In the last week, two Saudi oil facilities have been attacked by what is thought to be Houthi rebels in. These reprisals are considered to be a response to Saudi Arabia’s continuous attacks of Yemen. To confuse matters further the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accused Iran of conducting the drone attacks, which has been strongly denied by Iran. Meanwhile in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu continues with his “Greater Israel” quest, talking about illegally annexing Palestine’s Jordan Valley. This has been discussed under the guise of establishing the future eastern border of Israel, however, the area has been illegally occupied since 1967.
Netanyahu has proposed this annexe as a sound political strategy. He has an election on 17th September and is under considerable pressure. Criticism of him isn’t necessarily coming from a rejuvenated left or centrist dissent, but rather claims of a failure on the right. This includes both the far right and the ultra-nationalists inability to concoct a united agenda. To put this in perspective, Netanyahu’s main contender to the crown is Benjamin Gantz, from the supposedly centrist Blue and White Party. Gantz like Netanyahu strongly supports settlers, proposing an expansion throughout Palestine. Netanyahu, therefore, has no option tactically other than to trump this strategy, calling for the annexation of the West Bank.
In recent years Netanyahu has felt emboldened due to the support from Donald Trump, which has been highlighted by the US government moving their embassy to Jerusalem. A move which can be seen as the US legitmising the colonisation of Jerusalem. As the rich and powerful celebrated this move, just miles away in Gaza violence filled the air. Israel casually refers to the repeated attacks there as mowing the lawn. A tactic designed to keep Gaza’s economy on the “brink of collapse, with the last major campaign in 2014 claiming the lives of 2,300 Palestinians, 70% of which being civilians.
The US’s support of Israel, exemplified by US ambassador David Friedman’s comment that “Israel has the right to some of the West Bank”, plus cross party support in Israel for ‘settlers’ has led to recent violence across the region. Crowds of 1,200 settlers backed by Israeli soldiers were witnessed harassing Palestinians and international activists in Hebron. While in East Jerusalem 1,700 settlers stormed the Al-Asqa Mosque enabled by the Israeli police. As usual the international community have been conspicuous by their absence. In truth, all that Israel requires to proceed with this bullying behaviour is the continued support of the US.
By supplying weapons, the US and UK have pledged their support to the Saudi regime’s systematic destruction of Yemen, who claim the Houthis are backed economically and militarily by Iran. In this context this can be seen as a conflict between Sunni ruled Saudi Arabia and Shia ruled Iran. What is worth noting is that Yemen is strategically important, sitting on the strait that links the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and is a primary passing point for most of the world’s oil shipments.
Since 2015 in Yemen 7,025 civilians have been killed, with 65% of these linked to Saudi led coalition air strikes. Approximately 80% of the country’s population of 24 million need humanitarian aid and assistance, yet we rarely ever hear about this crisis in the media. It is clear that the hands of the US and the UK are bloody, with both nations heavily involved in the selling of arms to Saudi Arabia.
Between 1999 and 2017 the US had sold $115bn worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, with Trump signing off on another order reportedly worth $110bn (US) over the next 10 years. The UK has also capitalised on the war as they account for 23% of all arms imported to Saudi Arabia. Since 2015 the UK have sold weapons to the value of $6.4bn (US) effectively supporting the Saudi led campaign in Yemen.
Another interesting aspect regarding these allies is the emergence of a Saudi-Israeli alliance. To be blunt, the two nations have one thing in common and that is Iran. In 2003 the removal of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni Muslim regime altered the balance of power in the region, with the now Shia dominated Iraqi government establishing closer links with Iran. The increasing influence of Iran in the region has been troubling for both of these nations, who fear an Iranian corridor running from Tehran all the way through to the Mediterranean. This is probably the main reason why relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia have changed over the last 10-15 years.
As well as strategical reasons for Saudi Arabia to team up with Israel, there is of course a religious element to all this. Saudi Arabia sees itself as the primary Sunni Muslim nation and for many years the leader of the Muslim world. This was challenged following the Islamic revolution of Iran in 1979, which gave birth to a theocratic state. Since 2011 both sides have exploited the Arab uprisings, predominently in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria in an attempt to influence the region.
Up until this point both Saudi Arabia and Iran have resorted to proxy wars such as the war in Syria, however, the recent attack on Saudi soil could indeed alter how this power struggle continues. It’s distinctly possible that Saudi Arabia feels more vulnerable following these fresh events and of course to complicate matters we always need to include the Trump factor.
It could be argued that segments of the US government and the deep state have been spoiling for a fight with Iran for decades. Even Hillary Clinton (do you remember her?) stated that if she was president she would attack Iran. Relations with Iran are clearly not helped by Trump’s recent rhetoric suggesting the US is “locked and loaded”. What is meant by this, metaphorically or otherwise who knows. Aside from all the posturing, however, the US government’s bold claims that the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia were planned and executed by Iran have as yet not been supported by any evidence.
Like many other countries in the world Iran have a history with the US, which generally starts from the lead up to events in 1953, culminating in the CIA and UK intelligence overthrow of democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. It’s of no surprise that tensions rose when Mossadegh revealed that he wanted to Nationalise Iran’s oil industry, which occurred in 1951. Previous to this, Iran’s oil was controlled by the British owned Anglo Iranian Oil Company. Following the coup and the instalment of the Shah who went on to brutally rule for the next 26 years, the US secured themselves a share in Iran’s oil wealth.
This isn’t all, in 1979 the US backed Shah of Iran was forced to leave the country, paving the way for the return of exiled Ayatollah Khomeini. The Islamic Republic of Iran was declared on April 1st 1979 following a referendum. In November 1979 the US embassy in Tehran was seized and American hostages were held for 444 days, the last 52 being freed in 1981. While in England, London saw their own hostage crisis in 1980, when six gunmen opposing Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime took control of the embassy demanding the release of 91 political prisoners. This all came to an abrupt end following the now famous raid by the SAS, killing 5 of the 6 gunmen.
By 1985-86 the Iran-Contra scandal surfaced, whereby, the US shipped weapons to Iran, in return Tehran would help to free US hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon. The profits from these transactions were used to support the anti-government Contras in Nicaragua to fight against the socialist Sandinistas. In 1988 an Iranian jetliner was shot down by a US warship in the Gulf killing all 290 people on board. It was claimed by the skipper of the USS Vincennes that the Airbus A300 was mistaken for a jet fighter.
Relations in the 90’s were relatively peaceful, however, tensions returned in the 2000’s when President George W Bush described Iran as part of an “axis of evil”. Great diplomatic relations George! Never have so many lies been told in one speech. Orwellian doesn’t even begin to describe this overt act of sabre rattling, egged on by members from the House of Representatives and the Senate in 2002.
Following allegations of Iran developing nuclear weapons, a period of sanctions ensued imposed by the US, UN and the EU. As a consequence of this Iran’s currency lost two thirds of its value in 2 years. But during Obama’s leadership ties between the two nations started to improve. In 2015 Iran agreed to a long term deal to limit its sensitive nuclear activities, allowing international inspectors to observe in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Any tentative goodwill created by Obama was scrapped in 2018 when President Trump abandoned the nuclear deal reinstating sanctions on Iran. Since then 6 oil tankers have been struck by explosions in the Gulf of Oman in June 2019, with the US accusing Iran of carrying out the act. The most recent events in Saudi Arabia occurred just a few days ago disrupting 5% of the worlds oil production, this too has been pinned on Iran despite nothing to support the claim. All of this goes to show that even without the war-monger-in-chief John Bolton the US government is still more than capable of foreign policy brain farts. The UN Yemen envoy has told the Security Council that it is not entirely sure who is responsible, but stated that the strike would increase the chances of regional conflict and instability.
So what this have to do with us? These are major events and any escalation could affect even some of the least offensive nations on the planet. In my home country of New Zealand, like many things such as sport this small country punches well above it’s weight and diplomacy is no exception. But foreign policy is a tricky discipline as we clearly don’t live in vacuum. If this was the case it would be easy for Prime Minister Ardern to condemn Netanyahu’s wet dream of annexing the Jordan Valley. It would also be an elementary decision to distance New Zealand from Trump’s posturing on affairs in the Middle East, including his recent unfounded accusations towards Iran.
There are, however, two problems. Despite New Zealand having a proud history of condemning Israel’s humanitarian violations against the Palestinian people, Israel are the undisputed champions of propaganda and misinformation, known as Hasbara (meaning ‘explanation’ in Hebrew). This can be highlighted by the repeated baseless anti-Semitic claims against the UK Labour leader and supporter of Palestinian human rights Jeremy Corbyn. Israel has utilised every anti Corbyn back bencher, mouth piece and pro Jerusalem organisation in order to discredit and destroy a socialist inspired Labour Party led by Mr Corbyn. If NZ are going to stand up to Israel and by proxy the US, they need to do this with their eyes wide open.
A second issue is New Zealand is a member of the 5 eyes, which is under the UKUSA agreement going back over 70 years. This brings together Canada, US, Australia, UK and NZ, which is generally regarded as the world’s most comprehensive intelligence alliance. Under Trump it is not inconceivable that he would threaten expulsion from ‘five eyes’ if New Zealand didn’t toe the line. There has been a taste of this over the 5G Huawei saga, whereby the company was to be allowed into New Zealand’s 5G network via Spark. In response, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in 2018 that “the US will not share any information with a country which allows the Chinese company into ‘critical information systems'”.
Maybe all this is too “big picture” for some and I’m sure people will say “well there’s nothing we can do about it anyway”. I notice a similar response when writing about climate change or poverty, it seems to overawe people into some catatonic state. In contrast, if something is written about Brexit then all hell breaks loose on all sides. Or worse still, more people are likely to tune into claims of sexist remarks made by Donald Trump 10 years previous, but global instability? Not so much. The truth of the matter is, all of this affects the security of the planet and proves why democracy needs to change rapidly. Collectively we need to stop the US and co from dominating with their usual interventionist style of foreign policy for the good of our home.