Europe’s choices over Iran

A response from Germany following Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that Europe can no longer count on the United States to protect it, urging the continent to “take destiny into its own hands.”

“It is no longer such that the United States simply protects us, but Europe must take its destiny in its own hands. That’s the task of the future,” she said during a speech honoring French President Emmanuel Macron, according to Agence France-Presse.

This will be music to the ears of many Americans, who are wondering why the US remains committed to defending Germany from…well, who? Russia? Germans have made it quite clear they prefer Putin’s Russia to Trump’s America, and who else is there? Oh, but wait:

German defense spending will fall far short of levels demanded by President Donald Trump’s administration for years to come, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s defense minister said.

Those levels are actually NATO commitments; Trump’s demand is merely that Germany meets them. The problem Germany has is that it is dependent on the US for security (assuming it is actually required) and hates it, but they don’t hate it enough to reach in their pockets and pay for it themselves. Like a spoiled teenager who hates the rules in their parent’s house, they don’t want to move out either because that would involve hardship.

What will be interesting is the response of Germany, France, and the UK to this:

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was in Moscow on Monday, as Russia tries to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive in the wake of Washington’s pullout, pushing it into rare cooperation with Europe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was scheduled to discuss how to try to save the nuclear deal with Zarif, the Interfax news agency reported.

Zarif’s tour also took him to Beijing at the weekend and will see him visit Brussels later in the week, as the international backers of the 2015 accord scrabble to save it.

“The final aim of these negotiations is to seek assurances that the interests of the Iranian nation will be defended,” Zarif said at a news conference with Lavrov.

Lavrov, meanwhile, said Russia and Europe had a duty to “jointly defend their legal interests” in terms of the deal.

A few months ago, Russia was accused – perhaps fairly – of conducting a chemical weapons attack on British soil, and there were expulsions of diplomats and lots of tough talk from European leaders about solidarity with Britain. Then a few weeks ago Russia’s client in Syria allegedly used poison gas against civilians and everyone went mental, with Britain and France joining the US in launching missile strikes against targets in Syria. Russia was a pariah nation run by a gangster regime, we were told, so it’s going to be very interesting whether the commercial interests of European businesses consign all this rhetoric to the dustbin. It’s going to be particularly interesting to see what Britain does, given Boris Johnson and Theresa May’s recent criticism of Russia. At least nobody is pretending it’s about nuclear security any more.

Something the media has failed to mention is the difficulty of doing business in Iran even without US sanctions in place. I can’t find the link now (Google search results are swamped by recent developments) but a few years ago one of the big Chinese companies effectively walked away from an Iranian oil and gas project having utterly failed to make any progress, citing the intransigence of the locals as the primary reason. Anyone who has read the history of Iran, particularly the bit concerning Britain’s dealings with Mohammad Mosaddegh over BP, will get a clear idea that doing business there is fraught with difficulties, not least because the Iranians are severely tough negotiators. There has been nothing preventing Chinese, Russian, or Turkish firms making hay in Iran in the absence of American and European countries for decades, but they haven’t, and for good reasons.

One of the main problems facing western companies concerns the ownership of Iranian companies. As is to be expected under such a regime, pretty much every major company is in some way owned by the government or powerful individuals connected to it. In many instances it is the The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which controls the company. From Wiki:

IRGC first expanded into commercial activity through informal social networking of veterans and former officials. IRGC officials confiscated assets of many refugees who had fled Iran after the fall of Abolhassan Banisadr’sgovernment. It is now a vast conglomerate, controlling Iran’s missile batteries and nuclear program but also a multibillion-dollar business empire reaching almost all economic sectors. Estimates have it controlling between a tenth and around a third of Iran’s economy through a series of subsidiaries and trusts.

The Los Angeles Times estimates that IRGC has ties to over one hundred companies, with its annual revenue exceeding $12 billion in business and construction. IRGC has been awarded billions of dollars in contracts in the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, as well as major infrastructure projects.

Last October Donald Trump sanctioned the IRGC as a terrorist organisation, independently of the nuclear deal. Leaving aside the difficulty of executing major projects in Iran without falling foul of US sanctions on the IRGC, can you imagine having an IRGC-owned company as a partner or contractor? Would they carry out the work as per the contract? To whom would you turn if they didn’t? It’s hard enough doing business in Russia with companies run by well-connected gangsters; now imagine what it’s like contracting with the private army of the Ayatollahs.

Major European nations risk creating an enormous political and security rift with the US over this Iranian nuclear deal, all for the benefit of a handful of companies who reckon they can make money in Iran. The way they’re talking, and the way it’s being reported, you’d think the money was already in the bank. It’s not, and probably never will be. Politicians should heed this point.

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Can Russia act as peacemaker between Israel and Iran?

One of the interesting things about the Israeli attack on Iranian forces in Syria is the relative silence from the Russians. The first thing it shows is that Russia has no interest in adding its forces to those of Iran in some sort of unified effort, which is undoubtedly a good thing for everyone except the Iranians on the ground in Syria. Both Russia and Iran have a shared interest in keeping Bashar al-Assad in power, but that doesn’t imply there is much cooperation between the two. Russia wants to retain Syria as a client state for geopolitical bragging rights, a customer for arms sales, a testing ground for weapons, and as a victory in their ongoing zero-sum struggle with the USA. Iran wants to throw its weight around the region and threaten Israel from over the border.

In that latter regard, Russia has no major beef with Israel and little interest in helping Iranian forces menace it from Syrian soil. Indeed, Russia would probably be pleased to see Iranian forces getting pummeled in Syria by Israeli planes were it not Russia’s air defence systems that were supposed to stop that sort of thing. There’s a good article on Israel’s strengthening ties with Russia in the face of Iranian attacks here, which includes the following on weapons sales:

The Israeli prime minister had a number of talking points he wanted to ensure were well-delivered to the Russian side, said a source in the Kremlin familiar with the Putin-Netanyahu meeting. The source, who spoke with Al-Monitor not for attribution, said the first point, a minor one, was Russia’s potential delivery of S-300 missile systems to Syria. Even before Netanyahu’s visit, Israel was signaling to Russia that Israel didn’t favor the delivery.

Moscow had said it was leaning toward not providing Syria with the missiles, but after a US-led strike on Syria last month, Russia isn’t ruling out the idea. Many observers interpreted a bombastically worded statement from Russia as an actual intent to deliver the weapons, but Russia probably considered it more as a deterrent against potential foreign strikes and a bargaining chip in talks with Israel and, possibly, with the United States.

If Moscow indeed goes through with the S-300 delivery, Israel will tolerate it as long as Russians maintain control over the system. If, however, the Syrian military plans to operate the missiles, Israel will have a stronger reaction, but probably not an extreme one.

“The entire Syrian air defense system is based on Soviet- and Russian-made arms. The S-300 is a more powerful system and we wouldn’t have liked its appearance. But as much as we are ready to [take on] Syrian defenses, we would be ready to see how to tackle the S-300,” former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said.

Ya’alon also revealed that there is a “hotline” between the Russian Khmeimim air base in Syria and the Israeli Kirya command center in Tel Aviv. Ya’alon served as Israel’s defense minister from 2013 until May 2016 and helped establish the deconfliction phone line shortly after Russia began its campaign in Syria. The line is thought to have helped prevent a number of serious incidents.

This probably puts Russia in a unique position to act as peacemaker between Israel and Iran:

Russia has been acting as a “political shrink,” listening to complaints and fears that Israelis and Iranians have and prescribing them prescriptions of sorts to alleviate their grief. It’s a heavy burden, but also a political resource for Russia and its regional policies. Russia also has its own interests, including in Syria, that are not necessarily aligned with those of Israel or Iran. Taking sides would be folly.

As Sean Guillory says:

Personally I don’t think this is a bad thing.

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The Twin Gambles of Saudi Arabia and Iran

Based on recent posts, some readers may get the impression that I am somewhat skeptical that Barack Obama deserves his Nobel Peace Prize, and I’d like to correct that. I think it was thoroughly deserved, for reasons implied in the following tweets:

Now to be fair this was a complete accident on Obama’s part, but by showing America’s enemies he was not to be feared while undermining its allies he somehow managed to get Saudi Arabia and Israel cooperating with one another on security and regional politics. Since then, Bahrain and the UAE have joined in. However you cut it, this is an impressive achievement even if it was wholly unintentional; for that alone he deserves his Nobel.

I suspect what’s happened is the civil war in Iraq that followed the disastrous toppling of Saddam Hussein, the rise of ISIS and the Syrian civil war, and the nastier elements of the Arab Spring (including the rise of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood) have shaken a lot of sensible Arabs into accepting some uncomfortable truths. Chief among them is the fact that it’s not Israel that is their greatest threat but the opposite side of the Sunni-Shia divide. For any Sunni, that makes Iran-sponsored Shia their gravest enemy.

For years it was Saudi Arabia, via its sponsorship of Wahhabist madrassas throughout the Muslim and non-Muslim world which was the main driver of radical Islamic terrorism, and many people quite reasonably asked why the US didn’t bomb Riyadh in the aftermath of 9/11 instead of Baghdad. The simple and honest answer was that the production from the Saudi oilfields was so essential to the functioning of the entire world (not just the US) that under no circumstances could it be interrupted. The second answer was that, backward and autocratic the ruling family was, the alternative was likely to be very much worse. Authoritarian strongmen always use the excuse of keeping the headcases from taking over to justify spending decades in power, but in the case of the Saudi ruling family it was probably true. A lot of Saudis supported the Taliban, thinking their way of governing was how things should be, and considered the house of Al Saud too liberal. Osama bin Laden’s biggest gripe with the US was that it stationed troops on Saudi Arabia’s holy sands before and after the Gulf War. He fell out with the Saudi government when they turned down his generous offer of defending Saudi with an army of lunatic jihadists he’d recruited in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, preferring instead to use the American army.

It is said that for a long time the Saudi rulers would whisper to western diplomats pushing for reforms words to the effect of: “We want to, but we can’t right now or we’ll have a revolution. We need to move slowly, and only when ready.” These words might have been self-serving much of the time, but they were surely based on truth. Any attempt to really crack down on the financiers of radical elements in Saudi would have likely instigated a coup, although this doesn’t excuse the government spending billions exporting Wahhabism around the world. I’m tempted to believe there was some sincerity in their words because the new guy in charge, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is pushing through rapid and sweeping reforms aimed at weening the country off oil dependency, liberalising the society, and sidelining conservatives who preferred things as they were. Mohammed bin Salman has judged – rightly or wrongly, we’ll find out soon enough – that the majority population is ready to move away from tightly controlled, theocratic, Wahhabist rule and towards something resembling Kuwait or Abu Dhabi: hardly a liberal paradise, but a giant step in the right direction nonetheless.

This contrasts greatly with Iran which was in some ways the polar opposite. Rather than having a government that wants to reform but cannot because the people are hotheaded lunatics, the Iranians have a sensible population ruled by an ultra-conservative theocratic government which keeps a boot on their necks. If the Saudi government would have fled the country at any point over the past 15 years, the country would probably have fallen to extremists. Had the Mullahs done the same thing in Iran, it would likely have shifted very much towards liberalism. Despite both being sponsors of terrorism around the world for decades, it is this difference between the two countries now that is crucial, and explains why Saudi is being feted and Iran a pariah.

Mohammed bin Salman has gambled that the Saudi population is ready for reforms; the Ayatollahs are gambling they can keep ignoring Iranians’ demands for them. I suspect this will determine the shape of the Middle East over the next generation, rather than the outcomes on proxy battlefields in Yemen, Syria, or elsewhere. Obama backed one horse, Trump has backed another. History will show who was right.

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Europe and Iran

Amid all the wailings over Trump binning Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, this part made me laugh the most:

Mr Khamenei told the crowd that Iranian officials “want to continue the nuclear deal” with Britain, France and Germany, but added: “I do not trust these countries either.”

He continued: “If you could get guarantees from them in such a way that they can be trusted, no problem then you can continue.

“If you cannot get such a strong guarantee from them, and I see it very unlikely that you can, we could not move and continue like this anymore.”

The Iranians are not stupid and know full well the Europeans’ sole interest in Iran is as a lucrative market for their leading businesses. When Macron says he hopes to “keep working” on the nuclear deal, what he means is he wants to somehow keep the place open for French companies to go in and make hay, having strangled them with regulations on their home turf. They’re not in the least bit interested in whether or not Iran develops nuclear weapons or spreads terrorism around the Middle East, but they pretended they were in order to get Obama to lift the sanctions. Now they’re pretending the US withdrawal from the deal doesn’t matter, which is dishonest in the extreme: this was always a US deal which other countries simply piggy-backed on for business reasons. The Iranians know this, and they also know that if the US imposes sanctions the Europeans will fold like a cheap suit as soon as the US Department of Justice or Treasury Department starts growling.

The Iranians probably have a grudging respect for Trump’s outspoken manner and stubbornness, even if they don’t like him. I suspect they hold Obama and the various grovelling European governments in utter contempt.

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A Coup and a Coverup

There are two things to say about this story:

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says a landmark nuclear deal with Iran was “built on lies”, after Israel claimed to have proof of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons programme.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused Iran of conducting a secret nuclear weapons programme, dubbed Project Amad, and said it had continued to pursue nuclear weapons knowledge after the project was shuttered in 2003.

Mr Netanyahu presented what he said was evidence of thousands of “secret nuclear files” that showed Iran had lied about its nuclear ambitions before the deal was signed in 2015.

Mr Pompeo said documents revealed by Israel’s prime minister were authentic.

Now I’ve had to pull the above quotes from all over the article and re-arrange the order. The above is the story, but the BBC has crafted the article so as to mislead as much as possible, with the third paragraph reading:

Analysts say they show nothing new, highlighting that concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions led to the 2015 deal.

Which analysts? The BBC doesn’t say, but they do quote the Iranian foreign minister. Similarly, the US media, if they’re covering it at all, is full of former employees of the Obama adminstration playing it down. Why would that be then? For the same reason they refused to cover the protests in Iran which took place last December: Barack Obama made a ludicrously bad deal with Iran which involved exchanging pallets of cash dollars worth over a billion in return for vague promises about shelving their nuclear ambitions. The deal was so bad Obama did it unilaterally, thus avoiding Congress who would point out the money will almost certainly be used to fund war and terrorism against US allies. The media however lapped it up, and now it’s looking likely that Iran is cheating – as if anyone sane believed they wouldn’t – they can’t bring themselves to criticise what was lauded as a central plank of Obama’s legacy (the disastrous Obamacare and sucking up to the Castros being the others). The BBC ensures to tell us early on:

Other Western powers, including signatories Britain and France, say Iran has been abiding by the deal and it should be kept.

Well, yes. European countries are slavering at the bit to get their national champions into Iran, probably the last semi-advanced nation which remains out of bounds to them. They couldn’t give a stuff about Middle East security or terrorism, provided they can flog their goods and services in a country where Americans are detested. A more cynical approach to nuclear security couldn’t be imagined, and I dearly hope Trump pulls the plug on the whole deal just so I can see these companies – all of whom have self-righteous ethics policies littering their websites – are forced to abandon their plans or run the risk of falling foul of the US Department of Justice.

The other interesting part of the story is this:

Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on Monday that Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad had obtained 55,000 pages of evidence and a further 55,000 files on 183 CDs relating to Project Amad.

A senior Israeli official told the New York Times that the agency first discovered the warehouse in southern Tehran in February 2016, and put the building under surveillance.

In January, intelligence agents managed to break into the property in the middle of the night, remove the original documents and smuggle them back into Israel the same night, the official told the paper.

Whatever you think of Israel, that is one hell of an operation by Mossad, and worthy of being made into a film. The only way they could have made it better is if they’d replaced the documents with copies of Obama’s sealed university thesis.

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More on the Protests in Iran

The protests in Iran are still going strong, and the government is threatening to crack down heavily if they continue. Only their Arab counterparts tried that in their own various uprisings and it turned the protests into full-on revolutions. There are videos on Twitter showing huge crowds embracing policemen while hurling rocks at Revolutionary Guards, suggesting any such crackdown won’t be so easy. And it seems young men are at least having a go.

Thankfully, the Iranian Mullahs have plenty of folk in the western world on their side. Consider the BBC article I linked to:

Three days of demonstrations erupted over falling living standards.

But a Revolutionary Guards commander said the protests had degenerated into people chanting political slogans and burning public property.

Funny how the BBC pours scorn on every word Trump utters, but quotes Revolutionary Guards commanders uncritically.

Brigadier-General Esmail Kowsari told the ISNA news agency: “If people came into the streets over high prices, they should not have chanted those slogans and burned public property and cars.”

Iran’s interior minister has also warned the public that protesters will be held accountable.

Presumably the BBC are on board with this. It is only later we’re told:

BBC Persian correspondent Kasra Naji said a common factor in all locations has been protesters’ demand for an end to clerical rule in Iran.

There is also anger at Iran’s interventions abroad. In Mashhad, some chanted “not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran”, a reference to what protesters say is the administration’s focus on foreign rather than domestic issues.

CNN went one further, saying little about the actual protests but giving front-page coverage of pro-government demonstrations:

Some people, including this cretin from the Huffington Post, have gone full retard:

The normally sensible Cathy Young hasn’t covered herself in glory, either:

Presumably Saint Obama siding with the Mullahs is preferable to Trump backing the protesters because The Messiah did so with “dignity”. What’s ironic is Cathy Young is originally from the Soviet Union so one would have thought she’d be a little more aware of the importance of the US president’s words on such matters, regardless of the perceived moral character of the speaker. But then, I have noticed that a lot of Russians flee to the US and start complaining about the way things are run when they get there. Max Boot is another example.

A lot of people have also noticed the silence and hypocrisy from America’s so-called feminists:

Others have noted the deafening silence from the EU on the protests. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, it’s a weekend in holiday season: bureaucrats aren’t going to check their emails just because there’s a revolution brewing in Iran. And Juncker will be drunk anyway. Secondly, as we saw in Catalonia, the EU elites don’t much like anti-government protests which is why they’re so keen on getting an EU army established. Finally, certain large EU member states have been sucking up royally to the Mullahs since sanctions on Iran were eased, positioning themselves as reliable European partners in contrast to the Great Satan, hoping to cash in when the country finally opens up. They will oppose any regime change in Iran for the same reason they objected to the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

Perhaps I’m forgetting something which could also explain the EU’s silence? Yes, I am: cowardice. This tweet sums it up nicely, I think:

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Protests in Iran

There are numerous reports on Twitter that protests have broken out in several towns and cities in Iran. There is a video circulating of an astonishingly brave woman chanting “Death to Khamenei” in front of law enforcement officers, and another of posters of Khomeini and Khamenei being burned. There are other reports that the police are no longer enforcing the detested 1979 law compelling women to wear a headscarf in public, and one young woman has taken the opportunity to stand on a bollard, hair uncovered, and wave a flag. What is significant about these protests is that people on the streets are actively preventing the authorities from arresting their fellow protesters, and the police have so far declined to get heavy-handed.

From what I can tell, the protests are mainly about economics, with people asking why Iran is spending so much money on terrorism and political meddling abroad while things deteriorate at home. Apparently some are shouting “No Gaza, No Lebanon, our lives are devoted to Iran”. Interestingly, I recently heard some grumblings from Russians about Putin expending money and effort in Syria rather than improving living conditions at home.

The last time there were protests of this size in Iran was 2009 following elections, and Barack Obama declined to back the protesters, effectively siding with the regime. This time around we have Donald Trump in the White House and, surprise surprise, he’s not fucking about:

This is winning him support in unlikely quarters, with some centrist Democrats now referring to Obama’s silence in 2009 as an “error”. Others have pointed out that far from being an error, this was entirely consistent with Obama’s policy of sucking up to America’s sworn enemies in the hope of avoiding difficult foreign policy dilemmas on his watch, and in the case of Iran, signing that ludicrous nuclear deal in the hope of securing his “legacy”. It would be highly ironic if the despotic Iranian regime is overthrown by its own people while Trump is in charge: a constant refrain from his critics has been that his bellicose language towards the Mullahs is unhelpful and only serves to rally the people around their government. Turns out America throwing its moral support behind people trampled on by their governments actually gives them encouragement. Who knew?

Of course, this is giving a lot of people a headache, for two reasons. Firstly, it shows that Obama’s policy towards Iran was seriously ill-considered, but criticism of the Messiah is verbotten in media circles. Secondly, it makes Trump look good. This is why CNN has barely mentioned the protests, preferring instead to ask why Trump doesn’t own a pet. One would have also thought that certain American feminists might feel a little embarrassed about calling themselves brave while marching in Washington wearing pussy-hats in order to listen to sharia-supporting Linda Sarsour praise Islam, but I think we established long ago these morons are incapable of shame.

It also gives the usual conspiracy-mongers a problem. Normally when protests appear in a country whose population has suffered under decades of dysfunctional government, idiots from both sides of the political spectrum immediately blame the CIA or the Jews/Israel. It never occurs to them that maybe ordinary people can get fed up with a lifetime of misrule, but now they may be forced to. It’s going to be pretty hard to claim that the CIA has been active in Iran and paying Iranians to protest their government, and it’s going to be even harder to convince anyone that a nefarious cabal of Jews has done the same. That said, I expect we’ll still get the usual bollocks about a pipeline within a few weeks.

Personally, I’m glad the Iranians have taken to the streets. The Iranians are not stupid, bloodthirsty savages bent on the eradication of Israel and the US, by contrast they appear to be relatively sensible people ruled by theocratic despots who I’d like to see hanging from lampposts, upside down and on fire. I would love to see regime change in Iran, but it could only come from within, at the hands of the Iranians themselves; if it came about via external force it would be a disaster. Regardless of what happens now, and I expect the government will break up the protests and regain control before too long, the Ayatollah’s regime is now looking vulnerable. The people have shown the world they are not supportive of the bullshit their leaders spout, and I am confident they want a more modern, open society and less backward theocracy. In a brittle regime, protests like these taken on an importance which far outweighs their actual size and, unlike in the Arab springs, I am more confident what will follow the eventual collapse of theocratic rule in Iran will be an improvement.

Finally, the person who ought to be watching proceedings in Iran very closely is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He seems keen on establishing in Turkey a theocratic Islamist regime similar to that of Iran, and the two countries are keen allies in the stand-off between the various Arab countries in the Gulf. If the Iranian regime falls the one that replaces it might not like him very much. The Turkish people might also get the idea that they have options to resist encroaching religious despotism after all.

All in all, this is encouraging. Let’s see what happens.

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More on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

From the BBC:

Michael Gove has come under fire for saying he didn’t know what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing in Iran when she was arrested in 2016.

Then he’s in the same position as most of us.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said Mr Gove had “compounded” Mr Johnson’s “cavalier approach to international diplomacy”.

Firstly, why did the BBC’s Andrew Marr bring up the topic of Zaghari-Ratcliffe with Gove, who is the Environment Secretary? What’s this got to do with him?

Secondly, if the welfare of Zaghari-Ratcliffe hangs in the balance and her fortunes could swing one way or the other based on what ministers back in the UK say, perhaps it would be better if the likes of the BBC refrained from raising the topic on live television with politicians not involved in her case?

What is happening here is obvious. The BBC want to maintain the narrative that the government is in disarray, and so Marr put the question to Gove hoping to stir the pot a little. Unless Gove repeated word-for-word what Boris did they could use it to manufacture more outrage, and sure enough that’s what’s happened. Boris is now saying Zaghari-Ratcliffe went to Iran on holiday, Gove says he doesn’t know, and my guess is the Foreign Office documents would tell us a lot more than the BBC is right now. They seem to be playing the role of mouthpiece for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, uncritically accepting and repeating whatever he has to say.

I found this interesting:

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport with her 18-month-old daughter in April 2016, one of several Iranians with dual nationality to be detained over a period of months.

If Zaghari-Ratcliffe is an Iranian citizen, then what has this got to do with the Foreign Office? I’ve always thought the unwritten rule of diplomacy was that dual citizens generally have to deal with each of their home countries without help from the other. If you’re a dual British and Greek citizen and the Greeks snatch you from a beach in Mykonos and enroll you in national service, the British government won’t help you: it’s an internal matter.

I can understand why Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband started making noises about his wife’s arrest and imprisonment – who wouldn’t? – but in doing so he’s got the Foreign Office publicly involved which has led to Boris Johnson’s allegedly misguided statements. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all if things are less clear cut than they seem. In the absence of any proper reporting, I’m going to give myself license to speculate a little.

First I’ll note that Zaghari-Ratcliffe has retained her Iranian name, which suggests her Iranian nationality was not something she wished to keep hidden. On the contrary, she probably used to to good effect during her career working for a political lobby-group calling itself a charity and the BBC. We already know that the BBC was training Iranian journalists, which appears to be in breach of Iranian law. Why the BBC thinks it has any business training Iranian journalists I don’t know, but their doing so appears to have landed several of them in jail. Well done, Auntie! So it may well be that one of these imprisoned journalists has been asked to name Iranians overseas involved with training journalists or writing articles critical of the Iranian government, and one of them has fingered Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Could it be that she has participated in training sessions, or contributed to articles, that the Iranian government interprets as being seditious? Might they have evidence of this? It’s not beyond the bounds of plausibility, is it? She was doing something for these organisations, so what was it? If she was solely involved with water-well projects in Bolivia or fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone and left the subject of Iran well alone, surely her former employers – who are indignantly expressing their outrage – would have come forward and said so, wouldn’t they?

So here’s my guess: she’s used her Iranian nationality in a professional capacity and someone in Iran has spilled her name. The Iranian authorities have got further details – perhaps an article with her name on or some course notes – and decided they were subversive. With her being an Iranian citizen with family in Iran, they’ve seen it as their business and their right to nab her at the airport and put her on trial. Now this doesn’t mean she deserves to be in jail or she’s been subject to a fair trial, but it is more plausible than the Iranians simply nabbing someone for the hell of it. Perhaps the Iranian government doesn’t like its citizens working for organisations like the BBC and “charities” actively involved in politics which run contrary to their interests, in which case Zaghari-Ratcliffe really ought to have realised this before she accepted a job with them, but I think there is more to this story than we’re being told.

Unfortunately, we only have the word of her husband to go on. He is being paraded around the BBC amid calls for Boris Johnson to resign, seemingly unaware he is being used as a political pawn. Nobody gives a shit about his wife, other than him: everyone else is only interested in making the Tories look bad. He may soon come to regret his decision to participate in this circus. In 2015 I said this in relation to the execution of the ringleaders of the Bali Nine:

By all means, make the principled stand I described earlier but whipping up a media frenzy which overlooks the pair’s incontrovertible guilt and their leadership role, complete with accusations of corruption, threats of boycotts, withdrawal of ambassadors, and the casual dismissal of the sovereign right of Indonesia to try and sentence criminals apprehended on their own turf in accordance with their own laws.  There were times when the Australians might as well have said “Listen brown folk, we know you’re all corrupt and we are your superior neighbours, so let our citizens go free and we’ll allow you to sit with us at the next regional summit.”  Would Australia have dared to behave like this had the two ended up on death row in California?  Would they hell.  Would Australia have been happy about the Indonesian government protesting an Australian court ruling in such a manner?  No they would not.

Whatever chance the condemned men had of being spared before they were shot on 29th April, this was surely extinguished by the frankly disgraceful behaviour of Australia’s politicians and media.  No doubt the Indonesians will be blamed for years for the death of a “young, shy Australian man” and his mate who is “funny, articulate… charismatic and has a very caring personality”.  But Australia ought to shoulder the blame for ensuring their sentence would be carried out by insulting the Indonesians to such an extent that they had little choice but to do otherwise.

If Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband has chosen to take the route of whipping up Britain’s media into a frenzy over the inexcusable jailing of his wife by the Iranian regime, he had better be absolutely damned sure there isn’t the slightest shred of evidence that can be used to justify their actions. Unless she’s led a squeaky-clean professional life having nothing to do with Iran and maintaining only personal and family connections, then he’s playing a very dangerous game. The Iranians have made a stand on this, suggesting they are deeply unhappy about something she has done. Now the matter has turned into an international incident, the Iranians will be forced to either double-down or release her. If the have anything which could even semi-plausibly be used against her – such as testimony from an Iranian journalist trained by the BBC – which option do you think they’ll take?

I might be wrong on all of this, and some people might be annoyed that I’m engaged in wild speculation. But if nobody is going to do any proper reporting and the BBC – which seems complicit in this whole mess – is simply going to serve as a mouthpiece for the woman’s husband, then I make no apologies.

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The Media and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

I woke up this morning to news that Boris Johnson had apparently made a gaffe regarding a certain Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who currently resides in an Iranian prison. The media is going absolutely mental over it, and Twitter mobs and Labour politicians are piling on.

The story is that Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman, was jailed in Tehran after being arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016, charged with plotting to overthrow the government. The full charges have not been made public, but she denies any wrongdoing. According to her family, she went to Iran to visit her parents, but Boris Johnson said something quite different during a parliamentary enquiry:

A charity fears a British-Iranian woman held in Iran could have her prison sentence doubled following remarks made by the foreign secretary.

Boris Johnson told a Commons committee that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested at Tehran Airport in 2016, was “teaching people journalism”.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation said she was seeing family and urged Mr Johnson to correct his “serious mistake”.

All the reporting on this is focused on Johnson’s gaffe and how he should immediately retract, explain, apologise, and resign. Everyone is piling in, using the incident as an excuse to bash the hapless Theresa May and the Tory government. What is missing, unsurprisingly, is some actual reporting.

Now perhaps Johnson has made an enormous blunder which could see Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s sentence doubled – the Iranians have seized on his remarks to threaten her with this – but nobody seems interested in asking why he made them and what they were based on. As is so often the case when Brits are jailed abroad, everyone is simply taking the family’s word that she is thoroughly innocent, the Iranians have no case against her, and Johnson made a catastrophic error.

Now it could be that the Iranians have simply decided to chuck this woman in jail for no reason as the media implies, but we should at least look a little closer. So, firstly:

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has worked for the charity the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the BBC

This would be the same Thompson Reuters foundation that, among other things, provides pro-bono legal advice for refugees and immigrants to fight deportation from the USA:

The US has long prided itself on championing human rights and the rights of those fleeing persecution;  between 1980-2016 the country received approximately 70,000 refugees annually.

Yet on 6 March 2017, US President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order that suspended the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, and banned people from six majority-Muslim countries – Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – from entering the country for 90 days.

The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), a leading non-profit providing legal representation to refugees, immediately mobilised thousands of pro bono lawyers at airports to assist incoming immigrants and refugees. Besides offering direct legal advice on the ground, IRAP identified an urgent need to create a ‘one-stop shop’ online to inform affected individuals on their rights, and available legal options.

We also get gems like this:

Worsening droughts, storms, floods and sea level rise can exacerbate poverty and create more vulnerability in the form of child marriage and human trafficking. But a global transition to clean energy also presents huge opportunities to spur development and improve life for billions of people. By opening up the conversation to include the ‘human cost’, we are able to connect with new audiences, and forge partnerships that can help build more resilient and sustainable societies.

Now I don’t want to defend the Iranians here, but it’s not too difficult to see how they reached the conclusion that anyone working for this outfit is involved in political activity, not mundane charity work. So did anyone in the media bother to find out what her work involved, and whether any of it concerned Iran? Of course not, but one would think this was relevant, no? I’ve also not been able to find if she was born in Iran, and if so when she left. We have plenty of footage of indignant family members, but precious little about the actual person other than a few photogenic pics of her with a cute kid.

Note that she also worked for the BBC. Now according to this Guardian report:

Although the exact reasons for her incarceration are unclear, Iranian authorities have hinted that her arrest is linked to the 2014 imprisonment of several employees of an Iranian technology news website, according to Amnesty International. They were given long prison terms for participating in a BBC journalism training course. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was a project assistant at the BBC’s Media Action, the broadcaster’s international development charity, in 2008-09. The BBC is loathed by the Iranian establishment, mainly for its Persian service, which is watched by millions of Iranians via illegal satellite dishes.

So was Zaghari-Ratcliffe involved in delivering this training course or not? The BBC has gone all-in on the outrage, but I’ve yet to see a statement saying:

“We confirm the BBC provided journalism training to Iranian citizens, but at no point was Zaghari-Ratcliffe involved.”

One wonders why not.

In other words, Boris Johnson is being castigated for suggesting Zaghari-Ratcliffe was involved in an activity – training Iranian journalists – which the BBC appears to have carried out quite openly at a time when she worked there. If training Iranian journalists is such a horrendous crime that Johnson has endangered this woman’s liberty by suggesting she was involved in it, then why is the BBC doing it?

I’m not saying the Iranians have a case here, or that the poor woman deserves to be in jail. But it appears her employment in a highly political “charity” and the BBC, which peddles fake news and engages in political interference as a matter of course, has been used as a basis for her incarceration. Presumably she thought both organisations were whiter-than-white and her role in each wouldn’t be viewed with suspicion by the authorities when she travelled to Iran. That has proved to be a costly mistake.

Boris Johnson appears to have put his foot in it as usual, but if anyone was really interested in the truth of this we’d see some proper reporting. Instead, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s fate is being used as an excuse to bash the Tory government and score some cheap political points. This is handy for the media of course, because it detracts attention from the fact that their employees are being thrown in jail for peddling political propaganda. In all of this, nobody is looking very good.

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Trump at the UN

This tweet summed it up well for me:

And this was laugh-out-loud funny from the ever-reliable Iowahawk:

It’s also been rather amusing watching people fall over themselves to defend the Rocketman and the Mullahs because they hate Trump so much.

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