State of the State Department
US President Donald Trump’s replacement of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo was welcomed by the Australian (March 15).
“Mr Trump needs a secretary of state firmly in tune with his world view and the conduct of foreign policy. Mr Tillerson was not that person,” the paper opined, noting that the pair disagreed on a raft of issues. These included Tillerson opposing moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and opposing changes to the Iran nuclear deal.
In the same edition, US correspondent Cameron Stewart highlighted what the change in personnel means for Australia, writing, “the obvious difference of opinion between Australia and Pompeo is on Iran. Australia recognises that the Iran nuclear deal is not perfect but argues that it is better than no deal. Pompeo disagrees and, given that Trump is of the same opinion, it is difficult to imagine the US will not withdraw within months from the nuclear deal.”
Look to the past
Elsewhere, former US Presidential Middle East adviser Aaron David Miller said Pompeo has the potential to be a good Secretary of State. The test is whether “he is willing to own the… core issues that are important to the promotion of American national interest.”
Dealing with North Korea’s nuclear weapons will require “prolonged negotiations” through a “summit that ends with a general set of principles, a communique that ends amicably, not in bitterness.”
He pointed to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in July 2000 as an example of the risks with summits, where “you go to the top of the mountain…if you don’t succeed, [you] ain’t got nowhere else to go. And in the case of North Korea and an escalatory cycle on the Korean Peninsula, it’s far more dangerous than a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Ahead of the European-US meeting on the Iran nuclear deal, Miller said Pompeo should recommend Trump certify the deal for another 120 days so North Korea does not get the message that “we won’t keep our word,” ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (March 15).
Fixing a flawed deal
AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein explained why the Trump Administration announced it will not recertify the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran in May if it is not improved.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), he wrote, provided Iran with “a huge influx of funds – up to US$150 billion…rather than improving the lives of Iran’s civilians, that money has been used to bolster Iran’s military; fund the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for spreading the revolution through the region by destabilising neighbours and directing terrorism and militias; and directly funding terror groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.”
He also noted that the deal hasn’t stopped “Iran from working full steam ahead on advanced centrifuges, which will essentially bring Iran’s nuclear breakout time to just weeks” and has seen it launch “no fewer than 23 ballistic missile tests. The latter violates the UN Security Council Resolution that implemented the JCPOA, if not the agreement itself.”
By year eight, “Iran is free to buy and sell ballistic missiles – the key nuclear weapons delivery system, and by year 10 to 12 of the deal (2025-27), all major restrictions on Iran fade away, giving Iran a green light to build all the nuclear infrastructure it needs for a complete nuclear weapons arsenal,” Age (March 15).
The big picture
Earlier, Rubenstein called on Australia to designate the whole of Hezbollah as a terror group, not just its military wing, noting that the Lebanese group itself makes no such distinction.
Funded and armed by Iran, he said Hezbollah “as a whole is officially-listed as a terrorist organisation by the US, Canada, the Arab League, the Netherlands and the (Persian) Gulf Co-operation Council.”
“Cracking down on Hezbollah’s financial pipelines can assist in the fight against international crime, because Hezbollah generates money for its activities from drugs and money laundering operations in several continents, trafficking narcotics from South America into Europe and the US. Clamping down on Hezbollah would also have regional advantages. Reports say that, as well as in Australia, Hezbollah operatives have been active in Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, and Myanmar in the past two decades,” he wrote, Daily Telegraph (March 1).
The Nuclear Nexus
Analysts Richard Goldberg and Mark Dubowitz warned that North Korea and Iran’s three decades old nuclear partnership has only deepened since the JCPOA was initialled in 2015.
They wrote, “Tehran is using Pyongyang for work no longer permitted under the 2015 nuclear deal while perfecting North Korean-derived missile delivery systems back home… Iran reportedly sent its nuclear chief, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, to a North Korean nuclear test in 2013. Last year, North Korea’s second-highest-ranking official reportedly visited Iran for 10 days…Missile co-operation is extensive. Iran’s Shahab-3 nuclear-capable ballistic missile, whose 1,300km range means it can hit Israel, is based on North Korea’s Nodong missile. The 1,900km-range Khorramshahr missile, which Iran showed off last year, was derived from North Korea’s BM-25.”
Moreover, Iran watched North Korea “play the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations… demonstrate[ing] how a relatively weak country could persuade the US to yield on major concessions along a patient pathway to nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles” and insisting on the right to domestic uranium enrichment.
They urged the JCPOA be amended to constrain Iran’s nuclear-capable missile program, eliminate sunset provisions, and open all military sites to nuclear inspections, Australian (March 16).
Meanwhile, there was extensive media coverage on March 1 of the United Nations finding that North Korea made more than 40 shipments to Syria between 2012 and 2017 of missiles, arms and dual-purpose items for use in chemical weapons production in contravention of sanctions.
An unholy trinity
New York Times columnist Bret Stephens widened the focus on the Iran/North Korea partnership to include Russia’s key role in shoring up the Assad regime in Syria.
Stephens noted that “Pyongyang had previously tried to furnish Assad with a nuclear reactor, until the Israelis destroyed it in a 2007 airstrike. Pyongyang isn’t Damascus’ only helper. Last November, Moscow – which supplies Assad with an air force to bombard his own people – wielded its 10th and 11th vetoes in defence of the Syrian government at the UN Security Council to scupper a separate panel of experts charged with investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Beijing has used its own veto to help Assad on six occasions. Then there’s Iran, which has been invested in Assad’s survival from the beginning of the uprising against him in 2011. Through Hezbollah, its Lebanese proxy, Tehran has provided Assad with his most effective and merciless ground troops.”
Beyond the narrow interest of Iran seeking “to maintain the so-called Shi’ite crescent. Russia hopes to use its position in Syria to bargain for concessions over Ukraine. China wants to rebuild Syria when it’s all over. North Korea is just sinister,” all four desire, he argued, “to see a popular rebellion against tyranny fail spectacularly [and] to underscore America’s unreliability as a credible ally and serious enforcer of global norms,” Australian Financial Review (March 6).
Iran doesn’t give a Houthi
UK Times columnist Roger Boyes explained where the Yemen civil war fits into the greater scheme of things, with Iran backing the Houthi rebels (which he spelled “Huthi”) and Saudi Arabia supporting the internationally recognised government.
Iran, Boyes wrote, “wants to turn Yemen into the Saudi Vietnam, bleeding its resources, sending it adrift. The Huthis have fired hundreds of short-range rockets and at least 30 longer-range ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia since the war began in March 2015. Border towns and military garrisons were targeted.”
These “attacks are conceived by Tehran as a testing ground for future conflicts: last year the Huthis mounted a multi-missile salvo in a bid to overwhelm the Patriot batteries at Khamis Mushait military city, helped by drones crashing into and disabling radar defences. The Huthis are shaping up to be the Hezbollah of the south,” Australian (March 8).
Carr crashes again
A profile of Bob Carr by the Australian Financial Review‘s Geoff Winestock included a vacuous explanation from the former foreign minister on why he is a vocal critic of Israel and yet is quiet on China’s occupation of Tibet.
“I goad him by asking then why he is happy to attack Israel for its expansion of settlements in the West Bank but never mentions Tibet. He says Tibet is recognised as part of China but not even Israel itself claims ownership of the West Bank. ‘So I am critical of settlement expansion and want to see a Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel.’ The comparison of Palestine and Tibet exasperates him. ‘My position [on Israel] is the f—ing international consensus.'”
What “exasperates” pro-Israel supporters about Carr is his inability to acknowledge that Israeli governments of all stripes have made three offers to withdraw from the West Bank and create a Palestinian state. Unfortunately, none of these proposals have received the appropriate consideration one would expect from a national movement that claims to earnestly seek its own state. In fact, as current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas admitted in a 2015 TV interview, he rejected “out of hand” the offer former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert made to him in 2008 that included the equivalent of 100% of the West Bank and Gaza, a share of Jerusalem and a formula for dealing with refugee issues.
Israel’s counterterrorism umbrella
Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s revelation that Israeli intelligence helped foil a terror plot against an Etihad Airline flight out of Sydney in 2017 saw News Corp correspondent Charles Miranda pen a feature on Israel’s military intelligence 8200 unit, which intercepts and analyses communication data.
Miranda explained that “Israel’s intelligence network is second to none and has long been working outside its own borders to help its friends and allies in troubling times.”
The article noted the Rudd Government’s expulsion in 2010 of a Mossad agent after Israel allegedly used forged Australian passports to execute Hamas military Commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.
But as Miranda noted, “the Australian Government… had to be seen to condemn Israel’s spy tactics…It may be publicly unfathomable but it is widely known in Australian intelligence circles and happens elsewhere; the CIA has long used Australian and Canadian passports for its operatives to move about. Last week’s public revelation may help remind the international community of Israel’s worth and that of its prime minister but it’s business as usual for those behind the public security veil,” Courier Mail (Feb. 25).
Loathe ‘em and leave ‘em
Top marks to SBS TV’s Helen Isbister for her report of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ foolish address to the United Nations Security Council where he called for the US’s role as peace broker to be sidelined in favour of the international community.
Viewers heard newsreader Janice Petersen say that Abbas said he was ready to reach a historic peace agreement.
But Isbister’s story went on to note that “immediately after his speech President Abbas left. His departure was not against UN protocol given he was the only head of state in a room of ambassadors but Israel’s representative [Danny Danon] gave it deeper significance.”
Danon was seen telling the Council, “I expected Mr Abbas to stay with us and have a dialogue. Unfortunately, he’s once again running away.”
Isbister noted that the US’s two Middle East negotiators were present along with US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley who told the Council, “the United States stands ready to work with the Palestinian leadership. Our negotiators are sitting right behind me, ready to talk. But we will not chase after you. The choice, Mr President, is yours,” SBS TV “World News” (Feb.21).
The West Australian‘s report (Feb. 22) on Abbas’ UN appearance said the “Palestinians are furious at…Trump for overturning decades of US policy and recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, ignoring that east Jerusalem is Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 war.”
Wrong. Trump’s Jerusalem announcement stated, “We are not taking a position on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.”
Tom and his Aunty
Tom Switzer, Centre for Independent Studies Director, criticised the ABC (where he also presents the weekly radio show “Between the Lines”) for its left-leaning ideological proclivities.
According to Switzer, “when America withdrew from the Paris accords and announced it would move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the coverage was overwhelmingly scathing. Hardly any dissenting voices were aired. (Even with Donald Trump in the White House, there are still two sides to every story.),” Sydney Morning Herald (March 5).
A welcome correction
SBS Ombudsman Sally Begbie has apologised for an SBS TV “World News” report (Feb. 1), that was “imbalanced and appeared to display a partiality.”
Begbie agreed with AIJAC’s formal complaint that TV reporter Omar Dabbagh’s story on the United States’ decision to add Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to its list of proscribed terrorists breached the broadcaster’s Codes of Practice by claiming that Haniyeh is “seen as pragmatic and flexible in his attitude towards Israel.”
The finding also acknowledged that Dabbagh’s statement asserting that “Hamas had ruled Gaza since 2007 in a de facto capacity until handing power to the Palestinian Authority in December” was incorrect.
In her letter to AIJAC, Ms Begbie noted that, “As Hamas still controls Gaza, and Ismail Haniyeh consistently refuses to recognise the state of Israel, the report was inaccurate. These inaccuracies created a false impression that Ismail Haniyeh had a flexible attitude towards Israel and that Hamas is more co-operative in Palestine than it has shown itself to be.”
Elsewhere, following an AIJAC complaint on March 7, ABC Radio Classic FM removed from its website a reference to Berenice the “Queen of Palestine” from a description of an operatic piece about her. Berenice was one of King Herod’s daughters and died in 80 CE, 50 years before the Romans renamed Judea as “Palestina”.
Fact merges into fiction
Left wing Israeli novelist Nir Baram’s appearance on ABC Radio National “Big Ideas” (March 15) was his usual mishmash of half-baked, factually challenged views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The one-hour segment was a broadcast of Baram’s appearance at last September’s Brisbane Writers’ Festival when he discussed A Land Without Borders – his non-fiction book cataloguing 18 months spent among Jews and Palestinians on the West Bank.
Baram claimed that the Green Line separating the West Bank from Israel “is the separation line that was decided in Rhodes in 1947 when the Western countries wanted to separate the land between Israel and Palestine” and has “no logic”.
Wrong. The Green Line has nothing to do with Western countries but marks out the armistice lines of where Israeli and Arab forces ended up when the fighting stopped in 1949.
Baram said that the Arabs started the war in 1947 because “they didn’t accept the UN resolutions” but “the deportation of the Palestinian was a deliberate action, usually by the Israeli army…they wanted to get rid, to deport as much Palestinians as they can in order to preserve a Jewish state.” This claim about a deliberate plan of expulsion has been thoroughly debunked by the most authoritative of historian of the period, Prof. Benny Morris.
In Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian Authority, Baram said “you don’t feel the occupation” and said “that we always read about [the Palestinians] as victims in the blockade but the book gives them the opportunity to say what do they want.”
Baram repeated as factual a Palestinian claim that, since 1967, Israel has arrested 700,000 Palestinians. This is completely impossible if one looks at basic statistics on how many actual prisoners have been through the Israeli court system on an annual basis.
His answer to the conflict involves not a two-state solution but “one homeland, two states”, he said.
Unsurprisingly, the details on how that would work in practice were vague.