A female Iranian pilgrim looks at the picture of the late Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, at the former home of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in Najaf, Iraq February 9, 2019. Photo: REUTERS / Alaa al-Marjani / NTB scanpix
There are a few global concerns that affect us all. The first is the current situation with Iran and its various ramifications. The second, connected with Iran, is the current situation in Lebanon, with Hezbollah in particular, which is also in Syria.
The next is the International Criminal Court, from which we are imminently expecting a decision that could have a potential impact on Israel as well as on the rest of us.
Iran, I believe, is under enormous pressure right now — the greatest pressure since the creation of the Islamic Republic during its Islamic Revolution back in 1979.
The leaders of Iran, the Ayatollah and the various others who run the country, are doubtless deeply worried about the survival of their regime. Regime survival for them is, of course, everything. Keeping their flame alive in Iran is the number one imperative of all that they do. To maintain that regime, they carry out large numbers of extreme activities both there and around the world.
First, their economy is reeling in a great depression with little sign of hope, due mainly to the United States’ «maximum pressure» campaign.
The US has imposed severe sanctions on Iran and also encouraged other countries not break those sanctions, and, in some instances, to take their own measures against Iran. These strictures have caused Iran an enormous problem.
They follow, of course, the repudiation by the current US administration of the dreadful Iran nuclear agreement, the JCPOA, which was supposedly intended to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear armed state, but which actually paved the way for Iran to become a fully nuclear-armed state.
We have been aware, ever since the start of the JCPOA, that even if Iran did not breach the agreement, it still would be an extremely dangerous country. We know, however, thanks to the Israelis, that ever since it took effect, Iran did breach it, both in letter and in spirit.
It was with incredible courage and skill, as well as an enormous risk to their own lives, that Israeli operatives and agents went into the lion’s den and seized containers full of secret archives that were stored in places in Tehran that virtually no one else, even within the regime, actually knew about or knew existed. For the head of Israel’s Mossad, Yossi Cohen, to decide to do that, with all the multiple risks involved, showed immense courage. The world can be grateful to him for his energy and his dedication and, above all, his courage in ordering the operation to take place.
The result — the American repudiation of the deal — led to those sanctions being reimposed. Unfortunately, that decision has not been followed by Europe.
The Europeans, partly out of animosity to the US, partly because of their own greed and self‑interest towards Iran, have failed to follow the American lead, despite efforts to persuade them to do so – unfortunately also the UK.
The Americans, I believe, are on the verge, in the near future, of reimposing snapback sanctions, although the UN Security Council unsurprisingly vetoed the move.
It can be still done unilaterally by the United States, but of course we wait to see whether it actually works in practice.
In addition, a UN embargo on Iranian weapon import and export is due to expire shortly. The Americans are currently trying to rally support around the world, as are the Israelis, for the UN to maintain those sanctions rather than relinquish them. They were part of the nuclear deal, and if Iran had adhered to the deal, at this time they would be stopped.
Other factors that go into the decision are, first of all, the killing of the world’s worst terrorist, Qasem Soleimani, responsible for a huge number of deaths inside and outside Iran, as well as in Israel, and in the military forces of Great Britain and the United States.
The deaths include the killing of more than a thousand British and American soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, mostly done not by him but by his proxies around the world. Soleimani’s death, which was mourned by some, was not mourned by many in Iran, despite the efforts of their media and Western media to show otherwise. His death was mourned mainly among the hierarchy of the regime.
Many of the Iranian people knew that part of their economic misery was due to his spending vast amounts of Iranian money on his overseas adventures. Apart from the repressive nature of the man, they resented that about him. He was the second‑most important man in Iran; removing him really undermined the Islamic Republic and caused a lot of people to doubt how powerful the leaders were, when an act like that could be taken against them by the United States with what appeared to be relative ease.
Following hard on the heels of that incident was the downing of a Ukrainian airliner over Tehran — a terrible tragedy in its own right, but, also, one that further undermined internal confidence in the regime and caused people to question it in ways they had not before.
We have also seen, over the last two years, large‑scale protests in Iran. They have been ruthlessly suppressed by the regime, which has killed a large number of Iranians in the process of preventing them.
Of course, as elsewhere in the world, we have also seen the tragedy of coronavirus strike Iran. It has hit the country particularly hard and has highlighted for the Iranian people the shortcomings of their government, as well as being even more damaging to the economy.
Until recently, the Ayatollah and his followers had made it clear that Muslims were immune from coronavirus. Suddenly, he has started to wear a mask. When he was photographed in a meeting with the President of Iraq not so long ago, both men were wearing masks.
Other current nails that have been banged into Iran at the moment are a large number of unexplained explosions that have been taking place there, including in seaports. The explosions, which have affected energy infrastructure among other places, Iran has not been able to explain.
The largest was the attack on Natanz, the centrifuge facility that is critical to the Iranian nuclear regime. The Iranians have admitted that it severely damaged their nuclear program. All of these things combined undoubtedly lead to the Iranians to being worried about their future, and rightly so. It is, in my opinion, extremely important for the US to maintain maximum pressure on Iran.
It is also extremely important that other governments, particularly in Europe, join them in that.
Two final thoughts about Iran: the first is that I do not believe that the Iranian regime is likely to be brought down by large‑scale public unrest. The public, although they are unhappy with the regime, are also very well aware what happened when the people in Syria tried to bring down Assad: a vast number of deaths resulted. The last thing they want is to have that visited on their own country and on their families.
If Iran is going to be brought down, it will probably be by the hand of one of the many military and paramilitary organizations that exist within it. Of course, depending on which group brought it down, we would have to see if the regime that followed the current one in Tehran would be better or worse.
The final concern about Iran is the recently leaked 25‑year strategic partnership that was announced between Iran and China, which involves China making massive investments into Iranian infrastructure: multibillion‑dollar investments over a 25‑year period, into all manner of the Iranian infrastructure, including railways, ports, energy facilities, as well as the provision of military equipment and cooperation on the military and security front.
In return, Iran would provide oil and gas to China at vastly discounted prices. That is obviously a worrying possibility. It has not come to fruition yet. Some people doubt that it will, but it could do. China is on a tightrope here. Iran is enthusiastic about it — such a partnership could ease Iran’s economic situation.
From China’s perspective, though, they have bigger interests in the region, that include countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and elsewhere. Particularly with the Gulf states, they most likely do not want to damage their relationship there by too closely aligning themselves with Iran, particularly on the military side.
China may well be cautious about proceeding with such a measure, although of course it would include a way of China doing what dominates, to a large extent, their program, which is to oppose the United States in every way it possibly can.
The situation with Lebanon and Hizbollah is all tied up with Iran. Hezbollah is a creation of Iran, directed by Iran and funded by Iran. It is basically an extension of the Ayatollah’s right arm.
We know that Hezbollah have been trying to add more precision‑guided missiles to the already vast missile arsenal in southern Lebanon. We also know that together with Iran and other militias, they have been doing their best to develop a base of operations from which to attack Israel from Syria, as well.
Israel has been successfully hitting back at all of these efforts, including in Lebanon and Syria. Hezbollah is deeply unhappy with this and intends to strike back at Israel.
It was rumored recently that Israel killed a significant Hezbollah operative in Lebanon. We do not know for sure — Israel has not admitted anything — it is just speculated. Hezbollah have vowed to avenge that person.
There also recently was an infiltration operation by Hezbollah into northern Israel: it attempted to get through. Hezbollah operatives were spotted by IDF observers using, in addition to their eyes, some very advanced technology.
The Israelis fired at them before they managed to get where they wanted to be and do what they wanted to do. The Israelis did not shoot to kill. They only fired warning shots. What Israel wanted to do, rather than to respond in a way that initiates escalation of the conflict in the north, was to stop it and just give a warning — as they did. It gives Hezbollah a way out.
Hezbollah themselves have denied that the infiltration took place. In their case, they want to do what they can, but they do not seem to be too keen either on escalating at the moment.
Striking back at Israel would be another way for the Iranian regime to try and salvage something of their current standing, but of course that would be quite precarious.
It is a classic tactic of dictators to initiate aggression abroad to distract people from the problems at home; however, they seem to know that such an action could create more problems for them than it solves.
Finally, on the International Criminal Court, you are probably aware that the ICC is wanting to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes involving previous conflicts and involving what they describe as illegal settlements in Judea and Samaria. They now think they’ve found a way of doing it. The pretrial panel in the International Criminal Court has been pondering for many months now whether they actually have jurisdiction in this matter. I certainly do not believe they have jurisdiction. Many distinguished lawyers also believe that. Thirteen member states of the International Criminal Court, including Germany and, I’m afraid, not including Britain, put in formal appeals to the ICC not to take this case forward, because they do not believe that the ICC has jurisdiction over this case.
The decision is awaited any time now. It is hard to know exactly. It is quite likely they will decide they have jurisdiction. That will be extremely damaging for Israel, because it won’t result in an immediate decision on whether Israel did or didn’t commit war crimes.
It will go on for years, but it will result in people, members of the government, members of the IDF, people who have been involved in the various operations they are trying to condemn Israel for, it will result in them being subpoenaed to give evidence in the investigation to the ICC before a trial even begins.
If they refuse to do so, the ICC have the authority to order their arrest with international arrest warrants, which of course means that people like the Prime Minister of Israel, the chief of staff, former chief of staff, foreign ministers, defense ministers, and various high‑level officials and others will be subject to arrest if they travel to countries that are willing to implement such an arrest warrant.
Not only that, but of course it does give another propaganda tool to people who want to condemn Israel.
It also damages the world because the International Criminal Court was set up with good intentions, to bring to justice essentially to dictators and war criminals who carry out war crimes in countries that are either unable, because they do not have an adequate legal system or are unwilling to bring them to justice, which does not of course apply to Israel.
The ICC are also trying to investigate Britain for war crimes in Iraq – as well as the US for war crimes in Afghanistan. Of course, it is the usual three suspects, Britain, US, and Israel, they firmly have in their sights.
These things are damaging to the court. The International Criminal Court is no longer a legal body. It is now a political body. It has turned itself into something it was never intended to be.
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Question: What do you find the British attitude toward China to be after its COVID‑19 offering to the world?
Col. Kemp: The view of China in Britain and much of Europe, and around the world, has changed dramatically since coronavirus. We do not know whether it was the result of a Chinese scientific experiment, which some people say it was. There were many reasons to think it could have been.
What we do know for sure is that China absolutely mismanaged it. When they first realized what was happening, they did various things to try and cover it up without any regard to the safety and the health of the rest of the world.
Just one example was that when they realized where it originated, they immediately closed down Wuhan to any kind of travel in China. You were not allowed to fly from Wuhan into any other part of China — but you were allowed to fly from Wuhan to other parts of the world. Indeed, many, many people did. That was one of the ways it was immediately transmitted around the world.
People realize this is an evil, dark regime that many people have been deluded about for many years. People are now realizing their error. Just one way that is being manifested in Britain is the role of the Huawei Chinese telecom company in the new 5G Internet network.
Obviously, it does not take a genius to work out that giving any other country access, in any way, into that infrastructure is potentially very damaging long‑term to our own security. Many people warned the government against this when it first decided to include Huawei, which of course like every other Chinese company, is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.
The British government went ahead with the decision anyway. Now, they have reversed that decision as a result of the current pandemic as well as US pressure.
Another thing that is coming into question is that we — in my view foolishly — have plans to allow China to construct a series of nuclear power stations in Britain. We hope that Britain will review these plans and stop them from happening.
Since 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was created, it has fought a Cold War against the West. They have been unrelenting at that. We have not been fighting back.
Now, I believe, the US is taking measures to prevent the Chinese Communist Party from dominating the world, stealing American secrets, further imposing their system on the US and benefiting from US trade in a way that they do not allow the US to benefit.
The same applies around the world, of course. The pushback has begun. I only hope that we, in Britain, in Europe, and in the US and other countries, are able to do that more in earnest.
Question: Iran has a highly sophisticated lobbying operation in Washington DC. It has made major inroads into the Democratic Party establishment. Does Iran have a similar lobby in the UK? If so, how influential is it in the UK government?
Col. Kemp: Yes, Iran does have significant lobbying power here in the UK. That we were going to go ahead with the Huawei involvement in 5G, speaks masses about their influence. It was this influence that led Britain to go with the option.
Britain also had another reason to do it: we left the EU. In leaving the EU, we have, of course, been looking around the world to try and find other opportunities to boost our economy post‑Brexit. China, of course, was one of them. It may be a valid reason, but it is not a valid reason to undermine one’s own security. There was also a good deal of industrial‑level lobbying within the British government that took place, and elsewhere.
If you look at the Huawei UK board, a company controlled by China’s Communist Party, you will see many prominent former British government officials and the odd minister, on their board.
When the decision was taken that the deal would not go ahead, the chairman of the board, who was a former senior British official, resigned — so that gives you a bit of an insight into the way that China works.
The same is true in the United States. They have Confucius Institutes around the country, and in universities, which they have used to spread their propaganda and to exercise control not just on local students there, but also on Chinese students who are studying at the universities. There are a very, very large number.
The operation that China carries out, it is very clever. It is very successful. It is pretty much the same template as they use in other European countries, in Australia, they use around the world.
Any conflict is highly undesirable, but you could argue, as I would argue if I was involved in making the decision, that the level of conflict that I would expect to occur may be a price worth paying for the enormous opportunity it would give.
Regarding the Middle East, is easy to take counsel of our fears. I do not think we should in this case. As far as the rest of the Middle East is concerned, first of all, to say that most Arab governments in the Middle East want this new peace with Israel to happen.
Whatever they might say publicly, they want it to happen for two reasons. One, because they want a strong Israel, they want an Israel that is not overwhelmed or undermined by Islamic extremism. They want that because they see Israel as being on their side.
They are not going to say so publicly, not very often anyway, but that is what they want. They know that a strong Israel on their side against Iran is in their interests.
The level of cooperation that goes on between many Arab governments and Israel is unknown to most of us but is nevertheless real and growing and reflects a significant change in the relationship between Arab governments and the state of Israel.
The second reason is because they know that the current American administration supports it. They need the US administration on their side. They do not need to do anything that angers the US administration. They do not need to oppose decisions taken by the US administration. They see a far greater enemy than any of the rest of us around the world as being Iran.
If you take Jordan as an example in relation to this issue, Jordan will of course protest. Jordan have objected to it publicly. They will significantly raise their voices if this happens, but the Jordanian Army is not right now facing Israel. The Jordanian Army is facing away from Israel. They have got their backs to the Zionist entity.
They know they have no threat from Israel because Israel controls the hinterland of the Jordan Valley. Therefore, they do not represent a threat to Jordan. In fact, quite the opposite, they support Jordan’s security.
If that territory was taken over by what would undoubtedly become a rogue Islamic state of some sort, that would be a great threat to Jordan amidst all the other challenges and threats that they face.
Question: Do the mystery attacks in Iran reflect concern on the part of unknown parties that the current US administration might lose the election and the other party win legislative power?
Col. Kemp: If Israel is doing some or all of these attacks, is Israel now taking the chance to strike back at the Iranian nuclear program before there is a change in administration in the White House? There could be an element of that. Also, I think it is equally likely that Iran has just crossed a specific red line, recently announced itself that they crossed a red line in acquiring quantities of enriched uranium, and there has to be a response that is not just a message, but also actually imposes damage on the regime in Iran.
Let us not forget, though, that the Stuxnet, allegedly the work of Israel and the US hand‑in‑hand, maybe even Britain had a hand, who knows? The Stuxnet cyberattack which severely damaged Iran’s nuclear program, that was done during the Obama administration.
I do not know what any successor administration to the current one, what their policy would be in relation to Iran. I suppose we would have to wait and see how things developed. If the current US administration were to lose the election, there would probably be a policy similar to what the previous administration had, with every effort made, probably, to try and resurrect the nuclear deal. This action would certainly help enable Iran to have nuclear weapons.
There are so many things that would be lost to Israel if the current administration were replaced by an administration that took a much weaker view in relation to the challenges Israel faces, and a much less supportive view of Israel.
It would obviously make life a great deal more difficult for the Jewish state.
From my point of view, whether people like the current president, or hate the current president, in my opinion, he has been by far the best US president for the state of Israel.
By the way, there is one other point I should make to reinforce my view that you should not always take counsel of your fears: all these commentators who were proclaiming that the streets throughout the Middle East would burst into flames if the US opened an embassy in Jerusalem. What happened? Nothing happened, except an uptick in violence on the Gaza border by Hamas, which was already planned.
Question: Do you think Iran and China are interfering in the US elections in terms of funding some of the social unrest and mobs that are currently plaguing some US cities? Do you think there is a possibility that the Chinese planned the release of COVID?
Col. Kemp: We do not know. We may never know. I think China most certainly has and most certainly will be doing anything it can to influence the election.
If I were to be a betting man, I would say all of the influence the are applying to that election is being applied against President Trump.
Question: What is the status of cooperation these days between Iran and North Korea on nuclear weapons, smuggling, and so on?
Col. Kemp: There has, of course, been some cooperation between Iran and North Korea, particularly on their nuclear program. They were very helpful to the Iranians.
The burgeoning relationship between Iran and China is immensely more significant, both in terms of the capabilities of China, in the technological world, in the weapons world, and also the economic power of China, compared to, for example, North Korea.
We should, of course, keep an eye on North Korea in relation to Iran, but China in particular, we should. We do know that China and Iran have enormous empathy for each other and it goes back many years, the sympathy and support for each other, who both view much of the rest of the world as being, in a particular way, against them.
They see themselves as being pretty much on the same side. It is obviously not a religious issue. If you think about it, there is a degree of illogic about some of it: you know that probably the worst persecution of Muslims by a non‑Muslim state — China against its Uighur Muslims; we have seen footage recently of Uighurs being rounded up and put into cattle cars and trains, reminiscent of the Holocaust.
Yet Iran does not seem to mind that. Iran, as far as I know, has raised no objection to the severe repression of the Muslim population in China by the Chinese Communist Party.
On the other hand, I have not seen much in the way of condemnation from any other countries in the Middle East either, but am not quite sure why. I guess that they see China as being in many countries cases of being enormously useful to them and they do not want to alienate it.
Colonel Richard Kemp is a former British Army Commander. He was also head of the international terrorism team in the U.K. Cabinet Office and is now a writer and speaker on international and military affairs.