24 February 2016

Australia must show caution in upgrading ties with Iran

from Colin Rubenstein*, 25 Feb 2016:

In elections on Feb. 26, Iran is set to choose a new Majlis, or parliament, as well as the "Assembly of Experts" - a body of religious scholars whose main job is to choose the Supreme Leader - currently 76-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
However, hopes that last July's nuclear deal  - officially implemented last month - would lead to a shift in power in the Iranian regime toward "moderates" and away from "hardliners" appear doomed.

Iran has never been a genuine democracy, with clerical hardliners nurtured by Khamenei and his predecessor, regime founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, holding almost all the reins of power.

This election looks to be a good demonstration of how this works. Reportedly, 80% (645 out for 801) of candidates for the 88-Member Assembly of Experts were barred from running. Of the 12,100 announced candidates for the Majlis, 55% were eventually allowed to run, but moderate candidates in particular seem to have been targeted by the "vetting" process.

President Hassan Rouhani's "moderate" camp claimed only 1% of their candidates survived vetting, and Rouhani himself reportedly complained, "If only one faction is present in the vote, and the other is not, then why are we holding elections?"

This decision was made by the 12-member Guardian Council, half of whose members are appointed by the Supreme Leader, which vets all candidates and ensures the "compatibility" of laws with the "teachings of Islam". In barring reformers and moderates from running, it was  effectively following orders from Khamenei, who told election officials on Jan. 20, "Only those who believe in the Islamic Republic and its values should be allowed to enter parliament."

Of course, this kind of manipulation of Iran's undemocratic politics by the regime is standard practice. What was new is the expectation of Western normalisation toward Iran following the implementation of the nuclear deal,which has lifted economic sanctions on Iran estimated to be worth around $150 billion.

Since that time, Khamenei has signalled repeatedly that, while he wants the sanctions lifted, he will not countenance any progressive changes in Iranian domestic politics or foreign policy. And he and his allies are using their ample power to make sure this does not happen.

Take for example, Khamenei's tweet on February 15, "All problems root in the arrogant powers at the top of which is US and the Zionist regime is epitome of evil." In October, he banned all negotiations with the US, saying any contact might "open gates to their economic, cultural, political and security influence."

The regime has been signaling its intentions with actions as well - actions including an October ballistic missile test that violated a UN Security Council ban, the firing of rockets near a US aircraft carrier, and the detention and public humiliation of 10 US Navy sailors that Iran claimed had strayed into its waters.

Yet World powers have been so eager to implement the nuclear deal that they have all but ignored these signals and actions. They have even downplayed the findings of the December report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran had been lying for years about its nuclear weapons development work, and that it was impossible to form a complete picture of Iran's weapons program because Iran has been destroying evidence and refusing to answer questions

Meanwhile, Iran is still wreaking havoc across the Middle East in pursuit of its hegemonic ambitions.  It is now anticipated that Iran will use a portion of its new funds to prop up its allies including
  • the brutal Assad regime in Syria,
  • Houthis in Yemen,
  • Shi'ite militias in Iraq, and
  • the terror group Hezbollah - based in Lebanon but also supporting Assad.  

Such a foothold across the region enables Iran to claim that it already has control over four Arab capital cities -
  • Beirut,
  • Baghdad,
  • Damascus, and
  • Sana'a. 
Iran's evolving presence is perturbing for Sunni Middle Eastern, states especially Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which are now ramping up efforts to fight the Assad regime in Syria. 

The key provisions of the nuclear deal will expire in ten years and Iran will then be effectively able to develop nuclear weapons unhindered.  Ten years is a drop in the ocean for an ancient civilization.  This reality is well understood by Iran's neighbours, and therefore is likely to spark a nuclear arms race in an already volatile region. 

Despite this turmoil, Western diplomats and business leaders flock to meet with Iranian leaders, keen to tap into Iran's lucrative market, with governments encouraging this both out of economic self-interest, and out of a misplaced belief - being refuted by experience - that engagement will lead to Iranian moderation or strengthen moderate forces within Iran.

However, if the nuclear deal is to have any hope of curtailing Iran's destructive and destablising behaviours, Iran must now be treated with greater caution and scrutiny than ever.  Vigilance will require firm policies regarding the way the West responds to Iranian transgressions, nuclear or otherwise.  Iran must be called to account for any nuclear violations as well as for its support for terrorism, its breaches of arms embargos and its gross abuse of human rights.

Given the risks, for all Western nations, including Australia, caution will better serve their national interests than automatically upgrading political ties or encouraging businesses to prematurely rush into the Iranian market. Nuclear related sanctions on Iran are being lifted, but real normalisation with Iran must wait until the regime can demonstrate that it can behave like a normal state.

*Dr. Colin Rubenstein is Executive Director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. Previously, he taught Middle East politics at Monash University for many years.

14 February 2016

Liberal MP under fire over Israel

From The AJN, 11December 2014:

LIBERAL MP Craig Laundy has been slammed after alluding to the fact that “the issues that we as a globe confront today” can be traced back to the creation of the State of Israel.
In a speech in the Federation Chamber of Parliament earlier this month supporting a motion to recognise 2014 as the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, the Member for Reid in Sydney’s western suburbs, admitted he has never been to the region but that many Palestinians “call my electorate home”.

Laundy, who is co-chair of the federal Parliamentary Friends of Palestine, said, “A people were displaced and they have been fighting for their identity ever since. That is it simply. If you look at the Middle East and the issues that we as a globe confront today, we can trace it pretty much back to this region some 60 or 70 years ago. Anyone who stands in this place and argues differently is not being fair dinkum.”
Referring to a two-state solution, Laundy said: “I believe this is used as a line to hide behind; it does not get past that. This is an issue we need to attack; we need to be real about it … for the last almost 60 years, the people of Palestine have not had a fair go.”

Asked by The AJN if her colleague’s opinions represented the party line, Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop said simply: “The Australian government’s long-standing position is that we remain committed to Israel and a Palestinian state existing side-by-side in peace and security, within internationally-recognised borders.”

10 February 2016

NSW Labor Left under fire from within

From The Australian, 11 Feb 2016, by Joe Kelly:
‘I suspect most MPs would find such a proposition ludicrous’: Glenn Sterle.
Picture: Matthew Poon
West Australian Labor senator Glenn Sterle has accused the party’s NSW branch of trying to introduce an indefensible “backdoor ban” on MP visits to Israel by mandating a “ludicrous and deeply insulting” condition that half the trip be spent in the Palestinian territories.

Senator Sterle said the push was really an attempt to render sponsored trips to Israel unviable by increasing travel costs, and amounted to an admission that Israel­ was seen only within the context of the ongoing Middle East conflict.

“The idea is to learn about the country, not merely the conflicts in which it is involved,” he told The Australian. “To saddle participants with an arbitrary requirement that they cut their time in half would make it almost impossible to learn anything worthwhile ... it is a backdoor attempt at a ban.
“A ban would be tantamount to censorship, and they know that that would be indefensible.”
This weekend’s NSW Labor conference is poised to consider a compromise plan for MPs to spend equal time in Palestinian territories when travelling to Israel­ amid concern over a push for an outright ban if trips were funded by Jewish organisations.

The push has been condemned by former Queensland premier Peter Beattie, who likened it to a “Stalinist-type approach”, as well as former national president Warren­ Mundine, who said a push to ban trips was “verging on anti-Semitic’’.

Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman and deputy leader Tanya Plibersek told the National Press Club in Canberra yesterday that she did not support a ban, but said trips to the region were a “wonderful opportunity” for MPs to visit both Israel and the Palestinian territories. ... “I support­ people travelling to inform­ themselves ...”

Former Labor foreign minister and NSW premier Bob Carr has backed a system under which MPs would be “obliged to spend an equivalent time” inspecting the conditions of Palestinians on trips to Israel.

...ALP sources confirmed yesterday the motion was likely to be watered down, amid uncertainty on how to ensure “equivalent time” in the Palestinian territories.

Australia should back off its uncritical support of Obama's Iran deal

Efraim Inbar*, who visited Australia recently, was highly critical of Obama's "nuclear deal" with Iran for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that it legitimises Iran's nuclear infrastructure, and even if Iran complies with its obligations, it will be able to develop nuclear weapons in 10-15 years.

Professor Inbar also suggested that Australia's uncritical support for Obama's deal, and significant warming of diplomatic ties with Iran (despite its rogue international behaviour), is not in Australia's interests, for two reasons:
  1. 80-85% of the Muslim world is Sunni. Australian support for the Shi'ite version of  political Islam may alienate that majority; and
  2. the US Administration will change in about a year, and if the new Administration is critical of the deal, or winds it back, then Australia will be out of step with its greatest ally.

*Efraim Inbar is a Professor in Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University and Director of its renowned Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (the BESA Center).

Inbar was educated at the Hebrew University (B.A. in Political Science and English Literature) and at the University of Chicago (M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science). He served as visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University (2004), at Georgetown University (1991-92), and visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (1996). Prof. Inbar was appointed as a Manfred Warner NATO Fellow (1998), was a visiting fellow at the (London) International Institute for Strategic Studies (2000), and was the recipient of the Onassis Fellowship (2003). He often lectures at institutions such as RAND, Harvard, MIT, Columbia, Oxford, and Yale Universities.

Inbar’s area of specialization is Middle Eastern strategic issues with a special interest in the politics and strategy of Israeli national security. He has written over 80 articles in professional journals and edited volumes. He has authored five books: Outcast Countries in the World Community (1985), War and Peace in Israeli Politics. Labor Party Positions on National Security (1991), Rabin and Israel’s National Security (1999), The Israeli-Turkish Entente (2001), and Israel's National Security: Issues and Challenges since the Yom Kippur War (2008). He has also edited twelve collections of articles.  

Prof. Inbar served in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) as a paratrooper. He was a member of the Political Strategic Committee of the National Planning Council and the Chair of the Committee for the National Security Curriculum at the Ministry of Education. He served on the Academic Committee of the History Department of the IDF and as the President of the Israel Association of International Studies. Prof. Inbar is widely quoted in the Israeli and international press.

Areas of Specialization and Teaching:

  • War and Strategy
  • National Security Problems in the Middle East
  • Israeli Politics

04 February 2016

Beattie blasts ALP’s ‘Stalinist’ approach to Israel

Former Queensland premier Peter Beattie says the Labor Party’s approach to Israel has become an obsession. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Former Queensland premier Peter Beattie says the Labor Party risks becoming politically irrelevant over its “Stalinist” approach to Israel, which he argues has ­become an obsession.

Mr Beattie described a proposed ban on politicians travelling to Israel on trips funded by Jewish organisations as an “extreme view ... It smacks of single-minded ­obsession with Israel. This is ­becoming an obsession and I don’t think that’s healthy politically...” ...

“Are we going to restrict travel to China ­because of their destruction of Tibet? Or Cuba because they’ve got a terrible human rights record? You could find something in nearly every country around the world.”

In total, 39 motions critical of Israel have been received by the Labor Party before its NSW conference on February 13-14 compared with 17 on all other countries and foreign policy topics, including Syria, Iraq and Libya.

Federal Labor politicians Sam Dastyari and Tony Burke are among those who support the move to ban travel to Israel if the trips have been funded by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council or the Jewish Board of Deputies.

"(This is) taking a hardline, Stalinist type of approach, which is how I see this,” Mr Beattie said. “If we take a position which is counter-productive to a resolution of the conflict then we are in a sense becoming politically irrelevant...."

...Communications spokesman Jason Clare, ...is part of the party’s pro-Palestinian group..

Mr Beattie said it was important for MPs to visit Israel, noting many would be unable to afford to travel to the Middle East if the trips were not funded. “Not everyone has the resources to travel around the world... To suggest there’s some sort of bribery involved from a sponsored trip, what it basically says is that Labor people who accept this are so feeble-minded that they’re going to accept everything they’re told.”

Mr Beattie, who visited Israel during his time as premier but has never been on a sponsored trip to the region, said he understood there was some pressure to maintain marginal seats in western Sydney but political expediency should not dominate good policy.

His comments come after ­former national party president Warren Mundine said Labor’s move to enforce restrictions on the time spent in Israel and Palestinian territories was “verging on anti-Semitic” and he found it “sickening to watch’’.

03 February 2016

Public Lecture in Perth: The Middle Eastern Security Situation and the Politics and Strategy of Israeli National Security

Future Directions International, Curtin University and the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council would like to invite you to a talk, followed by Q&A, with

Professor Efraim Inbar
Professor in Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University
Director of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies
The Middle Eastern Security Situation and the Politics and Strategy of Israeli National Security

A leading authority on Middle Eastern strategic issues and the notions underpinning the national security of Israel, Professor Inbar will address:
  • Strategic Trends in the Middle East
  • The Consequences of the American Exit from the Middle East
  • Current National Security Challenges for Israel
  • Is Peace Possible with the Palestinian Arabs?

Prof Inbar will also pose the question ‘Is Time on Israel’s Side?’ before taking questions from the audience.

A former Israeli Defence Force paratrooper, Prof Inbar has worked with the National Planning Council and the Ministry of Education.

He is the author of five books and over 80 articles published in professional journals and edited volumes.

11.00am – 12.30pm, Monday, 8 February 2016
Curtin University Graduate School of Business,
78 Murray Street (cnr Murray and Pier Streets), Perth

Please RSVP as soon as possible to
E-mail: info@futuredirections.org.au
Telephone: (08) 9389 9831

01 February 2016

ALP's push to ban trips to Israel is “verging on anti-Semitic’’ and "sickens" Warren Mundine

From THE AUSTRALIAN, FEBRUARY 2, 2016, by Sharri Markson:


Warren Mundine says he was ‘disgusted’ by the move to ban Labor politicians from visiting Israel if their trips have been funded by Jewish organisations.

Former Labor national president Warren Mundine has launched a blistering attack on the party, saying its move to ban sponsored trips to Israel is “verging on anti-Semitic’’ and is “sickening to watch”.
Mr Mundine admonished the party’s leadership, saying NSW Labor was at risk of becoming a fringe party over its hardline approach to the only Middle East democracy.
“It is an illogical, verging on anti-Semitic approach,” he said.
“We do not do this to other countries. Name another country that the Labor Party bans people from going to? There are none.
What is the difference with this country? The only difference is that they are Jewish, and I just find that quite sickening that a party that I was president of would move down that road.”
Speaking ahead of the NSW Labor conference, which starts on February 13, Mr Mundine, the chairman of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, said he was “disgusted” by the move to ban Labor politicians from visiting Israel if their trips have been funded by Jewish organisations, The Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.
The NSW ALP international relations policy committee chairman Michael Forshaw told The Australian yesterday that 39 resolutions had been received concerning Israel and Palestine, compared with 17 resolutions dealing with other international issues, such as the Syrian war, the Myanmar junta, Paris terror bombings, China free trade and foreign aid.
There were none on Saudi Arabia or Iran.
There are moves to recognise Palestinian statehood and to boycott products from Israel ...
The move by Labor is partly driven by political motivations to secure the vote from Muslim communities in marginal southwest Sydney seats.
“In politics ...there is a moral line that you do not cross,” Mr Mundine said.
“The Labor Party in NSW is speeding across that line.
“They are not only walking or stepping, they are rushing across it for pure political reasons, and it’s sickening to watch.”
Mr Mundine said Labor MPs should remember that Israel was the only democracy in the region with a parliament of Jewish, Arab, Christian and Muslim politicians sitting within a vast region of problematic countries.
“I find it quite disgusting, actually,’’ he said.
“It is almost burgeoning into this BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) system of anti-Semitism,’’ he said.
Members of the pro-Palestinian group include federal MPs
  • Jason Clare,
  • Sam Dastyari and
  • Tony Burke, with
  • former NSW premier Bob Carr a high-profile advocate.
NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley supports [forcing ALP visitors to Israel] to spend equal time in Palestinian territories as in Israel.
Federal leader Bill Shorten has refused to endorse this policy, trusting MPs to form their own judgments about their travel arrangements.

Anti-Semitic hatred is behind the ALP push for trip ban


Jewish advocacy groups are “cancerous” and “malicious” and try to “deny, misinform and scaremonger”.
A NSW Labor politician voiced these incendiary words — the first NSW Muslim MP, in fact, Shaoquett Moselmane.
He didn’t utter them in the privacy of his own home. He felt comfortable enough broadcasting this anti-semitic sentiment within the walls of the NSW Parliament. This is terrifying in itself.
The MP, who ironically decried racism in his first speech to parliament, made the remarks just two years ago, in May 2013. He was not shouted-out of the high office he holds for racist commentary. On the contrary, Labor continues to support him and Moselmane is now a vocal advocate behind a push to ban Labor MPs from visiting Israel on trips funded by Jewish organisations.
A group Moselmane is aligned with, Labor Friends of Palestine, supports the ban on the trips ...This is one of 39 resolutions critical of Israel submitted to the NSW Labor conference this month.
By comparison, just 17 motions have been put forward that relate to other countries, including Iraq, Syria, China or Libya. There are none on Saudi Arabia or Iran.
Countries that kill women for adultery. That jail writers, like Raif Badawi, for supporting free-speech. That censor the news. That destroy ancient relics. That fund terrorists who kill innocent people as they go to the theatre or draw cartoons.
But no, NSW Labor is most worried about Israel, a tiny Jewish state. A democracy. A country that has lively political debate within its society and media....
The father of the anti-Israel movement is Bob Carr, whose speeches have on at least one occasion, in July last year, elicited anti-semitic commentary from the audience, with a remark made about “the Jews” and their “3000-year fundamentalist influence.”
Following Carr in his unhealthy Israel obsession, are MPs in marginal western Sydney seats who weakly give up key Labor values of tolerance and fairness in order to appeal to their Muslim constituency.
...By enforcing a rule that equal time must be spent in Israel and Palestinian territories, Labor leaders are making a judgement about their colleagues’ level of intelligence and credulity, implying they are incapable of forming their own views after meeting Jewish Israelis.
The NSW branch of the Labor party — a mob so hopeless that they couldn’t sort out Sydney’s traffic chaos — should focus on refining their health, education and transport policies, before they begin to get involved in the Middle East.

Labor is divided on Israel

From The Australian, 29 Jan 2016, by Mark Coultan, State political correspondent, Sydney:

Bill Shorten doesn’t see the need to start giving his Labor MPs travel instructions.
Picture: Rex Nicholson

Bill Shorten is at odds with the NSW Labor leader Luke Foley on whether ALP officials should spend equal time in Israel and the Palestinian territories on sponsored trips.

The issue is coming to a head as multiple branches submit 24 motions to next month’s NSW ALP annual conference seeking to ban sponsored trips to Israel by party officials, or put conditions on such visits.

Last year, under pressure from pro-Palestinian MPs, Mr Foley decided that if Labor MPs took sponsored trips to Israel, they should spend equal time in the Palestinian territories.
But the federal Opposition Leader said yesterday he wouldn’t impose such conditions on trips. “I trust Labor representatives. I don’t see the need to start giving them travel instructions,” Mr Shorten said.

Mr Foley said last night he stood by his policy.

Former foreign minister Bob Carr and NSW upper-house member Shaoquett Moselmane are among those pushing for a tougher stand on sponsored trips.

...The federal Labor MP for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby, asked why Israel was being singled­ out.
“If a Labor person takes a trip to the United States, do they have to spend the same time in Russia? ...Beating up on the region­’s only democracy will not instil confidence in the NSW public about the party’s priorities.”
Former senator Michael Forshaw, who is the chairman of the ALP’s international affairs policy committee, said equal time ­between Israel and the Palestinian territories was being pushed by some in the party in order to stop trips to Israel altogether....
“In my 40 years I have never ever seen the party try and prevent­ an MP or an official from ­visiting some part of the world in this manner... For years people from the Left travelled to Moscow or Cuba. They may not have liked it, but nobody ever tried to stop them through the party.’’
...The Labor conference’s ­foreign policy agenda is also dominat­ed by motions that are critical of ­Israel.