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

  • 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.”

Court orders authorities to reveal Israeli citizenship criteria to Palestinian Jerusalemites

Updated 26 November 2020

Court orders authorities to reveal Israeli citizenship criteria to Palestinian Jerusalemites

  • Without Israeli citizenship, residents of East Jerusalem could not obtain an Israeli passport, vote in national elections, or work in state government jobs
  • Vast majority of Jerusalem’s 330,000 stateless Palestinians have not applied

AMMAN: An Israeli court has forced state authorities to reveal the criteria that need to be met for Palestinian Jerusalem youth to become citizens of Israel.

The judicial order will mean that approximately 20,000 Palestinians aged between 18 and 21 living in East Jerusalem will now know the requirements when petitioning for Israeli citizenship, which is not automatically granted to them as residents of the city.

The vast majority of Jerusalem’s 330,000 stateless Palestinians have not applied, nor have the desire, to become Israelis. But the court decision should in future make the application process easier for those interested in carrying an Israeli passport and having the protection of the Israeli government regarding their legal status.

Jerusalem attorney, Mohammed Dahdal, who has practiced civil and human rights law for more than 30 years, noted that without Israeli citizenship, residents of East Jerusalem could not obtain an Israeli passport, vote in national elections, or work in state government jobs, among other things.

However, they did pay taxes to Israel and received social benefits such as national insurance, unemployment payments, and healthcare coverage.

Dahdal told Arab News that after 1988, when Jordan disengaged from the West Bank, which included East Jerusalem, Jerusalemites became stateless citizens. He said the ruling had come about after a Palestinian from Jerusalem had appealed to the court after revealing a loophole in the law.

He noted that the court decision, published by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, made four conditions to ensure receipt of an Israeli passport. “That the applicant has no other citizenship, that they were born in Israel (for Israel, East and West Jerusalem are both parts of Israel), that the applicant is between 18 and 21 years old, and has lived continuously in Israel during the five years preceding applying for citizenship.”

The lawyer added that the Israeli government had fought in court to have the criteria for citizenship kept under wraps.

Former Jordanian member of parliament, Audeh Kawwas, who was on Wednesday appointed as a member of the Jordanian Senate, told Arab News: “If the aim is to solve the statelessness issue of Jerusalemites, I am for it and I have spoken about it (as a committee member) in the World Council of Churches.

“However, if this is an attempt to disenfranchise Palestinians and to make the city more Israeli, then I am totally opposed.”

Hazem Kawasmi, a community activist in Jerusalem, told Arab News that many young Palestinian Jerusalemites were in a desperate situation, as no government or institution was taking care of them and their needs.

He said: “They are living under occupation with daily harassment from the police and Israeli intelligence and face all kinds of racism and enmity.

“Israeli citizenship helps them get high-skilled jobs and it is a prerequisite for many jobs. It helps them travel for tourism or work to Europe and the US without the cumbersome, complicated procedures of getting visas, that is if they get it at all.

“Finally, Israeli citizenship makes the youth feel safe not to lose their residency in Jerusalem and movement and work in Israel,” he added.

Khalil Assali, a member of the Jerusalem Waqf and an observer of Jerusalem affairs, told Arab News that he was doubtful that Israel would speed up the process for granting Israeli citizenship. “They have made this move to show their newly established Arab friends that they are acting democratically.”

Hijazi Risheq, head of the Jerusalem Merchants’ committee, told Arab News that the Israelis were looking for ways to turn the city into a Jewish one. By giving citizenship to youth between the ages of 18 and 21, Israel was aiming to deter them from carrying out hostile acts against Israel and keep them away from the Palestinian National Authority and its security forces, he said.

Jerusalem-based human rights activist, Rifaat Kassis, said: “The idea that Jerusalem is Arab has become an empty slogan. Meanwhile, Israeli racism has become the overriding power that forces Jerusalemites trying to have a dignified life with their families to live under difficult conditions.”