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

Mossad is preparing to strike at the heart of Iran’s nuclear programme

Iran is about to be hit by a fresh wave of Mossad operations, sources in Jerusalem have told me. This is the result of a change in Israeli policy: from now on, when Tehran’s proxy militias make trouble in the region, the Jewish state will retaliate on Iranian soil. ‘No more attacking the tentacles of the octopus,’ one source said. ‘Now we will go for the head.’ For the foreseeable future, I can confirm, this will not take the form of air raids, missile strikes or drone attacks. Instead, Israel’s feared secret service has been told to carry out pinpoint operations inside the Islamic Republic, inflicting surgical but devastating punishment.

Iran is an immediate winner of the Taliban takeover

A staple of observing politics is watching rhetoric curdle into reality. Operation Enduring Freedom, thought up and slapped together in the wake of 9/11, was supposed to put down the ‘global terror threat’ and bring freedom to the subjugated peoples of Afghanistan and the Middle East. It ended last week with images of despairing Afghans tumbling to their deaths from the undercarriages of fleeing US planes. The rights and wrongs of leaving are sundering US foreign policy elites, but leaving the United States is most certainly doing. So what next? When the United States high-tails it out of the region you can be sure that everyone around is watching —

Iran’s ‘Ghost Armada’ and its secret alliance with China

When a British security guard was killed in an Iranian drone attack last month, the response from the government was robust. Boris Johnson warned that Iran will have to ‘face up to the consequences’. But has the West fully grasped the reality of what Iran and its ‘Ghost Armada’ is really up to at sea? And how can Britain deal with Iran’s silent partnership on the waves with China? Back in March, the two countries signed a 25-year, £300 billion trade and military partnership which included Chinese investment in exchange for regular, heavily discounted oil and a strengthened cooperation between the military, security and defence departments. China is investing in Iran for the long haul because

Can Iran’s ‘butcher’ president make peace with the Saudis?

It’s official: after eight years of a relatively pragmatic administration, Iran is now under new management. Ebrahim Raisi, a disciple of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the former judiciary chief, was inaugurated this week as Iran’s next president. Clad in a white shirt, black robe and thin-framed glasses, Raisi accepted a task that will likely prove to be his toughest assignment in a decades-long career serving the Islamic Republic system.  Protests over poor public services, like water shortages, are becoming more frequent. While the International Monetary Fund projects Iran’s economy to grow at 2.5 per cent this year, the country is in the midst of a highly fractious period. With

Why Iran is stepping up its maritime piracy

On Tuesday there was an attempted hijacking of a tanker in the Gulf of Oman. According to the UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), nine armed men boarded a Panama-flagged tanker before leaving several hours later – reportedly after the ship’s crew sabotaged the vessel’s engines. The UK believes this attempted hijacking was the latest in a string of maritime attacks perpetrated by Iran or one of the several militant groups it backs in the Middle East. The failed hijacking follows a drone attack last week on the tanker Mercer Street in the Arabian sea, which is owned in part by the Israeli shipping magnate Eyal Ofer. This attack claimed the lives


Why is the EU attending the butcher of Tehran’s inauguration?

At the beginning of the year Donald Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, was forced to hastily cancel a diplomatic trip to Europe, reportedly after top EU officials refused to meet with him following the storming of the US Capitol building. In the aftermath of the event, Luxembourg’s foreign minister suggested that Trump was a ‘political pyromaniac’ and Pompeo soon found that the United States was no longer a welcome presence in the hallowed halls of Brussels. If that was how the European Union admonished America – arguably the most important democracy in the world – one can only imagine the treatment it planned to dole out to the world’s

Iran is running out of water

It’s far from an exact science, but if you want to get a sense of where the world is heading in terms of resource scarcity then you could do worse than considering the cost of a litre of oil versus a litre of water. These days a litre oil of crude is worth around 45 US cents (33p); a litre of bottled water in the UK will generally set you back around 65p. Oil has dropped around 100 per cent since its high in 2008 while water’s value has held firm, and even risen across the Middle East and Asia. This is probably unsurprising. Right-thinking opinion now considers oil an

Tehran is repeating the Shah’s mistakes

The Iranian province of Khuzestan is oil-rich but water-poor. At the best of times, the southwestern region is a problem for Tehran. On the border with Iraq, it’s home to an Arab minority that has long been targeted. The province has separatist inclinations, which led to a failed uprising in 1979 and sees the occasional attack continue to this day. Unsurprisingly, it is not favoured by central government. It’s impoverished and lacks many basic services; quality of life is poor. Khuzestan is now in its sixth straight day of protests after water shortages in its major cities. Video footage filmed from protests reportedly shows tanks on fire after protestors set

The Afghan withdrawal will only embolden the West’s enemies

‘How many thousands more Americans, daughters and sons, were you willing to risk?’ Biden asked critics of the decision to withdraw forces from Afghanistan last week. He has the support of the American public – most of whom also wanted to see troops leave Afghanistan after 20 years of fighting and 2,400 fatalities. This risk aversion is one of the reasons America decided to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. There’s a diminished appetite in the US for prolonged military involvement in the Middle East, especially large-scale deployments of ground troops that inadvertently cost lives. In the UK, the Ministry of Defence’s integrated review, which advocates reducing the size of the

The dark past of Iran’s new presidential favourite

‘Each vote counts…come and vote and choose your president. This is important for the future of your country.’ These were the words of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei this morning as he urged people to make their voices heard in today’s presidential election. Each vote doesn’t count, of course. The regime makes sure of that. Iran ‘manages’ its elections. This year, 600 people registered as candidates, now only seven remain. The unelected Guardian Council, which consists of 12 ‘jurists’ (clerics), is responsible for ensuring all candidates are compatible with ‘Islamic values’.  What this means is that it can disqualify pretty much anyone it doesn’t like, and the real reasons

Is the worst yet to come in the Middle East?

Beirut We can’t say yet if the latest fighting between Israel and Hamas is the start of ‘the big one’, a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising. That possibility was raised by the grandest of Middle East commentators, Thomas Friedman, in the New York Times. Friedman is sometimes mocked for his prognostications. A ‘Friedman’ is defined as six months because of his repeated statements that the ‘next six months’ would be critical for the US in Iraq, the light at the end of the tunnel visible only then. He also praised the ‘new ideas’ of Saudi Arabia’s ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, before it turned out that one of those new ideas

Prisoners dilemma: should we pay kidnappers?

British-Mexican national Claudia Uruchurtu Cruz disappeared on the night of Friday 26 March in the town of Nochixtlan, Oaxaca State, Mexico. Claudia had been seen attending a rally protesting the beating of a local labourer, allegedly by security elements linked to the local municipal president. Unconfirmed witness statements claim she was grabbed and pushed into a red car. Claudia never arrived home and her family and friends have not heard from her since.  What is the right response for the British government? The most debated issue is whether to pay ransoms. Some governments refuse, others pay, or at least turn a blind eye to families that do. In Mali, where

Britain shouldn’t pay out to secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release

In January 2016, $400m (£290m) was flown by the United States to Tehran in the dead of night. Loaded on to wooden pallets on an unmarked plane, it was the first in a series of instalments to satisfy an unfulfilled American-Iranian arms deal signed in 1979, before the Shah was replaced in the revolution. On the morning after the payment, four American prisoners were released, boarding planes back to their homeland. The White House insisted the payment and the release were coincidental. But General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, a commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), took to Iranian state media to proclaim:  ‘Taking this much money back was in

Can Iran help keep King Bibi in power?

Benjamin Netanyahu has a problem: he doesn’t have sufficient support to form a coalition. With 20 days left to complete this near impossible task, he is desperate; and, when backed into a corner, Netanyahu looks to Iran as his saviour. The timing of the recent explosion in Iran’s Natanz’s nuclear facility – and particularly the fact that Israel has done little to dispel the notion that it was to blame – suggests that the motivation was at least partially political.  This isn’t to say the attacks on Iran aren’t normally motivated by interests of national security. The threat of a nuclear-capable Iran is substantial: according to Iran, the Natanz nuclear site holds

Israel’s shadow war with Iran explodes into ‘nuclear terrorism’

If time flows at an even pace, then history does not. Joe Biden may still be new in the job, but he finds himself at the centre of a war between Israel and Iran in everything but name. After a comparative lull, events are not so much accelerating as whirling around the president, drawing him inexorably in. Last night, Iranian officials reported that the Natanz uranium enrichment plant – a lynchpin of its nuclear programme – had been the victim of what they described as ‘nuclear terrorism’. According to US officials quoted in the New York Times, an explosion destroyed the independent power system that supplied the centrifuges for enriching

Jake Wallis Simons

The West’s shameful Iranian capitulation

On a sweltering day in July 2018, German police pulled over a scarlet Ford S-Max hire car that was travelling at speed towards Austria. The driver, Assadollah Assadi, the third secretary to the Iranian embassy in Vienna, was arrested at gunpoint and taken into custody. Although unusual, there was a good reason for detaining the diplomat: Assadi had used his immunity to smuggle a bomb on a commercial airliner from Tehran to Austria, intending to carry out what would have been one of Europe’s worst atrocities in recent years. Once in Vienna, he had handed the device — codenamed the ‘Playstation’ — to two married Belgian-Iranian agents, Amir Saadouni and

Iran doesn’t hate Israel

The decades since the Islamic revolution have weighed heavy on the people of Iran. Living in fear, under extreme levels of surveillance and oppression, ordinary citizens have seen their quality of life plummet and their horizons shrink, as their country became an international pariah. Those who dared to protest have been brutally repressed by regime goons with knives, axes and heavy weaponry. And while forced to suffer the deprivation of draconian sanctions, hardworking families could only look on as their despotic leaders splurged billions of dollars on military meddling overseas. When the senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar boasted in December that the regime had given him £15.8 million of government

Iran’s missile diplomacy

It’s a time for delivering messages in the Middle East, where messages rarely come without their near constant attendant: violence. On Monday night a volley of rockets struck a base hosting US troops in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. International media reported that one rocket landed in the base and another on residential areas nearby; one civilian contractor was reportedly killed, and six others were wounded, including a US service member. At least five Iraqi civilians were also injured, with one in a critical condition. The militia group Saraya Awliyah al-Dam has claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack. The group remains, superficially at least, a mystery. It proclaims no overt

Revealed: how Mossad eliminated Mohsen Fakhrizadeh

The Mossad is not known for its touchy-feely approach. Whether it was the kidnap of Adolf Eichmann in the sixties, hunting down and executing the Black September terrorists in the seventies and eighties, or dispatching a Hamas chief while disguised as tennis players in a Dubai hotel in 2010, the agency has built a reputation as the most feared secret service in the world. Yet its underlying moral imperative in this most morally difficult of professions must not be overlooked. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan used to show spies about to embark on a mission a photograph of his grandfather kneeling in front of Nazi soldiers before they shot him.