Tlaib and Omer / Trump and Bibi

Paul Scham submits the following to the NCF. Paul Scham is a scholar at MEI and the executive director of the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland, where he teaches courses on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The views expressed in this article are his own:

The current Rashida Tlaib/Ilhan Omar debacle has received more attention from every quarter than virtually anything other than a war. All the usual suspects have weighed in with (mostly) predictable comments, generally in the context of the long-running “special relationship” between Israel and the U.S. The two domestic political contexts are often mentioned only in passing.

With all respect to those who have tried to take a longer or strategic view, I would suggest that it really boils down to the political calculations of just two men, President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, each of whom is adored by the other’s base voters, and the desperate (yes, desperate) attempts by each to use the other to burnish their right-wing credentials. The resulting media storm was likely welcomed by both, as neither has much interest in what the writers of The New York Times or Haaretz — and all their ilk — have to say.

Bibi Netanyahu is the most desperate, and his actions can only be understood with reference to the current Israeli political scene and the Knesset election coming up on Sept. 17. His Likud Party has been running virtually neck-and neck in the polls with Kahol Lavon (the hastily-organized Blue-White Party) at about 30 Knesset seats each, out of a total of 120. The party with the most seats — no party has ever won a majority — is normally invited by the president to have first crack at forming a government, and Bibi needs that to be the Likud. His calculation is that the only place to get more voters is from those to the right of Likud, who may currently be planning to vote for one of several ultra-nationalist parties. He needs to burnish his nationalist credentials to attract them, and he is doing everything he can to get them to take notice. Allowing Tlaib and Omar to visit — something he would probably have routinely approved at any other time — would be seen by them, exactly as President Trump tweeted, as a show of “weakness.”

The fact that Trump clearly advocated that they be barred also represented a further chance for Bibi to identify himself with the American president his potential voters regard as the best friend Israel has ever had. By contrast, there would be no political gain where it counted to turn down the president’s advice, and every reason to tie himself to Trump’s coattails. It was a no-brainer.

AIPAC — very unusually — criticized Bibi’s act, because it undercuts the bipartisanship it has attempted to maintain since its founding. But Bibi has no use for bipartisanship when it may chip away at his electoral prospects. Just as important is the fact that he — at least if he wins — will have to help energize Trump’s base for 2020, since he is a hero to most of it. Trump also has no use for bipartisanship, something he has made clear time and again.

This is not a political “mistake” as many have termed it; rather, it is the result of cold political calculation. Bibi’s desperation is largely based on the fact that he not only wants to hold onto his office, but also that he has every expectation that he will be indicted on corruption charges shortly after the election. As prime minister, he can ram through a bill giving himself immunity, and then neutralize the Israeli Supreme Court when it declares the immunity unconstitutional. As leader of the opposition, he is powerless.

Trump likewise needs Bibi to be prime minister, though not so desperately. As prime minister, Bibi can energize Trump’s evangelical base, likely unconstrained by any of the usual non-interference norms of international relations. That would be a lot harder to do if he is fighting to stay out of jail. He will owe Trump big time — and will be more than happy to pay off.

Nor is Bibi truly afraid of what Tlaib and Omar might publicize, as Peter Beinart suggests. I have no doubt that Bibi genuinely believes in the righteousness of his cause. Moreover, the situation of West Bank Palestinians has been publicized innumerable times, so that there is little new that they could say. In any case, Tlaib and Omar have been so tarred with anti-Israel and alleged anti-Semitic prejudice that no one except their existing supporters will regard them as impartial.

This event is not a watershed and will likely only rate a footnote — if that — in any history of Israeli-U.S. relations. It is a sign of the times and the current trends, including diminishing Democratic rank-and-file support for the close relationship with Israel, will continue. But this affair is at base a tawdry political drama in which Tlaib and Omar are pawns, orchestrated by two men whose own political goals trump any considerations of statesmanship or national interest.

Cutting Knife Crime – the way forward

By William Morris, Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation, formerly candidate for Police Commissioner, Devon and Cornwall

Knife crime is the scourge of British cities. Violent crime in general, including rape and family abuse, and knife crime in particular, has had a steady year on year increase since 2014 and is now at previously unimagined levels. Never at any time in our modern history has cruel, brute violence been such a feature of British society. And much of it is perpetrated by young people, some of whom are disadvantaged by poverty and poor levels of education. Our children need hope, and their lack of a sense of belonging in our modern multi-faceted world is a disease we have all allowed to fester. We have nobody to blame but ourselves.

The solutions to the symptoms of societal breakdown reflected in greater knife crime are:

  • Reduced school exclusions
  • Community Service delivered in place of arrest
  • Targeted zero tolerance policing

Then there is the catalyst that alcohol represents which is an issue that also must be addressed. But knife crime can be stopped. Of course, much knife and gun crime, especially in London, is often gang related rather than specifically alcohol related. However the culture of violence must be addressed as a whole.

Could we reduce school exclusions, and would doing so matter, would it impact knife crime levels and the “school to jail pipeline”? Here the evidence is simple. Just compare cities. A mere ten years ago Glasgow was the murder capital of Europe.  Now the famous Glasgow Violence Reduction Unit has slashed these levels of violence with measures which range from better police liaison with hospitals to placing chalk outlines of bodies in streets where knife crime was prevalent. And note that effective liaison between the emergency services means real liaison in which the emergency services meet – not a mere instruction to report incidents as per the latest UK government instruction. There is another factor however. A quarter of those who commit knife crimes have been excluded from school. Scotland had its fair share of school exclusions. But through concerted effort by all concerned these have dropped from a high of 292 in 2003 to a mere seven pupils in 2017. Compare England with its ongoing exponential rise to 7,720 school exclusions in 2017. Why for heaven’s sake? Well much of the blame rests on the shoulders of “academies” who can improve their rankings if they get rid of unruly pupils. How to deal with that? Simple. Regard academies that exclude pupils as failed schools. Reduce their ranking by 10% for every child permanently excluded. They would soon change their current practice. And knife crime figures would fall. Especially if we also deal severely with the associated and abysmal practice of ‘off-rolling’ where secondary schools use measures other than exclusion (e.g. encouraging children to “home school”) to try to remove pupils with challenging behaviour, or whose poor exam results might damage league table performances.

We next need community service dealt out at grass roots level – a very different sort of restorative justice. Countries like Holland and Bahrain, nations not noted for the most harmonious community relations, have made giant strides by adopting this approach. Indeed, Holland’s jails are so empty now that they rent space to neighbouring Belgium. We have experimented with this approach in Britain but have never adopted it fully. There was a little-known experiment conducted by a woman police constable in Brixham for a year or two. She coordinated with a local community project. Her approach was to say to the tearaway caught making mischief, “OK, your choice. Go and serve in the community project for a fortnight and we’ll say no more about it. But if you fail to turn up you will be charged and proceed through the criminal justice system.” And it worked. Youth crime was reduced.

Essentially, that is much the approach being adopted in Holland. And it has worked. Note the difference here. We have community service in the UK but it is doled out by the courts. What we need to see is community service given before and in place of entering the mainstream criminal justice system.

And what about Targeted Zero Tolerance Policing? Distasteful? Too American? Well it has worked where it has been applied. And surely if it works elsewhere it needs trying here. This is a way forward. In cities like Birmingham, paramedics are going to the same areas, the same streets, the same estates, day after day and night after night. The same applies to London, as highlighted by a group of Cambridge criminologists who have recently released a study confirming this is the case. As a consequence there are moves to target police resources to statistically more vulnerable areas. However, I want to suggest a very slightly different approach here. I would suggest increased levels of saturation zero tolerance policing in areas with the highest levels of all violent crime, that includes rapes, domestic violence, knife crime, everything. And zero tolerance means zero tolerance, yes including very high levels of stop and search under section sixty of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act – but not just targeting minorities as has been the case in the past. Or else you can end up criminalizing a social issue. Zero tolerance in a high violent crime area means zero tolerance of all criminal behavior, right down to the city slicker that cycles through a red light – the lot. The policy has to be seen to be nondiscriminatory. Would it help? Of course it would.

Then there is the alcohol issue. As a young man I served for more years than I can remember as a volunteer prison visitor in Swansea jail. The prisoners I visited were Category C prisoners in for violent crime (category C prisoners being those held in closed prisons who do not need maximum security). I would go in every Wednesday night and visit half a dozen prisoners in their cells. Rapists, people in for GBH, all sorts. And in all the years I visited, I never visited one prisoner who had not been tanked up on alcohol when they beat someone to a pulp – not once. Dr Christine Goodall of Medics Against Violence claims that more than 80% of assault victims in hospital emergency departments have been drinking, as have the people who assault them. You may dispute those figures. But that alcohol fuels violence including knife crime to some degree is a given. What can be done? Well minimum pricing for alcohol would be a start. These days a pint of beer costs about the same as a double whisky in many a pub. When I was a boy – Ok that’s a long time ago – drinking shorts in a round was severely anti-social because it was so blooming expensive. Another thing that needs dealing with is preloading. Kids tank up with cheap drink at home before their night on the town. One approach that has been piloted in parts of Devon is the breathalysing of people before they enter clubs and the refusal of admission to those over the limit (the #RU2Drunk scheme). At least some of the clubs seemed happy to cooperate. After all – more revenue for them if the drinking was done in the club rather than before people arrive. More thought must be given to the alcohol issue.

Does the above address drug and gang rivalry related knife crime which is often though not invariably conducted by people who are stone cold sober? Yes. Reducing our culture of violence does help. And alongside targeted zero tolerance policing, it makes life difficult for the gangs that are the scourge of some of our major cities. There is more to do. But we have to make a start.

Calling for an end to the “Pervasive horror” of knife crime as Prince Charles has done is exemplary. But now action is needed to respond to that call. We must give the next generation greater hope. We can do so. And to fail to do so is nothing short of a crime in itself.

There is not enough darkness in the world to put out the light of one small candle

The Stakes in Israel’s elections have Never Been Higher

Here at the NCF we view a Netanyahu victory in Israel’s forthcoming election rerun as virtually inevitable, but our friend Alon Ben-Meir has other ideas. For which click here or see below:

By Shabtai Shavit and Alon Ben-Meir

As Israel prepares for the parliamentary election in September, its second in five months, most national security experts, politically savvy individuals, and academics suggest that this election may well be the most critical since the year 2000. Since that time, the geopolitics and regional security have changed dramatically, which could lead either to regional conflagration or peace, which largely depends on who the next Israeli prime minister will be and the general political leaning of the new government.

There is a growing consensus among Israelis that if Prime Minister Netanyahu forms the next government, Israel will lose a historic opportunity to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement based on a two-state solution, in the context of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.

The question is, how to deprive Netanyahu and his Likud party of winning a relative majority that will allow him to form the next right-wing government—a government which would dangerously escalate regional tensions and forfeit any prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace for the foreseeable future.

The answer is that if Kahol Lavan (Blue and White Party), which was established last April and led by Gantz and Lapid, put the country’s national interests first by ending their personal squabbles, articulating a unity of purpose, and focusing only on national security – where they have an overwhelming advantage over Netanyahu – it can potentially defeat a Likud Party led by Netanyahu and form the next government.

Netanyahu, who is now the longest-serving prime minister since the founding of the state, has skillfully made his name synonymous with Israel’s national security. It is true that he has contributed to making Israel a regional power, but he failed to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace, which would provide the ultimate security for the state. Instead, he resorted to fearmongering, persuading a majority of Israelis that the Palestinians cannot be trusted and that a Palestinian state will pose the greatest menace to Israel’s long-term national security.

Now, Netanyahu is running again using the same sinister technique of fearmongering, presenting himself as “Mister Security” who alone can save the country from a perilous future. After serving 11 consecutive years as prime minister, however, Netanyahu has become ever more power-hungry and corrupt. He faces possible charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in connection with three cases. He is now fighting for his political life, hoping that his re-election will spare him from facing up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

As such, Netanyahu has now become a greater liability than an asset to Israel’s security. His vow to never to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state under his watch and his leaning toward the annexation of the West Bank will render Israel nothing short of a garrison and apartheid state living by the gun, which is to Israel’s detriment as an independent democratic state with a sustainable Jewish majority.

This is particularly worrisome at a time when the Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, have openly allied themselves with Israel against their common enemies — Iran and Global Jihad/Radical Islam — and clearly indicated their willingness to forge peace with Israel, once an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is achieved.

Kahol Lavan must now seize the unprecedented opportunity to deny Netanyahu another term by assuming the mantra of national security. They should dramatically change Israel’s trajectory toward peace with the Palestinians, even though they are avoiding speaking about a two-state solution which most of them privately embrace, provided that Israel’s security is not compromised now or at any time in the future.

Although Israel can militarily defeat any country or a combination of countries in the region, Israel has legitimate reasons to be concerned about its national security, which is embedded in the psyche of every Israeli. These concerns can be traced back to the Holocaust, decades of enmity from the Arab states, Iran and its surrogates’ (Hezbollah and Hamas) continuing existential threats, terrorism, and future uncertainty given the region’s instability and power rivalries.

By embracing national security, they entertain unquestionable superiority in matters of security over Netanyahu, which is a prerequisite to any peace. Lieutenant General Gantz and his colleagues, former Defense Minister and Lieutenant General Moshe Ya’alon and Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi have the credentials and enjoy tremendous credibility in safeguarding the country’s national security.

What is critically important, however, is that Israel’s ultimate national security rests on a permanent peace with the Palestinians. In any peace talks, they will insist that every measure must be taken to ensure the security of the state, without compromising the establishment of an independent Palestinian state that fully cooperates with Israel on all security matters.

The shifting political dynamic in the region, in addition to Egypt and Jordan’s peace with Israel, is that the majority of the Sunni Arab states recognize that Israel is the region’s superpower, with the most advanced technology, which these states desire. But above all, Israel’s military prowess provides the ultimate shield to protect them from Shiite Iran.

To be sure, Israel faces a critical crossroad and the stakes have never been higher. The leaders of Kahol Lavan stand an excellent chance to garner a relative majority and form a new coalition government with the center and left-of-center parties.

According to almost all polls, a majority of Israelis fully support the two-state solution. They want to be assured, however, that the state’s security will not be compromised with the creation of a Palestinian state but rather enhanced, especially if an Israeli-Palestinian peace is achieved in the context of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, as part of the new Middle East which is being built in front of our eyes.

Kahol Lavan, together with a block of the center-left parties, have a historic opportunity to realize it.

Shabtai Shavit is a former Director of Mossad.
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU.

A Statement from the new Premier of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Masrour Barzani, the new prime minister of the Kurdistan region of Iraq (pictured left above with the Baghdad government’s premier Adel Abdul Mahdi), has just sent us the following statement which was carried as an opinion article in the Washington Post:

After 16 years of upheaval in Iraq and five brutal years of war with the Islamic State terrorist group, a foe that imperiled all of humanity, we are embarking on a new journey toward building a stronger Kurdistan. The next four years will be a defining time for us, our neighbors and our allies in which we, the Kurdistan Regional Government, look past our recent traumas, consolidate our place in the region and secure a presence on the international stage. In short, we want to make a new start.
 
Last week, I formed a government to lead the Kurdistan region of Iraq. My mission is to change the way we do things, both at home and abroad. As prime minister, I will offer a different way of doing business that feeds off the challenges we’ve endured, builds on our achievements and responds to an evolving global dynamic.
 
The fight against the Islamic State, which we helped lead on behalf of the global community, has damaged us economically. The burden has become intolerable. The cost of war, federal budget cuts by the government in Baghdad and the mass movement of refugees to our lands has left us with billions of dollars in debt.
 
Throughout our hardships, we have remained a friend and ally of the West and a partner in the region. Since the Islamic State took over much of western Iraq and eastern Syria in mid-2014, we have shown that our fight against the terrorists was as much about protecting our allies as it was about safeguarding ourselves.
 
We have provided intelligence that has foiled terrorist attacks abroad and offered refuge to almost 2 million people fleeing persecution. We have clearly demonstrated our good faith as global citizens, sheltering Arabs, Kurds, Muslims, Yazidis, Christians, Turkmen and others. Ten kilometers from our parliament building is a thriving community of Christians, from all parts of the Middle East, who are building churches and worshiping in peace.
 
The cost of other refugees, however, is increasing and remains only partly funded. We cannot perform our role as hosts alone. We need to secure a future for the displaced and for ourselves, and we seek the help of our friends in the West in several ways.
 
Our challenges begin inside Iraqi Kurdistan, which has been our homeland throughout the ages. As prime minister, I will implement reforms that will adopt global best practices and bring accountability to all arms of our civil service and cabinet.
 
My government will create a diversified economy that delivers growing prosperity for all. We will enact legislation to make Kurdistan a welcoming and attractive location for investors. We will integrate and modernize our armed forces. And we will transform public services and tackle corruption to ensure that government serves the people, not the other way around. Engaging us politically and financially will be essential to this transformation, and I call on our friends to do so.
 
I will also take steps to reset the relationship between Irbil and Baghdad, which has remained fraught for the past 16 years. For most of that time we have essentially governed ourselves, though without breaking our tie with Iraq.
 
By agreement, we have received a quota of the Iraqi budget. But the allocations are rarely delivered in full. It is time for a more constructive and stable partnership with Baghdad. This week I made my first visit as prime minister to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, taking with me proposals to settle the disputes between us over oil, territory, budgets and the role of our armed forces. I want to ensure that our agreements are honored through a fair distribution of budget proceeds. A resolution would offer the bedrock for future cooperation. Our future is wedded to a secure and democratic Iraq.
 
In 2017, Iraqi Kurdistan held a referendum on independence. The ballot was nonbinding, but an overwhelming 93 percent of people voted in favor. While we would have welcomed greater support from the international community for our right to self-determination, our priority now is to create a strong, stable Kurdistan region anchored within the international community. We ask those whom we helped protect to acknowledge the constructive global role we have played by helping us build our economy.
 
Over many generations of conflict, every family in Iraqi Kurdistan has suffered a personal loss. We can no longer relinquish solidarity, or squander the sacrifices made by so many, through returning to the squabbling that plagued relationships between parties and neighbors.
 
We have many friends in the international community who wish us well, but it is time to do more. We reaffirm our role as honest brokers trusted by all. We do this through the prism of true friendship, having displayed our steadfast support for the interests of our allies, including the United States, and a commitment to democratic values. We need our friends to help us start again.

What is American policy toward Iran right now? Strategic belligerence?

Above is the latest take on Iran as broadcast on Hala London Radio by the Next Century Foundation’s Secretary General, William Morris. Meanwhile, Stafford Clarry, our senior member in Iraq, highlights a response by Wendy R. Sherman, the lead American negotiator on the nuclear agreement, and a former State Department ambassador to Isaac Chotiner’s question in the New Yorker when asked:  “What is your sense of American policy toward Iran right now? Do you see any rhyme or reason, or anything that could even be called strategic belligerence?”

I do not think there is a coherent policy or strategy regarding Iran. I think President Trump made a commitment during the campaign to withdraw from the deal. His then [team] all believed he should not. When they all departed, his new team supported his withdrawing from the deal. Within that new team, I would say we have the never-saw-a-war-he-didn’t-want-to wage national-security adviser, John Bolton. We have a chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who pretty much endorses everything the President says. We have an acting Secretary of Defense [Patrick Shanahan, who withdrew from the confirmation process on Tuesday] who clearly doesn’t have a voice in this Administration, it appears. And we have a Secretary of State [Mike Pompeo] who may think he is trying to bring nuance to this policy, but seems to be pursuing a path which, either intentionally or by accident, may take us to war.

Trump’s better deal with Iran will probably look a lot like Obama’s

Stafford Clarry, our senior NCF member in Iraq, pointed out this article from Politico by Nahal Toosi. The point being that Iran appears to be ready to negotiate, and the Trump team claim they are ready to negotiate. But it would seem that the White House is very reluctant when it comes down to the wire, to actually engage in the substantive second track discussions that are necessary. (Politico is a free political newsletter accessible on this link)

Donald Trump has long trashed the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement as “the worst deal ever,” a “disaster” that didn’t cover nearly enough of the Islamist-led country’s nefarious behavior.

In recent weeks, however, the president has indicated that the Barack Obama-era deal might not be so bad after all.

Trump has repeatedly urged Iran to engage in negotiations with him, while saying that Tehran’s nuclear ambitions are his chief concern — “A lot of progress has been made. And they’d like to talk,” Trump asserted Tuesday at the White House. His aides and allies, meanwhile, have recently suggested that Iran and other countries should follow the guidelines of a deal they themselves have shunned as worthless.

At times, analysts and former officials say, it sounds like Trump wants to strike a deal that essentially mirrors the agreement that his White House predecessor inked — even if he’d never be willing to admit it. Iranian officials seem willing to egg him on, saying they’ll talk so long as Trump lifts the sanctions he’s imposed on them and returns to the 2015 Iran deal. And as European ministers warn that the existing deal is nearly extinct, Trump may feel like he is backed into a corner and running out of options.

“Trump got rid of the Iran nuclear deal because it was Barack Obama’s agreement,” said Jarrett Blanc, a former State Department official who helped oversee the 2015 deal’s implementation. “If you were to present to Trump the same deal and call it Trump’s deal, he’d be thrilled.”

The administration’s confusing messaging is a result of warring between two major factions, U.S. officials say, with Trump in his own separate lane. The infighting has been deeply frustrating to those involved in the debate. “In the past, even when I personally disagreed with a policy, I could explain its logic,” a U.S. official said. “Now I can’t even do that.”

Trump quit the nuclear deal in May 2018, reimposing sanctions the U.S. had lifted on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. He said the deal should have tackled Iran’s non-nuclear activities, such as its sponsorship of terrorist groups, and blasted the expiration dates on some of its clauses.

For a year afterward, Iran continued to abide by the deal’s terms, hoping that the other countries involved — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — could offer Tehran the economic relief Trump had taken away. But as that relief has failed to materialize, Iran has begun backing away from its commitments.

Tehran recently breached limits on its enrichment and stockpiling of uranium and has promised more infractions in the coming months. The U.S. has also accused Iran of attacking several international oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, and the Pentagon has sent warships and more troops to the region in response.

As tensions have spiked, one voice pushing for a deal has been Trump.

He’s said he’s “not looking for war,” wants to talk to Iran without preconditions and isn’t interested in regime change. He called off a military strike on Iran over its downing of an unmanned U.S. drone, overriding the advice of several top aides. His main public demand is that Iran not build nuclear weapons. In return, Trump has offered to help revive Iran’s sanctions-battered economy.

To observers, that sounds suspiciously like the 2015 deal.

“They can’t have a nuclear weapon,” Trump said Tuesday. “We want to help them. We will be good to them. We will work with them. We will help them in any way we can. But they can’t have a nuclear weapon.”

Trump occasionally nods to other disputes with Iran, such as its funding of militia groups, ballistic missile testing and Tehran’s support of rebel forces in Yemen, but nuclear weapons dominate his rhetoric.

In June, Jackie Wolcott, the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency — the body that inspects Iran’s nuclear program under the 2015 agreement — called on Iran to stick to the deal after an IAEA inspection report detailed a disputed potential violation.

“Iran has claimed that it continues to comply with the JCPOA, but it is now reported to be in clear violation of the deal,” Wolcott said, referring to the agreement’s official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “This should be of great concern to all of us. The United States calls on Iran to return to compliance without delay.”

Afterward, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus faced questions about why the U.S. wants Iran to adhere to a deal that it has claimed doesn’t truly constrain its nuclear ambitions.

“I don’t think it’s contradictory in the fact that we have stated very loudly since the beginning of this administration that we do not want the Iranian regime to get a nuclear weapon,” Ortagus said. “We think it would be disastrous for the Middle East. I — we haven’t changed our position.”

In a statement to POLITICO, a State Department official called the JCPOA “a flawed deal because it did not permanently address our concerns with respect to Iran’s nuclear program and destabilizing conduct. The U.S. is seeking a deal with Iran that comprehensively addresses the regime’s destabilizing behavior — not just their nuclear program, but also their missile program, support to terrorism, and malign regional behavior.”

Several European officials express astonishment at the audacity of the Trump administration demanding that Iran adhere to the deal when the U.S. the one who breached the agreement in the first place. Some said they were not surprised that Iran may have taken actions in the Persian Gulf as payback for the U.S. abandonment of the deal.

Europeans “know that the original sin causing the current escalation in the Gulf is the U.S. violation of the Iran nuclear deal,” said Nathalie Tocci, an adviser to European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. “At the same time, they are terribly concerned about the escalation and the threat it poses to the Middle East and to Europe itself.”

U.S. officials and outside observers say there appear to be two main competing factions inside the Trump administration when it comes to Iran policy.

Both camps are convinced that Iran’s Islamist regime is a bad actor in the Middle East. Neither particularly cares for the nuclear deal, either, viewing it as too weak a document.

But one group, led by national security adviser John Bolton, is simply more hardline than the other.

Bolton, who has previously called for regime change in Iran, and his supporters appear determined to kill the deal and heap on sanctions, erasing Iran’s ability to trade beyond its borders. Their version of what the administration calls a “maximum pressure campaign” seems to aim for a major reckoning in Iran, though they demure on whether that could involve a U.S.-led ouster of the regime or would simply set the stage for ordinary Iranians to revolt.

The other group appears to not have a visible leader, but it seems willing to allow the nuclear deal to tenuously remain intact, while ramping up economic sanctions that starve the regime of resources. This group, for instance, is hoping for the success of a European financial mechanism built to help Iran more easily obtain non-sanctioned goods, thus possibly helping sustaining the deal in hobbled form. That way, the group argues, Iran can’t race toward a nuclear weapon, but it also will be unable to spend as much funding militias and terrorist groups in the region.

A second U.S. official said one main difference between the two groups is that Bolton-led crew has no desire to make any sort of deal with Iran, while the other side believes that under enough pressure, Iran would be willing to negotiate a new, better agreement than the one in 2015.

“Bolton thinks he’s playing the longer game. That he can’t leave this administration having given an inch on Iran,” the official said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is generally believed to be in the camp that wants a deal, but he’s also laid out a set of 12 conditions on Iran that are so broad they may be damaging the odds of talks. A third U.S. official who confirmed the outlines of the internal debate said Pompeo may be worried about his future in the Republican Party and whether engaging in any sort of negotiation with Iran could damage it.

The result is a cacophony of voices speaking for the administration, including some out of sync with Trump.

“We’ve got very different messages because they don’t seem to have the same end goals,” the first U.S. official said of the various Trump aides involved. “We’re studiously ignoring ‘the deal that shall not be named’ in our official talking points, but in the same breath demanding that Iran adhere to conditions that were part of the deal.”

Blanc, the Obama administration official, said what Trump seems to want is a grand show, the type that he’s gotten in his one-on-one meetings with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. But there are serious political risks for Iran’s leaders in meeting Trump, especially after the president walked away from a deal that was hard to sell to all of Iran’s competing political factions in the first place.

Trump, Blanc said, “has an instinctive understanding that he’s not going to get that pageant if Iran thinks he’s pursuing a regime change policy.”

Perhaps sensing this, Trump on Tuesday went out of his way to note that he didn’t want to oust the government in Tehran. “We’re not looking, by the way, for regime change because some people say [we are] looking for regime change,” he said. “We’re not looking for regime change.”

In the meantime, Iran appears determined to exploit the divisions within the Trump administration, as well as the fissures between the U.S. and Europe over the Iran deal.

Iran’s recent calculated breaches of its nuclear pledges are meant to increase pressure on the Europeans to find ways around U.S. sanctions. And Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif even uses Twitter to taunt the Trump team over these disagreements, lambasting the president’s top aides as the “B-Team.”

“As it becomes increasingly clear that there won’t be a better deal, they’re bizarrely urging Iran’s full compliance,” Zarif tweeted on July 8. “There’s a way out, but not with #B_Team in charge.”

The way out Zarif mentions? Presumably a U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Reflections on the confrontation with Iran

US Ambassador Mark G Hambley and William Morris of the Next Century Foundation discuss Iran in the third of three broadcasts from Springfield Massachusetts for Hala London Radio:

Is Corbyn an anti-Semite?

The following comes from Dr Neil Partrick, one of the Senior Fellows at the Next Century Foundation. Neil’s article is contentious but interesting. You may find the original on his blog at https://neilpartrick.com/

Anti-Semitism is not as big a problem in the UK Labour Party as it appears to be, judging by the amount of British media coverage of the issue. Nor is anti-Semitism as widespread in the party as some allege. It is true that the accusation of it against some on the pro-Corbyn left of the party, made most strongly by anti-Corbyn MPs, is in part a politically-motivated attempt to damage Mr Corbyn and his leadership. This can have the effect on the Corbynite Left of encouraging them to defensively kick against the hostility of the Labour ‘Right’, and maybe, just maybe….repeat, maybe….this explains the comments of pro-Corbyn MP Chris Williamson, for which he has today partially apologised.

To some it might seem that anti-Semitism is simply being confused with anti-Zionism. Sometimes it is, and that I too have a problem with. However it is actually, and increasingly, hard to separate the two issues. If Zionism is always unacceptable, in any form, to some on the Left, then it should be no more a concern to them than any kind of nationalism/national aspiration that is ethnically or religiously exclusive e.g. the aspiration for ethnic Kurdish nationhood (very popular among Kurds in parts of Iraq, Syria and Turkey, and supported by some in the west); the agitation for, creation of and maintenance of Pakistan, a self-defined exclusivist Muslim state. Or Arab nationalism, a banner that Nasser and others got behind in the ambition to mobilise one ethnicity, ostensibly on behalf of the Palestinians, against Israel (or rather ‘the Jews’ as their propaganda referred to) and in the process disregarding a whole host of Middle Eastern, non-Arab, minorities.

The same could be said of the official ‘Arab Ba’ath’ ideology of present day Syria and of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq: Arab chauvinism expressed via an ethnically exclusivist politics i.e. ethno-nationalism. The Muslim Brotherhood – recently in power in Egypt and still popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa, including in Palestine – is committed solely to establishing a form of political rule that unites Muslims under Islamic law (regardless of Christian Arabs et al). However I never hear people on the Far Left, or Jeremy Corbyn specifically, talk critically about them. In fact he has praised and shared platforms with the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas (whose charter still contains reference to the widely recognised anti-Semitic forgery, ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’), and shared platforms and praised Hizbollah (a Lebanese pro-Iranian group solely interested in advancing the interests of Shia Muslims, in Lebanon, Syria etc).
OK. Maybe this is just inconsistency, or (wilful) ignorance, or both. Maybe this isn’t cast iron proof of anti-Semitism. I really cannot see Jeremy Corbyn going home at night and sticking pins in a doll depicting a pot-bellied, bespectacled, gold chain-wearing, big-bearded, big-nosed, archetypal ‘Yid’. Yet he praised and defended an infamous mural with more or less this exact depiction of a Jew on it, even when this specific aspect was pointed out to him. In response to criticism of some young Leftist Labour activists who had referred to the power of ‘Jewish capitalists’/’Jewish capital’, he said that they’d let their anti-capitalist enthusiasm run away with them. Perhaps he would be as indulgent of Ernst Rohm and his anti-capitalist Nazi Brownshirts whom Hitler had purged. In a fairly recently unearthed clip of Jeremy speaking (prior to him becoming party leader) on a pro-Palestinian platform about Israel, he was found to respond to a critical question put to him by a British Jew, whom he presumably recognised, by saying that ‘they’ should have more of a sense of humour, and that ‘by now’ ‘they’ should know this country better. When some his followers in the party target anti-Corbyn Labour Jewish MPs and councillors with strongly pro-Palestinian messages on social media, they are choosing to focus on their ethnicity and to link that to a foreign issue. In doing so they are in effect portraying these British politicians as foreigners in their own country, just as Corbyn did when responding to an audience member in the clip I refer to above. Would they – do they – ever target non-Jewish political opponents (who’ve sympathised with Israel) in this manner?
The hostility to Israel easily overlaps on the left with hostility to US foreign policy and perceived disproportionate US armed action on Arab/Muslim states/targets. If Israel and the US are deemed to be wrong, then some on the Labour Left find it hard to be critical of a Middle Eastern enemy of Israel and the US. In the case of Iran, which in its most senior office of state institutionalises exclusive Shia political and spiritual authority, this reluctance even applies when some of the Iranian working class are striking over pay and conditions. It should also be noted that the Labour Party has long had a significant representation among Muslim Asians in the UK, usually, but not exclusively, of Pakistani heritage, among whom strong and sometimes highly conservative Islamic assertions can sometimes be found that hardly fit with the apparent politics of middle class socialists enthused about Corbyn.
Anti-Semitism, perhaps ironically, literally means to be an anti-Semite, a loose ethnic term, using perhaps spurious ethno-genetic classifications, that includes Arabs as well as Jews. In common and widespread parlance however, it means to be anti-Jewish. What is it to be ‘Jewish’? It is ostensibly an adherent of a particular monotheistic religion. However Jewishness plainly has a wide set of cultural identifiers, and to some extent ethnic identifiers, that apply to Jewish atheists too. It obviously isn’t the same thing as being ‘Israeli’, which is actually not a totally ethnically exclusive nationality, even if political and constitutional realities mean that it is very close to being so.

So, are Jeremy Corbyn and some of his allies anti-Semites? Well, the blithe and knowing disregard for causing collective offence, the prioritisation of factional political advantage over addressing such offence, and hostility to any territorial expression of Jewish national identity, but acceptance of other ethno or religious nationalisms, comes pretty close.