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Left v Right 3, April 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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Again from information is beautiful, a fantastic representation of what ‘left’ and ‘right’ means.

Cartoons from the Middle East 16, February 2008

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 akhbar al arab uae 14.2.08 pol game in leb

The political game in Lebanon

Akhbar Al Arab, UAE



The explosive situation in Lebanon

Al Bayeb, UAE


Iran complain about France’s colonial outpost in the UAE 3, February 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in French IR, Iran, Western-Muslim Relations.
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Iran has made a formal complaint to the French Ambassador in Tehran about France’s recent announcement that they will soon set up a military base in the UAE. Tehran accuse the French of adopting an ‘unfriendly position’ towards Iran by agreeing to station troops across the Persian Gulf, and – for once – Iran do seen to have a logical case. Indeed, it is somewhat difficult to see what the French are actually getting out of running this base in the UAE. There appear to be few – if any – tangible returns for them. France do have significant historical links with the Emirates so perhaps they are defending their influence there with the acquisition of the base. However, it seems somewhat unlikely that the French would go to the significant trouble of setting up and manning a base in the Persian Gulf just for ‘old time’s sake’. Thus, the French appear to have acquired this base solely as a badge of international prestige, promoting the (erroneous) notion that they are still a ‘world’ power who can influence actors in a contested and crucial corner of the world.

As far as Iran is concerned, having a new foreign and somewhat hostile power (with a significant and brutal colonial history) barely 250km from their mainland is a disturbing prospect. This can surely only reinforce Iran’s feelings of isolation vis-à-vis the Western world. Whilst the analogy of the Cuban Missile Crisis does not fit exactly* to this situation, it is nevertheless somewhat instructive in terms of explaining the reaction of a state to the stationing of an unfriendly military presence close to home soil. To put this another way – how happy would France be if Iran suddenly set up a military base a couple of hundred kilometres from Marseilles under some flimsy pretext, seemingly with the sole aim of pressurising French actions?

Iran’s angry reaction is not only understandable but just. Whilst France would not (I can only imagine) engage in reckless military activities in the Straits, their presence alone in the area is simply one more complicating and pressurising factor that an already potentially combustible region could really do without.

* Whilst France are a nuclear power, surely they will not base their missiles in the UAE base? Thus, one of the key dynamics of the Cuban Missile Crisis is not there, at least until (if) Iran acquire their own weapons. Additionally, the level hostility between France and Iran is significantly lower than it was between America and the USSR/Cuba at the time of the crisis.



Further signs of an Iranian regional rapprochement 1, February 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Foreign Policies, Iran, Middle East.
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It was suggested in an article earlier this week (‘Iran Threatens Reprisals’ 30th January) that Iran appeared to be softening its stance towards its regional neighbours. In that particular case it was Iran apparently relinquishing its previously asserted aim that countries which harboured US bases would themselves be attacked if the US launched an attack against Iran from those bases. Thus, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain – all with large US bases – would have been pleased to hear such an apparent change in policy, even if Iran retaliating against their countries was an unlikely prospect.

Additionally, in the past few months, there have been various signs of Iran edging towards a formal rapprochement with Egypt, which lends more and more credibility to the thesis suggesting that Iran are seeking to lower intra-regional tensions.

Iran broke off relations with Egypt after their involvement in the Camp David peace accords in 1978, during which Egypt negotiated with Israel. Iran saw this as a sign of betrayal and the two countries’ relations were further damaged for the coming decades when Anwar Sadat granted the deposed Shah of Iran refuge following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In the last few months, however, there have been a number of ministerial meetings signalling a thaw in relations. In December 2007, Ali Larjani the Iranian National Security Chief met with President Mubarak for discussions. This past week the speaker of the Iranian Parliament Gholam Ali Adel visited Cairo for a two day meeting orchestrated by the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC). This visit followed quickly on the heels of Iran’s Director General for foreign policy for the Middle Eastern and North African affairs, who was in Cairo on Sunday to discuss the Palestinian refugee situation with Egypt’s foreign minister. Indeed, the very next day the Iranian foreign minister announced that Iran and Egypt are close to re-establishing diplomatic links.

Iran, therefore, are mending their fences in the region, not only with Egypt but with other countries such as Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Ahmadinejad’s visit to Mecca and invitation to the GCC meeting in Doha are proof, if it were needed, that Iran’s policy shift is bearing fruit. Furthermore, Iran are seeking to make friends and influence people further a field in China and Central Asia. Hence their (as yet unsuccessful) lobbying to be included in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

The ultimate goal of these foreign policy forays is to offset American and European attempts to isolate Iran and they seem to be doing a good job at it so far. This means that any American and European attempts to pressure Iran need to take into account these constantly evolving international relationships. Any kind of blanket or insufficiently nuanced strategy could well backfire in the long run. Indeed, according to Harvard political scientist Samantha Power, current US policies do not appear to have such as level of flexibility and understanding. One can only hope that, assuming the Bush administration is not going to revamp its policies in its twilight months, the new American administration, which ever it may be, can bring with them fresh but educated ideas of how to interact with Iran.

The UK counter terrorism bill: necessary or nonsensical? 31, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Terrorism.
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On Thursday the 24th of January, Jacqui Smith the Home Secretary took the new counter terrorism bill to Parliament for approval. There is expected to be a vote on it sometime in the spring and until then, you can be sure that there will be heated debates about its merits in and out of Whitehall. One of the precursors to this bill (the 2005 Terrorism Bill) inflicted Tony Blair’s first Parliamentary defeat after some 8 years in office. If Gordon Brown is to avoid a similar fate, it appears that he has his work cut out. It is an unpopular bill both with Labour backbenchers and members of the other main parties. Add to this public criticism from the former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, the former Lord Chancellor Lord Faulkner, the Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Ken Macdonald, and the usual motley crew of vocal civil liberty groups, and the murmurs of disapproval become more of a torrent.

The headline-grabbing quote that everyone is – understandably – fixating on is the extension of the ability to hold suspects without charge from 28 to 42 days. To give this some perspective – as Shami Chakrabati is only too happy to do – the British proposed limit of 42 days compares to only one day in Canada, two in the US, two in Germany, four in Italy, six in France and, what is perhaps most damming of all, only five days in the neo-autocracy that is Russia.

Often lost in the outcry and acrimony of the 42 day issue are the other measures that the bill seeks to introduce including:

§ Making it a criminal offence to communicate, publish or elicit information about Armed Forces personnel, punishable by up to ten tears in jail.

§ Allowing suspects to be questioned after they have been charged (something which is currently not possible).

§ Longer sentences for terrorism-related crimes.

§ People found to be involved at any stage of a terrorist activity will be put on a register (like the sex-offender register). This will theoretically make it easier to keep a track of these people and, if needed, prevent them from going abroad.

§ Assets of those convicted can be seized.

§ Greater use of DNA samples.

§ A larger, wider use of intercept materials.

§ Inquests into deaths deemed sensitive could be classified by the government and put out of public reach.

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, has come up with two main arguments to defend her controversial bill. Firstly, the threat of terrorism in Britain is, she maintains, real, imminent and expanding. Furthermore, a critical plinth of this argument is that the terrorism that we will be facing in the future is even worse because it is more complicated. This comes up again and again in her interviews. Her particular definition of ‘complex’ is somewhat loose and nebulous – exactly like modern terrorist groups I suspect she would argue. She seems to be fixated on the fact that terrorist groups seek to cause mass casualties and give no warning, which – somehow – makes them more complex. But if this argument is just, then surely the government has been doing us a disservice by not introducing such measures sooner? After all, 9/11 aptly prove that terrorists seek mass casualties and don’t give warnings. If terrorism has indeed changed in the past few years, then such a change has not been adequately explained. Tired references to ‘multiple threats’ or ‘multiple actors’ are of no empirical use to anyone seeking to draw an informed conclusion.

Her second argument is even worse than the first. Assuming for a moment that these measures were enshrined in law today, they are not, however, being introduced to be used today, next week, or next month, but for the future. However, she is adamant that she is not simply introducing civil liberty threatening laws to guard against a hypothetical situation, for that would surely be absurd. In order to clarify how exactly she is not basing these laws on a hypothetical situation she says “if and when an attack happens, then it won’t be hypothetical.” Sorry? Run that by me again?

Mrs Smith is an Oxford educated MP and the first female Home Secretary. We can, therefore, assume that she is at least reasonably intelligent and so she must be inwardly cringing with the utter intellectual paucity and downright absurdity of this argument. But on she argues nevertheless: “we need to legislate for risks in the future…if an exceptional case can be made to a judge…” and so on.

I am struck with a bizarre parallel at this point. Michael Moore’s films and books may, deep down, at their very core, (possibly) have a point or an argument which, even if you don’t agree with, you can still appreciate. However, several hundred pages (or a couple hours) of insipid, low-balled, prejudiced, horribly skewed, poorly articulated arguments, you feel so bemused that he seems to think you’re that stupid as to believe that load of tripe, that you can’t see any merit in the original kernel of the argument. It is the same for me with Jacqui Smith’s whimsical logic.

For crucially, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the queue of people opposing the bill and a deeply sceptical nature regarding the veracity of the apparent ‘mounting and complex threat’ I have no particular problems with such measures. I fundamentally trust in the rule of law and the powers that be in this country. I don’t at all subscribe to the slippery-slope argument – that seems as facile and as unfounded Smith’s arguments, and I believe that there will be always enough Shami Chakrabatis around to keep the British Government broadly honest. However, I am in the minority and I think that both Brown and Smith are going to have to do a lot better than these somewhat pitiful attempts at persuasion if they are going to avoid having an embarrassing rebellion on their hands.

Iran threatens reprisals 30, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran.
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The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, General Mohammad Ali Jaafari, has told Al Jazeera that Iran will  retaliate against American bases in the region if they are used in an attack against Iran. This, obviously, does not even need to be stated – of course Iran would attack these bases. Thus perhaps the reason that this statement has come out now is in light of the recent French acquisition of a military base in the UAE, less than 250km from the Iranian mainland. Then again, this could simply be the Iranians gently rattling their sabre as they are wont to do.

Interestingly, in this statement the General said that Iran would specifically try to only attack the American bases and not retaliate against the Arab hosts. This is a change in policy. Previously, Iran made bellicose remarks about how states that hosted US troops – Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar – could be attacked as part of Iranian reprisals, were they themselves to be attacked. This, if indeed it is a firm shift in policy, would be a welcome relief for the countries in the region and could signal Tehran’s desire to defuse regional tension.

A Chinese military base in Iran? 28, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, China and the ME, Iran, Oil, Western-Muslim Relations.
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After France’s move to secure a military base in the UAE looking out at the Straits of Hormuz last week, it is no surprise that the Iranians are feeling yet more hemmed it. Kaveh L Afrasiabi , an Iranian expert has suggested that it might not be too long before Iran seek a Chinese base on Iranian soil to compensate and reinforce their security. This is, without doubt, a premature forecast. However, the logic at the heart of the argument is sound.

China’s ever expanding need for importing fossil fuels is well known. Indeed, in the coming years, China will be – from their perspective – worryingly dependent on shipments from both sides of the Persian Gulf. They have tried to compensate for this in many ways. For example, recently China has been exploring the potential of overland pipes from various Central Asian countries through to the west of China. However, no matter how optimistic projections are about such a project, the lion’s share of fuel would still need to be shipped from Iran and the Gulf countries through the Straits of Hormuz to China. Bearing this in mind, there seems to be no way that China, in the long run, would simply accept American stewardship of a sea passage so crucial to Chinese interests. At the moment, the Chinese have a naval base in Gawdar, Pakistan (just around the corner), from which they have limited power projection to the Straits. However, compared to the massive American bases in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, the Chinese base is far from adequate. The fact that the French have just announced that they will soon have a base in the region too is no deal breaker, but it certainly does not help ease China’s nerves, especially since the recent French-American rapprochement under Sarkozy.

As far as Iran are concerned, China are excellent trading partners. They have a guaranteed growing demand in the long term for their fossil fuels, they have the means to pay for it (in goods or cash), they have fairly sophisticated weaponry to sell to the Iranians, they have no (or at least, certainly fewer) compunctions about selling such weaponry or indeed nuclear related technology, they have a meticulous approach to never criticising other governments internal policies and as they are a member of the P5 on the UN Security Council, they have a casting and blocking vote there. They are, thus, very useful allies to have. Additionally, Iran are currently uncertain and not a little perturbed about American intentions regarding their nuclear activities. China too, whilst having good relations with the US right now, are by no means close to America. To choose just one example, the issue of Taiwan – deeply, deeply important to Beijing – is a divisive issue that reoccurs periodically between the two powers. Add to this the afore mentioned point about China not wanting America to be able to cut off their supplies so easily, and there is a definite dove-tailing of interests here: a Chinese base in Iran doesn’t seem so far fetched all of a sudden.

However, China are a country with a long-term view of things and there are no pressing needs right now to do something as drastic as establish a base in Iran, especially with their moment in the sun – the Olympics – coming up. However, the West generally, and America specifically need to be wary about forcing China and Iran closer and closer together. Such a situation, with a worried and recalcitrant China sated for fossil fuels and with an emboldened Iran with access to sophisticated weaponry and even advanced nuclear technology, is not that much short of a nightmare scenario.