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Category: Middle East & North Africa

Iran and the Downward Spiral of Transatlantic Relations

Written by Azriel Bermant & Wyn Rees

Image credit: Public_Domain_Photography (

The United States and Europe find themselves in a growing crisis with Iran. The US is funnelling military assets to the region following a series of incidents that have caused damage to petroleum tankers in the Persian Gulf. Although Iran has denied involvement, many suspect that Tehran has been the instigator of these attacks. Adding fuel to this combustible picture is Iran’s signal that it will breach the threshold on nuclear enrichment that was imposed by the 2015 nuclear agreement. President Trump has indicated that he does not want war but others in his administration see things differently and crises have the potential to escalate beyond the designs of rational policymaking.

60 years after Suez: a tale of two prime ministers

Written by Nigel Ashton.

Does history repeat itself? Never perfectly or precisely, but some of the parallels between Anthony Eden’s handling of the 1956 Suez Crisis and Tony Blair’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq are worth pondering. In both cases prime ministerial decision-making dictated the course of British policy and laid bare some of the weaknesses of the British political system.

First, take the conjuring of the threat. Both men framed their struggles in existential terms. For Eden, the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company at the end of July 1956 by the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, represented a threat to national survival.

The Chilcot Report and the use of inquiries for research

Written by Louise Kettle.

On Wednesday 6th July the Iraq Inquiry’s report will finally come to light. Seven years after investigations began the 2.6 million word report will be published in twelve volumes and is expected to establish what happened in the planning and throughout the Iraq War. It is hoped that this will provide answers for families of those who lost loved ones in Iraq and lessons to be learned for all future governments.

In addition to these outcomes the report will provide invaluable insights for researchers interested in Tony Blair and his government’s handling of the Iraq War. Whilst archives, such as The National Archives at Kew, also offer a behind the scenes glimpse at the inner workings of government, researchers have to wait 30 years (currently transitioning down to 20 years) for documents to be publicly released. Inquiries, on the other hand, provide instant and easy (often online) access to contemporary sources without the prolonged process of a Freedom of Information request.

Fight against Islamic State in Iraq is becoming a major ground war

Written by Paul Rogers.

As the authorities in Western Europe face up to the increased risk of attacks from Islamic State (IS), arrests have been made in Britain and security operations in Belgium and France, all point to intensive government action against the “new” domestic IS threat.

The popular media narrative is that this is a desperate move from IS as it retreats in Iraq and Syria – but security professionals take a very different view.

Giulio Regeni, Egypt, and the deafening silence of Europe

Written by Catherine Gegout.

Giulio Regeni, a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge, disappeared in Cairo on 25 January, and was found dead with signs of torture on his body on 3 February. Giulio Regeni conducted research which contributed to our knowledge of social and global justice, the impact of civil movements on power structures before and during revolutions, the role of women in political activism, and the role of trade unions in providing living wages to citizens.

Over 4,600 academics worldwide asked the Egyptian authorities to ‘cooperate with an independent and impartial investigation into all instances of forced disappearances, cases of torture and deaths in detention during January and February this year, alongside investigations by criminal prosecutors into Giulio’s death, in order that those responsible for these crimes can be identified and brought to justice.’

Is the Iraqi army a lost cause?

Written by Jon Moran.

Building an army in a short space of time is a very difficult task. To be sure, there are some impressive examples. Cromwell’s republican New Model Army was put together while the English Civil War was already underway; Washington’s army of US Independence quickly wore down and beat the British in the 18th century; Napoleon’s revolutionary army was born from the French Revolution and swept all Europe before it; the Red Army of the Soviet Union was forged from the chaos of its defeat in World War I.

But the list of failures is just as spectacular. The South Vietnamese Army boasted billions of dollars, up-to-date equipment and state-of-the-art training, but couldn’t control even South Vietnam itself. It ultimately surprised observers only by holding on as long as it did after the Americans left.

A New World Order: The importance of the 1991 Gulf War

Written by Louise Kettle.

Twenty five years ago, on 17th January 1991, the offensive operations of the Gulf War began. A coalition of 39 countries launched a campaign to roll back the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. The war saw the deployment of around 45,000 British forces, the largest since the Second World War.

Throughout the previous year, tensions between Kuwait and Iraq had escalated. The bitter Iran-Iraq war had left Iraq in severe economic difficulties with its per capita income halved and an estimated $67 billion worth of damage to infrastructure. In addition, Baghdad had borrowed around $80 billion from other countries and, following the war, foreign debt servicing and defence costs consumed seven-eighths of Iraq’s oil export revenue.

After years of proxy war, Saudi Arabia and Iran are finally squaring up in the open

Written by Simon Mabon.

Ever since Saudi Arabia executed Shia Cleric Nimr al-Nimr for terrorist offences, tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been escalating by the day. After the execution, the Saudi embassy was stormed by protesters in Tehran. Riyadh has now severed diplomatic relations with Tehran – and the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, staunch Saudi allies, have followed suit, spurred on by Iran’s portentous prediction of “divine vengeance” for the execution.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, condemned those who stormed the embassy, but was also critical of the Saudis’ behaviour, suggesting that “the Saudi government has damaged its image, more than before, among the countries in the world, in particular [among] Islamic countries, by this un-Islamic act”.

The concerns that led to Sheikh Nimr’s execution – that he was an agent of “foreign meddling” in the kingdom – are not new. A Shia cleric who spent time in Iran and Syria, Nimr was an outspoken critic of the house of Saud and played a prominent role in the 2011 uprisings in the Shia-dominated Eastern Province.

Obama shows the flaws in America’s efforts to combat ISIS

Written by Simon Reich.

Winston Churchill famously suggested that:

You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.

Speaking with his characteristic mix of the compassionate and cerebral, the articulate and analytic, President Obama reminded Americans of the need for “strategic patience” in battling ISIS on Sunday night. He largely rejected Churchillian grand rhetoric. The nearest he got was when he said that “freedom is more powerful than fear.”

What he did was to lay out America’s policy approach. It is one that mixes the domestic and the foreign: a greater emphasis on the regulation of the visa program, community outreach and gun control at home; intensified support for the multilateral forces and the use of intelligence abroad.

Netanyahu’s narrative: how the Israeli PM is rewriting history to suit himself

Written by Yoav Galai.

What more can be said about Netanyahu’s flagrant Holocaust revisionism? Rainer Schultze summarised the incident nicely. By claiming the Palestinian mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, inspired Hitler to plan the Holocaust, Netanyahu was engaging in blatant historical revisionism for the sake of contemporary politics. It certainly is worth repeating Netanyahu’s claim:

Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said: ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here.’ ‘So what should I do with them?’ he asked. He said: ‘Burn them.’

Recently there has been renewed activity in the project of accrediting this alternative historical narrative. Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev dug out a reference-laden article by Joseph Spoerl on the website of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs which attempts to link Husseini with Nazi ideology. Similar accounts have been published in Hebrew by right-leaning Israeli think tanks Mida, which defines itself as “conservative-liberal” and the Kedem Forum, an organisation specialising in public diplomacy.