The Man Who Built Peace

The Next Century Foundation is proud to support the launch of the documentary film, ‘The Man Who Built Peace’. It tells the story of Frank Buchman who was the founder of Initiatives of Change, formerly known as Moral Rearmament.

Driven by moral purpose and his relationship with God, his legacy is one that speaks to the pursuance of peace through “personal change and reconciliation” with the belief that all people should move beyond faith, race, location and other factors to find peace. This award winning documentary has been the work of those at Initiatives of Change who wish to share Buchman’s story and highlight his efforts in making the world a better place for all.

The views and values of both Buchman and Initiatives of Change align closely with the Foundation’s own ethos of total inclusivity and peace. We are happy to be supporters of this documentary and promote celebrating the life of such a visionary who worked tirelessly for a better future.

The film will be launching on June the 7th 2018 at the Royal Geographical Society with subsequent viewings happening across UK cities. More information and links to tickets can be found here:

https://uk.iofc.org/man-who-built-peace-documentary-launch

Iraq’s Elections: Is an Inclusive Iraq Possible?

The political bloc led by populist Shi’ite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr has beat out candidates to win Iraq’s first parliamentary election since the Baghdad government’s victory over ISIS. Despite which, Moqtada Al-Sadr will not become prime minister as he did not run for a seat; but he will have a significant role in the formation of the new government.

However, Moqtada Al-Sadr may have a difficult time drawing support from Iraq’s Sunni Arabs. His followers have previously been accused of running death squads in Sunni majority areas and engaging in sectarian violence. Discontent amongst the Sunni population had been growing ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The successive governments of Nouri Al-Maliki and Haider Al-Abadi offered little in the way of protection and support for Sunnis in Iraq. When this is coupled with state marginalisation, lack of employment opportunities and an extremely low standard of living, discontent is understandable.

In order to appeal to the fragmented and fractured Iraqi society, Al-Sadr has sought to rebrand himself as a force for peace in a country that still bears fresh wounds from the war with ISIS.

One example of this is Al-Sadr reaching out to regional Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey. In doing so, Al-Sadr has effectively distanced himself from Iran.

Iran, the pre-eminent Shi’ite power in the Middle East, wields considerable influence in Iraq and had previously publicly stated that they would not allow a bloc run by Al-Sadr to govern. Tehran had made it perfectly clear that Moqtada Al-Sadr was not their man, viewing him as a threat. Yet, despite Al-Sadr beating Iran’s favoured candidates, it is unlikely that any coalition formed by Al-Sadr will be without political groups that are aligned with Iran.

For many years, all Iraq has known is senseless violence, death, and destruction. The people of Iraq deserve a chance at peace more than anyone. Al-Sadr’s call for all Iraqis, inclusive of Sunni and Shi’ite Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen and other minority groups, to come together and rebuild Iraq is commendable. We can only hope this does not fall on deaf ears.

The Great March of Return: where are the terrorists – The NCF Gaza reports

Palestinians are protesting against restrictions on what goes in and out of Gaza. They are also supporting ‘right to return’ calls from Palestinian refugees. The moving of the USA’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has exaserbated the situation. On Monday 14th May 40,000 Gazans joined the border protest. At least 110 Palestinians, including children, have been killed thus far and thousands injured. Israel claims that protestors are terrorists attempting to break through the barrier. However several hundred metres separate protestors from IDF personnel. Most of the protestors were not violent and avoided getting too close to the ‘border’. Protestors included families with children. Gazans struggle to deal with increasing difficulties. Residents only have around four hours of electricity a day, there is limited access to clean water, limited health services and unemployment in the region is at around 64%. 

The response from the NCF in Gaza

The devastating reality of the situation has been reinforced by the Next Century Foundation’s office in the International Press Centre in Gaza. We were able to speak to them following the events of Monday 14th which they described as a “bloody, bloody day” and the worst so far. Award winning Gazan journalist Adel Zanoun told us that 3,288 people had been injured with a range of severity levels, including journalists. When asked about our journalist friends in Gaza, he said that they are all under threat regardless of whether they are national or international. The targeting of the press indicates that Israel’s claims that they are merely protecting themselves and responding to threats are not credible. Journalists are clearly marked with the word ‘PRESS’ across their chests. If Israel were combatting ‘terrorists’ then why have so many journalists, an estimated 175, been injured with several dead?

Regarding the use of force by Israel, Zanoun said that people were being injured by live fire against the Palestinian demonstrators that had steadily increased over the weeks; he said it was live ammunition that was injuring these people and not rubber bullets. Critical of Israel, he repeatedly tells me of how “bloody” it has been and the intense pressure that the Palestinians in Gaza are under. He makes reference to Hamas, stating that they have definitely played a role in the organisation of the demonstrations and that they may, following on from the intensity of Israel’s response, establish a counter response of their own. He also said that neither Ramadan nor the violence will deter demonstrations from continuing. However, he does not believe that the protests mask terrorism and emphasises that these were Palestinian people objecting to mistreatment.

Citing a widespread “collapse” of infrastructure, he emphasised the severity of the humanitarian situation, Public sector workers have been impacted with their salaries being cut; he says this has led to hospitals opening intermittently and no authorities in place to protect or serve the people in Gaza. There is no knowledge as to when full salaries will be reinstated. Zanoun repeatedly said that the Palestinian people are truly under such pressure that is only likely to worsen. With hospitals closing and virtually no ability to move in and out of the region, and no option for people to return if they do leave, the injured were not adequately cared for*. He says that there had been a breakdown of reconciliation between Hamas and Palestinian authorities in Ramallah thus contributing to the absence of humanitarian or political progress.

The Palestinian people in Gaza are suffering, as they have been for many years. The firing of live ammunition against thousands of mostly innocent and unarmed protestors has furthered the suffering. When I asked Zanoun what he thinks about the future and the next steps, he said “there is no hope for Gaza now”. There is uncertainty, he says, that means that “no one knows what will happen” in one hour, one day or one month. What he does know is that the pressure continues to mount against the people and that political and humanitarian solutions are needed immediately to address the declining situation in Gaza. He said that people and politicians need to be working towards helping those in Gaza.

*N.B. Since speaking to Zanoun, Egypt has opened the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza strip throughout the month of Ramadan. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi tweeted that this would help “alleviate the burden of the brothers in the Gaza strip”

The background to the response

Since the end of March, 110 Palestinians, including children, have been killed in Gaza by Israel’s forces and thousands have been injured as they protest by the ‘border’. The response from the international community was weak to begin with, little attention was paid in the earlier days of these protests. However, since the 14th, Gaza is very much top of the international agenda with varied responses to the atrocities committed.

Israel’s representatives have denied acting wrongfully. They believe that Hamas was the driver of these protests and that the intention was to target Israel, target the borders and do so under the guise of a demonstration. Therefore, they have said their intention was to simply protect their borders and target ‘terrorists’ who were supposedly conducting a terrorist operation. It is undeniable that Hamas have been involved in the organising of these protests, something Zanoun said freely. However, to justify opening live fire on civilians because they are ‘terrorists’ is unacceptable. Not all of those who have died were terrorists, the members of the press who have been wounded, for example, were not terrorists.

In the immediate aftermath, the United States aligned themselves with Israel and did not, unlike their French and British counterparts, condemn the actions of the IDF. They believe their actions were justified. Nikki Haley spoke at the United Nations the following day where Israel was praised for showing “restraint” and blamed Hamas for the death of Palestinians and the violence, stating that it was what they wanted. The USA believed that ultimately, Israel acted in the best interests of its national security. Their stance is perhaps unsurprising given the choice to move the embassy on Nakba Day, a strong display of alliance with Israel and their lack of support for a future peace process.

Britain and France have expressed their disapproval of the actions of Israel and the wish to go forward in peace. Prime Minister Theresa May said that this level of violence is ‘destructive to peace efforts’ and that both sides should be acting with ‘restraint’. Britain’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, stood up and passionately condemned the ‘massacre’ committed by Israel against protestors.  French President Emmanuel Macron was openly disapproving of the violence exercised by Israel’s forces and expressed empathy and compassion for the Palestinian people in Gaza.

As aforementioned, Egypt’s opening of the border crossing with the Gaza strip is emblematic of the attention and compassion that is now being shown to the Palestinians in Gaza by the international community. The United Nations has expressed its concern for the events that have happened since March in Gaza. Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the current High Commissioner for Human Rights, has emphatically highlighted the plight of those in Gaza and their suffering. He also raises the point that there have been no casualties on Israel’s side thus demonstrating the asymmetry in any violent exchanges. Israel, according to al-Hussein, has acted without constraint and excessively. On Friday 18th May the UN Human Rights Council held a special session resolving to call an urgent independent enquiry into Monday’s events. The UK was amongst the 14 countries who abstained, citing the need for Israel to carry out their own independent investigation; the USA and Israel rejected the resolution. The latter once again cited the events in Gaza as a response to Hamas’ terrorist activities.

In Gaza itself, demonstrations continue unabated. The numbers are less and people are more cautious yet there is still drive there. It was quieter though as people across the region, including Israel, said their prayers for the people of Gaza and the ones who have been lost.

The international community has taken notice of Gaza and the suffering and unfairness that its people are subjected to. Israel may affirm the idea that their use of force was a way of responding to a perceived terrorist threat, but these arguments have little credibility. Of course there were agitators and violent protestors present, but children, impartial observers and thousands who posed no threat to the IDF have been injured, some killed. The treatment of Palestinians and their human rights has long been a cause for concern. With several nation states now openly criticising recent events and condemning the use of force against civilians, it leads to hope that there may be, as Adel Zanoun wished, humanitarian and political change for the people of Gaza.

The Debate – Israel’s Iran allegation

In this edition of The Debate, Iran’s Press TV conducted an interview with Michael Springmann, an author and former US diplomat, from Washington, and William Morris, the Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation, from London, to discuss Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s allegation that Iran is secretly working to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran and Israel: A Dangerous Game

The NCF questions Israel’s ability to pursue an all out long range war with Iran, without the USA in the lead. Indeed, to launch such a war Premier Netanyahu would need to bring on board his inner cabinet plus of course the generals. He is probably in no position to do this. Memories of the disastrous 2006 war with Lebanon which for a time depopulated all of Northern Israel, remain fresh. The NCF Secretary General has stated his belief that one reason President Trump decided to reneg on the nuclear deal with Iran was as a sop to Israel given the fact that he had no intention of ever initiating a US attack on Iran. However, in the following analysis, Qasim Abdul-Aziz argues that the danger is none the less real.

The conflict between Iran and Israel is reaching new heights. The looming threat of a large-scale war in the region is all the more real.

On Wednesday 9 May, Israel’s military reported that Iranian forces had fired more than twenty rockets from Syria into the occupied Golan Heights. Whilst it was claimed that none of the rockets hit their intended targets, Israel’s ‘red-line’ had been crossed. In a conflict that has largely been played out through proxies, this was the first time Iran had openly and brazenly attacked Israel.

Israel retaliated by striking dozens of targets they associated with Iran including weapons storage sites and Syrian Air Defence systems. Damascus braced itself as the sound of explosions rang through the night.

Arguably Iran instigated the conflict by firing their rockets at Israel’s military stationed in the occupied Golan Heights. However, the timeline of that recent escalation between the two states dates back to early April when Israel was the first to bomb Iranian controlled bases in Syria on at least two occasions.

Iran is attempting to gain a foothold in the Levant, expanding its influence across the region by supporting various parties in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. In face of this expansionism, Israel has been particularly concerned about the Iranian presence in neighbouring Syria, fearing a long-term military plan to use Syria and other proxies such as the Lebanese group Hezbollah as a means to dominate the Middle East.

On April 30, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a televised presentation on Iran’s nuclear program, displaying allegedly secret documents obtained by Israeli intelligence. Whilst the current relevance of these documents is unclear, Prime Minister Netanyahu confidently claimed that they proved that Tehran was misleading the international community about its nuclear plans and is indeed pursuing nuclear weapons.

Little more than one week after Netanyahu’s speech, on Tuesday 8 May, the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal. This could arguably be bad for Israel, given that the deal at least placed some constraints on Iran. But certainly Netanyahu perceived it as the best outcome for Israel, and he has pushed long and hard for the United States to pull the deal, citing Iran as the single greatest threat in the region. Hours after the United States announced their rejection of the nuclear deal, Iran launched their missile assault against Israel. This was of course no mere coincidence.

Both Iran and Israel, alongside other regional and international players, already share responsibility for destabilising the region. Whilst Israel’s flagrant aggressions are well-documented against the Palestinians, Iran too, has a stained record. As the Syrian civil war was seeming to wind down after seven long and arduous years, these recent provocations could be the beginning of a new and more open conflict in the Middle East. Let us hope that wise heads prevail.

Netanyahu’s Folly . . . or a gamble that paid off?

On the 30th April, through live broadcast from Jerusalem, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered an assertive presentation to the world accusing Iran of “brazenly lying” about their nuclear weapons ambitions. The presentation itself seemed amateur and the Prime Minister delivered it as if he were at school. But his intention was to make a serious point.

His point being that various Iranian leaders have falsely denied that they had ever been working on acquiring nuclear weapons with several citing the idea as “immoral”. Netanyahu’s PowerPoint presentation featuring diagrams, photographs and blueprints sought to demonstrate that Iran was in violation of the JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal) and that Iran, through what was known as Project Amad (1999-2003), had had the active goal of building a nuclear weapon.

The key allegation Netanyahu made in this presentation was that Project Amad, a supposedly merely scientific program, had been a covert nuclear weapons development project and that even after the closure of Project Amad, the work had secretly continued. He said that top-secret documents proved it. However, the Next Century Foundation does not find any real merit in Netanyahu’s further suggestion that the JCPOA allows Iran to continue their alleged nuclear weapons development unabated. Evidence to support the accusation that Project Amad was a covert nuclear weapons project is definitely compelling, but is nothing new to anyone in the international community. However, Netanyahu explicitly states throughout that Iran continues with its pursuit of its nuclear weapons ambitions. For these accusations he provides no real evidence. He simply opines that the retention of these documents, already known about since before the JCPOA, indicates that they are doing so and that their denial of the existence of prior nuclear weapon development efforts means they are liars.

The Presentation in Detail:

This presentation was built around alleged evidence from 55,000 pages and 183 CDs of “top secret” documentation that only a few Iranians and Israelis were supposedly aware of. Netanyahu does not specify how or when these documents were obtained but states that they were being kept in a top-secret, unassuming compound in Tehran. The acquisition of said documents was described by Netanyahu as a “great intelligence achievement”  by the Israeli intelligence services. The Iranians refute the claims made by Netanyahu and say that they would never keep official documents in the “dilapidated warehouse” Israeli intelligence allegedly acquired them from.

Project Amad ran for four years before closing in 2003. The documents obtained by Israeli intelligence seem to show, according to Netanyahu’s presentation, the active pursuit of nuclear weapons acquisition because Iran pursued the development of ballistic missiles with high power capability. However the development of a long range missile program does not necessarily mean an intention to have nuclear warheads. Several photographs, videos, blueprints and scans of documents were presented on different slides to enforce the message Netanyahu was pushing.

Rather more importantly Netanyahu did pull up one specific document that said the project was going to “design, produce and test … four nuclear warheads each with 10 kilotons of TNT yield for integration on a missile”. Israeli intelligence analysis of the documents determined that Project Amad had the ‘five key elements of a nuclear weapons programme’ including developing nuclear cores and preparing nuclear tests. To support the latter allegation, he provided scans of maps detailing five potential test locations in eastern Iran. Furthermore, he claims that despite Amad’s closure, the project continued in a devolved and both covert and overt way with the full knowledge of Iranian leaders and under the pretence that it was for scientific knowledge development. One cannot dismiss such evidence. The evidence was lacking in  quantity but it was supportive nonetheless. When taking this evidence into consideration, his point that Iran has lied could be considered compelling.

However, this evidence and knowledge has been in the public domain for many years. Concerns about Project Amad and nuclear weapons, deriving from official documents, are not ground-breaking in the slightest. It is of course concerning, but Netanyahu is essentially regurgitating old knowledge. This knowledge was reported on by international journalists at the time. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the ‘nuclear watchdog’ with whom Netanyahu said he would share these documents, had their own concerns over Iran and nuclear weapons. However, they were addressed at the time and in the years following. Yes, Iran did lie about the intentions and activities of Project Amad and subsequent nuclear ambitions. However the IAEA conducted their own investigation and by the time it came to signing the JCPOA in 2015, there was confidence that Iran were no longer pursuing the development of nuclear weapons. We knew this and the world knew this. Netanyahu is not offering us anything more.

Unlike the wealth of documentation supporting claims that Project Amad and its subsequent activities do show nuclear weapons development, Netanyahu failed to prove that Iran are still lying. He believes that holding such knowledge of nuclear development and “advanced work on weaponization” shows that Iran are continuing with their nuclear weapons ambitions. In his eyes the JCPOA nuclear deal “gives Iran a clear pass to an atomic arsenal” through allowing them to continue uranium enrichment and failing to address Project Amad and any other subsequent development of nuclear weapons. He does not provide anything substantive to support this.

Conclusions

Netanyahu delivered what he believed was a ‘ground-breaking’ presentation that addressed issues previously unaddressed or acknowledged. However, this was not the case. There has been an awareness of Iran’s nuclear activities by the international community and that this supposedly top-secret documentation has been known about and is nothing new. What Israel’s premier presented did indeed show a contradiction between the denials of nuclear weapons development by Iranian leadership and what was actually happening. Whilst the presentation may have raised legitimate concerns, it was no turning point.

It is important to be aware of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s own perceptions of Iran and place this presentation in a wider geopolitical context. He refers to Iran as a “terrorist regime” and expresses his distrust and disdain for Iran’s leadership. The presentation concluded with his opinion on the JCPOA and his belief that President Trump would do “the right thing” and withdraw from the nuclear deal. Stating that he would share the gathered intelligence with other countries and the IAEA, he said that “the United States [could] vouch for its authenticity”. In the ten days that have followed the presentation, President Trump has withdrawn from the deal and tensions have heightened between Israel and Iran. It appears that Netanyahu’s big presentation was successful.

Who is the new Home Secretary?

Sajid Javid has been named the new Home Secretary following Amber Rudd’s resignation. Long thought to be politically dead due to his disagreements with Theresa May, he is now a favourite to be the next Prime Minister. His story is the ideal Conservative party tale: the son of Pakistani immigrants, who arrived in Britain with nothing, who is now a cabinet member. But who is this man and where does he stand with regards to the issues that the NCF tackles?

Faith

Javid has consistently referred to his ‘Muslim heritage’, and at times referred to himself as a Muslim. However, more recently he has declared that he no longer practices the faith. That being said, he has argued that faith is ‘undoubtedly a force for good’. He has regularly called for people of differing faiths to come together, claiming without this willingness to integrate, resentment will rise. Whilst these are promising statements, Javid has claimed that ‘Christianity is the religion of the UK’. Not a wholly controversial statement but it could alienate non-Christians. Furthermore, Javid has close connections with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). The AEI is a neo-conservative think tank with controversial members such as former Vice-President Dick Cheney and anti-Islam activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. There are concerns that this connection suggests an unwillingness to truly improve inter-faith relations.

The Middle East

Javid has been a staunch supporter of Israel, regularly criticising the BDS movement. He has said that if he had to move to the region he would only go to Israel as it is the only country where his children can feel ‘the warm embrace of freedom and liberty’. He has remained silent on the Palestinian issue. He has always voted for greater military interventions in the Middle East: voting for an extension to military operations in Afghanistan in 2010, the no-fly zone in Libya in 2011, and for air strikes in Iraq and Syria in 2014 and 2015 respectively. He also voted against waiting for the UN council to act in Syria and against the investigations into the Iraq war. His views on the Middle East line up near-perfectly with mainstream neo-conservative thought. However, his stance on Iran does go against this thinking. He has called for improving business ties with Iran in the wake of the UK leaving the EU. He has argued that improved business ties would not be ignoring the issues Iran presents Britain, but would be a means of solving them.

Immigration and Counter-Terrorism

A major reason as to why he has been chosen for the role of Home Office is because of his story. He has, very effectively, spoken of his outrage at the Windrush scandal, arguing that his family could well have been one of those affected. He does differ somewhat with Theresa May as he is against the idea of an arbitrary reduction of net migration to less than 100,000 and believes in removing students from this equation. However, despite his heritage and identity he has struck a very traditionally neo-conservative stance regarding the issue of immigration and counter-terrorism. He has supported the controversial ‘Prevent’ program after claims that it was unfairly targeting Muslim communities. He has voted to keep the 28 days without sentencing for suspected terrorists. He has also voted against improving asylum seeker applications. His voting behaviour regarding immigration suggests he will continue the work his predecessors began, in spite of what he has said in the press.

Final Thoughts

Sajid Javid is a traditional neo-conservative, supporting aggressive immigration and counter-terrorism policies and with a military mind set regarding the Middle East. What will be interesting is how he plays his role. Many analysts have pointed to his political ambitions and his frayed relationship with Theresa May. He will certainly be eyeing the Prime Ministerial position. Javid has not hesitated to use the current political climate in order to further his goals, and he has not been afraid to speak out against Theresa May in the past. In view of Theresa May’s seemingly weakening position, it will be interesting to see if he decides at some point to deviate from the party line. However, it is unlikely that any such deviations will be concerning Middle East related issues.

Pakistan: March of the Pashtuns

In recent months, a new movement has emerged on Pakistan’s political stage. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), or the Pashtun Protection Movement, rose to prominence following the extrajudicial killing of a Pashtun shopkeeper, Naqeebullah Mehsud by Karachi police in January 2018.

The Pashtuns are the second-largest ethnic group in the country, mostly living in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region in the western part of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since the war on terror began, the dangerous FATA landscape has been a hotbed for militancy and insurgency, with Pakistan’s Armed Forces conducting various military operations to rid these areas from terrorists.

Unfortunately, as a consequence, the Pashtun community has bore the brunt of Pakistan’s military operations. The Pashtun population suffered the most as a result of the war on terror in Pakistan, with thousands killed over the years in terror attacks, military operations and American drone strikes in the tribal region. This has rendered a large population of Pashtuns disaffected and displaced.

Tensions have long been simmering in the Pashtun community. Tired of being subject to discriminatory policies, marginalisation and decades of state oppression, on April 8, the PTM held their largest mass demonstration to date. Despite a media blackout on the movement’s activities, the PTM is gaining attention and popular support amongst young Pashtuns. More than 60,000 protesters rallied in the city of Peshawar, challenging the Punjabi-dominated state and the military, peacefully calling for the protected rights of Pashtuns as citizens of Pakistan.

Whilst their grievances are many, their main demands call for the release of missing persons and political prisoners, an end to extrajudicial killings and the humiliating treatment and harassment at security checkpoints under the pretext of search operations, and the removal landmines in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Moving forward, the government of Pakistan and by extension, the army should constructively engage with the leaders of the PTM and seek to address their concerns. Pakistan can only move forward as a nation if all ethnic groups are afforded fair and equal treatment. To achieve this, Pakistan must address the legitimate concerns raised by the Pashtun community. Pakistan is no stranger to a disgruntled ethnic minority and should be all too aware of what could transpire if these concerns are dismissed, having previously parted with East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh. Pakistan should, therefore, be extremely careful in how they handle this situation lest history repeats itself, with the country witnessing another partition, but this time with a Pashtun majority calling for a separate nation of their own.

Is it time for the UK to recognise the state of Palestine?

Palestinian prospects for self-determination continue to dwindle. International calls for a two-state solution are becoming increasingly infrequent. 2017 and 2018 have been excellent years for Israel. US President Donald Trump has decided to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, a city which (in the absence of a peace settlement) cannot be recognised as the capital of Israel without the direct violation of international law. And Israel’s settlement program continues to take more and more land from the Palestinians, also in direct violation of international law. Meanwhile, the recent protests in Gaza have been met with the killing of over forty Palestinian demonstrators, in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The international community remains apathetic with regard to the situation and the British response to the current crisis in Gaza has been tepid at best.

However, there is still a glimmer of hope for Palestinian self-determination. Indeed as long as there are Palestinians in Palestine, showing their willingness to continue to fight for their future, hope remains. What is required to turn this hope into something more tangible is a statement of intent from the British Government: a willingness to turn a vague ‘position’ of backing for a two-state solution into a more tangible policy. Britain should recognise the State of Palestine.

Britain remains influential, especially in Europe and the Middle East. Britain’s recognition of Palestine would have a greater effect on the world stage than when countries like Sweden made the same declaration a few years ago. Mainstream European politics has become more pro-Palestine in recent decades. Furthermore, the former policy of ‘follow the US’ lead’ can no longer as easily continue with the unpredictable and diplomatically brash Trump in power. If powerful countries can show they are willing to step out from under the US’ shadow, it will encourage a disillusioned Palestine and, perhaps, caution an Israel that is becoming bolder and bolder.

Beyond the moral argument, recognition might also create tangible political benefits for the UK. The UK’s willingness to ignore Israel’s human rights abuses weakens Britain’s ability to apply international pressure elsewhere. The UK criticising Iran’s oppression of freedom of belief whilst providing tacit support to Israel’s human rights violations in regard to Palestinians’ freedom to demonstrate is viewed as hypocritical by some. Relations between the UK and countries in the region would improve if Britain could point to tangible efforts to improve the lives of Palestinians. At the very least, it would remove an excuse that is often put forward by the West’s opponents, such as Iran, to justify their behaviour. At a more micro level, the UK’s stance on the Israel-Palestine situation is certainly a factor that leads young, disillusioned men to be swept up by Islamic fundamentalism. Terror groups feed off of a portrayal of Muslims and the West as incompatible, often citing our hypocrisy regarding Israel as evidence.

How far we are from such a declaration of the recognition of Palestine is difficult to say. Only one of the major parties within the UK does not plan to recognise Palestine as a nation state. Unfortunately, that party is the incumbent Conservatives. However, quite possibly there are enough conservative MPs in favour of recognition that, if put to a parliamentary vote, Britain would indeed recognise Palestine.

Evidently, such a bill will not be drawn up by Theresa May’s current cabinet. Israel remains a powerful ally with tremendous influence on Britain’s government.

In the government’s eyes, the potential benefits of upsetting the status-quo do not yet outweigh the potential costs. However, Britain’s claim to be a supporter of Human Rights becomes shallow whilst it continues to give de facto support to the current actions of Israel.

Watching today’s Iran – the situation as I see it

The following is written by NCF Secretary General William Morris and is based on a discussion with Dr Mehrdad Khonsari and friends at the ‘Iranian Centre for Policy Studies’.

Today’s Iran has four distinct political groupings: The pragmatists, the reformists, the traditionalists and the radicals. The traditionalists and the radicals are sometimes grouped together and called ‘principalists’. Thus:

  1. Pragmatists: include President Hassan Rouhani and ex-President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
  2. Reformists: include ex-President Mohammad Khatami and are generally loyal to the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, Hussein Khomeini
  3. Traditionalists: include the speaker of parliament, Dr Ali Larijani
  4. Radicals: include former President Ahmadinejad.

It is important to note that it was the pragmatists and the reformists that brought Rouhani to power. He was not supported by the ‘principalists’, i.e. the traditionalists and the radicals. Interestingly, however, Rouhani is trying to distance himself from the reformists; a stance that he undoubtedly thinks will strengthen his hand given the fact that America is becoming more hard-line. His worry for the future must be that in the 2021 Presidential Elections, to choose his successor, the Iranian establishment will decide to face a hardliner in Trump with a hardliner and back Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Soleimani has become something of a superstar in Iran and has political ambitions. Taking the long view, if Trump wins a second term in 2020, which seems a strong possibility, then Soleimani may become the next President of Iran. These developments in Iranian politics disturb many of Iran’s moderates who are attempting to do all they can to keep all those who are pro-modernisation, i.e. the pragmatists and the reformists, as one political bloc.

Saudi Arabia

On the Saudi Arabian question opinions are divided in Iran. Clearly the Sunni-Shiite divide in the Middle East is of concern to many. The radicals, and some of the traditional conservatives, think that Iran must take actions that change the attitude of the Saudis by standing up to them more provocatively. President Rouhani, on the other hand, thinks that the way forward is to use diplomatic channels. However, some in the reformist bloc think that the diplomatic avenue has failed and would like to introduce some new tougher measures against Saudi Arabia, whilst keeping the diplomatic channel open.

Syria

Some of the radicals and a good many of the traditionalists think Iran’s situation in Syria is outstanding. The reformists, on the other hand, think the situation is bad. They think the Syrian adventure puts Iran at the mercy of the Russians, on whom they become increasingly dependent, particularly at the United Nations where they need the Russian veto. They feel they need an exit strategy.

On the apparent use of chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Iran finds itself in a difficult position. Many Iranians lost relatives to chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war. Indeed at least 100,000 people were killed in chemical warfare with Iraq, many of them very young. If the Iranian population believed for one moment that President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, then the pressure on the Iranian establishment to stop supporting Assad in Syria would be immense. For this reason, Iran’s media does not even give a moment’s space to the idea that Bashar al-Assad may have used chemical weapons.  Any reference to the possibility is treated as mere propaganda.

The Nuclear Deal

The Iranian nuclear deal with the West, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is approved of and supported by the pragmatists, the reformists and the traditionalists but not by the radicals, who oppose it wholeheartedly. If President Trump decides to not sign the waiver on sanctions on May 12th it will strengthen the hand of the radicals.

Most Iranian intellectuals think the reason the nuclear deal with the United States and the West happened in the first place was because the US had become convinced sanctions were not going to work. As regards a way forward on this sensitive issue, the infighting between the different political factions in Iran has made this more difficult. There was a reformist suggestion that Iran should make a unilateral offer that for three years it would not increase the range of its missiles nor sell missiles to any third party. Their intention was that, though this was to be a unilateral measure, it would be handled in such a way that it was a precursor to a deal of some kind.  The reformists were disappointed when the Commander of the Revolutionary Guard, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, announced this policy in an off-hand manner without beating any drum, failing to give it its proper importance.

The Supreme Leader’s position is that Iran should adopt a policy of what he calls ‘heroic flexibility’. However, this is not likely to help much if, as expected, President Trump decides not to sign the waiver on sanctions on May 12th. The reason it won’t help is because Europe has lost its nerve and will string along with the American position. This means that Europe is no longer a key player as far as Iran is concerned. Iran feels it must either resolve the situation with the USA by reaching some sort of accommodation or prepare itself for more sanctions. Indeed, some of those with a negative outlook in Iran feel they must prepare themselves for a possible war with the United States three or four years down the line.

The consequence is an attitude from Iran whereby they feel that, in the aftermath of Trump’s presumed failure to sign the waiver on the 12th of May, they will give things a month’s grace to see if there is any possibility of signing. One month later, they will restart the six cascades in their Fordow facility. The centrifuge cascade is the machine used to enrich uranium. As part of the JCPOA, Iran agreed to run two of the cascades “without uranium” (i.e. for the production of isotopes for medical use) whilst four would remain idle, thus weakening Iran’s nuclear program. The restarting of these cascades would restart the push for Iranian self-sufficiency in regard to the production of nuclear fuel once again.

From this new position, Iran would wait another month and then release a statement along the lines of ‘we will stop if you honour and observe your side of the agreement’. If things continue to go nowhere, Iran will go flat out to produce all of their own nuclear fuel. There are those amongst the Iranian establishment who are even threatening to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But that seems unlikely given Iran’s Supreme Leader’s abhorrence of weapons of mass destruction, as declared in his famous fatwa on the matter.

Attitudes to America

The chants of ‘death to America’ and ‘death to Israel’ at Friday prayers continue in some of the big mosques. The reformists have been pushing for an end to this practice, which they regard as dishonourable. However, presumably because the reformists take this stance, the radicals continue to back this practice of chanting words of hate, just to irritate the reformists. There is a school of thought that suggests that if the ‘principalist’ wing of traditionalists and radicals actually did return to power they might stop the chanting taking place.

Supreme Leader Khamenei thinks President Trump is better for Iran than President Obama was. He found Obama hard to understand. He regarded him as having an iron fist in a velvet glove. Trump, however, he does understand. He thinks of Iran as having had its own Trump in President Ahmadinejad and he regards men of this kind as straightforward and easy to deal with. Interestingly, the Supreme Leader does not consider Saudi Arabia as an enemy. The Supreme Leader’s enemies are the USA, Israel and Russia. His gravest concerns, internationally, in order of priority are:

  1. The USA
  2. Israel
  3. Chaos in the region
  4. The New World Order

Thus, we have the paradox. Saudi Arabia thinks of Iran as its greatest enemy, whereas Iran, from the standpoint of the Supreme Leader, does not think of Saudi Arabia as an enemy.

Israel

Iran does not think there will be a war with Israel. This is because Iran believes that both Iran and Israel are careful to observe each other’s red lines. That is not to say that Israel will not attack Iranian positions in Syria, but there are limits beyond which Israel will not go. Furthermore, Iran does not think that Israel has the military strength to attack Iran at home, even with Saudi Arabian co-operation. In any case the Supreme Leader has given the command of any response, should Iran be attacked, to the Revolutionary Guard. They have made it privately clear to Israel that their immediate response would be a missile attack on Israel. Iran is, therefore, quite confident that there can be no war between Iran and Israel unless the United States of America is fully engaged.

Interestingly, Iran has often made commitments in second-track dialogue to suggest that, if it had true rapprochement with America, it would then devote its energy to supporting a Middle East peace process that engaged Israel and the Palestinians. However, given the fact that the US-Iran relationship had softened under Obama, and Iran failed to deliver on Middle East peace at that point, it would seem this has proved a hollow promise.

The succession

If Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, dies tomorrow (or ‘steps down’ to use the polite Iranian expression) then the probability is that Saeed Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the first Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, will become Supreme Leader, given that he has the support of President Rouhani.

That said, the official procedure, constitutionally, is that the body known as the ‘Assembly of Experts’ chooses the successor. They are all predominantly conservative and many of them take a radical position in Iranian politics.

Another factor, of course, is the immense power of the Revolutionary Guard. They may wish to see former Attorney General Ebrahim Raisi or speaker of parliament, Dr Ali Larijani chosen for this post. Of course there is one other dimension. Should the current Supreme Leader die slowly rather than suddenly, he may nominate his own successor (as did the first Supreme Leader). In which case, all bets are off and the next Supreme Leader could be any confidante close to the existing Supreme Leader, even someone from left-field like Ayatollah Seyed Safavi.

Civil Unrest

Civil society is in no position to bring down the government of Iran. That said, curiously, Iran is one of the few countries in the Middle East whose society would accept secular government should circumstances permit. This is because many Iranians would find a change refreshing after years of religious government. Not that there is any prospect of this happening, and certainly not whilst Supreme Leader Khamenei remains alive. The Revolutionary Guard is totally under Khamenei’s control as is the entire Iranian establishment. Khamenei is quite skilled and Machiavellian in his approach. He understands that he shouldn’t control everything. Instead, he controls key figures. He likes to control those that recruit or promote senior people. Thus, for example, he considers it important to have the loyalty of the ‘Assembly of Experts’. This approach leaves him totally in charge. Furthermore, Khamenei feels supremely confident. He regards himself as having defeated Daesh in Syria and Iraq and as being in a good situation in Afghanistan. He does not consider that he has problems.

Conclusion

The government of Iran may have doubts about the future, but the actual leadership, in the shape of the Revolutionary Guard establishment and the Supreme Leader, feels confident. Perhaps brashly, it considers itself able to face any challenge the world throws its way and retains its simplistic ‘if you love me I will love you and if you hate me I will hate you’ approach to international affairs. Given the levels of hubris and testosterone being manifest at a superficial level, in both in great world leaders like Trump and Putin as well as great regional leaders like Mohammed bin Salman and Bashar al Assad, this does not bode well for the future. What is encouraging is that those that are pro-modernisation, including Rouhani, remain centre stage when it comes to Iran’s interface with the international world. As long as that remains the case, there is real hope for the future. It is interesting to note that levels of human rights abuse in Iran are less unsavoury than they were in Ahmadinejad’s day, though there are still appalling problems to be addressed. Iran is becoming a better place than it once was. It is to be hoped that the world does not drive it back into a corner yet again.

William Morris, Secretary General, The Next Century Foundation