Pompeo piles US pressure on Europe to isolate Iran

In this file photo, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks on as he listens to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on July 9, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 12 July 2018

Pompeo piles US pressure on Europe to isolate Iran

  • Iran’s struggling economy is unlikely to survive such international rejection, say experts
  • Trump warned of an unspecified “escalation” between the United States and Iran

JEDDAH:  US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday urged European nations to get behind American measures to cut Iran off from the world energy markets.

“Iran continues to send weapons across the Middle East, in blatant violation of UN Security Council resolutions,” he said during talks in Brussels.

“Iran’s regime wants to start trouble wherever it can. It’s our responsibility to stop it. We ask our allies and partners to join our economic-pressure campaign against Iran’s regime. We must cut off all funding the regime uses to fund terrorism and proxy wars. There’s no telling when Iran may try to foment terrorism, violence and instability in one of our countries next.”

Pompeo also posted a message on Twitter, saying: “It’s time to face the facts about #Iran’s malevolent regime.” The tweet was accompanied by a map of Europe purportedly showing the locations of 11 terror attacks US officials believe Iran, or its proxy Hezbollah, have carried out since 1979.

Also on Thursday, President Donald Trump warned of an unspecified “escalation” between the United States and Iran following his decision in May this year to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

“I would say there might be an escalation between us and the Iranians,” Trump said during a news conference in Brussels.

He added that Iran’s economic troubles would force the country to seek a security deal with Washington as a result of his withdrawal from the nuclear pact.

“They’re treating us with much more respect right now than they did in the past and I know they’re having a lot of problems and their economy is collapsing,” said Trump. “But I will tell you this: At a certain point, they’re going to call me and they’re going to say, ‘Let's make a deal,’ and we’ll make a deal. But they’re feeling a lot of pain right now.”

US officials have been traveling the world warning foreign governments to stop buying oil from Iran or face sanctions.

Pompeo also has accused Iran of using its embassies to plot terrorist attacks in Europe.

“Just this past week there were Iranians arrested in Europe who were preparing to conduct a terror plot in Paris, France. We have seen this malign behavior in Europe," Pompeo said this month during an interview.

He was referring to the arrest of an Iranian diplomat posted to Vienna who allegedly was involved in a plan to bomb a rally by an Iranian opposition group in France on June 30. The arrest of the envoy in Germany came after a couple with Iranian roots was apprehended in Belgium after authorities reportedly found explosives in their car.

Washington’s reinstatement of economic sanctions has further weakened Iran’s already-hobbled economy.

There has been a sharp fall in the value of the national currency, the rial, sparking angry protests in the country and clashes with the police. Workers at Tehran’s Grand Bazaar took strike action towards the end of June, and traders organized a mass gathering outside parliament to complain about the collapse of the rial.

Experts have welcomed the increased US pressure on Europe over Iran.

Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said Iran’s energy exports depend heavily on European and Asian customers.

“If the EU complies with American sanctions and halts investments, as well as significantly curtailing Iranian oil imports, it is difficult to see how Iran’s economy can survive such international isolation,” he said.

“We’re already seeing signs that the European market is seeking alternative sources other than Iran for their energy needs. If these trends continue, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards will eventually find it prohibitively difficult to continue their transnational operations and attacks.”

Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Dr. Majid Rafizadeh said that in the short-term, some European powers will continue attempts to salvage their business deals with Iran, as well as the nuclear deal.

“Nevertheless, in the long-term Europe will more likely join its old transatlantic partner in containing the Iranian regime and countering its threats,” he added.

“For Europe, the costs of dealing with the Iranian regime considerably outweigh the benefits. The EU has no common interests with the top state sponsor of terrorism, the Iranian regime. From geopolitical, strategical, military, security and economic landscapes, the EU-US relationship is significantly greater than EU-Iran ties.”

Rafizadeh said the EU needs the alliance with the US to continue as both sides have common interests in combating radical and terrorist groups.

“When it comes to providing security, the EU is still dependent on the US,” he said. “The EU cannot endanger its geopolitical ties with the US over the Iranian regime.

“For more than six decades, the transatlantic partnership between the US and Europe has been one of the most powerful alliances in the world. Together, they have played a dominant role in making vital global decisions, and determining which direction international politics should take."

Gaza: Palestinian territory ravaged by war and poverty

Updated 17 July 2018

Gaza: Palestinian territory ravaged by war and poverty

  • Israel tightened its blockade of the Strip on Tuesday by suspending fuel deliveries amid fears of a new all-out conflict
  • Gaza is one of the most densely populated territories on the planet with around two million Palestinians squeezed into 362 square kilometers

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: The Gaza Strip, run by Hamas, is a poverty-stricken and overcrowded Palestinian coastal enclave under a crippling blockade by Israel, with which it has fought several wars.
After Israel tightened the blockade on Tuesday by suspending fuel deliveries amid fears of a new all-out conflict, here is some background.
On the Mediterranean coast, Gaza is one of the most densely populated territories on the planet with around two million Palestinians squeezed into 362 square kilometers (140 square miles).
After the creation of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948 and the Arab-Israeli war of 1948-1949, Gaza came under the administration of neighboring Egypt.
It was seized by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967.
In 2005 Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers, ending 38 years of occupation.
But it imposed a blockade in 2006, restricting the cross-border movement of people and goods following the capture of a soldier by Hamas militants on Israeli territory.
The blockade was tightened a year later after the ousting of troops loyal to the rival Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
The only entrance to Gaza not controlled by Israel is at Rafah on the Egyptian border. This too has been almost completely closed since extremists launched an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula after the military overthrew Egypt’s president Muhammad Mursi in 2013.
In May 2018 Israel began working on a “new and impenetrable” coastal barrier just north of Gaza to prevent the possibility of Palestinians entering by sea.
The Gaza Strip has almost no industry and suffers from a chronic lack of water and fuel. Its GDP losses caused by the blockade are estimated at more than 50 percent, the World Bank says.
Unemployment stands at 45 percent and more than two-thirds of the population depends on aid.
A reconciliation deal in 2017 between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority raised hopes of an improvement in the harsh conditions in the enclave, but talks have stalled.
In January 2018 UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov warned the Gaza Strip was on the verge of “full collapse.”
Donors in March greenlighted a project to build a desalination plant in Gaza, where more than 95 percent of water is unfit for drinking due to overpumping of groundwater.
Israel has carried out several military operations against Palestinian militants in Gaza, with thousands killed.
“Operation Hot Winter” in February-March 2008, in response to the killing of an Israeli by a rocket fired from Gaza, left more than 120 Palestinians dead in just days.
It led to weeks of unrest, with rocket fire from Gaza and attacks from Israel, in which hundreds of Palestinians were killed until a truce in June.
A vast air offensive, “Operation Cast Lead,” was launched in December 2008 to stop Palestinian rocket fire into Israel. It ended with a cease-fire in January 2009 and 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
In November 2012 “Operation Pillar of Defense” kicked off with a missile strike that killed top Hamas commander Ahmed Jaabari. In the ensuing eight-day flare-up, 177 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.
In July 2014 Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge” to stop the rocket fire and destroy tunnels used for smuggling and the movement of militants.
It lead to a war that left 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side and 74 on the Israeli side.