, including some US legislators, are urging western governments to halt or limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of its involvement in a devastating civil war in Yemen.

The Saudi military offensive, which began in March 2015, has killed at least 10,000, displaced more than 2 million people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.

US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis, speaking ahead of a Pentagon meeting with bin Salman on Thursday, said Saudi Arabia was “part of the solution” in Yemen.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International, in a statementon Friday, said there “was extensive evidence that irresponsible arms flows to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition have resulted in enourmous harm to Yemeni civilians”.

“But this has not deterred the USA, UK, and other states, including France, Spain and Italy, from continuing transfers of billions of dollars’ worth of such arms,” it added.

Also Nearly half of US arms exports go to the Middle East

Nearly half of US arms exports over the past five years have gone to the war-stricken Middle East, with Saudi Arabia consolidating its place as the world’s second biggest importer, a report has shown.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) said on Monday that global transfer of major weapons systems between 2013 and 2017 rose by 10% compared with the five-year period before that, in a continuation of an upward trend that began two decades ago.

The US, which is the world’s biggest exporter, increased its sales between those two periods by 25%. It supplied arms to as many as 98 states worldwide, accounting for more than a third of global exports.

Russia, the world’s second biggest exporter, saw a decrease of 7.1% in its overall volume of arms exports; US exports were 58% higher than those of Russia.

France, Germany and China were also among the top five exporters. The UK is the sixth biggest weapons exporter.

Killing people and destroying stuff is big business.

Dismantling nuclear test site “a very smart and gracious gesture”

A more conciliatory tone from Donald Trump.

North Korea has announced that they will dismantle Nuclear Test Site this month, ahead of the big Summit Meeting on June 12th. Thank you, a very smart and gracious gesture!

Whether North Korea would have done this with or without Trump’s threats and ridicule this is promising, he may consider negotiating something worthwhile. However he should be cautious about Kim Yong Un’s intent.

But Trump continues his rhetoric against Iran:

Iran’s Military Budget is up more than 40% since the Obama negotiated Nuclear Deal was reached…just another indicator that it was all a big lie. But not anymore!

On it’s own this statement is nonsense. An increased military indicates more military spending, and could have been non-nuclear spending to strengthen their traditional military power in a switch from nuclear.

And have they increased their spending by 40%? I don’t trust any tweeted claim from Trump, he has a history of making things up and making misleading claims.

In fact NY times debunks this claim, saying it just repeats a false claim made by Benjamin Netanyahu: 5 Claims From Trump’s Speech on Iran Deal That Are Misleading or Need Context

The Iran deal was reached in June 2015, but went into effect in early 2016, when the United States and European nations lifted sanctions. Since then, Iran’s military spending has increased by about 30 percent, from $10.8 billion in 2015 to $14.1 billion last year, adjusted for inflation, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The Congressional Research Service has estimated that Iran’s defense budget was about 3 percent of the gross domestic product, or $15 billion, in 2015 and about 4 percent of G.D.P., or $20 billion, in 2018.

Mr. Trump is referring to documents shared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

And a week ago Barack Obama pointed out a huge difference between Iranian and US military spending:

“Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion.”

Politifact: Iran spends $30 billion on defense; U.S. about $600 billion

For the Defense Department alone, the Congressional Budget Office’s summary of the budget bill passed last December shows $520 billion in outlays with another $64 billion (good for two years) to cover overseas contingency operations, such as fighting the Islamic State group. That yields a total of $584 billion.

Laicie Heeley is policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. By Heeley’s tally, after you add in $19 billion for nuclear weapons and $7.5 billion in other departments, the total comes to $621 billion.

But Obama may have been too high on Iran’s military spending.

We found several estimates of Iran’s military spending. The Congressional Research Service said the country spends about 3 percent of its GDP, which translates into about $11 billion. Reuters reported that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani plans to spend 282 trillion rials on defense. At the current exchange rate, that equals about $10 billion. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute database has a similar figure.

The highest estimate we found came from the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, a Washington think tank and advocacy group. It put Iran’s total spending at $17.7 billion in 2013.

Iran may well have increased their military spending over the last few years, in part to fund their support of the government in the Syrian civil war, and in part to build their conventional military strength to build their strengthen after shelving their nuclear weapon development (if they have done this).

Last year Trump bragged about ‘historic’ increases in US military spending, another questionable claim. Trump’s Defense Increase ‘Historic’?

President Donald Trump told the nation’s governors that his first budget would include “a historic increase in defense spending.”

Trump, Feb. 27: This budget will be a public safety and national security budget, very much based on those two with plenty of other things but very strong. And it will include a historic increase in defense spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America at a time we most need it.

But defense experts say that’s not the case.

For fiscal year 2018, Trump has proposed a 9.4 percent increase in the base defense budget, which does not including war funding. But Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan enacted double-digit increases in base defense spending in five years in the 1980s — including a whopping 25 percent increase in fiscal 1981.

On Feb. 27, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Trump’s first proposed budget would contain $603 billion in defense discretionary spending for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1.

An 11% increase to about $600 billion is still a huge increase in military spending.

I am sceptical of claims by Iran, North Korea and Trump.

 

Plan A: threats, sanctions, military attacks – no Plan B

After pulling out of a nuclear accord President Donald Trump has threatened “the strongest sanctions” against Iran, and if they don’t negotiate a new deal then “something will happen”.

The USA has no support in their withdrawal from the international legal agreement, except from Israel who has followed up on the US move they had strongly Trump to take with attacks on Iranian targets in Syria.

Given the volatile history of the Middle East, Iran’s involvement in a number of countries and Russia’s military support of Iran this is a high risk situation.

Reuters: Israel strikes Iranian targets in Syria after rocket fire

Israel said it attacked nearly all of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria on Thursday after Iranian forces fired rockets at Israeli-held territory for the first time in the most extensive military exchange ever between the two adversaries.

It was the heaviest Israeli barrage in Syria since the 2011 start of the civil war in which Iranians, allied Shi’ite Muslim militias and Russian troops have deployed in support of President Bashar al-Assad. The confrontation came two days after the United States announced its withdrawal, with Israel’s urging, from a nuclear accord with Iran.

The timing doesn’t seem coincidental.

Israel destroyed dozens of Iranian military sites in Syria, as well as Syrian anti-aircraft units that tried unsuccessfully to shoot down Israeli planes, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said.

Syrian state media said Israel launched dozens of missiles and hit a radar station, Syrian air defense positions and an ammunition dump, underscoring the risks of a wider escalation involving Iran and its regional allies.

Wider escalation is always a risk in the region.

In the meantime Trump Bets Sanctions Will Force Iran to Bargain. There’s No Plan B.

President Trump said on Wednesday that he expects Iran to continue to comply with the terms of the 2015 deal that limits Tehran’s nuclear program, even as the United States violates it by reimposing what he called “among the strongest sanctions that we’ve ever put on a country.”

Beyond betting that Iran’s leaders will return to the negotiating table, and seek a better deal, once they feel the sanctions’ bite, the president appeared to acknowledge that he has no Plan B for dealing with Tehran.

“Iran will come back and say, ‘We don’t want to negotiate,’” Mr. Trump told reporters. “And of course, they’re going to say that. And if I were in their position, I’d say that, too, for the first couple of months: ‘We’re not going to negotiate.’”

“But they’ll negotiate, or something will happen,” Mr. Trump said. “And hopefully that won’t be the case.”

But Iran are trying to isolate the US and continue to talk with Europe, Russia and China.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said on Tuesday that he had instructed his foreign minister to determine if negotiators from European nations, Russia and China could make up for the economic benefits that Iran would lose after the American withdrawal.

Only then would he decide, Mr. Rouhani said, whether to instruct Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization to resume the enrichment of uranium.

After Mr. Trump announced his decision, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany on Tuesday reaffirmed their support for a United Nations Security Council resolution that formally endorsed the accord. The European leaders asserted that the resolution was the applicable international law governing the Iranian nuclear problem — a way of suggesting that the United States is the first country to violate the accord.

They also noted that Mr. Trump’s own intelligence officials — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when he was serving as C.I.A. director — have said he saw no evidence that Iran had violated the deal.

So Trump not only has to deal with a markedly different position taken by other major world powers, he is at odds with US intelligence – and also some republican politicians.

Even Republicans who had their qualms about the shortcomings of the nuclear deal — especially its “sunset clauses” that gave Iran the right to produce nuclear fuel after 2030 — expressed concern that the White House appeared more interested in scrapping the accord than coming up with a comprehensive way to deal with Tehran.

Few in the Pentagon expect the Iranians to back down. Intelligence analysts expect that Iran will grow more active in Syria and Iraq, in part to make the United States and its allies pay a price.

So Trump is being bold or brash, and there is no way of knowing which way this may now go. It is a much higher risk and more complex situation than with North Korea.

Michael Singh, who worked on Iran issues during George W. Bush’s presidency, wrote in Foreign Affairs:

One of the chief criticisms leveled against former U.S. President Barack Obama by critics of the JCPOA was that he focused on the nuclear issue to the exclusion of all others and that the agreement itself institutionalized this focus by trading comprehensive sanctions relief for Tehran’s restraint solely in the nuclear realm.

Ironically, first by emphasizing the need to fix the agreement, and now in insisting that a new deal be negotiated, Trump risks repeating the error.

A different bad agreement to Obama’s may be the best outcome that Trump achieves.

While the United States has debated the JCPOA, Iran has advanced in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere with little resistance, and prospects for war between Iran and Israel, or Iran and Saudi Arabia, have increased significantly. What Washington really needs is a new Iran policy, not just a nuclear policy – and the will to roll up their sleeves and carry it out.

If Plan A doesn’t work I’m not sure that Trump is a roll his sleeves up type of president.

The star of Donald?

The Trump versus Iran situation is a high risk international play, with Trump having isolated the US from Europe and other allies, apart from Israel, and he is talking big on threats against Iran (who is close to Russia and China).

Who knows what might happen now? No one can do anything but guess and hope.

Perhaps the star of Donald will shine peace on the Middle East. It would be an unprecedented international success.

But it could as easily turn to custard in an already very lumpy region of the world. In distance countries we must hope that it doesn’t become nuclear custard – the level of Trump’s current rhetoric can easily be interpreted as threats of a big bang.

The danger is that one day Trump may paint himself into a corner, and either have to back down bigly, or push a very dangerous button.

We may end up with the mushroom of Donald.