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How the E.U Can Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace

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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has almost but disappeared from headlines. Only a bloody war in Gaza or a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv grabs the world’s attention. Supporters of a peace-deal have grown frustrated at the lack of diplomatic progress, both on the ground and internationally.

Since the spectacularly failed effort of U.S. Secretary Kerry in 2013, a somber mood hangs over the conflict. In Israel a surreal status-quo has settled in: life goes on as normal, as if one of the most intractable conflicts was not happening right in their midst. Indeed, peace in the region has never seemed so out of reach.

But this week, Al-Monitor reported that unnamed European officials where busy with a policy review that planned for an eventual E.U. diplomatic push for peace. This would be a first for the Union, who until now has never dared to venture in the region’s politics. One explanation was its utter lack of leverage over Israel, creating an utterly irrelevant mediating position. In the coming weeks, the E.U. will vote on imposing an embargo on Israeli goods coming from settlements, showing a more assertive approach to the Palestinian conflict. But invariably, while creating some sort of leverage, it is a position that chooses sides as well. Meanwhile, expect some diplomatic initiatives coming from the External Action Service. Should and can the E.U. achieve peace? Is it a Mission Impossible doomed from the start? Let us investigate the obstacles to peace the E.U. will face, and how to overcome them.

Assessing Positions of Strength, the Kissinger Way

Henry Kissinger, writing in his seminal ‘Diplomacy’, offers a lucid insight into what makes negotiations fail or succeed: bringing North Vietnam to the negotiating table proved impossible for years as the North Vietnamese had the upper hand on the battlefield, creating a formidable position of strength, which in effect meant that a diplomatic deal for them was utterly meaningless. The ensuing strategy of president Nixon and secretary Nixon was to significantly weaken Hanoi, until the parties were somewhat more equal. Only then could a negotiation work. As Kissinger taught, positions of strength need to be assessed if one does not want a diplomatic effort spectacularly failed from the start.

That is something Mr. Kerry could have taken note of when he started his diplomatic Middle East shuttle in 2012. Israel’s militarily superiority is clear, which is one obvious position of strength: the Palestinians do not pose a credible conventional threat. However, a more important position of strength for Israel is its economic blockade it imposed on Gaza and the West Bank, creating a stranglehold on the Palestinian economy. The Palestinian economy stands or falls with Israel’s approval. There is nothing to balance this position of strength.

And while the state of Israel is a fully functioning one, Palestine is mired in severe underdevelopment, corruption, and nepotism, according to international reports. Israel’s superior infrastructure, its sound economy, its institutional strength, its military superiority and its veto over the Palestinian economy make for the most unequal of state relationships. Israel has strong positions of strength. Another core strength is its political leverage in the United States. No U.S. president has been capable of withstanding the pressures of a powerful pro-Israel lobby excelling in the art of influencing Congress. (As a result, the U.S. can and is not a neutral mediator, even if it is desperate to present itself as such.)

We can be very short on Palestine’s positions of strength. Apart from terrorist threats and rocket attacks, there is no single position of strength. The sole leverage that remains for Palestinians is the framing of the conflict in human rights: their right to self-determination, dignity, an end to occupation. Although largely a successful strategy in Europe, it has only created the occasional PR headache for Israel. Nothing more. It is a framing strategy that has no impact on the ground. As long as Israel feels strong, the argument that a situation is unjust will by itself change nothing.

What does this all mean to the E.U.’s External Action Service? If you want an genuine peace deal that holds, make sure the parties become more equal, or any talks will prove meaningless.

Search For Internal Incentives

However positive or negative the strength assessment, the critical driver for any negotiation is an incentive for both parties to reach a settlement. Let this be clear: we are talking about internal incentives, not a stick-and-carrot approach. Do the parties possess internal incentives that drive them towards finding a solution? Is a deal less costly than the current situation? If so, good news for the E.U.’s mediator: it will not be too difficult to get talks started.

When one visits Israel, one notices how ordinary, calm and efficient everything goes. It could be Switzerland, only hotter. Indeed, today’s status-quo is perfectly livable for Israelis. The Palestinian issue does not hamper its functions as a state; its citizens are able to build a decent life; the economy is doing pretty fine. Best of all for the right-wing government, the Palestinian issue does not figure prominently in the Israeli media. Housing shortages and internal government squabbles do. A recent Al-Monitor report cited a survey that showed Israelis had never been happier. Costs of maintaining the status-quo? Nil, apart from the occasional international condemnation. Political costs of a peace-deal for Israel? Considerable, given the concessions needed. Incentives to answer an invitation for a round of peace talks? None, except courtesy.

For Palestine, incentives are high: official recognition of a state; a stronger economy; a future for the young; an end to sometimes devastating hostilities. However, the political costs of a peace-deal are high for its leadership: the concessions reached at the table might be too much for a suffering, poor population to bear. What about the right of return for the refugees, a demand certainly to be watered down significantly in viable negotiations? The economy will not boom overnight. Only the next generation of leaders will bear the fruits peace, creating a paradox: while there is every incentive for the Palestinian people to reach a peace deal, there are high costs for its political leadership. Convincing Mr. Abbas that he will enter the history books might be difficult, even for a sympathetic E.U. mediator. Thus, rule number 2 explains Israel’s current inertia. For the E.U. it will be key to raise the cost of a status-quo. A limited economic embargo might create such an internal driver in Israel, although a creative approach will be needed in finding additional drivers.

The Core: At the table, finally

Expect some nice photo-op’s at this stage, with smiling delegates and a beaming E.U. mediator. The though work is finally there: delving into the core issues.

For a starter, negotiators and mediators will need to distinguish between symbolical issues such as the refugee question, and on-the-ground issues such as the territorial definition of a state and of Jerusalem. But a first pitfall presents itself in the guise of a time-table. Should the parties commit to a deadline? The recent Iran negotiations proved that a deadline is self-defeating: parties can use it to exert pressure on the opponent and on the mediator, who does not want to loose his or her face. With other words: drop the timetable.

If the negotiations get serious, expect a good dose of shouting matches, bruised ego’s, threats and manipulations. It will take a seasoned team to wade through one of the most difficult conflicts of modern history, fraught with historical and cultural sensibilities. To the External Action Service: assemble a team of diplomatic wolfs, genre Richard Holbrooke.

A two-layered approach will work best: first design a constitutional framework; secondly, build on that to resolve the real issues such as territory and population.

Easier said than done, of course. First up is the military aspect. Israel will insist, as it has done in the past, that any future state does not have a standing army that can threaten it. As one might imagine, not only a practical but also a symbolical issue for Palestine. A state with no military is in effect at the mercy of its neighbors, or with other words: a surrogate state. A compromise is possible here, one were Israel receives security guarantees, such as a buffer zone between the West Bank and Jordan, patrolled by an international force. There would be limits on what material Palestine can acquire. A most importantly, an explicit and detailed security guarantee from Jordan should be a cornerstone in this approach; Israel needs a defensible Western flank. It is crucial that Jordan participates rather than obstructs this demand. An insightful diplomatic approach will have a team shuttling back and forth between Amman.

The more difficult layer now needs to be applied: the territorial demarcation and application of this new constitutional entity. A phenomenal hurdle exists in the form of the settlements scattered around the West Bank. Currently, these zones are administered by the Israeli authorities, as are its main roads. Israeli law applies here, ordered in three zones (A,B,C). A look at the map makes it clear: if all settlements remain part of Israel, there would not be much left for a Palestinian state, less than 50 percent of the West Bank. That is unacceptable for Palestinians. Land swaps alone will not be sufficient, as the remaining patch-work would make any state unworkable.

A starting point should be roads an entry-points. Free movement should be crucial. While Israel could retain control over the highway bordering the Jordan Valley, it should cede control of all the other highways in the West Bank. It is highly improbable that Israel is willing to cede large settlements such as Ariel – which even has its own university – to the Palestinian Authority. Ehud Olmert’s land-swap proposal of 2011 will be the road to follow: the large settlements along the Green Line (sometimes, as Ariel, a little bit further away from it) would be absorbed by Israel; the smaller settlements in the heart of the West Bank evacuated. That would mean the evacuation of 56.000 settlers; 413.000 could stay in the larger settlements, in 2015 numbers. To make up for the lost territory, there are land swaps, mostly desert. Although politically painful for both leaders – Israeli media will be awash with images of settlers being forcefully evicted, something that almost toppled former PM Sharon when he did just that in Gaza, on a far smaller scale – it is the only way out. It is crucial that the E.U. possesses the same realism and does not press purely legalistic, historical or moral convictions. An absolute impartial mediation is certainly at this point crucial.

Expect endless nightly sessions to be the new norm by now. Next issue up: Jerusalem. No other issue mixes all controversial ingredients of the conflict as the old capital. Territory, religion, right to exist, statehood and history all come together. Enough to overwhelm any mediator. The essentials: have in mind how Israelis feel about Jerusalem. That is, apart from the Western Wall, not very special (‘To see the past, you go to Jerusalem; to see the future, you go to Tel Aviv’ as once an Israeli remarked to the author). Then, new Jerusalem, built by Israel, is not the same as the Old City, which since ancient times has always been shared, and is not East Jerusalem either, which is mainly Arab. Designating the latter as the capital of Palestine should not be too difficult, with compromise in the wording. The Old City will be neither from Israel or Palestine; it will have a special statute. Joint patrols, assisted by an international peacekeeping force, are the only way out here. The current situation in which Israeli soldiers rule the Old City is unworkable in any peace agreement. The mediator will have to take care of constructing a thorough statute for Jerusalem, with a good conflict-resolution mechanism. (Note that Israel will have to cede sovereignty here; diplomatic leverage will be essential).

Two thorny issues remain, each on its own formidable, but certainly not unexpected. Does a Palestinian state have to state explicitly Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state? Every right-wing government has insisted on it; only a left-wing government will be able to drop the ‘Jewish’ before ‘state’ thus avoiding an explicit betrayal by Palestine of its Arab co-citizens who possess Israeli nationality. Don’t expect Netanyahu to make a concession on this; and neither expect the Palestine leadership to be able to swallow such a bitter bill. A mediator who would insist on just that would be creating a catastrophic failure. Therefore, the mediator needs a very clear picture of Israeli politics: it is up to them to concede on this point, political timing (read: a left-wing government) will be the main guide in this effort.

Next concession up, this time for the Palestinian leadership: the right of refugees to return. There are according to UNWRA around 5 million Palestinian refugees, displaced in 1948 and 1967. The majority live in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Two million live in the West Bank and Gaza. Letting 3 million refugees return to homes that are now in Israel will be impossible. A compromise will need to be worked out: refugees can return back to the state of Palestine, but not to Israel. All of them would receive a financial compensation from Israel. Those who left behind property receive extra compensation. That is a deal that makes sense; but one that for the Palestinian leadership will be a though sell, as it goes to the heart of the Palestinian struggle. It will be essential that Palestinian refugees in third countries do not feel betrayed by this compromise; they should be encouraged to return, enjoy full citizenship, and be able to count on support. (note that the plight of these refugees has been a very sad one: for over 50 years they have been in essence stateless, as the host-countries do not award them any nationality, and as a result, often cannot find employment).

Yes, now is the time to finally uncork that bottle of Champagne, if it hasn’t yet been emptied in a previous, despairing moment. Celebrations ensue, with signing ceremonies in Brussels.

The last act: implementation

While the External Action Service heaves a sigh of relief and Europe has scored a diplomatic triumph, now the real work starts: implementation. The good news first: media attention will fade, bringing some much-needed respite. The bad news: left to each other, the parties are wholly incapable of implementing a deal; tension would immediately rise, as neither party would move first.

International oversight will be crucial, with a peacekeeping force. A large troop commitment by nations is not needed; rather, a small, capable, understanding force that can navigate subtle cultural sensibilities. They would jointly patrol buffer zones such as the security zone in the Jordan valley; they would assist in keeping the calm in the Old City of Jerusalem; in the first years the force would man the border crossings between Israel and Palestine; and provide for accessible roads throughout the West Bank and Gaza. The OESO could have a role in overseeing democratic elections in Palestine, while the World Bank and the U.N. would assist in strengthening principles of good governance in the new state. An international oversight committee would meet on a regular basis, with a special representative submitting yearly reports on progress. A note of caution though: it should not become a second Bosnia and Herzegovina: there should be a clear date when the international oversight would end. Political elites in Palestine would then need to take full ownership. That will be the primary task of the international community. Donor aid should be in proportion to GDP, so as not to inflate the Palestine economy and create an unsustainable dependency.

Europe’s Finest Hour

It is doubtful that the European Union has the capacity to lead one of the most complex diplomatic negotiations imaginable. The External Action Service has too often seemed to be the External Inaction Service. A united diplomatic front amongst all E.U. leaders will be difficult to maintain. And for the time being, it does not look as if the European Council is ready to give the High Representative a broad, authoritative mandate. Too many times, history has judged the E.U. harshly for inertia, and for a lack of vision and courage. The Balkan Wars are tragic examples; the current response to the refugee crisis does not give much hope. If the E.U. can achieve a Israeli-Palestinian deal, it will be truly Europe’s finest hour and worthy of a Noble Prize. Let’s hope Brussels knows what it is getting into. Peace is both urgent; arduous; and possible.

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The bitter truth for mullahs’ regime in Iran

Reza Shafiee

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Ali Khamenei, Iranian regime’s supreme leader finally broke his silence and spoke on August 13th on a number of hot political issues facing the nation. He was awfully quite these days. Yet the country is boiling in dissent. Listening to his speech leaves no doubt that he is desperate. He talked about problems his regime has no clue how to tackle. On the top of the list was the recent protests in cities like Tehran, Karaj, Shiraz, Esfahan, Mashhad, Ghahdarijan, and many other cities with such slogans as “Death to Khamenei” and “Death to Dictator.” He was off balance since people in the streets had him in their crosshair.

Khamenei wasted no time and took the bull by the horns. He called his cronies “cowards” and not trustworthy at hard times. Considering the recent unrests as the extension of January protests, Khamenei once again branded the protesters as agents of foreign powers such as the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia. He said that “they had planned for years to disrupt the country’s security in January this year, but the people came out with admirable awareness, and stopped the enemies’ years-long plans.”

He added: “The enemies then set their hearts on this (Persian) year, with some US officials saying that there’ll be some news from Iran in the next six months. They were clearly pointing to the events earlier this month which turned out to be so limited despite the enemies’ huge financial and political investments.”

Iranian citizens have pushed the regime to the edge before. The difference this time is that the regime has gone too far in putting pressure on all citizens. The gap between rich and poor is at its highest level in 40 years. It is a recipe for disaster and the top officials of the regime publicly confirmed it.

He used his admission of the guilt as a temporary band aid and admits that he made a “mistake” in the nuclear deal.  “With regard to the nuclear deal, what I did was wrong, allowing some officials’ insistence to give a shot at nuclear talks, in which our red lines were not respected,” said Khamenei, according to regime’s official news agency.

He made it clear to his power base: the Revolutionary Guards and Bassij Forces that he has no intentions of taking the risk of going to war with the US. The mullahs’ supreme leader said: “There’ll definitely be no war. In Short, I have to inform the Iranian people that there’ll be no war and we will not negotiate, either.”

The leader of theocratic regime in Iran admits the deadly state of the country’s economy. But he makes sure to leave out his own massive financial conglomerate feeding off Iran’s poor economy. There is a rough estimate that Khamenei is sitting on top of a 95 billion dollars trust found. He is not the only one; there are other sharks in the tank related to his powerhouse that are taking their lion’s share of dying Iranian market.

Khamenei in his speech pictured himself as the champion of fighting corruption. A claim hardly anyone in his right-mind would take it seriously. He said: “The main cause of such problems is not sanctions, but domestic policies. This is what many officials and experts alike have confirmed. That however doesn’t mean that the sanctions have nothing to do with this situation. Of course they do, but the main factor is rooted in our performance. Among the measures that must definitely be taken into account is fighting against corruption. This was also reflected in the letter that the reverend head of judiciary wrote to me two days ago, in response to which I underlined that the proposed measures are an important and positive step toward fighting against corruption and punishing those who are involved.”

Fighting crime has never been a priority for the regime because the top criminals are well connected individuals with strong ties to Khamenei. To make it somewhat believable the security forces targeted some small-time currency dealers in the midst of currency crisis driven by a sharp decline in the value of Rial (the official currency). Khamenei and top Revolutionary Guards know better that Iranian citizens will not easily fall for their theatrics anymore and some heads needed to roll. The first to be sacked was the head of Iran’s Central Bank, Valiollah Seif.

Alarmed by public frustration with the way economy is run in Iran, Khamenei tried in his address to pour some cold water on the matter. He promised swift actions against fat cats. But people know full well that he is not willing to clip former Revolutionary Guards turned businessmen. They are running the country in a mafia style gang.

The bitter truth for the theocratic regime in Iran is plain and simple; the people are fed up with the mullahs and the regime is no longer able to force itself on them. This is the story of all dictators toward the end and Iran is no exception.

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Trump to Netanyahu: Palestinians Must Be Completely Conquered

Eric Zuesse

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The Washington correspondent of Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, Amir Tibon, headlined on the night of Tuesday, August 14, “Trump Administration Wants to See a Gaza Cease-fire ‘With or Without the Palestinian Authority’,” and he reported that, “The Trump administration wants to see a long-term cease-fire in Gaza, with or without the support of the Palestinian Authority, a spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council told Haaretz on Monday.”

In other words: U.S. President Donald Trump is not angling for Palestinians to become ruled by the more moderate of the two political entities that are contesting for control over Palestine — he’s not favoring The Palestinain Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, over Hamas, Ismail Haniya. He is, instead, aiming for Jews inside Israel to conquer completely the non-Jews, not only inside Israel, but also in the adjoining areas, Palestine.

Trump has now officially placed the United States on the side of Israel’s Jews, for them to conquer and subdue Palestine, for Jews to rule over Palestinians, and for the residents in Palestine not to be allowed to participate in Israel’s elections.

This will be very good for American firms such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and General Dynamics, which depend wholly or primarily upon sales to the U.S. Government and to its allied governments, including Israel, for their profits and their net worths, their stock-market valuations. More war is essential for these firms, which sell only to these governments — governments which seek to control more land, regardless of what the residents there want, and which need to buy more weapons in order to do it.

Trump’s foreign policies have been very effective.

Trump’s biggest success, thus far into his Presidency, has been his sale of $400 billion (originally $350 billion) of U.S.-made weapons to the Saudi Arabian Government, which is owned by its royal family, after whom that nation is named. This sale alone is big enough to be called Trump’s “jobs plan” for Americans. It is also the biggest weapons-sale in all of history. It’s 400 billion dollars, not 400 million dollars; it is gigantic, and, by far, unprecedented in world-history. Consequently, anyone who would allege that he has been anything other than an extraordinary success for his constituency, the people who will be funding his 2020 re-election campaign, would be wrong. America is controlled by dollars, not by people; everything is geared to maximizing the return on investment, for the people who have invested in Trump. Increasing their net worths is his goal, and he has been stunningly successful at achieving it.

The individuals who control those corporations are also in control of those governments, via political corruption, such as the “revolving doors” between ‘government service’ and the private sector. If they can’t control those governments, then they can’t control their own finances. But if they do control those governments — and especially their own Government, the U.S. Government — then they control the very source of their own wealth. They are totally dependent upon the U.S. Government. Trump has, regarding U.S. military and diplomatic policies — the Pentagon and the State Department, and the intelligence agencies — been just as effective as the neoconservatives, the people who actually run both Parties on behalf of those firms, for those firms’ owners, could have hoped. This does not mean that they won’t in 2020 back an opponent of Trump, but only that Trump is issuing as many IOUs to these people as he can, and as fast as he can, and that he has been remarkably successful (unprecedented, actually) at doing that. Whereas Democrats such as Joe Biden and Eric Swalwell might contest against him for their support, no one can reasonably say that Trump has been a disappointment to the proponents of American conquest and control over the entire world — the people commonly called “neoconservatives,” and all other agents of what Dwight Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex.” While those people might criticize him in order to push him even farther to the right on foreign affairs than he has been, he has been very effective for them, and he clearly is hoping that, at least regarding military policies, in America’s militarized economy, those people will be satisfied for him to remain in power. That’s his hope. That’s his goal. It’s shown by his actions, not by his mere words.

America’s alliance with Israel is almost as important as America’s alliance with the owners of Saudi Arabia, the Saud family. Both of those allies want the Palestinians to be conquered. And so does Trump. And, of course, so too do the people who are rotating constantly through those revolving doors, the other agents for America’s rulers.

On August 9th, as reported by Amjad Jaghi of 972 Magazine, “the Israeli Air Force bombed Al-Meshal, one of the Gaza Strip’s most important cultural facilities. They claim that the building — which comprises two theaters, three large halls, and a department serving the Egyptian community living in the Strip — was being used by Hamas.”

On August 14th, Reuters headlined “Israeli minister confirms Netanyahu met Sisi over Gaza” and reported that “The two leaders discussed the easing of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, rehabilitation of its infrastructure and terms for a ceasefire.” Israel said that “everything that will happen in Gaza will be done with Egyptian mediation and involvement.” This means that the setting-up of Israel’s control over Gaza will “be done with Egyptian mediation and involvement,” but the operation of Israel’s control over Gaza won’t be — it’ll be 100% Israeli.

For example, Sisi might be able to get Netanyahu to agree to increase the current, 85 truckloads of food daily into Gaza so as to raise Gazans’ food-intake above its current “subsistence” level. Although he might try, Israel’s record of violating its international agreements is even stronger than America’s record for that is. But to serve PR purposes, Sisi might try. Ever since 2007, when Israel was allowing into Gaza 106 truckloads daily, that number was reduced down to this “subsistence” level.

On 1 January 2008, was secretly issued from Israel’s Ministry of Defense, a document “Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip – Red Lines”, in which the Ministry of Health informed them that the then-current 106 trucks daily was too much for “subsistence”:

“The Ministry of Health is conducting work for calculating the minimal subsistence basket based on the Arab sector in Israel. The ‘minimum basket’ allows nutrition that is sufficient for subsistence without the development of malnutrition.”

“The Ministry of Health estimates that the new basket will be 20% lower than the current basket [85 trucks instead of 106].”

And so it was, until 2010, when “Israel has not imposed any restrictions on the entrance of food to the Gaza Strip.” And, after that, as of at least 2012, “the current policy remains shrouded in secrecy.” However, (as shown at that link, where is printed a “Table 1. Entrance of trucks into Gaza”), the actual count of trucks, during the second half of 2010, was around 150 per day.

A U.N. publication “Gaza Ten Years Later”, issued in July 2017, reported that: Import of goods to Gaza also dropped significantly with the imposition of the blockade in mid-2007. By 2008, the monthly average of truckloads entering Gaza had decreased by 75%17. The amount of imports slowly increased as import restrictions were gradually relaxed, with the number of trucks entering in 2015 and 2016 reaching levels similar to those prior to 2007. It is difficult to draw a parallel between 2015/2016 and 2007 however, given that due to the vast needs for post-hostilities reconstruction as well as recovery of Gaza’s deteriorating infrastructure, coupled with rapid population growth, demand for import into Gaza was much higher in 2015/16 than it was prior to 2007.

The needs today are even higher than that.

Sisi might be able to win some voters if he can brag to them that he has gotten Israel to increase that number above whatever it currently has been, but it will be only for show, anyway.

Egypt is heavily committed both to the Saudi regime and to the American regime. To say that the fate of the Gazans is in the hands of Israel and of Egypt, would be to say that it’s in the hands of the rulers of America and of the rulers of Saudi Arabia (the Saud family, who own that country). The rulers of Israel won’t have any international backing, at all, if they don’t have America’s rulers supporting them. For Donald Trump to tell Benjamin Netanyahu that not only will Israel be allowed to ignore Hamas but it will even be allowed to ignore the Palestinian Authority, means that Netanyahu now has America’s support no matter what Israel might do to the Gazans — and to the non-Jewish inhabitants of the West Bank.

This is excellent news for the holders of U.S. ‘Defense’ stocks. The more that America’s ‘enemies’ suffer, the better it is for America’s owners. This is how capitalism actually functions. Inequality is natural. That’s true not only between nations, but within nations. In the natural world, losers get eaten. Justice doesn’t naturally occur anywhere. To the extent that it exists anywhere, it is imposed, by the public, against the aristocracy. Within nations, justice is almost non-existent. Between nations, it is entirely non-existent. For examples: were George W. Bush and Tony Blair executed for invading and destroying Iraq in 2003? Of course not. Neither of them was even imprisoned. Nor were Obama and Sarkozy and Cameron executed for invading and destroying Libya in 2011. Those are only examples, of the basic reality.

This news-report is written so as to place a news-event into its actual context, not divorced from that, as is normal. In other words: it’s news instead of propaganda (the latter of which, avoids the relevant context behind the reported event).

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Amid ethnic protests, Iran warns of foreign meddling

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Iran has raised the spectre of a US-Saudi effort to destabilize the country by exploiting economic grievances against the backdrop of circumstantial evidence that Washington and Riyadh are playing with scenarios for stirring unrest among the Islamic republic’s ethnic minorities.

Iran witnessed this weekend minority Azeri and Iranian Arab protests in soccer stadiums while the country’s Revolutionary Guards Corps reported clashes with Iraq-based Iranian Kurdish insurgents.

State-run television warned in a primetime broadcast that foreign agents could turn legitimate protests stemming from domestic anger at the government’s mismanagement of the economy and corruption into “incendiary calls for regime change” by inciting violence that would provoke a crackdown by security forces and give the United States fodder to tackle Iran.

“The ordinary protesting worker would be hapless in the face of such schemes, uncertain how to stop his protest from spiralling into something bigger, more radical, that he wasn’t calling for,” journalist Azadeh Moaveni quoted in a series of tweets the broadcast as saying.

The warning stroked with the Trump administration’s strategy to escalate the protests that have been continuing for months and generate the kind of domestic pressure that would force Iran to concede by squeezing it economically with the imposition of harsh sanctions.

US officials, including President Donald J. Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton, a long-time proponent of Iranian regime change, have shied away from declaring that they were seeking a change of government, but have indicated that they hoped sanctions would fuel economic discontent.

The Trump administration, after withdrawing in May from the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program, this month targeted Iranian access to US dollars, trade in gold and other precious metals, and the sale to Iran of auto parts, commercial passenger aircraft, and related parts and services. A second round of sanctions in November is scheduled to restrict oil and petrochemical products.

“The pressure on the Iranian economy is significant… We continue to see demonstrations and riots in cities and towns all around Iran showing the dissatisfaction the people feel because of the strained economy.” Mr. Bolton said as the first round of sanctions took effect.

Mr. Bolton insisted that US policy was to put “unprecedented pressure” on Iran to change its behaviour”, not change the regime.

The implication of his remarks resembled Israeli attitudes three decades ago when officials argued that if the Palestine Liberation Organization were to recognize Israel it would no longer be the PLO but the PPLO, Part of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

In other words, the kind of policy changes the Trump administration is demanding, including an end to its ballistic program and support for regional proxies, by implication would have to involve regime change.

A string of recent, possibly unrelated incidents involving Iran’s ethnic minorities coupled with various other events could suggest that the United States and Saudi Arabia covertly are also playing with separate plans developed in Washington and Riyadh to destabilize Iran by stirring unrest among non-Persian segments of the Islamic republic’s population.

Mr. Bolton last year before assuming office drafted at the request of Mr. Trump’s then strategic advisor, Steve Bannon, a plan that envisioned US support “for the democratic Iranian opposition,” “Kurdish national aspirations in Iran, Iraq and Syria,” and assistance for Baloch in the Pakistani province of Balochistan and Iran’s neighbouring Sistan and Balochistan province as well as Iranian Arabs in the oil-rich Iranian province of Khuzestan.

A Saudi think tank, believed to be backed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, called in 2017 in a study for Saudi support for a low-level Baloch insurgency in Iran. Prince Mohammed vowed around the same time that “we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran, not in Saudi Arabia.”

Pakistani militants have claimed that Saudi Arabia has stepped up funding of militant madrassas or religious seminaries in Balochistan that allegedly serve as havens for anti-Iranian fighters.

The head of the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs met in Washington in June with Mustafa Hijri, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), before assuming his new post as counsel general in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said last weekend that they had killed ten militants near the Iranian border with Iraq. “A well-equipped terrorist group … intending to infiltrate the country from the border area of Oshnavieh to foment insecurity and carry out acts of sabotage was ambushed and at least 10 terrorists were killed in a heavy clash,” the Guards said.

The KDPI has recently stepped up its attacks in Iranian Kurdistan, killing nine people weeks before Mr. Hijri’s meeting with Mr. Fagin. Other Kurdish groups have reported similar attacks. Several Iranian Kurdish groups are discussing ways to coordinate efforts to confront the Iranian regime.

Similarly, this weekend’s ethnic soccer protests are rooted in a history of football unrest in the Iranian provinces of East Azerbaijan and Khuzestan that reflect long-standing economic and environmental grievances but also at times at least in oil-rich Khuzestan potentially had Saudi fingerprints on them.

Video clips of Azeri supporters of Tabriz-based Traktor Sazi FC chanting ‘Death to the Dictator” in Tehran’s Azadi stadium during a match against Esteghlal FC went viral on social media after a live broadcast on state television was muted to drown the protest out. A sports commentator blamed the loss of sound on a network disruption.

A day earlier, Iranian Arab fans clashed with security forces in a stadium in the Khuzestan capital of Ahwaz during a match between local team Foolad Khuzestan FC and Tehran’s Persepolis FC. The fans reportedly shouted slogans reaffirming their Arab identity.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arabs have a long history of encouraging Iranian Arab opposition and troubling the minority’s relations with the government.

Iranian distrust of the country’s Arab minority has been further fuelled by the fact that the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran or Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK), a controversial exiled opposition group that enjoys the support of prominent serving and former Western officials, including some in the Trump administration, has taken credit for a number of the protests in Khuzestan. The group advocates the violent overthrow of the regime in Tehran.

Two of Mr. Trump’s closest associates, Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, and former House speaker New Gingrich, attended in June a gathering in Paris of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq.

In past years, US participants, including Mr. Bolton, were joined by Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of the kingdom’s intelligence service and past ambassador to Britain and the United States, who is believed to often echo views that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman prefers not to voice himself.

“The mullahs must go, the ayatollah must go, and they must be replaced by a democratic government which Madam Rajavi represents. Freedom is right around the corner … Next year I want to have this convention in Tehran,” Mr. Giuliani told this year’s rally, referring to Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the Mujahedeen who is a cult figure to the group.

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