Al Qaeda and Iran’s chilling new alliance

What does the world’s foremost Shia power and the most notorious Sunni terror group have in common? Given that the two great branches of Islam rarely see eye to eye, the layman would be forgiven for thinking that the answer is ‘not much’.  It isn’t just the layman who has concluded that Iran and Al Qaeda are oil and water either. When reporting on the assassination of an Al Qaeda chief in Tehran last year, the New York Times remarked: ‘That he had been living in Iran was surprising, given that Iran and al-Qaeda are bitter enemies.’ Surprising to the New York Times, perhaps. But not surprising to the intelligence

Iran’s people will pay a heavy price for Khamenei’s vaccine politics

The Middle East is changing. Israelis now splurge at Gucci and Rolex in Dubai. Saudi women speed down desert highways; and once again Turkish leaders kneel before the call to prayer. One thing, however, remains unchanging: the Iranian government’s ability to find new and evermore sadistic ways of persecuting its own people. Yesterday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced on live TV that Iran would reject the American BioNTech-Pfizer and British Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines. ‘Imports of US and British vaccines into the country are banned. I have told this to officials and I’m saying it publicly now,’ he said. This statement is typical in that it both defies belief and is

The Middle East for dummies

Gstaad   The French have a saying: ‘Il n’y a rien de plus bête que le sourire du gagnant.’ In other words, gloating is for dummies. Hence I won’t be doing it, despite the drubbing handed to the Bercows of this world by so-called common folk. Mind you, at a lunch in a gentlemen’s club in the Bagel on the very day the drubbing was being administered, an Anglo-American friend, Bartle Bull, asked me what I thought would be the outcome: ‘Hung parliament,’ answered the great electoral expert, ruining Bartle’s lunch and driving the rest of the guests to more drink. A month down the road, everything’s hunky-dory, at least

Portrait of the week: Crisis in Iran, fires in Australia and Manchester rapist jailed

Home Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, who had not been told in advance of America’s killing in Iraq of Qassem Soleimani, the leading Iranian military leader, said that America ‘had a right to exercise self-defence’. British troops were put on standby to be sent to the region, and the frigate Montrose and the destroyer Defender sent to the Strait of Hormuz. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, returning from holiday in Mustique, said: ‘Given the leading role he has played in actions that have led to the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians and western personnel, we will not lament his death.’ England secured a 189-run victory over South Africa on

Iran vs the rest: the Middle East has reached a tipping point

Last year, in the cigar bar of an opulent London hotel much favoured by visiting Arabs, an interesting conversation took place. My friend was rich enough to have two private jets and claimed to be doing private shuttle diplomacy between Israel and one of the Gulf states. Smoke curled around our heads and a young Qatari in Gucci trainers passed by with a woman my friend assured me was a Russian prostitute. My friend’s phone was out now and he was on a video call with a man he said was a senior official in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. He asked him about a drone strike on Saudi Arabia’s two

Why does Britain refuse to swap hostages?

In the last days of November, Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert was released from Tehran’s Evin prison and flown back to a welcome in Australia. A dual Australian-UK national, she had served two years of a ten-year sentence for espionage — pronounced after a secret trial. She had been in Iran for a conference and was detained as she was about to leave. She had strongly protested her innocence. So why, many Britons might ask, is the Australian-British academic suddenly free after two years in which the Iranian security services tried in vain to ‘turn’ her — while the UK-Iranian dual national, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, remains under house arrest in Tehran, with the

Why this Iranian assassination is all about Trump

The news that Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen ‘father of the bomb’ Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, met his end in a hail of bullets near Tehran today comes as no surprise. As with so many things these past four years, this is all about Trump. Whoever carried out the hit, it is all but certain that Trump gave it the nod. Once again, he is trying to put a stamp on the Middle East that Biden will find difficult to scrub out. His actions would hardly be without precedent; Obama, Clinton and Reagan all made last-gasp moves in the region to shape it in their image. But none of these Presidents were anywhere

Biden would be a fool to reverse Trump’s foreign policy wins

‘We’re going to be back in the game,’ our presumptive and somewhat previous new president tells us. ‘It’s not America alone.’ But America was never out of the game under Donald Trump and never alone. Look who is also back in the game: Tony Blinken, Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state, will be Biden’s secretary of state. Jake Sullivan, once one of Hillary Clinton’s closest aides, is going to be Biden’s national security adviser. John Kerry, the disastrous diplomat who gave us the Iran nuclear deal, is Biden’s climate emissary. And it was all going so well. Trump might not have built his wall, but he had the first successful

Is AppleTV’s Tehran the new Fauda?

If you love Fauda — and of course you do — you’re in for a long wait for season four, which isn’t due to arrive on Netflix till 2022. That’s why I had such high hopes for Tehran, which is written by one of Fauda’s co-authors Moshe Zonder. What, after all, could there possibly be not to like about a hot female Mossad agent struggling to survive after a botched mission in the hostile Iranian capital, where all Israelis are seen as emissaries of ‘Little Satan’? It starts promisingly, once you’ve got over the technical difficulties of signing up to Apple TV. (For some reason, my characters now speak with

The Foreign Office has lost the plot in the Middle East

Last Friday the UN Security Council rejected any extension of the arms embargo on Iran. That embargo — imposed in 2007 — began to get phased out after the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. But a ‘snapback’ provision was put in place intended to allow the return of all such sanctions should Iran violate the terms of the deal. Iran has been violating those terms for some time, but on Friday, when the United States hoped that its allies would join it in deploring this fact, only the Dominican Republic voted with it. The UK, like France and Germany, chose to abstain. On the question of whether Russia and China should

Why the US assassination of Iran’s top general didn’t spark a war

Iran’s new meddler-in-chief in Iraq is a bespectacled general called Esmail Ghaani. Brought in to replace Qassem Soleimani after his death in a US airstrike in January, he has the same green uniform as his predecessor, the same grey beard, and the same orders to make Iraq’s Shia militias do Tehran’s bidding. That, though, is where the similarities end. Soleimani was a legend among his followers in Iraq — he spent years building contacts with local commanders and joined them on the battlefield against Isis in Mosul. Ghaani, by contrast, is an owlish, uncharismatic figure who looks like he might be happier behind a desk. Unlike Soleimani, he doesn’t speak

In memory of the man who never slept

The enforced boredom of lockdown has been replaced by a feeling of loss. My nephew by marriage, Hansie Schoenburg, died aged 33 from a brain tumour, and then there was the death of my close friend Shahriar Bakhtiar, aged 72. Hansie was tall, blond, a Yale grad, and extremely handsome. Recently married, he died surrounded by his family. He was very close to both my children. Shahriar was the Persian Boy who, as a slender, bright-eyed six-year-old with not a word of English, was dispatched from Persia to an English school known for its cold rooms and strict rules. The Persian Boy learned early to do without parents. The bitter

Oil on troubled waters: the US-Saudi alliance is crumbling

Donald Trump said in October 2018 that the Saudi royal family ‘wouldn’t last two weeks’ without American military support. Last week, on the back of the collapse of the US fracking industry, he finally acted on his long-standing anti–Saudi instincts. He ordered the immediate withdrawal of two patriot air defence batteries, sent to defend the kingdom’s oil infrastructure in September after a missile attack blamed on the Iranians. He also recalled hundreds of US troops and said the US Navy presence in the Persian Gulf would be scaled back. Leaving with the ships were dozens of US fighter jets, which would have been crucial for defending against any full-scale Iranian

The director of Persepolis talks about her biopic of Marie Curie: Marjane Satrapi interviewed

The problem with making an accurate film about science is that science is rarely exciting to watch, explains director Marjane Satrapi. Movie convention tends to insist on the climax of the eureka moment and the fiction of the solitary male genius, who doggedly closes in on his discovery in the same way that a detective might doggedly close in on a killer. ‘It doesn’t happen this way,’ says Satrapi. ‘It’s a result of lots and lots of work, which most of the time is repetitive and most of the time you know you don’t know where you’re going, and it’s lots of collaboration.’ Satrapi studied mathematics in her birthplace of

The Shia Krays: The whole of Iraq is being held to ransom

It’s been only six weeks since the death of the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, but already there are a number of local hardmen vying to take his place. Most notable are his sidekicks, the Kray twins of the Shia world: Qais al-Khazali and his brother Laith. Qais and Laith who? Unless you’ve scanned Washington’s latest list of designated global terrorists, these two names won’t be familiar. Yet when I mentioned the brothers in a Baghdad teahouse a few weeks ago, folk lowered their voices and looked surreptitiously around, as if discussing the Krays in a pub in 1960s Bethnal Green. The Khazalis lead an Iran-backed Shia extremist group called the

Iran’s mullahs are right to be rattled about what is unfolding on the streets of Tehran

On the streets of Tehran the real story from inside the Islamic Republic is being written. And Iran’s Mullahs are worried. The people are rioting, as they have for the last year. And as commentators struggle to project their own views onto Iranians, Iranians themselves are finally making their voices heard. Events following the assassination of Qassem Soleimani has shown us the ability of some Western commentators to make any drama in the region about themselves. As each stage of the crisis has developed, they have assured us of impending consequences that suit their own agendas rather than any reality on the ground. We were told that Soleimani’s killing would bring

Lloyd Evans

Corbyn’s Stop the War protest speech was his worst yet

About a hundred Stop the War activists gathered outside BBC Broadcasting House on Saturday to protest against a possible conflict with Iran. They were the usual ragbag of idlers, dreamers, misfits and malcontents. Many of these people are unable to grasp the illogicality of their political positions. A chap selling the Socialist declined to give me a copy for free. ‘In future everything will be shared,’ I said, ‘so start with this paper.’ ‘I’ll share it with you,’ he smiled, ‘after you’ve shared your pound with me.’ I paid up and pointed out that the transaction had merely strengthened capitalism. ‘No, it’s building a system that will overthrow capitalism.’ A

In pictures: Iran’s anti-government protests

The Iranian government has faced growing internal pressure following the downing of a civilian jet last week. The Ukraine International Airlines flight was shot down on Wednesday shortly after takeoff, killing all 176 passengers on board. The regime has since taken responsibility for the deaths, blaming ‘human error’ amid rising tensions with the US following the assassination of Qasim Soleimani. Some have suggested that the regime’s tragic error could signal the beginning of the end for Iran’s theocratic dictatorship as increasing numbers of Iranians take to the streets. Over the weekend, the British ambassador was arrested while attending a vigil for those who died on the Ukrainian flight, including four

Could this be the beginning of the end for Iran’s mullahs?

It is easy to construct a scenario in which tit for tat actions by the Americans and Iranians lead to all-out war, close off the Gulf, send oil prices soaring, crash the global economy – and, if you are really going to go for it, end in nuclear conflagration. But what about the alternative outcome: that conflict between Iran and the West precipitates a counter-revolution against the mullahs and leads to and end to the 40 year Iranian theocracy? The overthrow of the Iranian regime is the black swan event – or maybe it ought to be called a white swan event – which no-one is talking about, which is

The downing of a civilian jet only adds to Tehran’s desperation

Drama and tragedy continue to envelop Iran. Just hours after the regime struck two US bases in Iraq on Wednesday, Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 crashed after taking off from Tehran en route to Kyiv. All 176 passengers and crew members on board were killed. Iran almost immediately claimed that the plane had suffered a technical malfunction but this was greeted with scepticism. The aircraft was a Boeing 737-800 – one of the international airline industry’s most widely used and reliable models. Dozens of Canadians were on board and on Thursday Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said evidence indicated that an Iranian missile had brought down the aircraft by accident.