Saudi Arabia, Iran, USA and oil

One of the world’s riskiest situations is developing in one of the most volatile regions of the world, the Middle East, after oil production facilities were bombed by drones. The US has blamed Iran. The US has close ties with Saudi Arabia.

Oil production has been affected, with prices surging following the attack (but settling back a bit since).

MSN: Saudis face lengthy oil halt with few options to fill gap

The oil market is facing a prolonged disruption to Saudi Arabia’s oil production with few options for replacing such huge output losses.

The weekend attacks on the kingdom eliminated about 5% of global oil supply — and raised the risk of more conflict in the region — propelling Brent crude to a record surge on Monday. Officials at state oil company Saudi Aramco have become less optimistic on the pace of output recovery, telling a senior foreign diplomat they face a “severe” disruption measured in weeks and months and informing some customers that October shipments will be delayed.

The historic price gain underscores the unprecedented nature of the disruption caused by the drone attack on the Abqaiq crude processing plant. For decades, Saudi Arabia has been the oil market’s great stabilizer, maintaining a large cushion of spare production capacity that can be tapped in emergencies, such as the 2011 war in Libya.

The halt of 5.7 million barrels day of the kingdom’s production — the worst sudden supply loss in history — exposes the inadequacy of the rest of the world’s supply buffer.

Petrol prices have already risen in New Zealand. I don’t know why that has happened so quickly, petrol in tanks here should be the same price as it was last week. Is there any other market that changes prices based on possible future cost rises?

ABC News:  U.S. intel shows cruise missiles fired at Saudi oil facility came from Iran, officials say

The attack on a major Saudi oil facility originated geographically from Iranian territory, with a series of low-altitude cruise missiles fired from at least one location in the western region of the country, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the latest intelligence.

The intelligence assessment draws a more clear link between the attack and Iran, and it could worsen tensions between Washington and Tehran.

U.S. officials are considering possible multilateral sanctions with allies against Iran as part of the response to the attacks…

The Department of Defense has advocated for restraint. But it has provided a briefing on military options to President Donald Trump, who over the weekend tweeted that the U.S. is “locked and loaded” and ready to respond, once it officially determined who was behind the attack.

Three U.S. officials previously told NBC News there was extremely compelling evidence showing the origination point of the strikes, and one official with direct knowledge described that evidence as imagery.

That’s image based imagery, not imaginary.

A Saudi military spokesman says initial investigations show Iranian weapons were used in the attack.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday no talks would take place between Iran and the U.S. “on any level…

Reuters: U.S. lawmakers blast Iran, wary of war, after Saudi oil attack

Members of the U.S. Congress blasted Iran after the attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, but expressed wariness about U.S. military action, especially before they have a clearer picture of who was behind it.

President Donald Trump said the United States was “locked and loaded” to hit back after Saturday’s attack, which knocked out more than half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production and damaged the world’s biggest crude processing plant.

Iran denied U.S. accusations it was to blame and said it was ready for “full-fledged war.”

U.S. lawmakers, especially Trump’s fellow Republicans, were quick to blame Tehran.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s Republican majority leader, called it “a brazen attack” with significant implications for the global energy market and said he welcomed Trump’s preparation to potentially release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to stabilize markets if necessary.

Many lawmakers stressed that Congress, not the president, has the right to declare war and warned against any quick military action.

Trump may not be able to initiate quick military action on his own, but he is capable of escalating tensions and the prospects of war via Twitter.

Military action would likely put oil production and supply at even more risk.

Congress, with backing from both Republicans and Democrats, has passed – but Trump has vetoed – four bills seeking to push back against Trump’s strong support for the Saudi government, despite its human rights record and steep civilian casualties in the war in Yemen.

Trump and the US say nothing against Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemeni war – and supply the Saudis with arms.

Wikipedia:  2017 United States–Saudi Arabia arms deal

On May 20, 2017, U.S. President Trump and Saudi Arabia’s Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud signed a series of letters of intent for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to purchase arms from the United States totaling US$110 billion immediately, and $350 billion over 10 years. The intended purchases include tanks, combat ships, missile defense systems, as well as radar, communications and cybersecurity technology. The transfer was widely seen as a counterbalance against the influence of Iran in the region and a “significant” and “historic” expansion of United States relations with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East.

Between 2011 and 2015, Saudi Arabia was the destination for nearly 10% of all U.S. arms exports

The 2017 deal was partially created with the help of Jared Kushner, son-in-law of and senior advisor to President Trump

So the attack on the Saudi oil production facilities raises tensions significantly between the US and Iran. The risks may temper responses, but I think it likely that there will be some sort of retaliation.  Economic sanctions are already in place against Iran, so that must be a limited option. If Iran is indeed responsible for the attack it may in part be an attempt to enhance the value of their own oil to compensate for sanctions.

Whatever, it’s complex and it’s a high risk game being played in the Middle East that could significantly impact on the world.

 

 

Two oil tankers attacked in Gulf of Oman

Attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman risk escalating conflict in the Middle East. It has already resulted in an increase in the price of oil.

Reuters: Tanker attacks in Gulf of Oman stoke fears over conflict and oil

Two oil tankers were attacked on Thursday and left adrift in the Gulf of Oman, driving up oil prices and stoking fears of a new confrontation between Iran and the United States.

The White House said President Donald Trump had been briefed and that the U.S. government would continue to assess the situation. Washington accused Tehran of being behind a similar attack on May 12 on four tankers in the same area, a vital shipping route through which much of the world’s oil passes.

Tensions between Iran and the United States, along with its allies including Saudi Arabia, have risen since Washington pulled out of a deal last year between Iran and global powers that aimed to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Iran has repeatedly warned it would block the Strait of Hormuz, near where the attacks happened, if it cannot sell its oil due to U.S. sanctions.

No one has claimed Thursday’s attacks and no one has specifically blamed them on any party.

Reuters:  U.S. calls attacks on commercial shipping ‘unacceptable’

The United States on Thursday called attacks on commercial shipping “unacceptable” and told the U.N. Security Council that the latest assaults on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman that left one ablaze and both adrift “raise very serious concerns.”

That’s stating the obvious.

“It’s unacceptable for any party to attack commercial shipping and today’s attacks on ships in the Gulf of Oman raise very serious concerns,” acting U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Jonathan Cohen told a council meeting on U.N. and Arab League cooperation on Thursday morning.

“The U.S. government is providing assistance and will continue to assess the situation,” he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned at the meeting that the world cannot afford “a major confrontation in the Gulf region.”

Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah described the tanker attacks as a threat to international peace and security.

“This is the most recent event in a series of acts of sabotage that are threatening the security of maritime corridors as well as threatening energy security of the world,” he said.

Maybe some tariff threats will sort this out.

Last August: The US has reimposed sanctions on Iran. 

When President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in May, he also said the US would reimpose strict sanctions on Tehran.

Starting at 12:01 am on Tuesday, financial penalties that former President Barack Obama removed from Iran as part of the nuclear agreement snap back into place.

On November 4, even more sanctions that Obama lifted will kick back in. Those will hit Iran’s oil exports and energy sector, a key industry for the country; financial institutions working with the Central Bank of Iran; port operators and shipbuilding sectors; and the provisions of insurance and financial messaging services.

Or not.

The goal of the sanctions, according to the senior administration officials, is to cripple the Iranian economy to the point that the regime must end its support for terrorism and negotiate an end to its nuclear program with the US.

Another possibility was an escalation in tensions and unintended consequences.

Reuters:  Latest on tanker attacks south of Strait of Hormuz

Here is the latest from Reuters on attacks on two tankers on Thursday south of the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world’s oil is shipped:

* Panama-listed tanker Kokuka Courageous was damaged in a “suspected attack” that breached the hull above the water line, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement said

* The ship was attacked twice in three hours before all the crew were evacuated, the president of Japanese owner Kokuka Sangyo told reporters

* There had been an engine room fire on the tanker, which was carrying a cargo of methanol from Saudi Arabia to Singapore

* A second ship, the Marshall Islands-flagged Front Altair, was “suspected of being hit by a torpedo” at around 0400 GMT, said Taiwanese refiner CPC Corp, which had chartered the vessel

* The Aframax-class tanker loaded with 75,000 tonnes of naphtha was on fire, said Norwegian owner Frontline

* Frontline said the Front Altair was afloat, denying a report by Iran’s IRNA news agency that it had sunk

Oil and the Middle east have long been problems that have been short on effective solutions.

Defying the US CongressTrump declares national emergency to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, UAE

This has to be somewhat concerning.

A few days ago from Reuters – Trump administration may use Iran threat to sell bombs to Saudis without Congress’ approval: senator

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration plans to use a loophole and rising tensions with Iran to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia, even though Congress blocked such sales for months over concerns about civilian deaths in the war in Yemen, Senator Chris Murphy said on Wednesday.

“I am hearing that Trump may use an obscure loophole in the Arms Control Act and notice a major new sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia (the ones they drop in Yemen) in a way that would prevent Congress from objecting. Could happen this week,” the Democratic senator warned on Twitter.

Congressional aides said there are provisions of the Arms Control Act, which sets rules for international arms transactions, that would allow a president to approve a sale without congressional review in case of a national emergency.

In this case, they said the Republican president would cite rising tensions with Iran as a reason to provide more military equipment to Saudi Arabia, which he sees as an important U.S. partner in the region. Trump has touted arms sales to the Saudis as a way to generate U.S. jobs.

Trump previously declared an influx of immigrants a national emergency to bypass Congress and get $6 billion to build his wall along the Mexican border. Both Democrats and his fellow Republicans voted to block the move, forcing Trump to issue the first veto of his presidency.

Now from Reuters: Defying Congress, Trump sets $8 billion-plus in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE

U.S. President Donald Trump, declaring a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, swept aside objections from Congress on Friday to complete the sale of over $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

The Trump administration informed congressional committees that it will go ahead with 22 military sales to the Saudis, United Arab Emirates and Jordan, infuriating lawmakers by circumventing a long-standing precedent for congressional review of major weapons sales.

Several of Trump’s fellow Republicans, as well as Democrats, said they would object to such a plan, fearing that blowing through the “holds” process would eliminate Congress’ ability to check not just Trump but future presidents from selling weapons where they liked.

Representative Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said the administration’s action was “unfortunate” and likely to damage future White House interactions with Congress.

“I would have strongly preferred for the administration to utilize the long-established and codified arms sale review process,” McCaul said in a statement.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that U.S. partners in the Middle East needed the contracts to be completed to help deter Iran, and that the decision to circumvent Congress was meant to be a “one-time event.”

In his memorandum justifying the emergency declaration, Pompeo listed years of actions by Iran. “Iranian malign activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to American security at home and abroad,” he wrote, and cited “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Tehran.

Trump’s administration also announced that it was sending 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East, which it described as an effort to bolster defenses against Iran against what it sees as a threat of potential attack.

Members of Congress from both parties have worried that Trump is pushing toward war with Iran.

War with Congress, war with Iran – is there nothing that Trump can’t do?

 

 

US military deployments aimed at Iran, China, and more tariffs threaten trade talks

The US navy is deploying ships in the South China Sea ‘freedom of navigation’ and the Middle East (to deter Iran).

Stuff:  US sends strike group to Middle East in rebuke to Iran

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters believes the United States and Iran need to “engage in constructive dialogue” before tensions rise.

Peters’ remarks come following news the US is sending an aircraft carrier and a bomber task force to the Middle East in a show of force aimed at Iran.

“In response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings, the United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the US Central Command region to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force,” national security adviser John Bolton said in a statement.

“The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces,” the statement said.

The statement did not identify what actions Iran may have taken that would prompt the United States to increase its military presence in the region.

“I also note Bolton stated the US is not seeking armed conflict with Iran,” Peters said in response to the White House’s release.

Also yesterday:

JUST IN: Two U.S. Navy destroyers carried out ‘freedom of navigation’ operation in South China Sea on Monday: U.S. military spokesman tells

And more US pressure on China over trade:

Reuters:  Trump tariff threat leaves U.S.-China talks in limbo as markets fall

U.S. President Donald Trump’s escalation of a trade war with China left plans in limbo on Monday for high-level negotiations later this week to end the dispute.

Stocks around the world tumbled and oil prices hit a one-month low after Trump tweeted on Sunday that he would raise tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25 percent from 10 percent by the end of the week, and would “soon” target the remaining Chinese imports with tariffs.

The announcement ended a four-month truce in a trade war that has cost the world’s two largest economies billions of dollars, slowed global growth and disrupted manufacturing and farming.

NY Times: Trump’s Trade War Threat Poses Problems for China and Investors

President Trump upended what appeared to be steady progress toward reaching a trade pact after he threatened on Sunday to impose still more tariffs on Chinese-made goods unless Beijing moved closer to a deal. Liu He, the Chinese vice premier overseeing economic policy and Beijing’s lead trade negotiator, had been set to travel to Washington for talks scheduled for Wednesday that were widely seen as the potential last round before reaching a trade deal.

President Trump upended what appeared to be steady progress toward reaching a trade pact after he threatened on Sunday to impose still more tariffs on Chinese-made goods unless Beijing moved closer to a deal. Liu He, the Chinese vice premier overseeing economic policy and Beijing’s lead trade negotiator, had been set to travel to Washington for talks scheduled for Wednesday that were widely seen as the potential last round before reaching a trade deal.

President Trump upended what appeared to be steady progress toward reaching a trade pact after he threatened on Sunday to impose still more tariffs on Chinese-made goods unless Beijing moved closer to a deal. Liu He, the Chinese vice premier overseeing economic policy and Beijing’s lead trade negotiator, had been set to travel to Washington for talks scheduled for Wednesday that were widely seen as the potential last round before reaching a trade deal.

This also poses potential problems for New Zealand, and the world economy.

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.