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.

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

My despair at those who weep for Quassem Soleimani

A few hours into the new year, pro-Assad forces targeted a school in southern Idlib with a cluster bomb. The bombing took place at 11am when it was clear the school would have been busy. Five children were killed. Two of those who died were just six years old; the oldest child victim was only thirteen. Four adults were also killed. I will forever be haunted by the faces of Yahya and Hour, the innocent six-year-olds who were amongst the child victims who attended – and died at – the school run by the organisation I work for. This isn’t the first time one of our schools has been destroyed. In fact, six

Freddy Gray

Is there method – or madness – behind Trump’s actions in Iraq?

Leaders are often accused of escalating a conflict abroad in order to distract from headaches at home. On Tuesday, before Iran’s missiles were fired, Donald Trump seemed to be doing the opposite. He and his media surrogates started their now all-too-familiar yabbering about impeachment and the Democrats. It felt as if they were trying to move the news cycle away from the Iran crisis. We’re in an election year after all, and the polls suggest a large majority of American voters don’t want more war. Then Tehran launched what it is calling ‘Operation Martyr Soleimani’, which at first prompted a rare nervous silence in Washington. The White House led reporters

Donald Trump has just blown up his goal of isolating Iran

A blood red flag was raised over the Jamkaran mosque in the Iranian holy city of Qom last week, one normally reserved to commemorate the death of martyrs. This time, it was intended as a call to arms. ‘We have unfurled this flag so that all [Shia] believers in the world gather around it to avenge Qassem Soleimani’s blood unjustly shed,’ said the mosque’s leader. In Tehran, there were calls for bloody retribution for the air strike that killed Iranian general Soleimani — and everywhere, talk of all-out war. If it was also intended to strike the fear of Allah into the hearts of Iran’s Sunni Arab enemies, it certainly succeeded.

Rod Liddle

This bungling Iranian regime is a threat only to the Iranian people

If this is the start of the third world war, as some quivering liberal commentators seem to believe, then my suspicion is that it will be over quite quickly, such is the majestic impotence of our opponents. I realise it is unwise to underestimate one’s enemy, but come on. In the immediate aftermath of the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, a couple of cheap rockets were lobbed in the direction of the US embassy in Baghdad — they missed, succeeding only in causing a handful of casualties including, presumably, similarly foam-flecked anti-American residents, i.e. people on their own side. A day or two later at least 50 people

Martin Vander Weyer

All forecasts are off if Iran shuts the Strait of Hormuz

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… Late last year, a range of forecasts suggested that the likelihood of recession in the US, with knock-on effects for the rest of the developed world, had significantly diminished. Last summer, many economists were putting the chance of a substantial downturn at 50 per cent but by November, Goldman Sachs had marked it down to 24 per cent and Morgan Stanley to ‘around 20 per cent’. Underlying this shift were strong corporate earnings and consumer spending, plus rising hopes of a settlement of US-China trade tensions. Last month saw a sell-off of safety-first government bonds reflecting the

Trump’s Iran strategy has finally won over the ‘Never Trumpers’

As a general rule, neoconservatives and hawkish Republican foreign policy officials don’t respect President Donald Trump’s capacities as commander-in-chief. They view him as impulsive, unwise, short-sighted, and buffoonish—the kind of guy who doesn’t do his homework, spends more time on Twitter than reading briefing books and would rather pull up America’s drawbridge than act as the leader of the free world. This crop of foreign policy intellectuals are quick to refer to Trump as an ‘isolationist’, a favourite pejorative of the Washington policy elite, who is shattering Washington’s superpower status into a million different pieces. These are the same people who actively worked to thwart Trump’s presidential campaign through a

Soleimani’s assassination has exposed the EU’s big weakness

What a difference a day makes. When I went to bed on 2 January what seemed to be the most important issue in the Middle East was the long-term impact of the brave – if desperate – mass protests in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. Many were trying to extract some positive meaning: were they the precursor of a renewed popular drive for better governance in some of the key states of the region? Could they shake the stability of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its grip on the greater Levant? Or would they be suppressed and ignored, only to recur more virulently, as had happened so many times before?

David Patrikarakos

Could Iran’s retaliation against the United States lead to war?

So it happened. Iran has just struck back against the United States for its killing of Quds force chief Qassem Soleimani on 3 January. The Iranians had vowed to retaliate from almost the moment that their most potent – and famous – commander was killed. Iran’s leader Ali Khamenei had vowed a “severe revenge.” Now it has come. And while it may not so far be “severe “exactly, it was undoubtedly swift and it was bold. Details are still pouring in about the strike but it is clear that Iran has struck two bases housing US and coalition forces in Iraq with more than a dozen missiles. The strikes targeted

My clash with Alastair Campbell convinced me it’s time to hug a remainer

I confess I had butterflies doing the first BBC Politics Live of 2020. It felt like the first day back at school. Beyond Twitter spats and Christmas family banter, the festive period had been politics-free. Would I be rusty, especially as one of the other panelists was the formidable Alastair Campbell? As a former People’s Vote heavyweight, Campbell is something of an arch nemesis who has a reputation for taking no prisoners. But regardless, one of my new year resolutions is to not dwell on past enmities. I am keen to build some unity, in order to make Brexit as productive as possible. Ahead of the programme, I reminded myself of the importance of not

Stephen Daisley

Boris Johnson’s dismal response to Qasem Soleimani’s assassination

Two weeks ago, I asked what kind of prime minister Boris Johnson might be and whether he could be ‘the great disruptor’ on foreign policy, defying standard practices and elite assumptions as Donald Trump has. I think I might have my answer. On Trump’s decision to take out Iranian terrorist-in-chief Qasem Soleimani, the Prime Minister was silent for two days. When he finally spoke, it was hardly worth it. Of course Johnson was right to say, given the Quds Force head’s role in the killing of thousands of civilians, ‘we will not lament his death’. He was right too to warn Tehran against escalation. But in stopping there and failing

Qasem Soleimani’s demise is a gamechanger for Israel

The targeted assassination of Qasem Soleimani is a game changer for Israel in its simmering conflict with Tehran. This drone strike could mean an Iranian attack on Israel in response. But whether Iran seeks to attack or not, it means that the country’s remaining allies in the region – such as Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah – will know they could meet a similar, sticky end to Soleimani. For Israel, Trump’s decision to target Soleimani is a moment to celebrate. Israel viewed the Iranian Quds Force commander as a central figure behind Tehran’s threats to destroy Israel. In August, Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu gave a stark warning to Soleimani, blaming him for

David Patrikarakos

Iran’s generals are weeping for Qasem Soleimani. But soon they will prepare to fight

It has been 24 hours since America droned Qasem Soleimani near Baghdad airport. Now both Iran and the United States are getting ready to deal with a new reality in the Middle East that has (quite literally) exploded into being. There is a mutual recognition that when Soleimani died, the old rules of the game died alongside him. What is instructive about his assassination is not that it happened, but that it took so long. After all, this was a man whose carefully posed portrait spread across Twitter every time he visited yet another of Iran’s many wars in the region. If I knew when Haji Qasem was in Syria, then the Americans surely did too.

Freddy Gray

Ten handy phrases for bluffing your way through the coming Iran crisis

That gathering drumbeat you hear could be the sound of World War III, or it could be 10,000 journalists still Googling facts about Iran following the assassination of Qasem Soleimani. The internet is a bluffer’s paradise, but it also means that everybody— not just the hacks — now feels a strong impulse to talk knowledgeably about the Middle East when news happens. You have to know your Shiite, as they say, your IRGC from your Kataib Hizbollah. Don’t muddle Khamenei with Khomeini. But more importantly don’t be afraid! The Spectator is here with some handy phrases to get you through any difficult Twitter spat or pub chat. 1) Say ‘Iran’s

How will Boris Johnson respond to Qassem Soleimani’s killing?

President Trump’s decision to assassinate Qassem Soleimani accelerates perhaps the most important post-Brexit decision faced by Boris Johnson: whether to stand with the US or the EU at moments of potentially acute global crisis. What happens next will largely be conditioned by how Iran responds and retaliates. But all Western governments are examining their options. In particular, France’s president Macron will be working hard to forge a coordinated EU and European response, not least because through the G7 over the summer he endeavoured to engineer a dialogue between president Trump and Iran. Those close to Macron say he admires Johnson. But there are members of the government who harbour the

The Soleimani assassination is Donald Trump’s biggest gamble yet

Ever since Donald Trump was elected president on a non-military interventionist platform, sceptics have questioned his commitment to withdrawing troops from the Middle Eastern quagmire and stopping the endless wars he claims to despise. Now he has authorised the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the head of the powerful Iranian Quds Force, we can be in absolutely no doubt on whether he stands: he’s no different to the other US presidents. It’s a massive strategic gamble. Soleimani was the second most powerful figure in Iran, answering only to the Ayatollah himself. For more than a decade he has been the architect of Iran’s regional military strategy. He helped Iraq and Syria

The alliance between America and Saudi Arabia is over

The oil-for-security alliance between the US and Saudi Arabia, forged in 1945 when Franklin D. Roosevelt met King Abdul Aziz aboard a US Navy destroyer, is now over. Just look at the American reaction to the attack by Iran on Saudi oil facilities. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo duly called it an ‘act of war’; the Wall Street Journal told us the attack was ‘the big one’. But then nothing: President Donald Trump merely shrugged and declared the US energy independent. ‘We don’t need Middle Eastern Oil & Gas,’ he said. Industry experts warned that such an assessment was premature; but oil prices stabilised and the sound of war drums

Emmanuel Macron could be the big loser from the Saudi drone attack

Saudis woke up last Saturday to find the crown jewel of their oil industry in smoke. The attack on the al-Abqaiq oil processing facility, allegedly conducted by cruise missiles and launched from a staging area inside Iran, resulted in the sharpest single-day increase in crude prices since the 1991 Gulf War. Saudi Arabia’s largest oil installation, however, wasn’t the only thing that went up in smoke last weekend. The volley of missiles screeching into Saudi airspace may have also ruined French president Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to deescalate tensions in the Persian Gulf and save the 2015 Iran nuclear deal from a slow and agonising death. The French president has been hard