With fresh sanctions and increasing isolation, 2018 was the year Iran was tamed

With fresh sanctions and increasing isolation, 2018 was the year Iran was tamed
Updated 21 December 2018

With fresh sanctions and increasing isolation, 2018 was the year Iran was tamed

With fresh sanctions and increasing isolation, 2018 was the year Iran was tamed
  • Hard-hitting sanctions have pushed Iran to the brink. Can the regime weather the storm or will it bow to world opinion?

DUBAI: With US sanctions heaping further pain on Iran’s deteriorating economy, 2018 has been widely viewed by political analysts as the year Tehran was tamed.

Sanctions enforced last month have left Iran’s shipping, banking, oil, energy and shipbuilding industries floundering.

In the fallout, the Iranian rial has lost more than a quarter of its value against the dollar, sending  the prices of food and other basic commodities soaring.

“The US sanctions on Iran are intended, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared, to choke off funds that the regime uses to support its malign activities in the region,” said Dr Albadr Al-Shateri, politics professor at the National Defense College in Abu Dhabi. 

“The second purpose is to target Iranian elites who line their pockets at the expense of Iranians’ welfare. Finally, the sanctions bring maximum pressure on the ruling regime to change its behavior.”

Pompeo said that Iran’s leaders must be “made to feel the painful consequences” of their violence and corruption.

Al-Shateri said: “The sanctions, despite their unilateral nature, have hurt Iran. Many companies that had planned to invest in Iran changed course, fearing US punitive sanctions.

“The Iranian currency plunged, unemployment is high and inflation is soaring. The International Monetary Fund points to declining growth due to the sanctions.”

Frustration at the declining economy has led to protests in Iran. “The policy … is clearly intended to clip Tehran’s wings and undermine its legitimacy,” said Al-Shateri. 

“The regime in Tehran will use the sanctions as a rallying cry against Washington. But despite demonstrations against Iran’s government, a groundswell of support for regime change isn’t materializing.” 

Al-Shateri cited two reasons for this: The regime’s ability and willingness to suppress protests, and the Iranian people’s despondence, reticence and fatigue, as evidenced by the dwindling number of demonstrators. 

“The question is what the future holds for Iran. Experts are divided on this issue,” he said. “Some see Iran weathering the storm, waiting out the Trump administration and hoping for a new one that will
cut a deal on issues
of mutual concern.” 

In August, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was summoned by parliamentarians to explain the economic situation — a first for an Iranian political leader. In the same month, French energy giant Total pulled out of a $4.8 billion oil project in the country. 

“Tehran’s strategy is dubious in the long term, but it remains a masterful tactician. In the short and medium term, it will woo the Europeans to its cause,” Al-Shateri said.

“It will appeal to the international community to see the justice of its cause, since the world sees it as the aggrieved party, having abided by the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal).” 

Iran will mobilize its population against the US and Israel by accusing them of plotting to overthrow the government
and conquer the country, Al-Shateri said.

“There is always room to improve personal and social freedoms, and perhaps manipulate disposable income through financial instruments.

“Iran could also offer itself as a key to solving many regional conflicts, such as the Lebanese political stalemate. Moreover, the country has enough political clout to facilitate a political solution to Syria’s civil strife. It has already begun using this instrument
by backing negotiations between its Houthi allies and the internationally recognized Yemeni government in Stockholm
last week.”

The Iranian regime’s collapse could have detrimental economic consequences at home, since many companies are owned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and most banks are owned by the state. 

“Economic conditions in Iran have worsened, even following  the mere announcement that sanctions would be reimposed,” said Riad Kahwaji, founder and CEO of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis
in Dubai. 

“We saw the reaction in the Iranian market, where many Western and international companies pulled out, and we see constant demonstrations by people protesting over the worsening situation.”

Conditions could have been worse had the US not chosen to make oil sanctions more gradual by exempting eight countries, Kahwaji said. 

“That was for the purpose of preventing a big reaction in oil prices, and to allow other oil exporters to make up for Iranian oil,” he said. 

“We can expect these economic conditions to worsen for Iran. We see more sanctions and more tightening on its activities, so things are becoming quite tough to finance its operations.”

Iran’s current strategy is based on waiting out the Trump administration, improving its resilience and adopting additional measures to withstand the pressure. 

“But two years (until the next US presidential election) is a long time, and a lot is happening every week in the Middle East arena,” Kahwaji said. 

“What is happening in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon is tough, so we can only see the situation escalating. Any spark will ignite a major conflict.” 

Analysts expect 2019 to be an even tougher year for Iran. “We now have a hawkish administration in Washington, after eight years of (former US President) Barack Obama and a carrot approach to Iran,” said Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, former chairman of the Arab Council for the Social Sciences. 

“We’re probably now in for a period of a heavy-stick approach. The country didn’t moderate its policies or its behavior during Obama’s carrot approach, and it went to the furthest extent in its expansionist policy, from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon all the way to Yemen.”

With this new approach, Abdulla expects a rollback of Iran’s regional influence, at least temporarily. 

“Internally, with severe sanctions reimposed, the net impact will be a weaker Iran, which is good for the region’s stability and for global stability,” he said. 

“A weaker Iran is expected until the end of the Trump administration. And in this zero-sum game that we have in the region, a weaker Iran necessarily means stronger Arab Gulf states.”

But “we are nowhere close” to regime change, Abdulla said.

Raghida Dergham, founder and executive chairman of the Beirut Institute, said that the Iran of tomorrow will be determined by the IRGC and its supporters, which would mean “more trouble to come” and potential confrontations at whatever cost. 

“The reform of the regime means responding to the demands of the Trump administration, in particular that Iran should confine its great influence within its own borders,” she said.

“The sanctions are definitely hurting the country economically. The harm isn’t only in terms of trade relations with the world, but is also sowing the seeds of a possible implosion in Iran.”

 


Blinken reveals uncertainty clouding US-Iran nuclear talks

Blinken reveals uncertainty clouding US-Iran nuclear talks
Updated 9 min 37 sec ago

Blinken reveals uncertainty clouding US-Iran nuclear talks

Blinken reveals uncertainty clouding US-Iran nuclear talks
  • US secretary of state: ‘We don’t yet know’ if Tehran is serious about making a deal in Vienna
  • Blinken tells BBC Iran could acquire nuclear weapons within months

LONDON: Negotiators in talks with Iran over curbs to its nuclear program do not yet know if Tehran is willing to make a deal, according to the White House’s top diplomat.

“We’ve been engaged now in Vienna for some weeks with our European partners, with Russia, China, and indirectly … with Iran,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the BBC on Thursday.

“We’ve demonstrated our very seriousness of purpose in terms of wanting to get back into the so-called JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action),” he added. 

“What we don’t yet know is whether Iran is prepared to make the same decision and move forward.” 

Blinken warned that, having progressively walked back on nuclear curbs hammered out as part of the 2015 deal agreed with world powers, Tehran could acquire nuclear weapons within months.

Under the original deal, from which former US President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018, Iran received billions of dollars’ worth of sanctions relief in exchange for strict curbs and heavy monitoring of its nuclear program.

“Right now, unfortunately, Iran has itself lifted many of the constraints imposed on it by the agreement because we pulled out,” Blinken said.

“And it’s now getting closer and closer again to that point where its breakout time is going to be down to a few months and eventually even less.”


Egypt and Turkey conclude talks on regional issues

With no clear progress, Egyptian and Turkish officials concluded two days of talks in Cairo. (Facebook/@MFAEgyptEnglish)
With no clear progress, Egyptian and Turkish officials concluded two days of talks in Cairo. (Facebook/@MFAEgyptEnglish)
Updated 06 May 2021

Egypt and Turkey conclude talks on regional issues

With no clear progress, Egyptian and Turkish officials concluded two days of talks in Cairo. (Facebook/@MFAEgyptEnglish)
  • Talks were aimed at resetting ties between the two regional powers
  • Both sides vowed to evaluate the outcome of their first round of consultations

LONDON: Egypt and Turkey concluded consultations on Thursday in the Egyptian capital Cairo to discuss ties and regional conflicts.
A joint statement described the talks as “frank and in-depth” and dealt with bilateral relations and a number of regional issues, particularly the situations in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and “the need to achieve peace and security in the Eastern Mediterranean region.”
The two day consultations were headed by Egyptian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Hamdi Sanad Loza, and his Turkish counterpart Sedat Onal.
“The two sides will evaluate the outcome of this round of consultations and agree on the next steps,” the joint statement added.
The discussions were the first high-level public talks for years between the two powers.
Turkey has been striving to mend fences with several US-allied Arab states but Egypt has so far responded cautiously to Turkish overtures.
(With Reuters)


Qatar’s attorney general orders arrest of finance minister

Qatar’s attorney general orders arrest of finance minister
Updated 06 May 2021

Qatar’s attorney general orders arrest of finance minister

Qatar’s attorney general orders arrest of finance minister
  • The reports consisted of damage to public funds, abuse of public office, and abuse of power

LONDON: Qatar’s Public Prosecutor ordered the arrest of Minister of Finance Ali Sharif Al-Emadi over reports of crime related to holding public office, Qatar News Agency reported on Thursday.
“After reviewing documents, and their attached reports, the Attorney General ordered the arrest of the Minister of Finance Ali Sharif Al-Emadi to investigate what was mentioned in the reports of crimes related to practicing public office,” the statement said.
The reports consisted of damage to public funds, abuse of public office, and abuse of power.
The Public Prosecutor ordered wide investigations into the crimes raised in the submitted reports.


UN urges Israel to stop demolitions and evacuations in Sheikh Jarrah in West Bank

UN urges Israel to stop demolitions and evacuations in Sheikh Jarrah in West Bank
Updated 06 May 2021

UN urges Israel to stop demolitions and evacuations in Sheikh Jarrah in West Bank

UN urges Israel to stop demolitions and evacuations in Sheikh Jarrah in West Bank
  • UN says eviction of Palestine refugee families in other neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem are ‘very worrying’
  • Wennesland says ‘deeply concerned’ by surge in tensions and violence in occupied West Bank since start of Ramadan

LONDON: The UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process urged Israel to cease demolitions and evictions, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law.
“The latest developments related to the eviction of Palestine refugee families in Sheikh Jarrah and other neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem are also very worrying,” Tor Wennesland said in a statement on Thursday.
Twenty-two Palestinians were wounded in overnight clashes with Israeli police in annexed east Jerusalem, the Red Crescent said Thursday, as tensions flared over a controversial land rights case.
The legal case centers on the homes of four Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood near Jerusalem’s walled Old City on land claimed by Jews.
He also said he was “deeply concerned” by the surge in tensions and violence in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since the start of the Muslim month of Ramadan.
“In the past few days alone, two Palestinians, including a woman and a child, were killed in separate incidents, by Israeli security forces (ISF) in the context of clashes or attacks,” said Wennesland.
He also said an Israeli was killed by a Palestinian in a drive-by shooting, and several others were injured.
"I reiterate that ISF must exercise maximum restraint and use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life,” he added.
Last month, anti-Arab Israeli extremists, emboldened by the election of their allies to parliament, began a march calling for violence against Arabs.
The move raised tensions, prompting cross-border attacks from Gaza and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police.
Wennesland said perpetrators of violence on all sides must be held accountable and swiftly brought to justice.
“I call on political, religious and community leaders on all sides to stand firmly against violence, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric,” he said, adding “if unaddressed, the situation could spiral out of control.”


Israel accuses Spanish woman of aiding banned militant group

Israel accuses Spanish woman of aiding banned militant group
Updated 06 May 2021

Israel accuses Spanish woman of aiding banned militant group

Israel accuses Spanish woman of aiding banned militant group
  • A military court indicted Juana Ruiz Sánchez on Israeli terrorism-financing offenses and other charges
  • Israel, US, Canada and European Union regard the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine a terrorist organization

JERUSALEM: Israeli authorities on Thursday charged a Spanish woman under the country’s anti-terrorism laws, accusing her of funneling large sums of donations from European governments to a banned Palestinian militant group.
Juana Ruiz Sánchez was charged in a West Bank military court. Her indictment was the culmination of a more than year-long investigation into financing for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
The group is regarded by Israel, the United States, Canada, and European Union as a terrorist organization.
Ruiz, a Spanish citizen and West Bank resident, has worked for Health Work Committees, a Palestinian non-governmental organization that provides medical services in the territory.
She was indicted on Israeli terrorism-financing offenses and other charges. The Palestinian NGO’s senior accountant, former accountant and former purchasing department manager were expected to be charged with similar offenses in the coming days, according to the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency.
Ruiz, 62, had been held by Israeli authorities without charge since her arrest at her home near Bethlehem on April 13. Spanish authorities have provided her with consular assistance and Spain’s deputy consul general has accompanied her during court hearings, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press.
“We will continue following this case closely, insisting and working together with the Israeli authorities,” it said.
The PFLP is a Palestinian Leninist-Marxist militant group that opposes the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. It staged a number of airline hijackings in the 1970s and numerous attacks on Israeli civilians, including the 2001 assassination of then-tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi. It is part of the PLO, the main Palestinian national movement.
The Shin Bet began investigating the PFLP’s finances following an August 2019 attack by the militant group in the West Bank that killed a 17-year-old girl and wounded her brother and father, an Israeli official said.
The investigation found at least seven Palestinian charities had funneled tens of millions of euros donated by European governments and organizations for humanitarian purposes to PFLP coffers.
The Israeli official said the probe found that the NGO, along with other aid organizations, including the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and Addameer, “act under PFLP leadership and in accordance with the organization’s directives, as a cover for promoting the PFLP’s activities and funding.”
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. The Health Works Committees did not respond to requests for comment.
Although the PFLP is one of the smaller Palestinian militant groups operating in the occupied West Bank, its cash pipeline from Europe has “developed considerably in the past decade,” the official said. “European governmental money helped build up this organization.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry has called on European governments to step up oversight of donations to Palestinian organizations to ensure they don’t wind up funding groups outlawed by the EU.
The European Union’s diplomatic mission in Israel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A petition calling on Israel to free Ruiz and the other detainees’ was signed by nearly 6,000 individuals and organizations in Spain, saying the aid group was attacked by Israel “in a policy of repression, weakening and dismantling of civil society organizations of Palestine.”