Secrecy in the Middle East; US Congress rebels

Until I read this article below I hadn’t realised there was a problem with transparency and the US over war in the Middle East. A problem with the US? This is surprising since all of the Middle East countries are accused of being less than transparent. This is what Bryant Harris in Al Monitor newslwtter had to say.

Congress rebels against Middle East war secrecy

 Article Summary

Fed up with increased restrictions on information and less on-the-ground access, some Democrats are seeking more transparency regarding the Donald Trump administration’s military operations throughout the region.

REUTERS/Hadi Mizban/Pool

Continue reading

Political amnesia in Washington

The Palestinian-Israeli crisis is becoming increasingly worse. Any hope of a peace accord is looking highly unlikely. Listening to the news you would think that the Palestinians are entirely to blame.

Khaled Elgindy from the Brookings Institute explains.

 Political amnesia in Washington: From the Nakba to the occupation

Within less than a generation, both the political significance of the Nakba and the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were all but forgotten in Washington, writes Khaled Elgindy. This piece originally appeared in Foreign Policy.

This week’s protests at the Gaza border were the largest—and deadliest — since Palestinians began what organizers have dubbed the “Great March of Return” some six weeks ago. The protests culminated on May 15, the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (“catastrophe”), during which most of Palestine’s Arab population was expelled from the British-mandated territory in the course of Israel’s creation. Approximately 70 percent of Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians are registered refugees from lands in what is now Israel.

Continue reading

UAE to bankroll restoration of Iraq's Great Mosque

There is a myth that Dubai, in the UAE, has a lot of money. This is not true since it is the emirate of Abu Dhabi that has the money, especially with its oil income. Certainly, the outlook for the oil price in 2018 is looking good forecast to sit at an average of about US $57 a barrel. A 5.7 per cent increase over 2017. Indeed, the price of Brent crude touched US $80 a barrel for the first time in about four years in early May.

So it is no surprise that the UAE has put its hands up for reconstructing Mosul’s Grand al-Nuri Mosque, famous for its eight-century-old leaning minaret, known as al-Hadba minaret (or hunchback) that was blown up by Islamic State militants last year. It will cost $50.4 million, at least.

This is what Adnan Abu Zeed from Al Monitor said about it.

 When the Al-Nouri Mosque and the adjacent al-Hadba minaret in Mosul were bombed by the Islamic State (IS) on June 21, 2017, many thought that the landmark mosque and its “hunchback” minaret most famous for its leaning structure were gone for good. 

But today, there is some hope of restoring both structures. The reconstruction of the mosque and the minaret will start in June, said Nofal Sultan al-Akoub, the governor of Iraq’s northern province of Ninevah, on May 6. 

Continue reading

NIAC: the US pulling out of the Iran deal

We can all speculate as to what may happen in the Middle East now that the US has pulled out of the deal designed to prevent Iran developing a nuclear programme.This is what the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) says about the US pulling out of the Iran deal.

Washington, DC – NIAC President Trita Parsi issued the following statement in response to reports that President Trump declared he would snap back all nuclear-related sanctions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, and impose new sanctions:

“Donald Trump has committed what will go down as one of the greatest acts of self-sabotage in America’s modern history. He has put the United States on a path towards war with Iran and may trigger a wider regional war and nuclear arms race.

“This is a crisis of choice. Trump has taken a functioning arms control deal that prevented an Iranian nuclear bomb and turned it into a crisis that can lead to war.

“This is not America first, this is Trump leasing out America’s foreign policy interests to the highest bidder. The only parties applauding this move are Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohammed Bin Salman, who have consistently chosen to undermine regional security to advance their own short-sighted political fortunes. Trump’s reckless decision is a betrayal of the national interests of the United States of America that could haunt us for generations.

Continue reading

Iran: religious titles lie at heart of political games

Increasingly, Iran is hitting the news. Will Trump scrap the nuclear deal? Is Iran worse then Saudi Arabia? They are both theocracies after all. I've heard arguments that the clerics don't have much say in Saudi Arabia. They do! This article in Al Monitor looks at the religious clerics there. It is by Rohollah Faghihi , an Iranian journalist.

In Iran, the robing ceremony of Ahmad Khomeini, the great-grandson of Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, has stirred some debate about the Shiite clergy. The traditional ceremony where he was given his turban comes against the backdrop of a process in which clerical titles in the country have increasingly come to be driven by political rather than scholarly considerations, with virtually all factions, parties and groups using ranks in the Shiite theological hierarchy for their own political purposes. But has it always been like this in Iran?

Before engaging in the debate on the politicization of clerical titles, it is perhaps best to explain their origins. In broad terms, Shiite clerics fall under five categories: Seqat al-Islam, Hujjat al-Islam, Hujjat-al-Islam wal-Muslemin, Ayatollah and Ayatollah al-Uzma.

Before the reign of the Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1979), titles like Ayatollah or Seqat-al-Islam were used chiefly as honorifics, albeit rarely and only with reference to a limited number of prominent Islamic scholars. For instance, Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni (864-941) was a well-known Shiite scholar and hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) collector. His important hadith collection Kitab al-Kafi, which is respected by both Sunnis and Shiites, earned him the honorific Seqat al-Islam, which means “Trusted by Islam.” Indeed, to this day, Islamic scholars commonly refer to Kulayni when mentioning the term Seqat al-Islam. There is also the example of Iranian-born Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali, one of the most prominent philosophers, jurists and mystics of Sunni Islam. He was often referred to as Hujjat al-Islam, which means “Proof of Islam.”

From the Qajar era (1794-1925) until the early Pahlavi period, many great scholars and high-ranking clerics in Iran were still referred to with simple titles, including the honorific “Sheikh,” which is used to refer to clerics who are not descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.

In 1921, Sheikh Abdolkarim Haeri Yazdi, a high-ranking teacher in the holy Iraqi city of Karbala who had established a successful seminary in the central Iranian city of Arak, established the Qom Seminary. Known as the “Founder Ayatollah,” he organized seminary affairs, including standardizing courses and ranks. Clerical titles have since gradually been employed to designate scholarly achievements. Of note, the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was one of Haeri Yazdi’s students.

Continue reading

Saudi King reiterates support for Palestine

In recent months we have seen the Arab Gulf countries getting closer to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular. This is not surprising. israel, the UAE and Saudi are all anti-Iran, for different reasons. Although Iran is Islamic it is Shi'ite- a brand of Islam that Sunnis- the UAE and Saudi in particular, detest.

Certainly from the UAE, and from Saudi too, you can't telephone Israel directly, they do do business with the each other. In fact, in the UAE I telephoned Israel and sent an email. The telephone rang and rang. At that stage I didn't realise that you couldn't contact Israel. I hear its the same in Saudi.

Given the complex dynamics between the various parties it's surprising that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, reportedly said to a group of Jewish Americans that it is time the Palestians accepted a peace agreement and that Israel should be entilted to live peacefully in its homeland. This happened in March it was reported. His father, King Salman, has commented that the Saudis stand behind Palestinian, according to a report by Reuters. Here is what he reportedly said.

Saudi king reiterates support for Palestinians after Israel comments

RIYADH (Reuters) - King Salman reiterated Saudi Arabia’s support for a Palestinian state after his son and heir apparent said Israelis were entitled to live peacefully on their own land - a rare statement by an Arab leader.

Continue reading

Billboards bashing social justice in Tel Aviv

BillIsrael is intriguing. We rarely hear about what goes on there, more often hearing about Palestine. What is interesting is the rise of the far right in that country, a phenemonon that the US and the West generally seldom speaks about. In this artice by Al Monitor we learn what is happening.

 Shlomi Eldar April 30, 2018

Article Summary

The far-right Im Tirzu group is behind a hate campaign targeting the US-based New Israel Fund.

The far-right movement Im Tirzu began a smear campaign against the New Israel Fund last week. The timing offers further evidence of the pivotal role Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plays in fanning flames of hate in Israel.

Continue reading

Talk of PLO restructuring

I’m curious as to what is happening in Palestine and the PLO. Not only have I visited the West Bank but I have also spoken with some of the leaders in the organisation. I even had dinner (along with the Gazans) at the home of Munib Masri, who is a key man in Palestine since he owns most of it and has Yasser Arafat’s closest friend.

So with the PLO restructure and is it overdue?

Here’s a take on it from Al Monitor

 Talk of PLO restructuring

 Palestinian council meeting

Continue reading

Refugee Reflections: a newsletter by the CRRRC

Refugee Reflections, the newsletter of the Canterbury Refugee Resettlement and Resource Centre (CRRRC) is produced to bring people in the communities up to date with what the CRRRC has been up to. It's an insightful read. Here is some of what the newsletter says.

Refugee Reflections

Annual Regional Refugee Forum 2018

Canterbury Refugee Resettlement & Resource Centre organised its annual regional forum on Thursday the 15th of March which was another outstanding success. This year’s theme was the challenges facing refugee youth, and attendees heard a variety of speakers from the health and academic sectors as well as a panel discussion of articulate and ambitious young people.

In a year which is already proving remarkable for youth both locally and internationally, we were very privileged to hear the voices of refugee youth speaking on issues of concern in a way that bodes extremely well for refugee background communities and for the wider New Zealand society we are all a part of.

Continue reading

Battle erupts over Israeli High Court’s independence

A study by Transparency International released in February showed a slip in Israel’s corruption ranking, placing it 34th globally out of 180 countries.

According to the survey, Israel is perceived by local experts as being among the least corrupt countries in the Middle East but among the most corrupt in the developed world.

The 2017 Corruption Perception Index placed Israel 23rd out of 35 OECD nations with a score of 62.In comparison, in 2016 Israel ranked 28th globally with a score of 64, ranking it the 22nd-least corrupt among the OECD.

Although this survey is about corruption rather than democracy the two go hand in hand. There is not only growing apartheid in Israel but there is also an erosion of democracy, as this article by Al Monitor points out.

Battle erupts over Israeli High Court’s independence

Continue reading

Saudi Arabia opens first cinema in 30 years

So today, Wednesday 18 April is the first day in 30 years that people in Saudi Arabia can go to the cinema. But although the cinema has been banned to the public, those living in compounds, usually ex-pats, have still been able to go to their own set-up. People have also bought pirated DVDs, rather than going to the movies.

That’s true of many people living in Dubai. Although I went to the movies a great deal initially I soon took to watching DVDs at home, by preference. When I watched “The Wolf of Wall Street” at the cinema I wondered why it seemed so short. When I watched the movie again, probably in the UK, it was so much longer. One hour had been cut out of it.

 Let’s hope that doesn’t happen in Saudi Arabia where censorship laws are bound to prevail.

 Here’s an article about cinemas in Saudi Arabia in Khaleej Times, a Dubai-based national newspaper, for which I used to work.

 AMC Entertainment has been granted the first licence to operate cinemas.

Continue reading

Qatar hires Trump-linked lobbyist ahead of emir’s visit

The rift between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the UAE has not yet been resolved. On the surface, it doesn’t appear to have moved it all. But according to this article from Al Monitor there are signs that the rift might be reducing. It’s even suggested that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are not as close as they once were.

Qatar hires Trump-linked lobbyist ahead of emir’s visit

By Bryant Harris

 Article Summary

Doha is turning to well-connected Republican operatives amid an intra-Gulf spat.

Continue reading

Ankara summit focuses on Syria's fate once war ends

What will happen when the war in Syria ends is finally being discussed, as this article by Al Monitor shows. This has happened before. Back in 2013 there has a meeting by the Western allies in Dubai to discuss investment opportunities in post-war Syria. I was told that Assad would step down soon. What a waste of time that was.

At least the three countries- Turkey, Iran and Russia- seem to be more realistic as to what will happen post war, even if they have different end goals.

 Ankara summit focuses on Syria's fate once war ends

Maxim A. Suchkov April 6, 2018

Article Summary

Continue reading

Vallum aims for international expansion

It's been a week since I wrote something for this blog. I've been shifting house and all that entails- what a performance. I've also managed to put out one press release, on a new data company in New Zealand that focuses on insurance. The release is attached with a few bits added, such as the exciting times had by the executives in Las Vegas.

Press Release

 Vallum on road to international expansion

 26 March 2018, New Zealand New Zealand InsurTech start-up, Vallum, was one of 25 international early-stage businesses chosen to pitch at the Global InsurTech Roadshow, which was held in Frankfurt, Germany earlier this month.

 The prestigious Goethe Business School organised the event in cooperation with InsurTech Asia.

Continue reading

Is peace between the Israelis and Palestinians possible?

The animosity between Israelis and Palestinians is ongoing, but it is not until you’ve been do you understand how much tension there is. That’s what I think. And I’m neither Israeli nor Palestinian.

I was travelling into Palestine over the Allenby Crossing, from Jordan, with a group of Palestinians. We waited at the border crossing for about eight hours, while the Israeli guards played ball games, and played around generally.

These people were horrible to everyone, including me, until they saw I had a New Zealand passport and then they were so nice. What a change in attitude. I was told by a British lawyer that he had had a similar experience at Tel Aviv airport. Since he was English he was allowed into the country but a colleague from the same law firm- a Palestian-British man- was detained in jail overnight. Evidently, he’s had that experience many times when visiting family.

I had many experiences on that trip, one of them being witness to everyone standing up when Mahmoud Abbas took the stage. That was at a conference in Bethelem.

With this in mind, I read the article below with interest. It makes sense when I recall a Palestinian, who had been involved in peace talks, who said there would never be a negotiated peace with Israel, since the “status quo” will always be better for the Israelis.

Continue reading

Russians fear Bolton appointment

Continuing on the “Bolton” theme I’m posting an article that appeared in Al Monitor magazine. So its not just parts of the Middle East who are worried about the impact of the appointment of John Bolton – of course the UAE and Saudi Arabia agree with the appointment- but Russia too is concerned about the consequences- that the Iran deal won’t hold and there will be war in the Middle East 9as if the West doesn’t interfere enough in the Middle East).

 No doubt if Iran is attacked it will be disastrous for not only Iran but for Syria too.

 We can only wait and see what happens but it looks as if the outcome is not going to be good for the region and the rest of the world.

Russians fear Bolton may doom Iran deal, stoke arms raceMaxim A. Suchkov March 23, 2018 Article SummaryJohn Bolton's upcoming role as national security adviser is controversial not only in the United States; it's raising eyebrows, and concerns, around much of the rest of the world

MOSCOW — Hours after US President Donald Trump announced that H.R. McMaster had departed as national security adviser and would be replaced by John Bolton — a longtime detractor of Iran, Iraq, Russia and North Korea, among others — Russia was among the first to react to the news.

Though some Russian officials reacted cautiously and expressed a willingness to work with Washington regardless of who Trump puts into key foreign policy posts, others made it clear that Moscow is genuinely concerned by the course American foreign policy has taken in recent months. Bolton, who was named to the position March 22 — near the 15th anniversary of the start of the US campaign in Iraq — advocated for that war and still does. It's an understatement to say he is seen as a controversial figure.

Continue reading

With Bolton Pick, Trump is Assembling an Iran War Cabinet

I read this petition from NIAC with interest, because it explains why Trump picked John Bolton as national security adviser. Whether the argument is believable or not, it is at least an Iranian perspective, something that is largely lacking.

Washington, DC - Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement regarding the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor:

“Donald Trump may have just effectively declared war on Iran. With the appointment of John Bolton, and nomination of Mike Pompeo at State, Trump is clearly putting together a war cabinet. As the world awaits Trump’s May 12 decision as to whether he will abandon the Iran nuclear deal, all of the signs now point to a decision to move to war footing.

“Bolton is an unhinged advocate for waging World War III. He has explicitly called for bombing Iran for the past ten years and has suggested the U.S. engage in nuclear first strikes in North Korea. Bolton’s first order of business will be to convince Trump to exit the Iran nuclear deal and lay the groundwork for the war he has urged over the past decade. Additionally, he has has called for ending all visas for Iranians, shipping bunker busting weapons to Israel, and supporting the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) terrorist organization and other separatist groups inside of Iran. The Iranian-American community and our pro-peace, pro-human rights allies will organize to stop Bolton’s plans from becoming a reality.

Continue reading

US tariffs: will everyone seek an exemption?

US President, Donald Trump, caused chaos in the world economy when he announced that the US would impose 25 per cent tariffs on steel imports and 10 per cent on aluminium imports on the grounds of "national security". There are fears that this move will trigger a trade war, particularly with parties such as China, the country's 10th largest importer of steel.

According to a report from Reuters, the US is the world's largest steel importing nation, buying 35.6 million tonnes of the building raw material in 2017. Canada is the largest importer of these products to the US, followed by Brazil. Mexico comes 4th and China is only 10th.  Canada and Mexico have already won exemptions from the tariffs, on the grounds that they are key allies and are therefore essential to the US' military security.

The UAE is also seeking an exemption, based on national security concerns. The UAE is the country's third biggest exporter of aluminium products.

New Zealand is considering seeking an exemption too, although aluminium products constitute only a tiny percentage of business to the US - NZD 23 million in total.

Consequently, New Zealand doesn't constitute a threat to the US so should be spared from any tariffs, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Continue reading

Will the Iran deal continue? The US and Iran

There is uncertainty as to whether the Iran nuclear deal will continue, especially whether the US will remain committed to it. There is a course of action that will ensure that there is a continued Iranian deal as is explained in the article

 Bijan Khajehpour for Al Monitor

One of the current concerns of international companies planning to do business in Iran is the threat of a US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the reintroduction of US secondary sanctions. While EU officials are trying to think of mechanisms to counter potential future sanctions against European companies and banks, the more important challenge is how to entice Iran to remain committed to the nuclear deal, even if Washington withdraws.

Iranian officials have been clear that Tehran would only stay committed if it receives enough benefits from staying in the deal. To underline this position, while in London on Feb. 22, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, said: “If the same policy of confusion and uncertainties about the JCPOA continues, if companies and banks are not working with Iran, we cannot remain in a deal that has no benefit for us.”

This article will propose a course of action that could offer incentives for a continued Iranian commitment to the nuclear deal.

Evidently, what is hurting Iran is the current degree of uncertainty caused by President Donald Trump’s continuous threats, as well as the existing bottlenecks in the banking and financing channels. In other words, Tehran’s calculation that the JCPOA would lead to major foreign investments and the creation of needed jobs has not materialized. The Iranian government knows that some of the shortcomings are due to legal, political and structural realities in Iran, but it expects the foreign partners of the JCPOA to work with it to achieve the intended results.

Continue reading

Iran and the UAE- do they hate one another?

I was interested to read this article as to why the Pompeo appointment appeals to the UAE- he is anti-Iran. I understand the politics of religion but not the politics of pragmatism. Nearly all the moneyed-families in Dubai, mostly traders, have roots in southern Iran. And companies in Ras Al Khaimah (an emirate in the UAE) have many trading initiatives with Iran and even offices there. Moreover. much of the reason Iran survived while sanctions were imposed is that dhows (boats) full of goods (particularly white goods) left from the creek in Bur Dubai to Iran. Where does the UAE really stand?I also received a petition the other day regarding a war on Iran, by Saudi Arabia (with whom the UAE is ostensibly aligned to). It said that a war between the two countries will be next. Will it? it might be. It would aid in ensuring that America is great, again.For an explanation on this relationship, take a read of the article below. Pompeo pick pleases Abu DhabiGiorgio Cafiero March 18, 2018 in Al Monitor, Pulse Article SummaryUnited Arab Emirates officials see a shift at the US State Department in their favor, but are unlikely to see all their hopes realized under Mike Pompeo.REUTERS: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) is seen in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 8, 2018, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 13, 2018.

US President Donald Trump’s decision to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo came at a time of major foreign policy challenges for Washington. As America’s chief diplomat, Pompeo will have to address several sensitive dilemmas in the Middle East, including the Qatar crisis and Washington’s difficult relations with Turkey and Iran. His nomination is producing optimism in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that America’s positions regarding Doha, Ankara and Tehran will shift in a direction that is more favorable to Abu Dhabi.

Pompeo’s record is staunchly anti-Islamist, which appeals to the UAE. As a US lawmaker, Pompeo co-sponsored the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act of 2015, which identified the movement as a terrorist organization and linked three US-based Islamic groups — the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America and the North American Islamic Trust — to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. (The bill did not make it out of committee.) In 2014, the UAE designated CAIR and the Muslim American Society as terrorist organizations, underscoring a narrative that certain Islamic organizations in America have terrorist connections. Ultimately, given Pompeo’s strong opposition to such US-based groups, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, it is possible that Pompeo will be far less keen than Tillerson to pressure the Saudi/UAE-led bloc to tone down its rhetoric about Qatar’s alleged sponsorship of terrorism and to ease or lift the blockade.

The UAE drives anti-Turkey discourse in Washington. Abu Dhabi’s ambassador to Washington has harshly condemned Ankara’s role in the Middle East, maintaining that most Americans fail to grasp the extent to which Turkey has changed in recent years as well as the “long-term threat it poses to most of us.” Indeed, tensions between Turkey and the UAE have heated up, especially due to Egypt’s internal political developments since 2013, the failed Turkish coup plot of July 15, 2016, (which Turkish officials and various pundits openly accuse the Emiratis of playing a hand in orchestrating and bankrolling with $3 billion) and the multisided Syrian civil war. In Turkey there is a perception that Abu Dhabi is supporting the Kurdistan Workers Party. The UAE opposes Turkey's Operation Olive Branch and Abu Dhabi condemned Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian fighter jet that was flying over northern Syria (and briefly over southern Turkey) in November 2015.

That Pompeo called Turkey and Iran “totalitarian Islamist dictatorships” one day after the failed coup attempt of 2016 in response to the Iranian foreign minister’s tweet expressing solidarity with Turkey’s elected government is not forgotten in Ankara, where Turkish officials view the State Department shake-up with unease. Unquestionably, Tillerson’s recent visit to Ankara was understood as a success in terms of easing tension in the shaky alliance between America and its fellow NATO member. The UAE would most welcome a new secretary of state who is less vested in improving understanding between Washington and Ankara over Turkey’s actions in northern Syria, where the UAE alleges that Ankara’s “neo-Ottoman” foreign policy is a threat to Arab interests.

Pompeo, known as a "hawk’s hawk," has a reputation for hard-line anti-Iran positions. According to Trump’s explanation of his decision to replace Tillerson with Pompeo, differences of opinion on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the US president and the 69th secretary of state were an important factor. Although it is unclear how Trump and Pompeo will approach questions regarding the JCPOA’s future, and how the two would deal with the question of Iran’s foreign policy in the Arab world if the JCPOA unravels, it is undoubtedly clear that Pompeo’s outlook toward the Islamic Republic will provide more assurance to the Emirati leadership about Washington’s commitment to pushing back against the expansion and consolidation of Iranian influence in the region.

Continue reading