Kim and Trump: It Finally all Makes Sense

Trump cancels US participation in the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), against international law. This leads now to the (legal under the terms of the multilateral agreement) increase by the Iranian government (under pressure from the right-wing “Principalists” in its parliament) in the number of centrifuges it is deploying to enrich uranium. It is thus shortening the breakout time for acquiring a nuclear device.

Trump then makes a wild and vague deal with a like-minded dictator (Kim), which although historic and signed, is a threadbare rehash of previous agreements signed with North Korea in the 1994 and 2005.

So is the problem that North Korea actually has nukes and Iran doesn’t (yet)? Is the lesson that to impress the Americans you have to have nukes? Iran is going to attacked because it doesn’t have a deterrent? Maybe, but this is isn’t the essence of the problem. There is no plan to take on Iran militarily and actually never has been. Gareth Porter in Manufactured Crisis has shown that even Netanhayu was always bluffing about attacking Iran (it was all about bluff and counter-bluff on both sides), and Trump is certainly not going to want to put troops on the ground to fight Iran.

Both he and the Pentagon (although perhaps not his mentally disturbed National Security Adviser) understand the failure in Iraq, while Iran, on the other hand, has always been a much bigger fish.  Paul Jay sets out the case for “Trump the Peacemaker” being cover for preparing  war against Iran. Given Trump’s disconnected and impetuous policy-making this seems unlikely. One has to note that Iran is much more powerful (and its national security establishment – the IRGC- much more experienced) even than it was in 2003, while the US is beset with problems with all its allies across the world: problems of Trump’s own making. This is hardly an environment in which the US could plan a major military offensive against such an asymmetrically powerful nation.

Using its vast conventional missile capability Iran could easily destroy the Saudi Arabian Gawar oilfield (the planet’s largest single field), as well as Tel Aviv (either from Lebanon or even from Iran), irrespective of US patriot missiles protecting them (Russia has shown the limited capability of this kind of defence to concerted attacks). It could also block the Persian Gulf for traffic, especially the Straights of Hormuz, by sinking the US 6th Fleet, deploying and using SS-N-27A “Sizzler” missiles (ground to sea missiles that accelerate to twice the speed of sound, 2 km before their target, flying only feet above sea level). The US admits it has no defence for this capability. Iran acquired the technology from China, and all of China, Russia and India, as well as Iran possess them.

Such missiles are almost as strategically important as nuclear weapons, when a narrow objective like the straights of Hormuz is to be destroyed/blocked, while sizzler missiles are much more likely to be used in conflict than nuclear weapons, even if you possessed the latter.

In addition, as far as Trump’s own attitude to the region is concerned, we have to take into account the fact that he is pressuring the Pentagon on pulling out of Syria (which is why the Turks are now getting their way about the alliance between the US and the Kurds in Northern Syria, against the objections of CENTOM Chief Gen. Vogel). This goes against the views of his mentally disturbed National Security Adviser, whom Trump only hired in order to get a massive (2020) campaign donation from Rebecca Mercer. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Pompeo follows the President’s line and doesn’t deviate, taking on the Pentagon’s middle management, especially Joseph Votel on this matter. Votel doesn’t want to cooperate with the Turks after Erdoğan’s ejection of his allies and contacts within the Turkish army after the failure of their attempted coup in 2016.

Trump has no policy other than self-aggrandisement and getting re-elected. His Jerusalem move and cynical stroking of the Wailing Wall is all about campaign contributions and domestic political support. He did a lot for his base of religious nuts already with the Jerusalem decision, he doesn’t have to do more, no-one in the US political scene can now outflank him on the Zionist front. He isn’t going to risk all that by going to war in the exceptionally dangerous and ropey situation the US is in right now, against Iran.

So, on a lighter note, is the nub of the matter as to why cancel the JCPOA and then do a deal with Kim simply that he is an unaccountable dictator, whereas Iran is a complicated polity, with a parliament and an ideology that makes no sense to someone like him? Yes, but you have to understand the detail. A Tweet by Trump suddenly revealed all according to the BuzzFeed UK editor:

As Trump said in his Singapore press conference, these guys (meaning Kim and Co.) own all the real estate between China and South Korea – … can’t be bad, can it? If he had one iota of strategic sense though, he would have realised that in signing such a vague deal without easing sanctions, which was Kim’s main aim in the whole peace process, he has opened up the golden opportunity for China to do just that, and for Kim to launch (largely with Chinese and South Korean help) his own personal chain of hotels along the country’s beaches. Eat your heart out Donald…

Oil Kingdom In Crisis: Saudi Royal Family Rift Turns Violent

Saudi Arabia has plunged its immediate region into major strategic uncertainty. What can only be described as a serious outbreak of shooting in the Royal Palace in Riyadh on April 21, 2018, was the catalyst for events which could determine the fate of the Crown, the Kingdom, and the regional competition, particularly with Iran, for influence.

By June 1, 2018, however, the crisis seemed to be subsiding.

The delicacy of the situation posed serious questions for Russia, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the US, in particular, in shaping their strategies, given that it raised serious questions over energy supply, the war in Yemen, control of the Red Sea, and the Eurasia-Africa links in the PRC’s Silk Route network. It is clear that the Saudi Government, controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, itself was, even by early June 2018, uncertain how the situation would evolve.

Gregory Copley of Defense and Foreign Affairs noted recently: “Saudi Arabia now appears to have moved beyond the point of recovery, and could collapse at any time into internal conflict or fracturing.” On October 8, 2015, he had previously noted: “Concerns are growing within Saudi Arabia that the Kingdom is facing systemic challenges which could see its break-up within a decade or two.”

Matters came to a head on the evening of April 21, 2018, when heavy automatic weapons fire was heard over a fairly long timespan, coming from the compound of the Al-Khazami Palace in the neighborhood of Khuzama, in Riyadh. Government officials issued a report that the shooting was by Palace guards, firing at a civilian “toy” drone (unmanned aerial vehicle) which had strayed into forbidden airspace over the Palace. However, it was clear that some of the firing occurred within the Palace itself.

There were a significant number of casualties, and Riyadh had some discreet but clearly high-level funerals in the days which followed, although no announcements were subsequently made (even by early June 2018) of the deaths of any senior officials. It was understood that some visiting and very senior princes and officials were in the Palace with their armed bodyguards at the time of the incident.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was reported to have been struck by at least two rounds. The Government had said that King Salman bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz al Sa’ud was not in the Palace at the time of the “drone incident”, and that he was at a family/military compound in the north-west of the Kingdom.

Other, private reports said that the King was in Riyadh at the time, and was quickly moved to a safe haven. The incident showed the extent of the anger felt by a significant number of family members of the House of Sa’ud toward Crown Prince Mohammed’s policies and methods.

Neither the King nor the Crown Prince appeared in open public situations from the time of the incident until early June 2018, although, on May 31, 2018, the Government released video footage of Crown Prince Mohammed meeting that day in Jeddah with Abd al-Rab Mansour al-Hadi, the Saudi-supported President of Yemen. What was significant about the video and still imagery released on May 31, 2018, was that one shot showed the Crown Prince standing and shaking hands with the President. King Salman met in Jeddah with the President the day before.

What is significant is that this was the first occasion in which Crown Prince Mohammed was shown standing since the April 21 shooting incident; all other imagery — and there was very little of that — only showed him seated. Clearly, however, if the Crown Prince was injured in the incident, then the wounds were not life-threatening, even though they were sufficient to ensure that he could not be presented to the public in a way which would allay rumors.

It has been confirmed that Crown Prince Mohammed was in a position to meet and conduct significant business with visiting Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali on May 18, 2018, just 27 days after the shooting incident, although no imagery exists of their meetings during the official visit of Dr Abiy (May 18-20, 2018). This was a significant visit, not only due to some tensions between the Kingdom and Ethiopia, but because Crown Prince Mohammed was attempting to act as an intermediary between Ethiopia and Eritrea, healing several decades of tensions and, for Saudi Arabia, to ensure that the influence of Iran and Qatar in both countries was minimized.

[The Crown Prince also agreed to release 1,000 Ethiopians imprisoned for minor offences in the Kingdom, a move seen as positive in Ethiopia, but Prince Mohammed’s attempts to reduce the number of foreign workers in the Kingdom — which is under severe economic constraints — in 2017 saw 14,000 Ethiopians forcibly deported, and 70,000 voluntary returnees. Overall, the Kingdom wants to deport 500,000 Ethiopian workers, of whom some 160,000 have already left.]

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the Kingdom on April 28, 2018, a week after the shooting, and met with King Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, but not with the Crown Prince.

Iraqi cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr, the key victor of the May 12, 2018, Iraq parliamentary elections, had requested to visit the Kingdom, to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed, after his visit to Kuwait on May 30, 2018. The Shi’a cleric had visited the Kingdom in 2017, and had been warmly received, because of his independence from Iran, a position which only became more valuable following his recent election win. But the Saudi Government asked him to delay his visit to the Kingdom, a sign that there were still difficulties in the country.

But what was also significant was that Crown Prince Mohammed and King Salman had apparently spent much of the five weeks after the incident ensconced in the Rabigh Palace — a military compound with its own port — in Makkah (Mecca) Province, on the Red Sea. There was some speculation that the choice of this compound gave the option of rapid departure from the Kingdom if medical conditions demanded a move, or if the internal situation worsened. Read original article

 

Iran wakes up to new choices: Pompeo’s bark aimed at whom?

Trump’s words upon pulling out of the JCPOA Iran deal were ‘that’s life’, the ‘Iranians have to learn what life’s about’, suggests a strongarm negotiating tactic. That this may be a reflection of a generalised Trump modus operandi is suggested by the fact that the Trump summit with Kim Jong-un is having its pre-conditions mollified. This is down to strong South Korean diplomatic intervention, which is establishing an important premise for the negotiations, namely that denuclearisation must inevitably be a gradual and scaled process. Imperiousness has given way to diplomacy.

But then came Pompeo’s bark at the Heritage Foundation, which talked about the ‘strongest sanctions in history’. Is that a continuation of the Trump ‘art of the deal’? The answer to that lies in establishing who Pompeo was barking at. It is most likely that it was a response to Europe’s knee-jerk rejection of Trump’s decision, and its disinterment of old laws intended to protect European companies from foreign (in this case US) sanctions. So it wasn’t really addressed to the Iranian people. By knobbling the Europeans, the White House expects to be able to achieve its end of suffocating Iran.

Iran isn’t North Korea though, and it doesn’t have a powerful US ally with a vested interest in the outcome (South Korea) intervening actively on its behalf to achieve peace. It does have many nations, however, that are adversaries of the US – China and Russia – that see Iran’s survival as important for their own independence and the success of their long-term projects. One US ally – Turkey – although this alliance is clearly ambivalent – is always to willing to brave US sanctions and take the consequences on the chin, for the same reasons. Despite the bible thumping, war-drum beating proclivities of the current White House, it is unlikely to take the US to fully-fledged war in the Middle East. It isn’t in Pompeo’s interests, nor in Trump’s, nor would the Pentagon be enthusiastic, nor would Europe (across-the-board) provide the fig leaf of legitimacy that Bush acquired through Blair.

This doesn’t mean it won’t give Israel the backing and wherewithal to do what it wants in the Middle-East. But then, for years, Israel has been threatening to bomb Iran, and hasn’t done so yet, for many reasons that have been most eloquently spelled out in Gareth Porter’s book ‘Manufactured Crisis’ . Porter’s thesis that Netanhayu is a paper tiger, is borne out by Hassan Nasralla’s sober description of the essentially empty recent retaliation that was Lieberman’s ‘we have wiped-out Iran’s military capacity in Syria’, the background to which events has been summarised by Paul Rogers.

The judgement that Iranians are split over how to respond to Trump’s position and Pompeo’s bark, is a false description of the choice facing Iran. The Korean situation doesn’t involve any of the deep ideological bitterness between the people of the Middle-East and Israel/US, and none of the legacy of many recent wars and interventions there. Korea is an old war frozen in time. The choice Iran faces is between simply riding out the Trump administration(s) without changing anything, on the one hand, and actually making a nuclear bomb, on the other. Likely they will opt for the former, and seek to develop Iran economically with out the West. So just as nothing will change from the Israeli side, nothing will change from the Iranian side.

What will happen now is that the Iranian economy will merge deeper into the Chinese and Russian projects, which will help those countries widen their markets, and develop new products (commercial airliners, electronics, oil field services) that Iran needs and which those countries have been working on developing for years. With each passing day, trade between non-Western countries increases and as of 2009, has crossed the 50% mark in terms of the value of global trade.

 

Israel tested new deadly weaponry against protesters in the Great March of Return

When he was hit by a bullet fired by Israeli forces during demonstrations in Gaza on April 6, Mohammed al-Zaieem lost so much blood, and his left leg was so deformed, he feared he wouldn’t survive.

His arteries, veins and a large piece of bone were destroyed. His right leg wasn’t spared either as the round created a massive exit wound and then hit it as well.

By the time he was transferred to Istishari Arab Hospital in Ramallah after undergoing seven surgeries in Gaza, there was nothing doctors could do to save his left leg. It had to be amputated, unbeknown to al-Zaieem, 22, who was unconscious at the time. Al-Jazeera reports ‘Palestinians face explosive bullets, dangerous gas bombs’

 

Khalid bin Farhan al-Saud: volcanic portents in Saudi politics

Trump’s negotiations with China, especially his trade-off between saving electronic giant ZTE from bankruptcy induced by his own sanctions on the company, in exchange for eliminating Chinese tariffs on US agriculture imports, reveals something of his hardball tactics.  This should tells us something about how he understands pulling out of JCPOA: a matter that is confusing hard-pressed European nations that are part of the agreement.

Although some in the Trump cabinet dream of world wars, for Trump himself, the Iran/Shi’a threat is a construction whose principal purpose is to leverage “protection money” from Saudi Arabia. The sums Trump is demanding from Mohamed bin Salman (some in exchange for actual weapons, and much not) will without a doubt bankrupt the desert kingdom. The rest of the royal family are appalled at the utter cupidity and self-serving moronity of the unknown and vindictive upstart who has taken over the kingdom in the fog of his royal father’s dementia.

David Hearst interviews Saudi Prince Khaled bin Farhan on the rumblings of régime change in Saudi Arabia as the embattled royals that bin Salman has put under house arrest wake up from the shock of the violent and ruthless ambush they have been subjected to. Here is a snipet from the interview.

The spirit of Gaza prevails over Israeli savagery and American religious extremism

As US President Donald Trump speaks on video from the White House, and his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner lead the American dedication of the “new” American embassy in Jerusalem, they are accompanied by anti-Semitic and Islamophobic Christian evangelicals, Robert Jeffress and John Hagee offering prayers.

This is a culmination of a Christian Zionist history begun by William Blackstone and Louis Brandeis, who manoeuvred Woodrow Wilson to accept and endorse American Zionism and the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which set the course for the establishment of the State of Israel. It has little to do with the interests of the Jews or the Israeli population, but is a drive by irrational adherents of magical religion in a Bible-thumping White House to bring about “end times”.

The Palestinian people are thus being sacrificed on an altar of madness in furious savagery that has become absolutely explicit in the mowing-down of peaceful protesters in Gaza in the past weeks by Israeli forces. Only a deranged White House can believe that the Palestinians will ever bow to Trump’s “Deal of the Century” (“Final Solution”?), and that the acquiescence of illegitimate Arab rulers to their insanity will help them. The latter are cowards, frightened of their own shadows, with little chance of medium-term survival in their respective countries.

It is a sign of a steep decline in the status of the US in the world that its interests have been hijacked by a small group of extremists and that its political and intellectual classes appear to carry on unperturbed by this insanity in an oxygen-free, helium-filled bubble . The chaos that the Christian Zionists have always wished for will now occur. This will not be at a cost to Arabs – that has already been paid long ago as their countries already lie in ruins.

As most sane Americans realise, it will principally be at a severe and irreversible cost to America’s reputation and interests. Even the opinion pages of the New York Times bristle with anguish at the absurd and painful spectacle in the media of “juxtaposed images of dead and wounded Palestinians and Ivanka Trump smiling in Jerusalem like a Zionist Marie Antoinette” on the day of the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem.

Nationalism returns as Muqtada el-Sadr leads the winning party in the Iraqi parliamentary election

Along with victories for Ennahda in Tunisia, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and now the Sadrist alliance in Iraq, nationalism is coming back to elections in Arab countries, whose politics have been riven by increased foreign interference since the Arab Spring.

On the Move” (al-Sa’iroun) or the “Alliance of Revolutionaries for Reform” (54 seats*), headed by Muqtada al-Sadr, comprising the Sadrist Movement and the Communist Party wins the most seats, possibly as much as a third. This result will put the US’s nose out of joint.

The Iran-backed “Conquest Alliance” or “Fatah Alliance”, headed by Hadi al-Amiri (47 seats*), comprising the popular base of the Haashd el-Shaabi  militias and some Sunni groups, comes second, while the US-backed Haidar al-Abadi‘s “Victory Alliance” or “Tahaluf el-Nasr” comes third (42 seats*).

All three leading groups are cross-sectarian, which augurs a major improvement in the nature of Iraqi politics. The other Iranian-backed party, “State of Law coalition” run by Nouri al-Maliki is really no longer in the running (26 seats*), although it is a potential coalition partner with the Conquest Alliance, coming equal fourth with the Kurdish Democratic Party (26 seats*). Iyad Allawi‘s National Alliance or “al-Wataniyya” (the party closest to US interests) comes fifth (22 seats*); Ammar el-Hakim, ex-ally of el-Abadi, and his National Wisdom Movement come sixth (19 seats*); The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan comes seventh (18 seats*); and the Sunni Uniters for Reform Coalition or “Decision Alliance” come eighth (14 seats*).  The remaining 61 seats are split between 12 other parties and some independents*.

*updates 18th March

The only problem with the elections, however, was the low voter turnout of 44%. Nevertheless, this represented an abstention by older generations and the younger generation seeking change were disproportionately represented.

It looks like Sadr wants to exclude al-Amiri and al-Maliki from any future coalition. Given that Sadr and the Sadrists don’t want to be PM, it may be that Abadi is offered the job as long as he pursues the nationalist Sadrist plan. Sadr, Abadi and al-Hakim together can, with their allies, dominate parliament with half the seats. Iran, on the other hand, through auspices of Qasem Soleimani are trying to bring Abadi into coalition with al-Amiri and al-Maliki, to form a government. Iran is firmly opposed to the Communist element in Sadr’s coalition. So Abadi finds himself in the middle of a tug-of-war, but either way he will be turning his back on the US.

The political outcome of these events means the US will have to accept much more limited influence than Abadi allowed them to have during his recent tenure. As Marco Carnelos points out: “Irrespective of Moqtada Al Sadr’s victory in the Iraqi elections, the political outcome in the country will be more favourable to Tehran than Washington”.

Gaza: The ultimate indictment of European Liberalism

Gaza is among the most densely populated places in the world. Two-thirds of its inhabitants are refugees, and more than half the population is under eighteen years of age. Since Israel occupied Gaza in 1967, it has systematically de-developed the economy.

After Hamas won democratic elections in 2006, Israel intensified its blockade of Gaza, and after Hamas consolidated its control of the territory in 2007, Israel further tightened its illegal siege. In the meantime, Israel has launched no less than eight military operations against Gaza-culminating in Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014-that left behind over three million tons of rubble. Recent UN reports predict that Gaza will be unlivable by 2020.

Norman G. Finkelstein new book GAZA: AN INQUEST INTO ITS MARTYRDOM presents a meticulously researched and devastating inquest into Israel’s actions of the last decade. It argues that although Israel justified its blockade and violent assaults in the name of self-defense, in fact these actions were cynical exercises of brutal power against an essentially defenseless civilian population.

Based on hundreds of human rights reports, the book scrutinizes multifarious violations of international law Israel committed both during its operations and in the course of its decade-long siege of Gaza. It is a monument to Gaza’s martyrs and a scorching accusation against their tormenters.