In Sa‘dah

saada main street

Abdullah al-Ibbi is a barber in the city of Sa‘dah, a Houthi stronghold in northern Yemen. He lost two wives, ten sons, 17 daughters and daughters-in-law, and eight grandchildren, including a six-month-old baby, in a Saudi-led airstrike on 5 May. In the qat fields of al-Sabr valley, a few kilometres from Sa‘dah, at least 30 children were among the 53 civilians killed by warplanes on 3 June. ‘They say in the media they targeted a military camp,’ Hammoud Abdullah told me. Seven of his relatives, including four brothers, died in the attack. ‘But what happened is that they have killed our children.’ More »

More Effective than Airstrikes

A few years ago, an Israeli F16 fighter pilot I know went on a training exercise for a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear reactors. When he got back I asked him if such an operation could actually succeed. He said he thought Israel had the capacity to carry it out, but the military leadership was against it. When I asked him why, he explained that even if an airstrike were completely successful, the Iranians would be able to rebuild their reactors within two years. The operation, he said, would only work if sanctions were intensified immediately after the attack, and most sanctioning countries would be unlikely to agree to that. He concluded by pointing out that Iran would probably retaliate against Israel, and ‘while it is easy to get into such a bloody game, it is completely unclear how to get out.’

The recent deal – assuming it’s approved by US and Iranian legislators – will accomplish more than the Israeli military would have been able to. Rather than two years, Tehran’s nuclear development will be stalled for a decade or more, and a new front with Iran has been taken off the table. This is probably the reason most IDF generals are uncharacteristically reticent about the agreement: they know it is advantageous but are afraid of upsetting the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and his supporters in the United States.

Beyond Tribalism

Tessa Jowell is the current bookmakers’ favourite to be the Labour candidate in next year’s London mayoral election. If the odds are to be believed, Sadiq Khan is the only other person who stands a chance. Diane Abbott, the candidate most likely to benefit from the recent surge in Labour Party membership and support for Jeremy Corbyn, is well behind at 25-1. The Hackney MP shouldn’t be written off just yet – Corbyn was once a 100-1 shot for the party leadership – but the chances of a second bushwhack by the Labour left seem remote. More »

At the Fringe

beckett‘One does not have to look for distress. It is screaming at you even in the taxis of London,’ Beckett once said. His plays are almost absent from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe – strange, as he is usually given a lot of attention here – but his influence is everywhere. More »

Still Overshooting

Every year the Global Footprint Network calculates when we have collectively used a year’s worth of the earth’s resources. Last year we reached it one day sooner than in 2013. This year we’ve brought the date forward by six days, to 13 August. Of the countries with a biocapacity deficit, the UK is 12th (one place lower than the United States; the worst performer is the United Arab Emirates).

In El Salvador

El Salvador, Central America’s smallest country, is fast becoming the most violent place in the Western Hemisphere. More than 2000 people have been killed so far this year, nearly 700 of them in June alone – a murder rate not seen since the civil war ended in 1992. More »

Tragic Life Stories

tragic life stories

Am I the last person to have noticed this subcategory in WHSmith bookshops? There must be people who head straight for it to grab the latest Cathy Glass, but it had passed me by, or I’d passed it by, until this weekend. I puzzled for a while over the upside-down face – I think it’s Billy Connolly – then went off to see what they had on the shelves under Comic Death Stories.

The Road to Calais

The Jardin des Olieux is a small park just off the Boulevard Victor Hugo in Lille. Twenty-five or so homeless migrants have been camping there for a couple of months. Several of them are teenagers. Mamadé from Guinea, who is 16, told me that every morning they walk to a day centre near the train station for a meal, coffee and a wash. But they have nowhere to sleep except the park, and the police have taken away their mattresses. The French state in theory guarantees appropriate accommodation and support for unaccompanied migrant children, but there is an effective ‘presumption of majority’, according to a local lawyer, as well as long delays in the process which leave many on the streets for weeks. More »

Who’s a dinosaur now?

E.T. Reed's representation of the Liberal Little Englander in 'Punch', 19 September 1900A lot of journalists (and others) have been calling Jeremy Corbyn a dinosaur. They should beware of the label. At the turn of the 20th century, the dominant political discourse – at least in what today would be called the ‘Westminster bubble’ – was that liberalism was passé, that the future lay with great empires and imperialist societies, and that anti-imperialists were doomed to ossify. ‘Imperialism’ infected all political parties, including the ‘Lib-Imp’ wing of the Liberal party, and even some Labour MPs. Yet within five years of E.T. Reed’s depiction in Punch in 1900 of the remaining Liberal anti-imperialists of his time (shown here), imperialism had lost its attraction to voters, the ‘imperialist’ party was hammered in an election, and a new, quite old-fashioned looking Liberal government came to power. More »

Churchill and Hiroshima

In Quebec in 1943, the US and the UK agreed that any use of nuclear weapons would require both countries’ prior approval. The British government gave its formal assent to the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the Combined Policy Committee meeting in Washington on 4 July 1945. Deliberations over the decision were remarkably perfunctory. On 30 April, Field Marshal Henry Maitland Wilson had written from Washington that the US was eager to know British views. The ensuing discussions focused only on the phrasing of London’s assent. More »

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