Last week, Scott Morrison was awarded the Jerusalem Award by the Zionist Federation of Australia for his moral courage in calling out UN bullying of Israel and his pledge to recognise West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Yet Australia’s foreign policy towards Iran — the greatest threat to Israel — has been distinctly lacking in moral courage.
Iran’s ruling ayatollahs — its mullocracy — are facing one of its most critical threats since the Islamist revolution installed the theocrats in 1979. Only weeks after Iranians took to the streets in November to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran, Iran is facing violent protests not just at home but across the Shia Crescent, those nations with Shia-majority or minority governments backed by Iran which stretch in a half moon from Lebanon on the shores of the Mediterranean, through Syria and Iraq to Iran.
The protests started in Iraq at the beginning of October, since when some 350 people have been killed and 15,000 injured, with no end in sight. The uprising is now the biggest and the bloodiest since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The protests have particularly rocked the Shia-majority provinces of the south which, theoretically should be the most supportive of Iran’s puppet government but instead are the most bitter at its failure. The use of live ammunition and tear gas grenades, killing 149 people in the first six days, has done nothing to stem the outrage and the death toll. In what has become a symbol of the impotence of Iranian-backed governments to quell the unrest, the internet has been repeatedly blocked, while protesters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square have used their shoes to slap the image of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.
Protests have rocked Lebanon for five weeks, as the country faces its worst economic crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. As in Iraq, the target is the corruption and waste of the ruling elite and the interference of Iran via its proxy militia, Hezbollah. Now, dramatically, Iran has faced riots at home, triggered by a midnight announcement on November 15 that the government was axing fuel subsidies, raising the price of petrol by 50 per cent. Its brutal response resulted in some 200 deaths, with thousands injured.
The common cause of these uprisings is undoubtedly President Trump’s sanctions, which many said wouldn’t work but have crippled Iran’s economy , making it impossible to keep up the patronage of its proxies.
Iran has spent some US$16 billion on Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen since 2013 and is developing an Iranian-controlled strike force in each country. It spent another US$10 billion on Syria although Israel has hit hundreds of targets over the last two years to prevent the Iranians from establishing a permanent foothold. Iran was spending around $700 million a year on Hezbollah, which has 100,000 missiles aimed at Israel, as well as funding Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Gaza. Israel is trying to degrade these forces too, attacking a PIJ commander in November who was planning a terror attack. PIJ responded by launching 450 missiles at Israeli civilians. These last two proxies complete Iran’s ‘ring of fire’, intended to cremate the Jewish state, although the flames appear to be threatening the arsonist as much as its target.
Iran’s response to the reimposition of sanctions has been to destabilise the region. This year it shot down a US surveillance drone, seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz and bombed Saudi oil production, the worst such attack in the Middle Eastern oil since Saddam torched Kuwaiti oil fields in 1991.
Iran is also playing what it hopes is its trump card, so to speak, progressively violating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration.
Iran loved the JCPOA which removed the embargo on Iranian oil exports and dropped sanctions on Iran’s banking and financial system, releasing US$100 billion frozen in Iranian accounts. Iran did not have to renounce state-sponsored terrorism, it continued to test ballistic missiles, nor even have to allow effective monitoring of compliance, surely desirable given Iran’s track record of cheating. Best of all for Iran, it would merely delay its acquisition of sufficient fissile material to create nuclear weapons.
Desperate to get the US to reinstate the JCPOA, Iran has announced that it is violating the agreement by installing more and faster centrifuges, reducing the amount of time it needs to create enough fissile material for a bomb from 12 months to six to ten months.
With these tactics of provocation unlikely to work, US Central Command Chief General Kenneth McKenzie predicts that Iran will up the ante with another attack. Where? Who knows? Saudi oil facilities? Desalination plants in the Gulf states? Oil tankers in the Strait?
Israel’s greatest fear is that by accident or design it is only one step away from multi-pronged attack, launched by Iran and its proxies from southern Syria, southern Lebanon, northern Gaza and who knows where else, undertaken by the mullahs as a distraction from the economic privations at home and in the hope that it would mollify and unify Iranians.
PM Morrison was right to recognise that an attack on either an oil field or an oil tanker in the Middle East would adversey affect Australia and the global economy and unlike the Europeans and the Asians, he has contributed resources to a naval coalition patrol.
But why, in the face of the existential threats facing Israel, is Australia absurdly pretending the JCPOA is achieving non-proliferation objectives as a DFAT official told Senate Estimates in November?
Why did Australia not condemn the attacks on Israel made by the PIJ from Gaza in November? Why did Australia say nothing in support of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s principled statement on November 19 that the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law, when as former foreign minister Julie Bishop said in 2014, prejudging the status of settlements is simply a barrier that Palestinians have erected to prevent negotiation of a peace agreement.
The trouble seems to be that Foreign Minister Marise Payne — who like her prime minister has the right instincts — is letting the Canberra mandarins, who are adept practitioners of the Yes, Minister school of foreign policy, run the show. Perhaps the Zionist Federation of Australia should institute a Sir Humphrey Appleby Award — the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade would be a worthy inaugural winner.
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