Latest US sanctions are a logical step in Trump’s robust Iran policy, says expert

Latest US sanctions are a logical step in Trump’s robust Iran policy, says expert
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin during a press briefing at the White House in Washington. (Reuters)
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Updated 12 October 2020

Latest US sanctions are a logical step in Trump’s robust Iran policy, says expert

Latest US sanctions are a logical step in Trump’s robust Iran policy, says expert
  • Behnam Ben Taleblu: This new targeting of Iran’s financial sector is very much in line with US President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure policy towards Iran
  • US Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin vowed sanctions will continue until Iran stops its support of terrorist activities and ends its nuclear programs

The Office of Foreign Assets Control, which administers the sanctions, has targeted 18 major Iranian banks — the entire financial sector — which US Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin identified as “an additional avenue that funds the Iranian government’s malign activities.”

Mnuchin vowed sanctions “will continue until Iran stops its support of terrorist activities and ends its nuclear programs.”

This latest punitive measure comes weeks after the US declared a “snapback” of sanctions on Iran that were waived under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a 2015 international deal over Iran’s nuclear program, accusing Tehran of having breached that agreement.

“This new targeting of Iran’s financial sector is very much in line with US President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure policy towards Iran, which is using very creative tools to punish, coerce and deter the clerical regime and get them to come back to the negotiating table,” Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan DC-based think tank, told Arab News.

“The Iranian economy is absolutely not healthy right now. And if this present (US) policy continues, the Iranian revolutionary foreign policy, the policy of resistance to negotiations and foreign pressure, can’t continue.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sanctions “are directed at the regime and its corrupt officials that have used the wealth of the Iranian people to fuel a radical, revolutionary cause that has brought untold suffering across the Middle East and beyond.”

He added: “The United States continues to stand with the Iranian people, the longest-suffering victims of the regime's predations.”

But while the US Treasury asserted that the new tranche of sanctions will continue to allow for humanitarian transactions, critics object that they could have a detrimental impact on Iranians’ access to humanitarian resources.

“It’s going to make it even harder for Iran to get ahold of food and medicine,” Barbara Slavin, the director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, told CNN.

“It certainly will bring a lot of people to their knees, but it will not bring down the Islamic Republic, it will just intensify their hatred for the US.”

Ben Taleblu said: “It's absolutely a legitimate concern. But we have to keep in mind that this is the US intentionally choosing a peaceful tool of punishment, coercion and deterrence rather than a militarized tool to deal with this regime (when) Iran is constantly opting for a non-peaceful, dangerous, and destabilizing tool.

“Concurrent with this economic tool, the US, perhaps more so than any other point in its history, tried to create legal loopholes and more regulations to permit humanitarian trade with Iran. For instance, the Central Bank of Iran, despite having been hit under multiple nonproliferation and terrorism authorities because of how destabilizing it is, was the subject of discussion of a general license by the Treasury Department for certain humanitarian transactions.”

Iran’s mission to the UN accused the US of committing “economic terrorism.”

Ben Taleblu commented: “It’s really a shame when Iran’s leaders, who for 41-plus years now have chosen to put revolutionary interest over national interest and regime ideology over popular welfare, all of a sudden feel confident weaponizing the Iranian people, who have been downtrodden for so many years, as kind of a tool in their larger debate against the policy of Western pressure.”

The new US order will also penalize non-Iranian institutions that do business with the banks, effectively cutting them off from the international financial system.

It gives foreign companies 45 days to wind down their operations in Iran and cease all activities or face “secondary sanctions.”

Foreign banks are likely to be uncomfortable with trading even in the exempted humanitarian areas because of the risk of being penalized.

That is one of the reasons why Europe has always opposed the blanket financial services blacklisting.

Observers argue the latest US actions will deepen tensions with European nations and others over Iran.

“Unfortunately, Europe’s policy is more of the same,” said Ben Taleblu.

“Many international and European leaders stand side-by-side with American leaders condemning the Iranian material support for terrorism, Iranian acts of terrorism abroad, the activities of Tehran’s proxies in the heartland of the Middle East, weapons proliferation, missile testing and transfers as well as Iran’s growing nuclear stockpiles and other violations of international agreements.

“But when rubber hits the road, they’ve done very little about it. The last time the EU (put) sanctions on Iran using missiles was in December 2012.”

The DC-based expert believes, however, that this transatlantic gap in viewing the Iranian threat could be bridged, and that there is an opportunity for Europeans to “put their money where their mouth is on human rights” and refine their sanctions on Iran, particularly after the regime’s execution of wrestler Navid Afkari.

Some circles in Washington fear that the new sanctions would create a more toxic environment in the region and push Iran to retaliate via its proxies in Iraq.

When the US announced the “snapback” last month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani threatened “a crushing response to the US bullying” and warned of “dangerous consequences.”

Taleblu sees this as Iran’s policy of graduated escalation: “Where the policy you are presenting them with is so damaging they have no other recourse than to scare you into not continuing that policy.

“The sanctions are so effective, Iran is throwing its hands up more and more in the air. I liken this to asphyxiation. The more you get closer to choking them, the more their hands are going to flail up and down as air is leaving their body. So, it is going to produce this kind of reaction. The question from a policy perspective is: Are you able to contain, limit, contest and nullify it?”

The Iran expert emphasized that, in the end, enforcement of the new penalties is key in determining their success in deterring the regime. Otherwise, laxness can lead to “more cheating, violations, and busting, not just by Iran but also by third parties.”


Morocco’s navy rescues 368 migrants bound for Spain

Morocco’s navy rescues 368 migrants bound for Spain
Updated 26 min 40 sec ago

Morocco’s navy rescues 368 migrants bound for Spain

Morocco’s navy rescues 368 migrants bound for Spain
  • Migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, were rescued between Tuesday and Friday
  • 2,087 migrants died trying to reach Spain by sea during 2021’s first six months

RABAT: The Moroccan navy this week rescued 368 migrants including three children as they were trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Spain, the official MAP news agency said Friday.
It said the migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, were rescued between Tuesday and Friday when their makeshift boats, including rubber dinghies and kayaks, ran into difficulty.
Last week Morocco’s navy reportedly rescued 344 migrants in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
Migrants in the North African country often try to reach the Spanish mainland via the Mediterranean, while in the Atlantic Ocean they make for Spain’s Canary Islands.
A total of 2,087 migrants died trying to reach Spain by sea during the first six months of 2021, roughly the same number as during all of last year, a migrant rights group said earlier this month.
Spanish interior ministry figures show that between January 1 and June 30, a total of 12,622 migrants arrived in Spain by sea, almost twice as many as those who made the crossings last year.


Over 140 Palestinians hurt in clashes with Israel troops: medics

Over 140 Palestinians hurt in clashes with Israel troops: medics
Updated 23 July 2021

Over 140 Palestinians hurt in clashes with Israel troops: medics

Over 140 Palestinians hurt in clashes with Israel troops: medics
  • The Israeli army said two soldiers were also "lightly injured" in the violence
  • Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in Beita to protest against the nearby outpost of Eviatar

BEITA, Palestinian Territories: More than 140 Palestinians were hurt Friday in clashes with Israeli troops in the flashpoint West Bank village of Beita, medics said, during protests against an illegal Israeli settlement outpost.
The Israeli army said two soldiers were also “lightly injured” in the violence.
Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in Beita, located in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to protest against the nearby outpost of Eviatar, an AFP correspondent said.
The area has seen regular demonstrations against settlement expansion on Palestinian land.
The Israeli army said that “over the last several hours, a riot was instigated in the area of Givat Eviatar outpost, south of Nablus.”
“Hundreds of Palestinians hurled rocks at IDF (army) troops, who responded with riot dispersal means,” it said in a statement, adding that the two “lightly injured” soldiers were taken to hospital.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said 146 Palestinians were hurt during the clashes, including nine by live fire, 34 by rubber-coated bullets and 87 by tear gas.
Jewish settlers set up the Eviatar outpost in early May, building rudimentary concrete homes and shacks in a matter of weeks.
The construction came in defiance of both international and Israeli law, and sparked fierce protests from Palestinians who insisted it was being built on their land.
But following a deal struck with nationalist Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s new government, the settlers left the outpost on July 2, while the structures they had built were to remain under army guard.
Israel’s defense ministry said it would study the area to assess whether it could, under Israeli law, be declared state land.
Should that happen, Israel could then authorize a religious school to be built at Eviatar, with residences for its staff and students.
Around 475,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967.


Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM

Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM
Updated 23 July 2021

Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM

Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM
  • The crown prince congratulated Bennett on assuming the position of Israeli PM
  • Bennett congratulated Sheikh Mohammed on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha and wished him continued health and happiness

DUBAI: The crown prince of Abu Dhabi received a call from the prime minister of Israel on Friday during which they discussed cooperation between the two countries.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Naftali Bennett also discussed regional and international issues of common interest and efforts to achieve peace and prosperity regionally and internationally.
Bennett congratulated Sheikh Mohammed on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha and wished him continued health and happiness, and the UAE and its people further progress and prosperity.
Sheikh Mohammed thanked the prime minister and expressed his hopes that peace and prosperity prevail for all of mankind.
The crown prince also congratulated Bennett on assuming the position of Israeli prime minister and expressed his aspiration that the UAE and Israel would work together toward peace, stability and development for the benefit of the region and the world.


Iran’s Khuzestan protests: Water was the trigger, anti-Arab discrimination is the reason

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. (Screenshots/Social Media)
Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. (Screenshots/Social Media)
Updated 23 July 2021

Iran’s Khuzestan protests: Water was the trigger, anti-Arab discrimination is the reason

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. (Screenshots/Social Media)
  • ‘There are accumulations of injustice, persecution and racism against Arabs,’ protester tells Arab News
  • Despite being rich in oil, the province’s Arabs are one of the most deprived communities in the country

 

LONDON: Iran’s Arab population has been on the frontline of water-shortage protests across cities in Khuzestan province this week.

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. 

“The reasons for the protests are many. In fact, there are accumulations of injustice, persecution and racism against Arabs,” a protester told Arab News on condition of anonymity. 

Among the reasons are “oil and gas, and now the regime stole the waters of the rivers and dried up their lands,” the protester said, adding that Ahwazi Arabs “face many problems with unemployment and the obliteration of Arab identity.”

The protester said: “The demands are clear and legitimate: Provide agricultural water, restore rivers to their streams, open dams, employ Arabs in oil and gas companies, give freedom of expression and appoint officials from our governorate to feel our pain and concerns.

“Ahwaz hasn’t witnessed an Arab official since 1925. All officials are chosen from the center. They drain the governorate’s money then leave after stealing its wealth.” 

Videos shared on social media show water buffalos and fish lifeless on the ground due to dehydration in Ahwazi-Arab marshlands and villages.

Arabs in these areas rely on raising their cattle to get by, and water supply is essential for them to be able to make a living from agriculture. 

Khuzestan MP Abdollah Izadpanah blamed the water shortages on “mistakes and unjustified decisions,” including the extraction of water from Khuzestan’s rivers to other provinces. 

Among Iran’s Arab community, it is believed that the drying up of marshlands and the diversion of water are part of a state-led effort to displace them and change the province’s demography.

In a viral video released earlier this month, a local Arab sheikh tells officials: “We aren’t going to leave this land. You brought us floods and drought to make us migrate. We won’t leave. This is our ancestral land.”

US-based human rights advocate Rahim Hamid told Arab News: “Many Ahwazi activists have asserted that the state’s ongoing river-damming and diversion projects are part of a demographic change policy intended to force the indigenous Arab people from their lands.”

He added: “Protesters have voiced loud opposition to any such demographic change, chanting ‘no, no to displacement’ and ‘we protect Ahwaz with our blood and soul’.”

In his spring 2021 report, the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on Iran, Javid Rehman, noted “reports of forced evictions in ethnic minority areas” impacting Ahwazi Arabs.

Amnesty International has so far reported eight people killed by security forces during the protests.

Among them was teenager Hadi Bahmani, reportedly a Bakhtiari, who like others from that community joined the Khuzestan protests in solidarity with Ahwazi Arabs. 

Hamid said Tehran is “maligning the protesters as separatist extremists, with regime officials and media adding insult to injury by using their customary racist anti-Arab language in their desperate efforts to delegitimize the protesters’ calls for fundamental human rights.”

Protesters have constantly assured Tehran that the demonstrations are peaceful and that their demands are not tied to separatism.

Instead, they want the regime to address both the water crisis and the multi-layered discrimination that Arabs in the country face.

Despite the oil-rich province, which is Iran’s largest source of foreign revenue, being Ahwazi Arabs’ home, they are one of the most deprived communities in the country and face abject poverty. 

In January, Mohsen Haidari, a senior cleric representing Khuzestan in the Assembly of Experts — the deliberative body empowered to appoint Iran’s supreme leader — publically spoke of anti-Arab discrimination being rife in employment. 


Lebanon water system on verge of collapse, says UNICEF

French Ambassador to Lebanon Anne Grillo speaks to crew members at Beirut port as a ship unloads humanitarian aid offered by the French government to Lebanese customs. (AFP)
French Ambassador to Lebanon Anne Grillo speaks to crew members at Beirut port as a ship unloads humanitarian aid offered by the French government to Lebanese customs. (AFP)
Updated 12 min 38 sec ago

Lebanon water system on verge of collapse, says UNICEF

French Ambassador to Lebanon Anne Grillo speaks to crew members at Beirut port as a ship unloads humanitarian aid offered by the French government to Lebanese customs. (AFP)
  • Fuel crisis threatens to close hospitals, bakeries and supermarkets
  • Lebanese life 'has returned to the Stone Age,' activists quipped on social media

BEIRUT: Shortages and the currency crunch in Lebanon could lead to a collapse of the main water supply in Lebanon within weeks, UNICEF has warned.

“More than 4 million people, including 1 million refugees, are at immediate risk of losing access to safe water in Lebanon,” it said.

Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF representative in Lebanon, said the water sector was being “squeezed to destruction by the current economic crisis.”

“A loss of access to the public water supply could force households to make extremely difficult decisions regarding their basic water, sanitation and hygiene needs.”

Officials believe the water sector was “unable to function due to the dollarized maintenance costs, water loss, the parallel collapse of the power grid and the threat of rising fuel costs.”

With the rapidly escalating economic crisis and shortages of funding, fuel and supplies such as chlorine and spare parts, UNICEF estimates that most water pumping will gradually cease across the country in the next four to six weeks.

It fears that if the public water supply system collapses water costs could rise by 200 per cent a month to secure water from alternative or private water suppliers.

The UNICEF warning comes at a time when diesel supplies have reached an all-time low.

Protesters have blocked public roads because of diesel shortages, which might threaten health services and food supplies.

The shortages could lead to protests in vital sectors that depend on diesel for generating electric power.

Generator owners meeting in Greater Beirut announced that “they will shut down their generators until they can secure diesel fuel at the official price.”

People were subjected to darkness recently when the owners of the generators began harsh generator cuts due to diesel shortages.

Lebanese life “has returned to the Stone Age,” activists quipped on social media.

Since the end of 2019, Lebanon has faced an unprecedented economic collapse, which the World Bank classifies as “among the worst in the world since the mid-19th century.” More than half of Lebanon’s population is below the poverty line.

Lebanon is experiencing a shortage of essential fuel as the Banque du Liban’s dollar reserves are depleted, although it has lifted subsidies on dozens of items. The bank also delayed the opening of import credits.

For nearly a year, political parties have not been able to agree on the formation of a government that can save the country through reforms required by the international community to help the country.

The Directorate General of Oil affiliated to the Ministry of Energy urged fuel companies on Friday to “allocate quantities of their diesel stocks to meet the needs of hospitals to prevent any humanitarian disaster.”

The directorate called on the central bank to have mercy on the country and citizens and speed up the opening of diesel oil credits with gasoline and diesel levels reaching red zones.

The Lebanese Army gave hospitals some of their diesel stockpiles last week.

“The diesel crisis is very big and opening credits is no longer enough to cater for the market’s needs,” said George Brax, a member of Gas Station Owners’ Syndicate.

He stressed that the solution would be to remove subsidies once and for all, as has happened for some medicines and industrial goods.

Brax feared reaching a stage when “we will not be able to import fuel anymore.”

Residents of buildings in upscale neighborhoods in Beirut told Arab News that they had resorted to buying diesel on the black market so that they could light their homes and refrigerators even if this was at great cost.

However, some decided to reduce energy consumption so that diesel stocks could last longer.

The Supermarket Owners’ Syndicate warned against “diesel outages because many food items need refrigerators and relatively low temperatures. Power outages will inevitably harm food safety.”

Hani Bohsali, head of Syndicate of Food Importers in Lebanon, feared that “people will resort to eating cereals and canned food only because we have already reached rock bottom.”

The Syndicate of Bakery Owners warned that resorting to the black market for diesel supplies would raise the price of the bread.

It called on the General Directorate of Oil to avoid the crisis and secure diesel for bakeries before Monday. Otherwise, the bakeries would be forced to close their doors, the syndicate said.

The growing black market, without any effective official sanction, has spread to medicine as well, as pharmacies intermittently strike to protest against the failure to import medicines.

The importers in turn are waiting for the central bank to settle the previous bills with pharmaceutical companies abroad.