Joe Biden’s Middle East diplomacy is a wreck

Joe Biden prides himself on his decades of foreign-policy experience, his ability to talk tough yet be kind, and his talent for bringing opposing sides together. Touching down in Israel today, he gave Bibi Netanyahu a big hug – quite the gesture – and promptly told him he believed that ‘the other team’ – i.e. Hamas, not Israel – was responsible for the bomb that struck a hospital in Gaza last night, killing many of non-combatant Palestinians and inspiring another wave of anti-Israel protests. Biden will now set about trying to help release the hostages held by Hamas and persuading local powers to allow a secure flow of humanitarian aid

‘The mask has slipped’ – Tuvia Gering on China, Israel and Hamas

43 min listen

When China brokered a historic detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran earlier this year, it seemed that a new phase in world history – and certainly in Chinese foreign policy – had opened up. Instead of the US being a policeman of the world, it was the rising power, China, that was stepping into that role. Whereas Chinese foreign policy had previously only really cared about promoting trade and silencing dissidents, it seemed that perhaps, now, Beijing was taking a more leadership role in global diplomacy and security issues. And yet the events of the last week and China’s response to them have shown that perhaps the country isn’t ready

Paul Wood, James Heale and Robin Ashenden

23 min listen

This week Paul Wood delves into the complex background of the Middle East and asks if Iran might have been behind the Hamas attacks on Israel, and what might come next (01:11), James Heale ponders the great Tory tax debate by asking what is the point of the Tories if they don’t lower taxes (13:04) and Robin Ashenden on how he plans to introduce his half Russian daughter to the delights of red buses, Beefeaters and a proper full English (18:36). Produced and presented by Linden Kemkaran

What Iran gains from the conflict in Israel

A little more than a week before Hamas carried out its Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, the US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, said: ‘The Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades.’ Sullivan was expressing a consensus view, one apparently shared by the Israeli government. Then came the attacks of last weekend and, as the Israeli President, Isaac Herzog, said, ‘Not since the Holocaust have so many Jews been killed in one day.’ The surprise attacks have been called Israel’s 9/11, its Pearl Harbor, and so the question Israelis are asking is: how could this happen? And of more consequence, perhaps: who was really behind it?

Has VR finally come of age?

A heavily made-up Iranian woman in bra and knickers is dancing seductively before me. We’re in some vast warehouse, and she’s swaying barefoot. But then I look around. All the other men here are in military uniforms and leaning against walls or sitting at desks, smoking and looking at her impassively. I slowly realise we are in a torture chamber and this lithe, writhing woman is dancing, quite possibly, for her life. Me? I have become one of her tormentors. You can immerse yourself in war-ruined Ukraine, go on the run from the Holocaust, become a mushroom Welcome to The Fury, a bravura attempt by Iranian artist Shirin Neshat to

Kamikaze drones are the future of warfare

The West is struggling to confront the modern military technologies of Russia, Iran and China. A year and a half of the war in Ukraine has proved it. Iran has exported cheap Shahed-136 kamikaze drones to Russia, and they have been used to terrorise Ukrainians. Putin appears ready to invest further in procuring thousands more. Sir Tony Radakin, chief of the defence staff, said this week that, in response, the British Army wants to create regiments of kamikaze drone pilots. He’s right to do so. Iran’s drones are cheap to make, estimates say around £15,000 each, but the air defences needed to shoot them down are far more expensive. This difference between how western

An exposé of drug smuggling and terrorism reads like a first-rate thriller

The crucial moment in this vivid exposé of the murky world of transnational crime comes in 2015. Mustafa Badreddine, one of two Lebanese Shia cousins who for three decades had led the deadliest Iranian-linked terrorist network in the Middle East, was finally indicted by a UN special tribunal investigating the assassination of the Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri a decade earlier. After an extraordinary career of mayhem, Badreddine had spent the previous three years leading an elite Hezbollah militia shoring up President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. But the tide had turned, and in July 2015 Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Quds force in Syria, secretly flew to Moscow to

The immigrant’s experience of Europe

Meet Ibrahim, from Syria. He fled Aleppo just before the bombs began to fall. A clean $4,000 in cash to a smuggler got him a fake passport and, voilà, a ticket to Europe – briefly in Greece, then in Germany (‘the people, they looked different’), now in Spain. Immigrant life was tough at first: the strange language, the alien norms, the overt racism. ‘He was not on their level. Just a refugee.’ Then a lucky break. He starred in a homemade porn video that went viral: ‘100 per cent real Arab bull.’ Next, he’s earning close to a seven-figure salary, owns a flash car and has women dripping off his

Can we brainwash our enemies?

Disinformation is on the rise, and Britain’s spies are on the back foot. Our intelligence leaders warn about election meddling, and our enemies are trying to undermine public trust in our national institutions. The United Kingdom needs to use covert means to disrupt anti-British activities at their source. That’s what Harold Macmillan said in the 1950s, shortly before becoming prime minister. Over half a century later, in 2017, the Chief of MI6 made the same point: adversaries should be ‘playing in their half of the pitch not ours.’ And half a decade on from that, here we are again. This week’s intriguing peek into the secretive work of the National

The curious case of the Asian Maradona

When England line up against Iran in Doha today, the VIP seats should be studded with former players from both sides. But one who almost certainly won’t be present is a player with a solid claim to having been the greatest Iranian footballer in history. Because Ali Karimi is a wanted man. The 44-year-old is hugely influential in Iran – he has 13 million social media followers there. But he has positioned himself as such an overt critic of the country’s regime that he’s now living in exile, threatened with arrest – and worse – should he return to or be forcibly taken back to Iran.  An equivalent situation here

Salman Rushdie was never safe

The stabbing of Salman Rushdie sends a renewed message to the world: take Islamism – the transformation of the Islamic faith into a radical utopian ideology inspired by medieval goals – seriously. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the most consequential Islamist of the past century, personally issued the edict (often called a fatwa) condemning Rushdie to death in 1989. Khomeini, responding to the title of Rushdie’s magical-realist novel The Satanic Verses, decided it blasphemed Islam and he deserved death. Initially alarmed by this edict, Rushdie spent over 11 years in hiding protected by the British police, furtively moving from one safe house to another under a pseudonym, his life totally disrupted.  Already

The West cannot do business with Iran

Salman Rushdie’s would-be assassin might have been a lone wolf. He might have had no contact with military or intelligence figures. He might never even have set foot in Tehran. But be in no doubt: he acted, in effect, as an agent of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Under the terms of the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1989, Rushdie ‘and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death’. Khomeini urged ‘brave Muslims to quickly kill them wherever they find them so that no one ever again would dare to insult the sanctities of Muslims’, adding: ‘Anyone killed while trying

The odd couple: Israel and Turkey’s tentative alliance

 Jerusalem On Friday night, when the Israeli government usually shuts down for Shabbat, the Prime Minister’s office issued an emergency briefing. An attack on Israeli tourists in Istanbul was ‘imminent’, it said. Israelis in Turkey were ordered to stay in their hotel rooms for fear of assassins, sent by Iran. There was no attack that night, as it happened, but the threat to the many Israelis in Turkey remains. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has become increasingly enraged by Mossad’s assassinations of IRGC officers in Iran, and decided that the best and easiest way to get revenge is to target the thousands of Israelis in Istanbul. Both Turkish and Israeli

Starmer is playing into Iran’s hands

Who was to blame for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe being held captive in Iran? It shouldn’t take a professor of ethics to answer such a question. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was being held on trumped-up charges by a despotic regime that has used hostage-taking to advance its agenda ever since its formation in the Iranian revolution of 1979. Back then it was said to be ‘students’ who spontaneously over-ran the US embassy in Tehran and took more than 50 hostages, holding them for more than a year while the new theocratic government ruthlessly exploited the situation to humiliate the US administration of Jimmy Carter. In the case of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, at least no pretence

Stephen Daisley

Why is Biden copying Obama’s mistakes with Iran?

There was a picture taken on Tuesday that says more than just a thousand words. The photograph was snapped in Sharm el-Sheikh and shows Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett seated either side of Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. According to the Egyptian president’s office, they met to discuss ‘the repercussions of global developments, especially with regard to energy, market stability, and food security’ but ‘they also exchanged visions and views on the latest developments of several international and regional issues’. That’s a very wordy way of saying ‘Iran’. Obama and Biden’s foreign policies are indistinguishable Iran is what this meeting

A lesson for those calling Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe ‘ungrateful’

In the latest installment from the idiot age of Twitter, #ungratefulcow has been trending. The reason? Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had expressed, mildly and politely, some unhappiness that it had taken Her Britannic Majesty’s Government six years to free her from Iranian captivity. Cue a handful of shallow trolls slagging her off, and a lot of other people slagging them off. I say ‘mildy and politely’ because to my mind, the salient characteristic of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s comments was its restraint. Most people, I submit, would be furious beyond words to miss most of their only child’s first years of life. Yet Zaghari-Ratcliffe offered the sort of understated irritation that is at the heart of British emotional expression: this was


Hacks in uproar about Nazanin briefing

Welcome home Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, released after six years imprisonment. The 43-year-old returned to the UK last week after the government settled a historical £400 million debt owed to Iran over a cancelled 1970s order for British tanks.  But it seems the mother-of-one is not done generating headlines yet, after she caused something of a stir yesterday with her comments at a press conference in parliament about her return from Iran. ‘How many foreign secretaries does it take for somebody to come home?’ she said. ‘What happened now should have happened six years ago.’ The drama of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s appearance in the Macmillan room though was nothing compared to what was going on outside the room. For

How the Foreign Office secured Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release

There was a rare display of unity in the Commons chamber this afternoon when Liz Truss gave a statement on the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. While Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner went on the attack at PMQs, asking whether Johnson’s comments when he was Foreign Secretary had made things worse, there was a far more conciliatory tone in the Commons when the Foreign Secretary updated MPs on the 43-year-old British-Iranian dual national’s safe return, after being detained in Iran for more than five years on charges of plotting to overthrow the Tehran government. Tulip Siddiq – the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn which is the constituency of the Ratcliffes

Can Boris get the Saudis to pump more oil?

The oil price is up by more than 40 per cent since the start of the year. It is being driven up by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the lack of investment in oil and turning the world economy on and off again: US production is still not back to pre-pandemic levels. In the immediate term, as I say in the Times today, pretty much the only way to bring the price down is to get Saudi Arabia – which has 1.5 to 2 million barrels a day of spare capacity – to pump more. The West’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has always been morally problematic. The justification for it, despite Riyadh’s appalling

Inside Joe Biden’s disastrous negotiations with Iran

One of the West’s great foreign policy failures of 2021 was the Iran nuclear negotiations, which remained bitterly unresolved as the clock passed midnight. Having spoken to a number of diplomatic sources on different sides in recent weeks, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the process has been woefully inept. Not only has there been a dramatic failure to extract any concessions from Tehran – even a meaningful freeze on progress towards the bomb has remained elusive – but western negotiators have become enveloped themselves in an Asterix-style dust cloud of infighting, competing agendas and tension. All of this, of course, is a gift to the Iranians, who