Garvan Walshe was the Conservative Party's National and International Security Policy Adviser until 2008. Follow Garvan on Twitter.
It’s been 40 years since the Yom Kippur war, when Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a surprise attack on Israel, which came close to threatening the state’s existence. Golda Meir’s government had received plenty of intelligence that an attack was coming. Like all intelligence, it was far from conclusive. The Israelis chose to discount it, and mobilised only hours before the Arab attack came.
At least in 1973 Israel had no reason to doubt Egypt’s strategic intentions. Jerusalem knew she might deter war through deft diplomacy and by keeping a keen watch on her borders but there was no doubt about Cairo’s hostility. Things are different now.
There may not have been dancing in the streets of Ashkelon as news of Mohammed Morsi’s ouster spread, but there was certainly relief, if not a certain amount of satisfaction, that the Muslim Brotherhood, begetter of Hamas, had been cut down to size. Thus a friend, whose views reflect the exact centre of informed Israeli public opinion so closely that she could serve as a one-woman focus group, punned to me on July 2nd, as tanks sealed off Cairo’s streets and security forces at last got a chance to put their ample stocks of tear gas to use: “He’s certainly proved he’s no sissy.”
Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Adviser to the Conservative Party until 2008. Follow Garvan on Twitter.
“A small country that nobody listens to.” The unnamed Russian official stung David Cameron where it hurts most: in his national pride. This Prime Minister – often attacked for having only the most superficial grasp of the very idea of a principle; a man for whom ideas carry a nasty whiff of those twin Tory monsters, the Left and the Continent; a gentleman whose favourite predecessor is reported to have been the decidedly low key Lord Derby – has begun to develop a taste for foreign adventure that owes more to Gladstone than Metternich.
His has grown out of a very different sensibility than that which underlies globalist doctrines of humanitarian war (it is indeed about as far from the formerly Marxist New York-Jewish intellectuals of the New School for Social Research, who became famous as neo-conservatives, as it is possible to imagine in a modern democracy). Indeed, he dismissed their universal ideas as dropping democracy from a plane at “40,000 feet”. Rather, he feels that Britain should stand up for the week against the strong, be on the side of the good against the big battalions, and should still count for something in this world. In this he owes more to Boy’s Own and the basic decency immortalised by Richmal Crompton than the rarefied pages of Commentary. Thus his engaging, if undignified, impersonation of Hugh Grant that’s now been set to patriotic music by a thousand bloggers.
Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Adviser to the Conservative Party until 2008.
Follow Garvan on Twitter.
There are always good arguments against war. They never go away entirely, they are only ever overridden by stronger ones in favour of its necessity. When the government plans to send men and women in uniform to kill and die, it’s right to ask serious questions. Do we have a just cause? Is our action legitimate? Is it likely to achieve our aim? Have we planned it properly? Will it spin out of control? Can we reduce the chances of killing innocent people enough to justify our action? A Leader of the Opposition sceptical of a government’s plans for military intervention can be expected to ask all those questions. Instead we got this.
His first sentence ends with a grievous error. Syrian civilans, Ed Miliband tells us, are suffering a “humanitarian catastrophe,” as though they were victims of a flood, famine or a particularly violent volcanic eruption.
It’s no such thing.
They are deliberately being murdered by a dictator desperately afraid of what his people would do to him if they got a chance to exact justice. To stop this slaughter, he appeals, a soaked and freezing Norse shepherd praying to Valhalla for sunshine, to a meeting of the G20 “to force the warring parties into a solution.” What, precisely, this group, charged with economic co-operation, is supposed to do to force Assad, let alone the Jabhat al-Nusra, Aztec-like in their treatment of captives, to the negotiating table, he doesn’t say.
Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party until 2008. Follow Garvan on Twitter.
Small countries get to win favour by making statements of principle. Permanent members of the Security Council are judged by how they act.
Had the Iraq invasion been effective: had a reasonably well-functioning Iraqi state been built, and its people notably freer and more prosperous than they had under Saddam, questions about its legitimacy would have evaporated.
But had the Kosovo air war been unable to dislodge Milosevic from the province and been followed by a ground invasion caught out by a Russian-backed Serbian insurgency, that mission would have been discredited.
The scale of intervention in Syria has yet to be known, but some rumours suggest a worryingly limited strike using cruise missiles, enough to show that “something” is being done. Let’s hope those rumours aren’t true: a symbolic strike would kill people but achieve nothing of substance.
Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party until 2008. Follow Garvan on Twitter.
What do they put in the tea at King Charles Street? In January, as Syria’s civil war got bloodier, and Egypt’s constitutional crisis worsened, William Hague was persuaded to tell the Americans that a two state solution should be “highest priority” for foreign policy. Now, as Egypt stands on the brink of its own civil war, the same substance must have been deposited in State Department’s urns, spurring John Kerry to pile up untold air miles as he superintend s negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la politique étrangère.
Unlike the excellent and courageous staff in the field, diplomats at foreign ministry headquarters remain inexplicably attached Israeli-Palestinian peace not merely as good in itself, but also of the highest strategically importance. This is a grave mistake. It’s not the peace process, but the chaos in Egypt and Syria, that should be the highest priority in the Middle East.
Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party until 2008. Follow Garvan on Twitter.
Jordan was supposed to be in trouble. Its King, concluded the Economist, was “as beleaguered as ever.” After Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, Jordan would surely be the next old-style regime to fall. Its survival, like the inactivity of the dog referred to by Sherlock Holmes in the Silver Blaze, is most curious.
Amman, ruled by an absolute monarchy from an Arabian dynasty seems ripe for political crisis. Strictly speaking, the Hashemites claim to run a constitutional regime, but its charter invests the King with absolute authority, while the elected parliament is essentially for show. Where Walter Bagehot described the governing arrangements of Victorian Britain as ones where the “dignified” monarchy gave lustre to the “efficient” parliamentary administration, in Jordan the roles are reversed.
A majority of its population is Palestinian, yet state institutions remain firmly in the hands of the indigenous minority that crushed a Palestinian uprising in 1970. With a national income per head just shy of $5,000, Jordan is classified as an “upper middle-income country,” but its growth rate has lagged its peers since 2004. Youth unemployment stands at 30 per cent. And, the Hashemite monarchy has refused to distract its people with Arab nationalist populism, choosing instead to build a solid security relationship with the West, and Israel. If absorbing Palestinian refugees was not enough, it has also had to host hundreds of thousands more who have fled wars first in Iraq and now Syria. It’s hardly surprising that the International Crisis Group warned that should the regime give in to the “temptation...to wait and to postpone” it “could portend a new chapter in the Arab uprisings’ unfolding drama.”
‘Controversial’ is the diplomatic euphemism usually applied to Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat and now likely Prime Ministerial candidate for the opposition BJP. He will, in all likelihood face off against a Congress party ruled at least from behind the scenes by the Gandhi dynasty, if not yet formally headed by its latest favoured son, Rahul.
Congress, like the American Democrats, is the party the outside world prefers. It defends India’s secular multicultural identity, and under Manmohan Singh, the economist turned Prime Minister, abandoned the party’s traditional socialism, implementing market-friendly economic reforms. If the last two administrations haven’t quite lived up to expectations (measures to allow foreign supermarkets, currently forbidden, never passed; infrastructure remains terrible; and the courts, as Vodafone found out, byzantine), it’s hard to see any other government of a country so large, fractious and decentralised as India, where governing coalitions have only the superficial appearance of being anchored to a major national bloc but instead owe more to improbable flying machines as designed by Heath Robinson, doing much better.
Nobody, the old saw goes, was ever fired for predicting doom and gloom between Israelis and Palestinians. Seasoned veterans rush to pour scorn on any hope. Their arguments are many and strong. Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister has stayed in power by appeasing Israel’s right wing. Mahmoud Abbas, his Palestinian counterpart, is weak, his government disorganised and out of touch. Israel’s settlement movement, all too organised, is determined to keep on building on stolen land. Hamas will surely find a way to sabotage these talks, just as they did in 1994 and 2000.
The regional prospect calls forth more evidence of imminent disaster. Syria’s civil war gets more brutal and more complicated by the day, unravelling Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance of power. Egypt’s revolution seems to have suffered its 18th brumaire, while jihadis make strides in the Sinai desert. King Abdullah of Jordan clings to his throne with a mite more grip than his octogenarian Saudi namesake does to life. And should these obstacles can be overcome, Tehran can always be relied upon to stir the pot.
Nevertheless, a little optimism shouldn’t be ruled out.
Many reasons why are strategic: with Morsi ousted, the Muslim Brotherhood is now very much on the defensive. Hizbullah has lost many men protecting Bashar al-Assad, in the process transforming itself from popular leader of resistance against the “Zionist entity” into handmaiden to the greatest murderer of Arabs since Saddam Hussein. And, just maybe, Iran may have been maneuvered into settling for a Japanese-style nuclear programme, which would allow Tehran to produce a bomb in a matter of months, but which the ayatollahs couldn’t use to threaten their enemies or extend a nuclear umbrella over Hizbullah’s newly banned military wing.
Everyday life also provides ground for cautious hope. Thanks to BICOM, I was fortunate enough to be in Israel and the West Bank as news of the latest peace talks emerged. The atmosphere in Israel and in Palestinian territory is considerably more relaxed than the previous times I’d visited. Israeli bars no longer employ security guards. Ramallah’s well-stocked market is bustling, and I observed its traffic cops (though not necessarily its security police) in friendly interaction with city dwellers. Jerusalem’s own police had to resort from an incident from 2008 to demonstrate the efficiency of their CCTV system. The conflict goes on of of course, but its temperature is a lot lower.
Some say this ‘normalises’ Israel’s occupation, and allows Israelis to live in a ‘bubble’ cut off from the daily hardships Palestinians suffer life under foreign rule. Perhaps it does. Nevertheless construction of that bubble is the effect of successful Israeli security policy. By building the barrier (if you must, argue about whether it’s a wall or a fence in the comments) that protects Israelis from suicide bombings, they performed the Israel’s government performed its first duty: to secure its citizens from attack. The second intifada is long over, and the Palestinians lost.
Fatah (Mahmoud Abbas’s movement) has adapted to this defeat rather better than Hamas, for whom suicide bombings were once such a potent weapon. They have done so in two ways. First, they now understand the need to get a Palestinian state ready before it comes into being: a stronger economy, more efficient and less corrupt security forces, better roads. Though extremists see these things as collaboration with Israelis, in reality they are structures that can channel Palestinian national power to achieve independence. Borrowing a term long beloved of Israeli strategists, Fatah officials now talk of “facts on the ground.”
Second, eschewing armed struggle, they have focused on a brilliant international campaign that at its most effective exploits Israeli politics to achieve its goals. Thus Palestine’s campaign to join the UN as a member state. Doubtless in deference to Israel’s right wing, the last Israeli government rejected the option of endorsing this entirely symbolic gesture and found itself embroiled in a diplomatic battle it could not win, its commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict in question. After all, argue Israel’s opponents, if you say you’re in favour of a two-state solution, and claim that you will accept one once the practical details of borders, Jerusalem and refugees have been addressed, what could be wrong with endorsing Palestine as an official state? We can expect this march through international institutions to continue.
Most important now is this campaign’s direction. It has been accepted doctrine in European diplomatic circles for some time that if Israel does not begin to dismantle settlements, it should have economic sanctions imposed upon it. American pressure, German reluctance to boycott the Jewish state and the €30 billion of trade between the recession-mired bloc and the ‘start-up nation’ have so far been enough to limit restrictions to EU grants to bodies linked to settlements. It may have suited both Israeli politicians and advocates of a boycott to play these things up, but the new guidelines mainly codify existing policy.
Nevertheless, many in Israel’s peace camp appear to have fallen under the sway of the Prophet Jeremiah, who thundered that “a conspiracy is found among the men of Judah, and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They are turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers.” (Jer 11:9-10) Despairing of their own country’s political system, they hope for external intervention to ‘hit the pockets’ of their fellow citizens and ‘burst the Tel Aviv bubble.’ They take heart when they read that “Israel’s brand identity” has become “occupation.” This despair is unjustified and the tactic they advocate counterproductive. Should these talks prove too much for Netanyahu’s current coalition partners, he can swap them for the more peace-minded parties currently in opposition (this is probably why, even though Israel’s housing minister is a settler, settlement building has quietly been frozen since the election).
Meanwhile, even in countries that don’t share the average Israeli’s attitude to the world (born of experience: “just because we’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean everyone isn’t out to get us,”) sanctions cause people to rally around their governments, not to oppose them. They would push centrist Israelis into the arms of the nationalist right wing. And though Palestinian negotiators hold no brief for Israelis’ material comfort, they will achieve independence by splitting Israel’s centre from the settlement movement, not by uniting them with their cousins against the world.
Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Policy Adviser for the Conservative Party until 2008. Follow Garvan on Twitter.
One by one they took the podium. The Chief of the Constitutional Court. The Sheikh of al-Azhar, traditional Sunni Islam’s highest authority. The Coptic Pope. Mohammed el-Baradei, Nobel laureate and Egypt’s chief liberal. A young revolutionary from the Tamarrod movement that had brought millions onto the streets. Even a bearded Salafi leader, considered a fanatical extremist by the Muslim Brotherhood. The message to Mohammed Morsi was unmistakeable:
“The stocks were sold, the press was squared/The middle class was quite prepared.”
General al-Sisi, head of Egypt’s army who had, resplendent in his medals, formal beret and short sleeved summer dress uniform, just announced this impossibly broad coalition, could admire a job well done. As the tanks rolled across the Nile bridges, wags even produced posters bearing the general’s face atop a homage to Magritte: “ceci n’est pas un coup.”
Cheers rose from Tahrir, fireworks lit up the sky, and laser pointers mottled a military helicopter circling the crowd.
Ousted president Morsi had disappeared, arrested by members of his own praetorian guard, and was thought to be at their headquarters. The constitution having been suspended, the chief justice of the now superfluous constitutional court was the next day sworn in as interim president. Warrants for the arrest of Brotherhood leaders were issued by the hundred. Al Jazeera’s vernacular Arabic station was raided, its staff seized and equipment confiscated. Brotherhood TV stations were taken off the air. A new joke began doing the rounds “Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak all tried to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood. Only Morsi succeeded.”
How had this come to pass? The Brothers had survived for eighty years, through much fiercer repression. How could they have allowed themselves to be bested by this very Egyptian coup, announced forty-eight hours in advance?
Morsi is a stubborn man. He won his election against Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s discredited ex-Prime Minister, by ‘the skin of an onion,’ which he proceeded to rub in the eyes of the 48.3 per cent of Egyptians who voted against him. The Brothers packed the constitution-drafting body. Their thugs beat up the opposition. Morsi declared himself above the law, and antagonised the military. But Morsi’s onion skin victory reflected the Brotherhood’s superior organisation rather more than the distribution of opinion in Egypt.
He thought he didn’t need allies. He grew reckless. He made an extremist linked to the Luxor massacre its governor. He blamed petrol shortages on a conspiracy by loyalists of the old Mubarak regime. His opponents’ numbers swelled. 22 million people (more than had voted for him) signed a petition demanding he resign. Washington let it be known he could save face by appointing a national unity candidate, and replacing his provincial governors. He refused. General al-Sisi announced his 48 hour deadline: go, or we’ll intervene. Had he made concessions, Morsi might still have saved his job, or at least his party’s hold on power. He made none. He hectored the nation, and called his opponents’ patriotism into question. Morsi is a stubborn man.
He compounded this with gross tactical mistakes. He allowed himself to be captured, and his TV stations seized. He should have surrounded himself with tens of thousands of supporters, and dared the army to clear them away. He’d spent too much time reading the Qur’an, and not enough understanding Machiavelli.
After Morsi’s tragedy came military farce. El Baradei was named Prime Minister, then de-named. Alternative candidates for the post, when they could be identified, would not accept. A timetable for elections would have reassured. Instead we got silence, filled with speculation, and inflammatory speeches by Brotherhood leaders threatening to hold everyone in Tahrir Square responsible for the coup.
Last Friday night a huge street battle, just the kind of thing the military justified its intervention to prevent, flared on the 6th of October Bridge across the Nile, perfectly placed for the world’s media. Most of the men threw stones and fireworks and petrol bombs. But some carried guns.
Guns were fired yesterday at dawn. At least 50 people, most supporters of the ousted president, were killed outside the Republican Guard’s offices. The Army claim they were shot at first, the Brotherhood that it was an unprovoked attack on its supporters engaged in their morning prayer. But that the Army carried out the shootings is not in serious dispute (The military’s defence: we didn’t kill people, but if we did, we were only defending ourselves). Now that the Salafist Nour party has withdrawn its support from the new administration, the killings seem to have jolted the authorities into offering a schedule for transition. A referendum on a new constitution in four months, parliamentary elections two weeks after that. The Brotherhood have called for an “uprising,” with mass demonstrations starting today.
Egypt has almost fully divided into opposing camps. Square and Army on one side, Mosque on the other. Does the army care more about protecting its business interests or destroying the Brothers? Its military men are pulled this way by greed and that way by wrath. The Brothers made immobile by pride. Cool heads are scarce. Egypt will need a miracle if they can’t be found.
Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Policy Adviser for the Conservative Party until 2008. Follow Garvan on Twitter.
As I write, Mohammed Morsi’s address to the nation has been postponed indefinitely. Is he negotiating with the army, or his own movement? Is there a deal being done? And if so, how much will the Egyptian president have to concede?Yesterday afternoon, Egypt’s army chose to raise the pressure. It gave the Muslim Brotherhood and opposition, the brothers camped at Nasr City, the others around Tahrir square, 48 hours to resolve their differences before it threatened to step in. The questions on every analyst’s mind: Is this a coup? Has the military decided to return? Has counter-revolution arrived?
The ultimatum came after a day of vast protests in Egyptian cities. Largely peaceful, with the exception of violence against the Brotherhood, whose headquarters was burnt and looted. Importantly, the police did nothing to protect it. Neither did the Brotherhood itself, perhaps nervous that had it dispatched its toughs (of which it has many) to defend its building from the mob, it would have ensured precisely the violence the army was hoping to use as a pretext to intervene.
Despite the split screens on news channels, Egypt divides not into two camps: government and opposition, but three: army, mosque and square. The revolution so far has been a series of errors growing from a single mistake: each camp thinking it had only one rival. The square — the young, urban, more liberal population — found the promise of the revolution they that they started in 2011 bypassing the Brotherhood dashed. Subverted by what they saw as a deal cooked up between the brothers and the soldiers of the interim Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Policy Adviser for the Conservative Party until 2008. Follow Garvan on Twitter.Intervene in Syria? Arm the rebels? Is Iraq collapsing again? Just what is Qatar up to. How secure is the Egyptian government? Will Jordan’s monarchy survive? Why does Russia care so much for Bashar al Assad?
Fatigue has begun to set in. Every few years we become acquainted with a new set of middle-eastern place names. Irbil and Baquba have faded out; Deraa and Qusayr have been forced to the fore. The politics ever more opaque. The sects more numerous. The violence seemingly more confusing, if not more brutal. The glib theories propounded by waves of experts consigned to irrelevance by the chaos. ‘Why should we be involved?’ people still ask. Where’s the national interest? If we know so little about what’s going on, how can we sensibly make a difference? Even if we could, do we have the money, aren’t there more important things to do at home, or in the emerging markets?It’s most beguiling to think that it’s all about us. That if we behaved differently, it would all go away, or at least, no longer affect us. This tickles our ego: yes, we, in our part of the world, caused these problems, and we can resolve them too. It appeals to what we know, whether Western military doctrine or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And it promises to be cheap, to save our soldiers’ lives and limit pressure on the Government’s budget.
All these will have figured in the minds of the 81 Tory MPs who complained about arming Syrian rebels. Three more concrete questions also concentrated their minds: Who are the rebels? What to they believe? Will they have our interests at heart? That the answers are “We don’t really know"; “We have an idea and don’t really like what we see” and “Probably not,” should give them pause.
I wrote in April calling for a no-fly zone. That would have been, and still would be, better than arming rebels, but it looks remote, while our quandary is getting more acute. The (relatively) moderate fighters are being squeezed - by Assad himself, and by the better-funded Islamist opposition. Remember the Spanish Civil war, where the centre was squeezed between Franco, backed by the Nazi Germany, and the communists, backed by the Soviet Union.
The Syrian civil was has emerged from the Arab spring, but that’s only the latest twist. Add sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia. Beneath, find the strategic rivalry between Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the gas-filled upstart of Qatar. Mix in some Islamist fanaticism. Shaky Jordan, and justifiably paranoid Israel observe. Russia, the attention-seeking teenager, sends missiles and screams “It’s not Fair!” when Washington objects.
Like one of those vast renaissance paintings best appreciated from the other side of the room, step back from the news cycle and things begin to become a little clearer. The Middle East is best viewed from 1920, the year of the Treaty of Sèvres.
That was the year in which the Ottoman empire was formally wound up. The conflicts we see now are the wars of its succession. They were delayed for 80 or so years while first Anglo-French colonialism and then the Cold War provided a veneer of stability. Foreign support allowed a series of regimes, from the Hashemite monarchy, transplanted to what was then called Transjordan, to Nasserite Egypt, to maintain power without adapting to the shape of the societies they ruled, relying less on hearts and minds and more on that apocryphal American general who’s said to have stuck a sign up on his office wall in Vietnam: “Get them by the balls, and their hearts and minds follow.”
Both that general and Addad got it wrong. Successful strongmen are more like jiu-jitsu black belts than boxers: they get the right bits of the society to move where they want them to go. The Ottoman empire lasted so long because it created political arrangements that convinced most potential rebels that they would be isolated. It got caught out by technological and social change: militarily superior European powers, and by a growing intelligentsia, particularly strong in Constantinople, Alexandria and other major cities, which felt they could demand more freedom, a distribution of resources that was more in their interests, and a greater share in political power.
Its successor regimes haven’t lasted because they haven’t been able to cope with new groups: newly educated professionals, industrial workers, and, now, technologically adept youth integrated into the global economy and communications networks. They lack the flexibility to give them what they would see as a fairer deal, and the power to make them accept the status quo.
These conflicts are the stuff of modernisation. When they end well, they end with societies with the rule of law, accountable government, and political freedom; those things we know of as well-functioning democracy. For years people have wondered, why has the Middle East not modernised? Bernard Lewis once wrote a famous book called “What Went Wrong?”; the Arab Human Development Report posed a similar question. Now modernisation has kicked in with a vengeance.
Speaking of it like this as a “process” makes it sound orderly, peaceful even scientific. Yet everywhere it’s happened -- from Europe to Asia to Latin America it’s been accompanied by bloody struggles for power. As the successor states to the Ottoman empire conduct their struggles, we need to expect more bloodshed, horror and violence. This is nothing to do with the character of the Middle East, the intensity of religious feeling or simplistic assertions about the character of Islam. It’s just what happened everywhere else. There’s one crucial difference, however. The world is more intertwined than it was. Our economies and our security depend on the condition of the rest of the world more than they otherwise did. Stock markets can be buffeted, or terrorists inspired, by distant events.
These Wars of Ottoman Succession will be with us for decades. It’s less a matter of intervening in one country or one conflict, than of developing a strategy to reduce the violence with which they are fought, and to steer, as far as we can, their outcomes in the direction of civilisation, democracy and the rule of law.
I remember once reading in the New Yorker that American special forces were working in Iran looking for nuclear weapons sites. My immediate thought was “Good. That’s exactly where they should be.”
So with the “revelations” this week that the National Security Agency and GCHQ have been co-operating in spying on British and American citizens. They are just the kind of thing you expect intelligence agencies to be doing. Why do you think they hire all those mathematical whizzes? I, for one, find it reassuring that the realm’s clandestine services spend taxpayers’ money on more than the construction of ostentatiously spectacular offices .Indeed, despite all the spying that goes on, Britain and the United States remain free countries.
Let’s see, he thought to himself, just two doors along now, opposite the entrance to Paddington station, beside the newsagent’s Francis Urqhart used as a forwarding address in House of Cards. A quick glance at his phone: “Dough buzzer?” Dough? What could that mean. Bloody predictive text. He typed “dough” out on the phone’s keyboard -
DOUGH DUFFY SORRY FIFTH SOUTH SHIFT
That must be it! He tried the fifth buzzer.
“...Damascus Import-Export, Can I help you?”
“Uh, em,” he hesitated, “I’m looking for the Syrian Opthalmologists’ Benevolent Trust”
“...oh yes, that’s us too, come on in. We’re on the third floor.”
He pushed the door and stepped out of the rain to find himself in a narrow hallway covered in frayed old blue office carpet. A single fluorescent strip illuminated the chipped paint on the walls. The first floor looked unoccupied. Folded pizza delivery leaflets and offers of broadband service overflowed from the letter box. A broken sign on the second floor read “SSAGE.” Was this really the right place? Finally, up to the third floor.
Strangely reassured, he knocked. A bald, extremely fat man, lips like a fish, sporting a closely cropped beard let him in. Grey pinstriped suit, and no tie.
“You want to help the Syrian Opthalmologists’ Benevolent Trust?”
“Yes, I’ve a donation.”
“Good, come in” the fat bearded man ushered him into the room. Ttake a seat”, pointing to one of those wooden laid-back type chairs in which Ikea specialise. “Cash, I presume?”
“Yes, around 350,000 in dollars.” He began to open his rucksack to fish the wads out, but something occurred to me. “Just one quick question...”
“This will just be used for hu - ”
“ - humanitarian purposes?” interrupted the fat man, “Absolutely. We have put strict checks in place to ensure that only qualified ophthalmologists, trained at the best British institutions, receive the donations.”
Al Qaeda, security researchers have a habit of saying, is the “B-Team.” The A-Team is Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shia organisation that boasts by far the most powerful of Lebanon’s militias. It’s so strong that it is thought to outgun the country’s official armed forces, while its arsenal of missiles gives Israeli planners of a strike against Iran’s nuclear centrifuges pause.
In its own propaganda it’s far from a sectarian faction. It claims instead to be a national organisation of resistance against Israel. Though those assertions began to appear threadbare to Lebanese, after it turned its fighters against Sunni militias during street battles that forced a change of government in 2008, it retained that aura both in the Arab world, and in the West. Its highest officials have continued to receive discreet visits from British and other Western diplomats, and it has remained off the European terrorist list.
Hizbullah has, however, a broader regional agenda. Though reports that it sent its men to help Tehran suppress the Green Revolution in 2009 have been hard to verify, it has been open in its support for Syria’s dictator. Last week its leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted of its attacks on rebels and promised “victory” in that struggle.
The Foreign Office announced last week that it would push for the organisation’s military wing to be placed on Europe’s list of organisations subject to sanctions. While this is a good start: “you mean it’s not on the list already?” is surely the only sensible reaction, it’s also largely pointless. Putting only its military wing on the list would do little to obstruct its operation.
“We differentiate,” an FCO spokesman explained, “between the military wing and the political wing.”
At best, this is a specious fiction. The two wings share the same leadership, the same command structure, and the same overall mission. Now if this were just a way to allow diplomats and intelligence agencies to engage in the kind of talks and intelligence gathering it is their job to do, this wouldn’t matter so much, but this fiction has a significant practical effect. It makes it entirely legal to recruit people to and raise funds for Hizbullah as a whole. (I’m sure they have put strict checks in place to ensure that only the political wing makes use of the donations, and none goes to help the British trained opthalmologist now moonlighting as dictator of Syria.)
Theresa May has a commendably tough record on terrorism. So tough, in fact, that she has found it difficult to suggest many useful additional measures that it would be possible to add following the murder in Woolwich. The Communications Data Bill would achieve nothing without an enormous government database to make sense of the information it would allow the authorities to gather. If the struggle against Islamist terrorism really depends on the success of a government IT project, then I’d better give up the booze and start growing a beard.
But there is something she could do that’s worthwhile on its own merits. She should follow the Dutch example, and proscribe Hizbullah in its entirety.
Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Adviser to the Conservative Party. Follow Garvan on Twitter
Chinese diplomats appear uniformly excellent. Polished, fluent, articulate, urbane, seemingly immersed in the culture of the countries to which they are posted, in this field at least, Beijing appears to have found the best its 1.3 billion people can provide. They need all the skill they can muster to defend the clumsy foreign policy their masters in the Communist Party insist on executing.Last week the Telegraph reported that David Cameron's rift with China could cost UK billions. Infrastructure investment, it explained, was at risk, because he had defended democracy, met the Dalai Lama, and, no doubt, because he had bamboozled them into granting the Security Council’s imprimatur for intervention to depose Gaddafi. Nice HS2 line you’ve got planned. Shame if you couldn’t raise the money to build it.
To this it’s possible to reply: nice hoard of excess savings you have there, are you really sure it’s such a good idea to sink it into pieces of paper with pictures of dead American presidents on one side and the all-seeing-eye of God on the other?
China needs projects in which to invest its savings. Notwithstanding Dieter Helm’s alarm about the reliability of the UK infrastructure financing environment (PDF), British infrastructure can still be a useful alternative to the currency of the country whose aircraft carriers the Chinese navy is building enormous missiles to defend against.
There are deals to be done, but we’ll only get the best for Britain if we treat them as commercial transactions, and avoid the ancient autocrats’ ruse that trades advantageous terms for longer-term dependence. This has an old and inglorious history from the pensions James I paid to pliant parliamentarians; the vast subsidy Louis XIV provided his grandson, to the web of corruption in Mubarak’s egypt so masterfully chronicled by Alaa al Aswany and Gazprom’s quest to build a pipeline that would allow it to isolate Poland without cutting off Germany. China’s attempt to play David Cameron off against François Hollande is merely another example of foreign policy as bastard feudalism.
The Prime Minister is viscerally attached to strong Britain. Little is more wounding to him than evidence of his, or his country’s weakness, whether the source is a foreign country, or a British judge ruling against the extradition of Abu Qatada. Those who accuse him of lacking principle should understand that he was acting true to character in standing up to Beijing’s bluster.
Three years in office have taught him that Britain, a medium-sized power, can only do so as part of an alliance of like-minded democracies. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are proving extraordinarily unreliable allies in Syria, funding and arming extremists. Dictatorships lack the institutions to force their governments to observe treaties. Alliances with them are only stable when the regimes are significantly weaker than us. Britain’s no longer powerful enough to enforce those alliances on its own. In the United States this week he and Barack Obama have discussed the transatlantic free trade pact: think of it as a commercial counterpart to NATO that will strengthen the West’s economy and bring its markets closer together.
This is not a call to resist the rise of the BRICS. Quite the contrary. We need to convince emerging democracies, in particular, Brazil and India, that their security is best protected by an alliance of free nations. Institutions like these, not going cap-in-hand to Beijing, provide the soundest guarantee of our security and prosperity. Perhaps David Cameron might like to encourage Barack Obama to make a bipartisan gesture and revive John McCain’s plan for a “League of Democracies.”
Garvan Walshe is former National and International Security Policy Adviser for the Conservative Party. Follow Garvan on Twitter
The planes lined up in two rows separated by a flat expanse criss crossed by buggies and food-skiffs of the air; laid out like Canaletto's Venetian merchantmen against the spring sunset.
Frankfurt airport, a temple to commerce in Germany's business city. Home to a financial institution unloved by readers of this blog, and a city where you can take a glass mug of beer and dip your feet into the Main river without being commanded to decant it into a flimsy plastic receptacle or be precluded by barriers and signs and underemployed men in bright yellow jackets from sitting on the edge, beer in hand.