Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Ehud Barak’

A New Era in UK-Iran Relations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd August, 2015

UK Iran 1The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is in Tehran today, reopening the Embassy that has been closed for four years following its invasion by demonstrators. Given the recent progress in international negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions this was an inevitable and welcome step. Though Brtain’s engagement in Iran has not always been positive there are strong reasons for the UK — and indeed the European Union — to have closer working relations with this important Middle Eastern power. Commercial opportunities are obvious, but trade should not be the only focus for attention. If there is going to be a regional settlement of Syria’s ongoing civil war then Iran is going to have to be involved. Similarly, wider regional insecurity as well as the fight against ISIS, require closer contacts with Tehran. In particular, it would be helpful to reduce the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has been a central cause of the recent events in Yemen.

UK Iran Britain can also usefully use its influence to try to calm Israeli rhetoric against Iran and vice versa; yesterday, in an interview, the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak confirmed that Israel had considered attacking Iran four times over the past decade. Iranian propaganda against what it refers to as the “Zionist entity” is often poisonous, but Israel would find itself in a less ignominious position if it withdrew from occupied Palestine. There is, however, one other major issue that could be an impediment in the way of much closer British-Iranian relations and that is human rights. The Islamic Republic has a poor record in a number of areas, including the treatment of its Ba’hai minority, Kurds, political dissidents, LGBT population and others. And although the UK Foreign Office recently downgraded its emphasis on a worldwide campaign against the death penalty it should not let this issue drop off the agenda in discussions with Iran.

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Europe Must Act Firmly on Gaza

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 6th January, 2009

gaza-shells-as-vases1        Israel/Palestine is awash with peace missions from Europe at the moment, all urging a ceasefire in the current conflict in Gaza.  Tony Blair, the Madrid Quartet’s (bizarrely chosen) Middle East peace envoy has not been on holiday (as Gordon Brown rather cattily said on British television over the weekend), but shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah. The French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been through, urging an end to hostilities, as has a Czech-led delegation from the European Union, which included the EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. And what has been the outcome off all this activity? Nothing!

Conflicts are never black-and-white, in which one side is 100% wrong and the other 100% right, so I would not claim that that is the case in Gaza now. The Islamic militants (whether encouraged by Hamas or not) who have been sending a barrage of low-grade rockets into Israel over the past few months have been inexcusably provocative. However, the Israeli response has not just been ‘disproportionate’, to employ the eupemism that is currently so much in vogue. It is wicked. It is criminal. The Arab world will not forgive Israel for this. And neither should Europe.

Europe was instrumental in the creation of the modern state of Israel, both as a result of British colonial policy (the Balfour Declaration et al) and as a result of the Nazi Holocaust in Germany and German-occupied states. So Europe cannot wash its hands of the consequences. Moreover, as the European Union is committed to championing peace, human rights and the rule of law, not only within its borders but beyond them as well, it must address the Israel/Palestine situation. The EU has a good record in helpng the Palestinian Authority, including funding projects and institutions (some of which the Israelis have subsequently blown up). And it has close working ties with Israel. But it is not flexing its muscles strongly enough with the Israeli government.

Preferential trade arrangements between the EU and Israel should be suspended immediately. European political leaders should stop using euphemisms, and condemn the barbarity of the Israeli assault on Gaza in clear, unambiguous terms. Europe should also tell the United States publicly that it is unacceptable for the Bush administration to block United Nations resolutions aimed at ending the conflict. And European political leaders should put pressure on Barack Obama to declare that his policy on the Middle East will not just be a carbon-copy of George W Bush’s.

We should continue to criticise Hamas where appropriate as well, of course (though objectively speaking now there is all-out war in Gaza, as declared by the Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, the Palestinians have every right to defend themselves from the Israeli invasion in whatever way they can). A comprehensive ceasefire agreement is essential in which Hamas guarantees to stop rocket-fire on Israel and to ensure that the tunnels used for bringing arms into Gaza from Egypt are closed, while at the same time Israel lifts its land and sea blockade of Gaza totally and permanently, and the land crossing between Gaza and Egypt is opened and properly supervised.

The Israelis have indicated that they are not interested in such a ceasefire until they have pounded Hamas into the ground. Europe should lead the Western world in denouncing that attitude. The Israelis are getting away with murder (with Washington’s benediction). Every day, Palestinian children are being slaughtered, disabled and traumatised. Europe must disassociate itself from this action and show its mettle on the international stage. The time has come to turn swords into ploughshares, and shells into vases (as the illustration of flowers in Gaza shows).

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