Author Archives: Christopher Norris

About Christopher Norris

Media, publishing and social entrepreneur

The Longest Revolution?

The only constant in life is change. If anything proves the truth of this saying, it is British politics. Although many regard the recent chaotic shambles, barefaced lies and back-stabbing intrigue of Brexit as a sure sign of the weakness of the British political system, it is not. It is a shambolic yet important example of the very real strengths of Britain’s unwritten constitution.

The reason is clear: any unwritten set of rules is more flexible and adapts to reflect the wishes of the people far better than any written constitution set in stone.

Professor Vernon Bogdanor (Research Professor: Centre for British Politics and Government at King’s College, London) once said he made ‘a living of something that doesn’t exist’. He also quipped that the British constitution can be summed up as: ‘Whatever the Queen in Parliament decides is law.’ This is basically true – and Brexit has suddenly brought the shadowy patchwork that represents the British constitution to public attention.

The late Tony King (former Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Essex), a well-known election-night commentator for the BBC, concluded: ‘The British constitution is a mess, but it’s a mess that works because it can evolve as society changes.’ He was adamant that we should leave well alone, because any attempt to draft a set of rules – creating a ‘written Constitution with a capital C’ – might only make matters worse.

For example, what exactly did the famous Founding Fathers of the United States of America come up with 232 years ago in their famous 1787 written Constitution on contentious subjects like abortion, slavery and the latest – the 27th Amendment – which prohibits laws on ‘delaying new Congressional salaries from taking effect until after the next election of Congress’? In the British context, would MPs’ salaries really require an amendment to a national constitution?

Nevertheless, only four other countries have unwritten constitutions: Israel, Canada, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia. Of those, the British constitution is regarded as unique. Two questions then arise:

  1. What are the main characteristics of Britain’s peculiar constitutional arrangements?
  2. How has the British constitution got to where it is today and altered in response to the changing nature of politics over the centuries?

British history has been a long and bloody tale, characterised by a simmering state of rebellion, insurrection and even revolution. The Norman barons first clipped the King’s wings in the Magna Carta, signed at Runnymede in 1215. Wat Tyler’s Peasants’ rebellion of 1381 – with its catchy slogan, ‘When Adam delved and Eve she span, who was then the gentleman?’ – demanded a reduction in taxation, an end to the slave labour of serfdom, and the removal of the King’s corrupt lawyers and officials: it changed how England was ruled. The battle for control culminated in cutting off King Charles’s head in 1649 for trying to rule like a dictator and causing a civil war. Historically the English have always – eventually – rebelled against unjust authority and the abuse of power.

The ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, when Parliament kicked out the last Stuart King and invited a foreigner to reign, can be seen as the root of today’s modern constitution. The 1689 Bill of Rights is still the bedrock, even today, of the UK’s constitutional arrangements. That Act settled the primacy of Parliament over the monarch, providing for the regular meeting of Parliament, free elections to the Commons, free speech in parliamentary debates, and some basic human rights, such as freedom from ‘cruel or unusual punishment’. It also sets out the need for ‘the Crown’ to seek the consent of the people, ‘as represented in Parliament’.

So, from the 17th century onward, the primacy of Parliament and the liberties of the subject have been set out, not by a set of constitutional rules, but by the law.

Since then there have been at least three massive changes that have changed British society: the long and interlinked industrial, political and social revolutions, all of which have been reflected by changing parliamentary laws. Those laws have modified the UK’s political arrangements over the years to reflect the real changes in society. In that legal flexibility and ability to react to change lies the real strength of Britain’s unwritten constitution.

The present Parliamentary shenanigans over Brexit are a perfect reflection of both the problem and the solution. By pitting Parliament against the people, the squabbling MPs are merely reflecting the deep divisions in society at large. Rarely has public disillusionment with Britain’s warring two main party-political tribes been so deep and angry. Tribal loyalties may sustain the political status quo temporarily, but ignoring the wishes of the majority of taxpayers and voters will not solve the problem.

The great tectonic plates of Britain’s constitutional arrangements are shifting before our eyes, never mind beneath our feet. It is quite clear that Britain is changing and the two main parties, and indeed the electorate, are splintering into at least four different parties (Labour Remain/Labour Out and Conservative Stay/Conservative Quit) plus God knows what other mix of single issue, special-interest groupings from the Greens to the SNP.

This political dogfight is potentially extremely dangerous. Pitting the people against the Parliament and ignoring the voters’ wishes can only end in tears. Historical precedent shows that unresolved politics of this kind tend to make a nation essentially ungovernable by consent. Once trust has been lost in normal politics, many turn to darker forces.

It is all too easy and convenient to forget the foment of the 1930s, when large sections of British society and political elites were drawn to – and openly supported – Sir Oswald Mosley’s Nazi solution to the nations’ economic problems. It took a revolution in British life, in the form of World War II, to restore national unity.

If we go back to 1911 there is an earlier revolutionary change in British politics, which was swiftly resolved by an unwritten constitution enshrined in laws. When the House of Lords’ rejected Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George’s ‘People’s Budget‘ in 1909, the House of Commons demonstrated its dominance over the Lords by holding new elections and tabling a Parliament Act to limit the power of the Lords. The peers threw it out. Following a snap general election, the Act was passed in 1911 with the support of King George V, who threatened to create enough new peers to outvote the Conservative majority in the Lords. This was nothing less than a constitutional revolution, solved by using new laws to change the balance of power.

Something equally drastic may be needed to undo the damage of Brexit. We should not under-estimate the potential trouble that could lie ahead. Brexiteer peers warned Remain-backing MPs they risked the possibility of a violent uprising by voters if they refused to accept the result of the 2016 EU referendum. Lord Lawson, the former chancellor, said there was a danger of a ‘very ugly situation’ arising because ‘insurrectionary forces’ could be left feeling ‘they cannot trust Parliament’.

A worried Lord Forsyth, a former Conservative Scottish Secretary, in April 2019 said a ‘revolutionary action’ had taken place in the Commons. Today, we are actually living through Britain’s long-running constitutional revolution. Whatever your personal views on Brexit, we should all be deeply concerned at the rift between Parliament and the people, specifically Westminster’s refusal to accept the people’s judgment in the referendum, despite clear promises to abide by it by successive Prime Ministers.

It’s not just the rat-infested, antiquated House of Commons that is letting us down with its squabbling MPs, but a Prime Minister who has lied consistently to the voters. Who can trust any politician these days? That’s a serious challenge to the way UK is governed. The question can be easily summed up: do the political elite still believe in people’s democracy – or do they have the power to overturn the result of an election majority?

The long revolution continues; Brexit is already changing Britain’s constitution.

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The New Face of War?

Like many others, I was surprised by the announcement by Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, Chief of the Air Staff, that his Reaper drone crews will be eligible for the new Operational Service Medal for their contribution to the war in Syria and the defeat of ISIS (also known as Daesh). Traditionally, medals have always been awarded based on risk and rigour. It may seem a reasonable assumption that there is not much risk sitting in a nice warm office up at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire where they operate their Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs). More like playing computer games, perhaps? Where is the risk and rigour in that?

On digging deeper, however, I have changed my mind. There is no doubt that the RAF’s drone operators have made a major contribution to the defeat of ISIS and deserve official recognition.

An unnamed pilot said the drone operators’ job is very different to his Typhoon force operations. The RAF pilot, with 30 long and dangerous combat missions over Syria during his Akrotiri tour, made the point:

‘In some ways it is identical, in some way it is totally different … I think they have it a lot harder in some ways …

‘What people don’t realise is the emotional investment they end up having in it. They will watch a target for weeks on end and they will understand every part of that target’s life.

‘You can’t not become emotionally involved – we need to give those boys and girls a lot more credit that I think people are giving them.’

The pilot’s comments echo the words of the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, who has said: ‘The campaign against Daesh is one of which our Armed Forces can be extremely proud. I am pleased that today those who have bravely fought against such untold evil will get the recognition they deserve.’

During the campaign to destroy the extremists in Iraq and Syria, drones were used to carry out strikes, gather intelligence and conduct surveillance. While front-line operational aircrew do operations for maybe six months or a year at a time, drone operations staff face different challenges The Reaper force is on duty 24/7/365, monitoring an enemy that is elusive, dangerous and determined to attack the West in any way it can in pursuit of its twisted, fanatical world view. The personal strain and pressure watching the every move of these individuals is immense and unrelenting.

Drone crews have been doing that for every working day on Operation Shader (codename for the Syrian campaign) for four years. ACM Hillier pointed out that for the drone pilots, sensor operators and mission intelligence co-ordinators of the Reaper crews, ‘It is not some remote support operations – they are doing operations, engaged in active operations every minute of every day. This often involves weeks of monitoring individuals and then, once a strike has been executed, another vast amount of time is spent ensuring it was successful.’

Of course, in addition sometimes taking the decision to kill whole groups by remote control is made before going home to the family for supper and to help put the kids to bed. Drone pilots face questions like: ‘What did you do today, Daddy?’

As a result the pressure has taken its toll. ACM Hillier confirmed that drone crews are monitored ‘extremely closely for the risk of psychological harm … these people see some quite stressful things. So we have provided the opportunity for counselling, and an environment where we look after each other – a full support network exists. We need to make sure we don’t end up with them [the drone pilots] getting psychologically fatigued.’

This insight into the combat stress of the new warfare is a reflection of how in the last decade drones have become a new battlefield in the ‘vertical flank’. As long ago as 2004, the militant group Hezbollah began to use ‘adapted commercially available hobby systems for combat roles’. These modified toys can be bought easily, as the Gatwick debacle in December 2018 demonstrated, and – at prices ranges from US $200 to $700 – they are as cheap as chips to the military.

Also, adapted drones are lethal. For example, in August 2014 well-directed Russian-backed artillery fire was used to devastating effect in Ukraine, leaving three mechanised battalions a smoking ruin. This mission reached its goal because the units and their positions were identified by a mini-drone with a TV camera: the Ukrainian government lost 200 vehicles – and very-short-range air defences weren’t able to detect the deadly eye in the sky.

Armed services worldwide are taking this new threat very seriously indeed – as well as the new opportunities drones offer.  Whilst much attention has been focused on hypersonic weapons and long-range missiles, small UAVs pose new risks and are a serious challenge to air defences on land and sea.

In America, Dan Gettinger (Co-director: Center for the Study of the Drone) warns, ‘The US military – and any other military – have to prepare for an operating environment in which enemy drones are not just occasional, but omnipresent … Whether it’s a small, tactical UAV, mid-size or strategic, drones of any size will be commonplace on the battlefield of the future.’

He recognises the asymmetrical nature of the drone, armed or reconnaissance. Drones are cheap, hard to detect and don’t bring politically embarrassing body bags to the attention of the media or the folks back home. Drone technology has become a cat-and-mouse game, as militaries struggle to deal with the big threat of little drones.

For example, whilst US ‘supercarriers’ – with 80 warplanes and 5000 sailors – can dominate the narrow waters of the Persian Gulf, these 100,000-tonne behemoths are intensely vulnerable to hundreds of tiny Iranian attack drones – or a swarm of radio-controlled, fast-attack craft. The only remedy is lots of close-range defensive small calibre guns – and the chances are that some of the enemy will still get through. Half a dozen US $1000 missiles can easily disable a vessel costing US $50 billion. As the Americans say: ‘You do the math – go figure.’

Inevitably the market place has latched onto the commercial possibility of drones. Driven by a global increase in the use of mini-drones by terrorists and criminals, the anti-drone market is expected to grow to US $1.85 billion by 2024, according to the US business consulting firm, Grand View Research.

‘As drones become deadlier, stealthier, faster, smaller and cheaper, the nuisance and threat posed by them is expected to increase, ranging from national security to individual privacy,’ Grand View warns. ‘Keeping the above-mentioned threat in mind, there are significant efforts – both in terms of money and time – being invested in the development and manufacturing of anti-drone technologies.’ The Dutch have even trained eagles to attack drones.

Britain’s drone policy appears to be primarily defensive, as the RAF is well aware that the F-35 Lightning (at GBP £65 million a throw) is unlikely to be available in large numbers. Reaper drones and their UAV successors (at about GBP £14 million a copy) can offer a better bang for the taxpayers’ buck. In a speech at the Royal United Services Institute on 11 February 2019, UK Defence Secretary Williamson announced that the United Kingdom was ready to develop and deploy a swarm of drones before the year was out. ‘I have decided to develop swarm squadrons of network enabled drones capable of confusing and overwhelming enemy air defences,’ he said. ‘We expect to see these ready to be deployed by the end of this year [2019].’

This is interesting: it suggests a ‘weapons mix’, where drones accompany crewed fighters as robotic wing mates. It’s cheap – and the technology already exists in the US: for example, the manoeuvrable target drone developed by Kratos Defense & Security Solutions.

The danger, as ever in UK defence procurement, is that the dead hand of Ministry of Defence jobsworths will – once again – gold plate and change the specification, starve it of funds, double the cost and, finally, draft a rotten contract just in time for the next round of defence cuts.

But that’s another story …

The End of ISIS?

So ISIS – or Daesh (‘one who crushes something underfoot’) as the Arabs call it – is finally defeated. Like trapped rats, the last jihadi fanatics hide in their final boltholes to await their inevitable doom at the hands of the Kurds, Turk, and Syrian armies – helped by the US, Russian and UK’s Royal Air Force – all closing in for the kill. Thousands of men, women and children have fled ISIS’s surrounded final stronghold in the village of Baghuz, on the Iraqi border, surrendering to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and the Kurdish-led militias backed by the West. The women and children seen streaming into squalid desert refugee camps to be told what the future holds for the families of the broken terrorist army are the tangible evidence of defeat.

The war is over and everyone can come home … er, well, no … it isn’t, actually.

If you tread on a poisonous mushroom it explodes to scatter its thousands of spores throughout the woods. So it is with ISIS, because group was never just a ragtime army of Islamic hotheads living on captured land. ISIS is much more: it is an ideology that cannot be crushed and exterminated with bullets rockets and bombs. Ideas are spread like spores. Defeat on the battlefield has had the effect of scattering the survivors of the army of the faithful throughout the Middle East – and far beyond. The battle is won, but the war will go on.

This time it will be a war based on two separate but linked campaigns. First is the need to keep the flame of Islamic purity and the search for God’s kingdom of the Ummat al-Islām ( أمة الإسلام ), the collective community of Islam, alive to carry the Holy Gospel of the sacred Koran far afield. Second, the ISIS survivors now on the run are planning a bitter revenge on the West and all those infidels who have destroyed their dream of an ideologically pure Muslim Caliphate.

No one sees this more clearly than General Joseph Votel, who is in charge of US operations in the Middle East. In evidence to the US Congress’s House Armed Services Committee hearing on 7 March 2019, he shared evidence that although Daesh militants are losing the last of their territory in Syria, the militants who remain represent a ‘serious generational problem’. He told the hearing: ‘We will need to maintain a vigilant offensive against this now widely dispersed and disaggregated organization. Reduction of the physical caliphate is a monumental military accomplishment – but the fight against ISIS and violent extremism is far from over and our mission remains the same.’ The general also warned of more trouble ahead: ‘The Isis population being evacuated from the remaining vestiges of the caliphate largely remains unrepentant, unbroken and radicalised.’

General Votel is right. Those who have held out until now are still defiant. What we are seeing now is not the surrender of ISIS as an organisation, but a calculated decision to preserve the safety of their families and going to ground in remote areas to wait for the right time to re-emerge to carry on the fight elsewhere.

Many of the women have told reporters they are unrepentant in their support for ISIS and have pledged to continue the struggle. Women in camps for the displaced have even reported attempts to maintain ISIS discipline there, with unveiled women being attacked by other ‘ISIS brides’.

One 60-year-old woman, who did not want to be named, said that ISIS will continue because the ‘Caliphate’s Cubs’ under the terror group’s rule have been trained to fight from a young age.   She said: ‘The caliphate will not end, because it has been ingrained in the hearts and brains of the newborns and the little ones.’ Some of the civilians threw rocks at the cameras of those trying to film them, whilst one screamed at a photographer and called him a pig.

The captured fighters on the other hand have kept their heads down. Most have been taken to Kurdish and Syrian detention camps. Their fate remains unclear, especially the many hundreds of foreign fighters whose home countries are reluctant to take them back. They are an international hot potato for whom – understandably – no one wants to take responsibility.

The real danger now is that ISIS supporters are being urged to launch lone-wolf terror attacks on Western targets, according to their message traffic. The organisation still has the wherewithal to fight. A UN report published last month claimed ISIS has a secret war chest of up to $300 million (£230 million) that could be used to sustain its operations and fund new attacks on the West. Although the terror group is assessed to have ‘bulk stored’ some of the money in its stronghold area (leading to one spectacular USAF strike on a warehouse that literally blew millions of dollars up into the sky), much of the rest has been smuggled abroad or invested in legitimate businesses. So, not only does ISIS still have an army of sympathisers on which to call, it also has plenty of cash to fund any future operations.

Already there are ISIS propaganda posters encouraging new attacks, including one depicting a man walking through an airport dragging a suitcase depicting the terror group’s logo. We have seen similar Islamist terror posters in the past, often using images of major Western cities such as New York and London as part of their scare tactics. To further strengthen the case that ISIS is going to ground but still remaining active, monitoring agencies report that known ISIS sympathisers are sharing encrypted messaging apps such as Telegram to ‘inspire’ extremists to carry out terror attacks. This follows reports that desperate ISIS-linked media groups are calling for a new ‘online jihad’ now that the terrorists have been neutralised in Syria and Iraq.

The problem is that, like Communism, jihadism is a global phenomenon. History has shown us the dangers of underestimating the power of ideologies. In places like Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Mali and Yemen, fundamental Islam is still prepared to fight and die for the cause, as al-Qaeda still demonstrates. One of the jihadi’s key mantras is ‘stay and expand’. This philosophy and a willingness to accept heavy casualties whilst planning for a long struggle are rooted in a firm belief that God favours their cause and sometimes tests the faithful so that only the purest at heart will survive to fight and win the ultimate battle. Such a mindset makes for a dangerous adversary, whatever its losses.

There is also growing evidence that the group’s surviving leadership have moved to disperse some of their fighters, arms and riches, preparing ISIS to resume terrorist and insurgent operations after the caliphate’s collapse. This campaign has already started in Iraq, where Islamic State is again conducting assassinations, bombings and other operations despite having lost control of vast territories. Given the way Syria is currently partitioned, the various political vacuums in the region are already giving fleeing ISIS State militants time and space to regroup and set up new operations.

The bitter truth is that Islamic State is just one branch of a global insurgency, a problem the world cannot solve by just killing and bombing one single nest of vipers. Combatting a global insurgency will require a coordinated global counterinsurgency effort. This means that efforts to defeat jihadist groups must persist well after the ‘clear’ phase to the ‘hold’ and ‘build’ phases of counterinsurgency. In addition, this must happen in every part of the world where the jihadist insurgency is manifesting itself, from Bali to Birmingham.

Of one thing we can be sure. The erasure of the Islamic State’s caliphate in Syria won’t ensure its final defeat. The war goes on ….

The Road to World War III?

The Roman poet, Horace, once observed, ‘when your neighbour’s house is on fire, you should worry.’ It now looks as whole Middle East could catch fire, because the embers of the Syrian civil war have morphed into something much more dangerous, risking setting off a major new war between Israel and Iran.

The problem is America’s decision to pull its troops out of Syria. This withdrawal leaves the Syrian and Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG, Yekîneyên Parastina Gel) fighters without protection and increases the likelihood of clashes between Syrian, Kurdish, Turkish, Iranian and Russian forces, as they attempt to fill the vacuum left by the USA.

Iran is particularly intent on exploiting the gap that America is leaving. Like nature, international politics abhors a vacuum. Washington only has itself to blame, because when Iran first moved into Syria, Obama’s Washington stood by and did nothing, except issue feeble threats and sanctions.

Iran responded in 2011 by giving Syria USD $23 million to build a new base near Latakia. Soon Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officers were stationed on Syrian soil to coordinate arms shipments to the beleaguered Assad regime. Iran now had skin in the game.

This alliance between Damascus and Tehran has deep religious roots. Iran and the Syrian elite are Shi’a Muslims, engaged in an Islamic struggle with Sunni Muslims. Shi’ite notions of Jihad (or Holy War) are apocalyptic. Shi’a Muslims have a long list of perceived suffering and grievances, and pray for the return of their ‘Messiah,’ the Twelfth (missing) Imam, who Shi’ites believe will return at the ‘end of days’ and restore a Utopian Islamic world order. They believe that this Twelfth Imam can only be awakened by cataclysmic world events, which encourages the Ayatollahs to acquire nuclear weapons and hasten everyone’s Armageddon. With weird notions like this controlling Tehran’s foreign policy, it is clear that Iran is a dangerously destabilising force in the region.

The problem goes back to 1979 when Iran deposed the US-backed Shah, America’s closest ally in the Middle East. However, Iranians soon found that they had swapped one dictator for another, the Shi’ite religious fanatic Ayatollah Khomeini. His battle cry was ‘Death to Israel, Death to America.’ Since then, Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution has had far-reaching consequences for Iran and for the Middle East. Tehran is now wedded to violent anti-Western policies, international terrorism, crushing internal dissent and exporting their Shi’ite version of revolution.

Unsurprisingly, Sunni powers (like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab countries in the region) view Shi’a Iran with grave suspicion, worried that Khomeini’s fanatical heirs will infect their own Islamic militants. The result has been a polarisation of the Muslim world, to the extent that Iran and Saudi Arabia are now fighting proxy wars with Iran in Iraq, Yemen and Syria.

Despite this, Iran has managed to occupy a swathe of war-torn northern Syria and carve out a new land corridor to the Mediterranean in Lebanon. The result is that Lebanon has now become a puppet regime for Tehran.

Lebanon’s problem is Hezbollah, the Shi’ite terror group formed by Iran in 1982 to combat Israel and its allies. It has been Iran’s most successful proxy, serving as the Islamic Republic’s arm on Israel’s doorstep. Backed by Iran, with thousands of trained fighters and an armoury of sophisticated weapons, Hezbollah now dominates the political and military landscape of Lebanon.

Inside the country, Hezbollah has become a powerful state within a state, with its own private army, and has made significant political gains in the latest parliamentary elections. The group now holds three ministerial posts in the new government, controlling some of the country’s largest budgets. Its experienced fighters now issue orders to the Lebanese Armed Forces – and terrorist Hezbollah is controlled by the Ayatollahs in Tehran.

Emboldened by Iran’s protective umbrella, speaking at a rally marking the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution and the overthrow of the Shah, Hezbollah’s leader (Hassan Nasrallah) warned that Lebanon would ‘defend Iran in the event of war,’ and ‘if America launches war on Iran, it will not be alone in the confrontation, because the fate of our region is tied to the Islamic Republic’.

Iran’s rhetoric has become more threatening, too. Tehran’s bellicose threats spell out the dangers openly. The commander of Iran’s air force, Brigadier Aziz Nasirzadeh, recently warned: ‘Our young people are impatient, fully ready to battle the Zionist regime and eliminate Israel from the Earth’ and ‘Our next generation is the promised one who will destroy Israel.’

Israel was expected to deal with this growing threat to the region when America withdrew. Now the threat is close to home. Iranian and Hezbollah units are on Israel’s northern border and Hezbollah’s Tehran-supplied rockets can threaten the whole of Israeli territory.

To make things worse, the spectre of nuclear weapons overshadows everything. Iran’s President Rouhani said recently that, ‘Iran is determined to expand its military power and ballistic missile programme despite mounting pressure from hostile countries to curb Iran’s defensive work. We have not asked and will not ask for permission to develop different types of … missiles and will continue our path and our military power.’ That’s code for going nuclear.

Rouhani also vowed Iran would defeat harsh US sanctions, re-imposed after President Donald Trump withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers last year. Meanwhile Iran’s secret drive to acquire nuclear weapons continues apace.

A worried Israel has struck back hard. Any nuclear-armed Iran is a serious threat to peace.  Since 2013 Israel has launched dozens of attacks against Iranian and Hezbollah targets. This   undeclared war against Iranian forces and equipment in Syria, aimed at degrading Iran’s logistic supply routes and new bases in the Iranian corridor, has escalated as Iran and Hezbollah dig in inside Lebanon.

In May 2018 Iranian forces fired 50 rockets and mortars into the Golan Heights. This barrage did not inflict a single casualty and caused negligible damage. Israel’s prompt response was airstrikes hitting more than 70 targets. With those strikes, Israel demonstrated its ability to retaliate, warning Iran that attacking Israel would only invite an even more forceful reply. Iran backed down. Its limited capabilities in Syria makes Tehran nervous of any escalation – for now. Israel has a significant military advantage, enjoying overwhelming air superiority that can kill Iranian forces and destroy their equipment.

However, on 21 January 2019, in response to an Iranian surface-to-surface missile launched from Syria into the Golan Heights, Israel launched more strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, killing at least 12 Iranians (‘Israel, Syria: IDF targets Iranian Quds forces, Syrian air forces‘, Stratfor). Although the deputy head of Iran’s IRGC again threatened Israel, saying that Iran ‘could destroy it in three days,’ Iran is still wary of challenging Israel openly.

The conclusion is that in this undeclared war, any escalation between Israel and Iran is a low-probability but dangerously high-risk event. But when it does occur – and it will – it will have significant regional impacts. Iran’s missile arsenal in Syria can hit most of Israel, including major population centres like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and key economic and industrial targets (‘The missile arsenal at the heart of the Israeli-Iranian rivalry‘, Stratfor).

The danger is that any escalation from Iran could spark a major escalation of fighting, which in turn would be met almost certainly with an overwhelming Israeli response in Lebanon and Iraq. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spells out the consequences: ‘Whoever tries to hurt us, we will hurt them. Whoever threatens to destroy us will bear the full responsibility.’

Given the religious mania of Iran’s leadership, anything is possible. If a massive chemical weapons attack hits Israel, Iran will become a radioactive desert.

We have been warned because, one day, this is going to be a fight to the death. Horace’s ‘neighbours’ roofs’ are already burning. The simmering war in the Middle East requires cool heads and military restraint.

Unfortunately, both are in short supply.

A Most Secret World

Reproduced by kind permission of Eye Spy intelligence magazine, where this article first appeared in 2004 (Volume IV, Issue 28)

On the launch of his 2004 book, The Puppet Masters (Amazon: UK; USA) Colonel John Hughes-Wilson wrote articles published in the RUSI Journal and in Eye Spy that described his service as an intelligence corp officer. His Eye Spy feature is reproduced below as a series of images.

 

 

 

EOKA’s Latest Outrage

On 23 January 2019 the UK government reached an out-of-court settlement for £1 million for 33 elderly EOKA-era plaintiffs, who claimed they were tortured by British security services whilst being held in custody during the Cyprus Emergency (1955-9). All were arrested as terrorists by the British for their involvement with Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) or EOKA.

The Greek-Cypriots filed their legal claim in 2015 after Foreign Office documents revealed claims of abuse during the Eoka terror campaign. Justice Kerr of the Queen’s Bench Division ruled for the claimants: ‘A state stands to be held to account for acts of violence against its citizens, it should be held to account, in its own courts, by its own law.’

The sense of outrage at this settlement has united both British veterans of the 1955-9 ‘Emergency’ and Turkish-Cypriots alike. Whilst the claimants beamed for their group photograph outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, they knew – as do the Turkish-Cypriots and the British – that this one-sided legal decision overlooked the far more numerous murders and atrocities committed by EOKA back in the 1950s. The smiles masked the blood on Greek-Cypriot hands: EOKA didn’t just torture and intimidate, the organisation was nothing more than a reincarnation of ‘Murder Inc.’

The story really starts in 1950, when Bishop Makarios, who later became the Ethnarch or leader of the Greek Cypriot Orthodox church, swore a holy oath with a Greek colonel called Georgios Grivas, who had been born on Cyprus, to bring Cyprus back to the Motherland (i.e. Greece). The majority Greek-Cypriot population of Cyprus supported the idea; they wanted union with Greece, or Enosis. The soldier and the priest planned to make Cyprus ‘Greek’ by getting rid of its other inhabitants via terrorism: the battle cry was ‘first the British and then the Turks.’

Grivas formed his underground group – EOKA – with a right-wing ideology, which made it the exception to the rule of post-World War II insurgencies, as it was not a communist-led rebellion. Eoka has more in common with the Jewish Irgun and Stern murder gangs of late-1940s Palestine.

In 1955 Grivas launched his insurgency with anti-British riots. Then, when EOKA escalated to a series of terrorist attacks, the Governor of Cyprus, Sir John Harding, declared a state of emergency.

Harding realised that intelligence was the key to snuffing out the rebellion. However this presented a major problem: Grivas enjoyed the support of the majority of the Greek-Cypriot population and so information was sparse. Most Greek-Cypriots either supported EOKA or were too frightened to speak out for fear of reprisals. EOKA made sure of this by terrorising its own population through a campaign of intimidation against the Greek-Cypriot members of the police force and their families.

This forced the British to rely increasingly on Turkish-Cypriot policemen who could provide little intelligence about Greek-Cypriot intentions. Hiding in plain sight amongst the Greek population, EOKA’s 1250 members prospered despite the efforts of the security forces. At least 371 British servicemen died during the EOKA period, of which about 200 were murdered. However, Grivas’s ‘Freedom Fighters’ cast their murderous net much wider than the colonial power only. The Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot populations suffered far more than the British from their blood-thirsty countrymen. During the ‘Emergency’, EOKA killed 679 Cypriot men aged 18-59; 72 women aged 18-59; 130 men and women over 60; and 132 under-18 boys and girls. Suddenly EOKA’s veterans don’t look quite so heroic. Gunning down your own defenceless women and children in cold blood usually doesn’t rate an award for heroism.

Inevitably the British reacted to this dirty underhand war. Interrogation centres manned by Special Branch and Intelligence officers swiftly became bywords for rough handling of detainees – and sometimes worse.

Allegations of ill treatment surfaced early. Seventy years ago interrogation methods were harsh. The need to obtain tactical information quickly soon led to allegations of abuse in what became a very dirty war. On 26 May 1957, London’s Sunday Dispatch newspaper ran a major exposure of British methods in Cyprus, claiming that detainees had been ill-treated or tortured by British interrogators.

It pointed to the case of Nikos Sampson, the leader of EOKA’s Ledra Street murder gang, whose track record of cold-blooded murders of soldiers and civilians alike earned Nicosia’s main shopping street the nickname of ‘Murder Mile.’ However, Sampson’s well-justified conviction for murder was overturned on appeal by Judge Bernard Shaw, who ruled that Sampson’s confession was inadmissible as it had been made under duress. The smirking EOKA killer walked free from prison.

Another case was the assault and beating in custody of EOKA member Joannis Christoforou, who was stripped naked, beaten with planks, suffered broken ribs and extensive bruising. The case against him was dismissed.

One woman, known only as ‘Mrs XY’ and now in her 70s, on being suspected of being an EOKA member was taken from her home by Turkish-Cypriot police in 1956 and raped. She was then taken to a police station, beaten during interrogation and ‘pushed between her tormentors like a ball’, before passing out. At one point a noose was tied around her neck and tightened. The inescapable conclusion is that some British interrogators broke the law in their attempts to glean intelligence.

However, at least the British have admitted their excesses.

Not so the Greek-Cypriots. Sadly, the myth of EOKA’s ‘heroic warriors’ in the Liberation Struggle has grown over the years. Today’s young generation of Greek-Cypriots know little about the crimes committed by EOKA against both Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots. The truth is that Greek-Cypriots refuse to admit their own grandfathers’ murderous crimes, even long after the British had departed.

The massacres of Turkish-Cypriots committed by Greek-Cypriots continued from 1963 to 1964, after the ‘Emergency’ ended, and even after the Greek coup in 1974. This truth is whitewashed from Greek histories.

The slaughter of 126 Turkish-Cypriots – the majority women and elderly people – from three Turkish-Cypriot villages (Maratha, Santalari and Aloa), as well as the execution of 84 civilian Turkish-Cypriots from the village of Tochni in August 1974 by EOKA, ranks with the Nazi atrocities at Lidice and Oradur.

However, Greek apologists refuse to admit the bloody truth; but the concealed statistics for the Greek-Cypriot deaths tell their own story. UN statistics for the period 1963-74 record at least 133. This is clearly an underestimate, based only on reported murders. Overall, the Cyprus High Commission information booklet gives a total figure of 3000 dead and 1400 missing for 1974 alone, bringing the Greek-Cypriot total for the period 1955-74 to 4833, the majority at the hands of fellow Greeks.

The truth is that the settlement with the EOKA-linked claimants is a one-sided affair. It represents a bargain for the UK, because it suppresses discussion in open court of any unpleasant facts. However it sets a precedent. The question now is, when will EOKA compensate the relatives of those Greek, Turk and British victims they murdered in cold blood? EOKA veterans openly boast of their murderous exploits; so who will be bringing a court case to sue those who gunned down a doctor like Surgeon-Captain Gordon Wilson, or defenceless women like Mrs Catherine Cutliffe, for their bloody deeds? The one-sided settlement with EOKA is an outrage, as it ignores far worse crimes admitted by the Greek-Cypriots’ EOKA killers.

So, as they celebrate their legal victory in the EOKA Veterans’ clubs, the stench of hypocrisy rivals the celebratory Ouzo. And what did they achieve? Nothing. The ultimate irony is that EOKA failed. Not only was there no Enosis, but Greek-Cypriots failed to achieve proper independence either. Having been ruled by foreigners for 3000 years, Makarios and EOKA only managed to rule a united Cyprus for three, from 1960 to 1963.

Was it all worth EOKA’s many murders?

The Unsealing of a Presidency

On the 46th anniversary of his death, further hard corroboration of LBJ’s mysterious rise to power through Texan money can be found in the revelations of Robert A Caro New Yorker article ‘The Secrets of LBJ’s Archives: On a Presidential Paper Trail‘ (22 January 2019). Caro is writing the acclaimed definitive biography of President Lyndon Baines Johnson (four volumes so far)

Any doubts that LBJ was acting as a conduit for Federal tax money being passed to big Texan Corporations from 1939 onwards are comprehensively demolished by Caro’s hard documentary evidence.

The article lends support to the facts I reveal in my book JFK: An American Coup d’Etat about LBJ’s role in one of the darkest episodes of US history (notes for original sources).

Extract from JFK: An American Coup d’Etat

On LBJ and Texas

‘At the heart of the oil cartel was an informal, shadowy cabal calling itself the ‘8F Group’ after the suite where it held its meetings at the Lamar Hotel in Houston. The group had been in existence since the 1930s, and it brought together some of the richest and most powerful men in Texas. In their number by the early 1960s were also representatives from State and Federal Politics, lawyers, bankers, businessmen and the Mafia. In 1962-3, the Suite 8F Group included oil barons H L Hunt, Billy Byars, Sid Richardson and Clint Murchison; Congressional fixer, lawyer and LBJ crony, Homer Thornberry; local politicians, State Governor John Connally and State Attorney General Waggoner Carr; Lyndon Baines Johnson; his personal attorney, Ed Clark – Mr Fixit – as well as prominent bankers and businessmen, including selected Mafia Dons who were, after all, local ‘businessmen’. The Texas oil moguls had also gone to considerable lengths to cultivate J Edgar Hoover over the years; both Billie Byars of Humble Oil and Clint Murchison helped to pay for the FBI Director’s annual vacation at a Mafia-owned and run resort in Del Mar California. And all of them were friends with the Vice President, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Texas oil was big, powerful and had bought key individuals in Washington DC.

‘LBJ held a special position in the ‘8F Group’ because he was effectively their spokesman in Washington. Before America eventually joined the war in 1941, the Texans had creamed off Federal tax dollars for their companies by using their own placemen in Washington to direct the hosepipe of Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ government dollars to the Lone Star State. Sam Rayburn knew where his interests lay and by 1940 the powerful Texan Senator virtually controlled the Senate by his ability to pack key political committees with his friends. LBJ joined that group in the late 1930s and by 1960 he was openly the representative of Texas capitalism. One wit even jibed, ‘To understand LBJ, you have to go to the Brown & Root of the matter …” Brown & Root was the Texan Corporation that had made millions out of America’s involvement in the Second World War and had groomed and supported LBJ every step of his political career. LBJ was their paid-up representative in every way. As a Senator and Leader of the House, LBJ represented himself, the business interests of the Texas 8F Group (especially Brown & Root) and his constituents: and in that order.

‘By the autumn of 1962, the 8F Group were becoming collectively concerned about their President in Washington. Not only did they not own and control him, but he was beginning to do things that would reduce their income. For the power brokers, oil billionaires and bankers of Texas, the answer was simple.

‘Someone was going to have to do something about John F Kennedy. Up to then the rich Texans had tolerated him. But removing the Oil Depletion Allowance was a step too far. In 1962, $300 million dollars was a lot of money. Around the 8F Group table ‘groupthink’ was unanimous. John F Kennedy was dangerous. He would have to be stopped.

‘Texas said so.’