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Palestinian Myths: Building a National History (A)

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The Palestinians demand the entire territory of Palestine, “from the Sea to the River.” They have never abandoned their claim, and they are not ready to get any compromise and to reach to any agreement that gives them less than the entire territory.

One of the important strategies is their claim that they are an ancient and indigenous people in the territory of the Land or the Land of Israel. However, the claim is a total fabrication, and fails to stand up with any historic scientific scrutiny. Before the British Mandate, during the 400 years of the Ottoman Empire rule, this territory was an administrative one, divided into several Sanjaks (sub-provinces) under the Vilayet (province) of al-Sham (Damascus) that has neither a political unit nor a national entity.

All scientific and governmental German and British data and surveys clearly show an underdeveloped deserted land composed mainly of primitive hamlets. These including French historian Constantine Volney (Travels through Syria and Egypt, 1798); the mid-19th-century writings of Alphonse de Lamartine (Recollections of the East, 1835); Mark Twain (Innocents Abroad, 1867); reports from the British Consul in Jerusalem (1857), and many others.

The Ottoman’s census of 1882 recorded only 141,000 Muslims in all the historic Land of Israel, although the real number is probably double, since many hid to avoid taxes. The British census in 1922 reported 650,000 Muslims. Family names of many inhabitants attest to their origins: Elmisri, Misr, Masarweh (Egyptian), Chalabi, Horani (Syrian), Mughrabi (North Africa), Ajami (Persian), Halabi (Aleppan), Kurdi (Kurdish), and many more. Yet, the most comprised of Bedouin tribes from Jordan and Sinai.

The multifarious origins of these “Palestinians” involve family, tribal, and sectarian rivalries. They were attracted to the relative economic prosperity brought about by the Zionist Movement and the British. In 1934 alone, 30,000 Syrian Arabs from the Hauran region moved across the northern frontier into Mandatory Palestine. They even dubbed Haifa Um el-Amal (‘the city of work’). As for Nablus, based on the number of buildings in photos taken from Mount Gerizim, the population in 1909 could not have been greater than 2,000 residents.

‘Palestine’ has never been a territorial-cultural and political unit. The same refers for “Palestinians”. There were no people or a nation in history called by that name. The word “Palestine” was born only in the 20th century by the British. The land was officially named “Palestine” in English, “Filastin” in Arabic, and “Palestina (E.I.: the Land of Israel)” in Hebrew. The British could have chosen the name “The Holy Land” or other name, or even the Land of Israel, or other name with no historic relevance. In that case, there could have been no “Palestine” and no “Palestinian People.”

Consider the possibility the British have chosen the name “Jupiter.” In that case one would have hearing of a Jupiterian people fighting to liberate its Jupiterian land from the Jews, which have a four thousand documented written and proven history.

The fact is that all over the Mandatory period, Arab inhabitants avoided using the Arabic name Filastin, but the name “Arabs.” They considered themselves as Syrians, and the land was for them Southern Syria, part of the Syrian country. Only the Christian elite did make formal use of the name “Palestine.” This was the case almost till the middle of the 40ies of the 20th Century.  

Even the Palestinians themselves, leaders and the common people, had not considered themselves “Palestinians,” and had not referred to the territory as “Palestine,” and did not dream to establish a Palestinian State. The fictitious Palestinian people consists of an aggregation of clans and tribes drawn from the far-flung areas of the Middle East and North Africa.

An important episode is understanding the origin of the Arabic word “Nakbah,” disaster. The Palestinians refer to the name, after the book written by Constantine Zureiq, Ma’na al-Nakbah, as related to their disaster in the 1948 war. However, the original use of “Nakbah” was in 1920, the San-Remo Conference that confirmed the Mandatory system and the division of “Palestine” from “Greater Syria” (Antonius, the Emergence of Arab Nationalism). That is the Nakbah, disaster, of what was later on recognized as Palestinians was not the establishment of the State of Israel, but the partition of the territory known as Southern Syria (Suriya al-Janubiyah) taken out from its country origin, Syria, to become a separate territory by the British and French (Meinerzhagen, Middle East Diary).    

In 1945, the renowned Arab historian Philip Hitti vehemently claimed before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry that no Palestine had ever existed in history and there were no such Palestinian people. This was also the official position of the Palestinian and Arab representatives themselves to all international committees in the 1940’s. During the 1950’s, in all international conventions and the Arab leaders’ declarations, there was no “Palestinian people” nor “Palestinian refugees” problem but “Arab refugees.” Even as late as the UN Resolution 242 of November 1967, it mentions only “Arab refugees,” not “Palestinian refugees,” or a “Palestinian people.” One has also to recall that the Partition Plan of November 1947, mentions on an Arab state.

Indeed, contrary to the Palestinian’s propaganda and the “peace activists” lies in Europe, the small amount of people gathered from many places of the area around and consisted mainly by Bedouins never had a state and have never comprised a nation. Therefore, the later-on called Palestinians never “gave up in 1948 of 78% of Western Palestine, and they are ready to accept only 22% of the land,” as they claim in their fraud propaganda. This is sheer fabrication.

The later-on called Palestinians were not a political player in 1948; they were in a status of refugees under the control of Jordan and Egypt, until 1967, and they continued demanding the entire territory, and they have never given up the demand on every inch of it. They have never recognized the Jewish rights and they continue to demand Israel’s annihilation. It is only on them to prove, whether they are willing to reach a compromise. Since they discovered that they cannot achieve this by war, they work to implement the political course and are assisted by Europe to obliterate Israel from within (the “right of return” of the refugees) and by de-legitimization of Israel by the image and precedent of South-Africa (“Israel is an apartheid state”; “Israel is a racist state”).    

The Palestinian Authority propagation provides fabricated answers to the questions of national identity; historical roots of the Palestinians; and the nationality of the country called Palestine. If there is no Palestinian historical record to satisfy that need, myths and lies are concocted, and the education system is to serve as the most effective tool to mold and to shape the new generations and to create out of nothing a Palestinian history over the territory called Palestine.

This is the information the Palestinians get by propagation by all the social media:

a) To the question, who the Palestinians are? The answer is: the Palestinians are descended of the seven peoples of Cana’an. The educational and the communication media praise the Cana’anite origins. Palestinian academics explain in total fraud and twisted historical facts that even Israeli archaeological finds bolster the claim of the Palestinian-Cana’anites origin in the land, without any reliable sources.

Contrary to the numerous references in the Qur’an of the history of Banu Isra’il, the Children of Israel, the righteous side, and their victories over their Cana’anite enemies, the evil side. It also contradicts Allah’s Covenant with Jews, being the chosen people, the only people who deserve to inherit the land (5:21; 7:137; 17:104), to be known al-Ard al-Mubarakah (the blessed land); al-Ard al-Muqaddasah (the Holy Land); Ard Bani Isra’il (the Land of Israel).

b) To the question concerning the historical rights of the Arabs over Palestine, the answer is that they are ever since the dawn of history, and it is totally only theirs. They reiterate the following, in the educational system and the media: “Palestine is our country… through Jihad our country shall be liberated… Jihad and sacrifice become a personal duty on all the Palestinians… Draw your sword and let us gather for war with blazing fire for slaughter. go forward crying: Allahu Akbar.”

c) To the question concerning Jerusalem, the answer is that it is an ancient Arab city, built by the Jebusite Arabs before Islam. It is thousands of years old, its most ancient name, Jebus, is derived from the ancient Arabs, the Jebusites. Muslims must wage a Jihad war to liberate al-Aqsa Mosque from the Zionist conquest.

This ideological propaganda is accompanied by a sophisticated strategy in Western public opinion. The Palestinians initiated a highly successful campaign to assimilate into the European consciousness that Israel is the last remnant of colonialism implanted in the Middle East by European imperialism, so as to intensify the European guilt remorse: a) Israel occupies the land belonging solely to the Palestinians; b) Israel has uprooted the Palestinians as a nation, and scattered them out of their land; c) Israel continues to liquidating the Palestinians’ national and social heritage, by implanting a phony foreign culture.

The repeated stress of the Palestinian educational system on the ancient Arab identity of the land is obviously geared to posit Palestinian antiquity, absolutely imagined and fabricated without any need to produce scientific historical evidence to sustain the claim, is the main of Arab cultures. They need no proofs. However, these lies succeed internationally out of ignorance and lack of scientific historical knowledge.

All the educational system and the PA media, mainly TV, use these daily repeated variety of claims by showing a map of the Middle East in which Israel does not exist and is replaced in its entirety by a country called Palestine. Under the words “our country Palestine”, the map replaces all Israel, which does not exist at all. The entire territory is Palestine. A map entitled “Map of Palestine before and after the war of 1967” defines the area of the State of Israel as the Arab lands conquered before 1967, while the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are defined as the Arab lands conquered in 1967. Maps of the Middle East in which Israel does not exist and its area is marked as “Palestine”, appear in all textbooks.

A map which accompanies the lesson which is compulsory to all pupils: “Palestine is our Homeland”, encompasses the entire State of Israel and specifies Israeli cities and villages as Arab even though most of them date from biblical times: Safed, Acre, Haifa, Tiberias, Nazareth, Beit She’an, Jaffa, Jerusalem and Beersheba, and other Israeli cities. A drawing shows a woman waving the Palestinian flag while in the background is the map of Palestine in the place of all Israel. All the geography books mark the entire territory of Israel as Palestine.

The Palestinian Television shows the same map, many times on a daily basis, at the beginning and the end of every news report. This substitution of Palestine for anything Israeli, and official Palestinian media even mark all Israeli technological scientific achievements as Palestinian origin.

These passages, and there is a huge amount of material, point to the tenacity in which the PA instill into the minds of its children, from the early ages of childhood the necessity and inevitability of a prolonged Jihad to liberate all Palestine. The insistent demand that the children should be prepared to fight and die in the service of this dream. Rejection of Israel, Zionists and Jews, which is based on moral, political, nationalistic as well as religious considerations, is absolute and total.

This whole historical structure that has been invented and fabricated by the Palestinians exposes the real traits of Arab-Islamic culture, and they instill it into the minds of children as an irrefutable truth, without any evidence or scientific sources. In so doing, they omit, refute and deny other’s heritage and existence. There is no mentioning of the Jews and acceptance of their historical claims. Unfortunately, because Western ignorance is so pervasive and there is also the human Western belief that in every issue there is truth, the Free World yields to these atrocious hideous blames of Israel.

The Zionist ideology which nurtures the Jewish State is the paradigm of racism, apartheid, imperialism and ethnic cleansing, and doomed to failure. Jewish qualitative characters are notorious, for they are treacherous, disloyal, and corrupt. They are plagued with racist beliefs and racial discrimination like Nazism, and the construct of Satan. Israel is brutal, fascist and genocidal. The best is Arieh Stav, Peace – Arab Cartoon, Shaarei-Tiqva, Ariel Center for policy research, 1999. From that time on, one can fill many huge volumes of this material.

The scientific and political truth is that there has never been a Palestinian history; never been a historical Palestinian country and sovereignty; never been a historical Palestinian nationalism, let alone an independent nation; never been a Palestinian ethnicity, a Palestinian language, and a Palestinian societal groupings and institutions. There was no Palestinian archaeology, no Palestinian population or settlements, and nobody knew historically and accepted politically a Palestinian state and a nation. What we see now is a new creation of a distinct Palestinian national identity only from the last seventy years. The Palestinian identity has been emerged and created because of the Israeli creation as a state in 1948, and the Israeli military victory in the 1967 war.

Palestinian nationalism is an entity negatively defined, by its opposition to Zionism, and not by its national aspirations due to historical and political facts. What unites Palestinians has been their opposition to the Jewish state and the desire to destroy it.

Along all the first half of the 20th century, the local inhabitants consisted of diverse individuals, several tribes and clans, some prominent families in cities, mainly a nomadic tribes, and new migrants from Syria, Egypt and Trans-Jordan and other places. The important issue is that they certainly did not consider themselves as a nation, and they were not considered by anyone as such, and their focus of identity was parochial – tribal and Hanulah, city dwellers, Ottoman subjects and later on Syrian residents.

They lived in the geographic area that historically belonged to Syria, and politically called under the British Mandate as “Palestine” in English. However, the concept of a ‘stateless Palestinian people’ is a fabrication, the big lie of the Middle East contemporary politics. The Palestinians have received billions of dollars from the international community tunneled directly to terrorism and corruption.

In fact, the so-called patriotism of indigenous Arabs has flourished only when non-Muslim entities (the Crusaders, the British, and the Jews) have taken control of the area called the Land of Israel. Not amazingly, when political control returns to the Arab-Muslim hands, this ardent patriotism magically wanes and the territory went into a political oblivion. This is the historical proven fact for 1400 years.

Arab representative government has never been established in Palestine, either in 1948 or during the next 19 years of Arab rule until 1967. Because other Arabs co-opted the Palestinian cause as a rallying point that would advance their political interests. The real change came only after 1967, with the inspiration of Arafat, the creator of the Palestinian people and identity and the establisher of its political center.

He who really wishes to get good reliable knowledge about the Palestinian situation, it is highly recommended to separate the sophisticated propaganda from the real issues and situations.

It is highly important to compare the Palestinians’ socio-economic and political situation and at least 80 countries from the third world, including some Arab states. At the same time one has to recall that this relatively high Palestinians standard of living is out of international money donation and not their work. They received money much higher than the monies given to recover Europe after WW2 with “Marshall Plan.”

It is no less important to have good knowledge how that is the Palestinians have received billions and billions of dollars, while taking perhaps the lion’s share of world humanitarian support, putting aside and neglecting at least one billion people around the world who get nothing and are literally dying.

It is easy to have pictures of the Palestinians cities and villages to really understand the relatively high standard of living as compare to the Third World countries, including Arabs, and again to recall they were all out of the international generosity that stops there and very scant poor donation given to other peoples.

When one gets the reliable information and discard the propaganda, he understands that the continuation of the conflict with Israel is a must for the Palestinians. This is a highly profitable industry they don’t want to stop. Without it they will have to get up tomorrow and start working for their living.    

Professor Fuad Ajami, of John’s Hopkins University (NYT, June 19, 2007) sees this as sheer fantasy. An accommodation with Israel is imperative, but the Palestinian leaders still demanding to have it all “from the River to the Sea.” The Arab states have compounded the Palestinian radicalism, granted them everything and nothing at the same time, and there was thus no need for the Palestinians to moderation and realism. The Palestinians should know better, Ajami continues, no Arabs wait for Palestine anymore, and aside from a handful of the most romantic messianic Israelis, there is a recognition that the Palestinians must come to term with reason and live in peace with Israel, or to drop off the history.

Today, As Israel celebrates 68 years of independence, new publications appear by the Palestinian Authority that actively disseminates its ideology that denies Israel’s fundamental right to exist in any borders. The PA regularly proclaims and actively teaches Palestinian children that all of Israel is an illegitimate “occupation,” and that all Israeli territory is occupied. Palestinians are regularly and intensively taught to anticipate a future without Israel when all of its territory will be part of the “State of Palestine.” These are also Abu Mazen’s declarations, for example on October 28, 2015, and March 11, 2016, in the official PA TV.

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Paris Peace Forum: A missed opportunity for the Middle East

Samantha Maloof

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Timed to coincide with the centennial of the World War I armistice, the Paris Peace Forum (PPF) launched by French president Emmanuel Macron adopted a welcome approach to the root causes of contemporary conflict, including climate change and the double-edged sword represented by new technologies.

The forum, which took place from November 11-13, showcased projects that spoke to the innovation and collaboration critical to improving lives and reducing tensions across the globe.

Conspicuous by their absence

Even though the summit saw 65 heads of state from all over the world come together to launch the event, precious few of those leaders came from the Middle East – even though the region could benefit as much as any other part of the world from this “Davos for democracy.” While this first peace summit represented a promising start, any future editions need to find a way to make inroads with citizens in the countries where they are needed most. Of course, this is a two-way street, with leaders in those countries needing to participate in and draw lessons from such gatherings.

The Middle East’s most notable representatives at the event were Qatari emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri. Their presence was fitting: while so many of their neighbors jostle with each other to secure their own geopolitical ends, Qatar and Lebanon have faced down the instability surrounding them to protect themselves from dangerous regional currents. Unfortunately, the leaders who could have really used reminding of the importance of peace were absent from the stage.

An “island” of stability

Qatar, for its part, has been the subject of a regional blockade for the best part of 18 months. A coalition of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have all severed ties with the country since June 2017 for its alleged “support for terrorism” but more realistically for its willingness to deal with Iran against a backdrop of acrimony between the two sides of the Gulf. The Saudis, for their part, have gone so far as planning to cut Qatar off from the mainland with a new canal.

Far from buckling, however, Qatar has proven remarkably resilient and stuck firmly to a strategy of de-escalation with both sides of the Saudi-Iranian cold war. Events since have rewarded that cool-headedness. Global markets nervous about the turbulence in Riyadh are now looking to Qatar as a regional investment driver instead. Ironically enough, none other than Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman praised the performance of the Qatari economy last month.

Delicate peace in Beirut

Lebanon has had greater difficulty insulating itself from the instability across its border with Syria, but Saad Hariri has nonetheless maintained a fragile domestic peace even after an apparent kidnapping and forced resignation (later rescinded) orchestrated by bin Salman in November of last year. Hariri was detained for two weeks and only released on the back of intense international pressure, apparently out of Saudi anger with the Lebanese premier for cooperating with his Shi’a Hezbollah rivals in Lebanon.

In Lebanon’s torturous system of confessional politics, however, difficult compromises are the nature of the game. Hariri and his Sunni-led political movement have no choice but to negotiate with Hezbollah’s Shi’a faction over the balance of political power on an ongoing basis to keep the country stable. Hariri’s resistance to Saudi demands for aggression has helped keep the peace between Lebanese Sunnis and Shi’a, preventing the sectarian fires that have torn Syria apart from jumping across the border.

External actors have key roles to play

Of course, none of the crises in the Middle East can be viewed in a vacuum. One key part of the program at the Paris Peace Forum summit – entitled Global Powers and the Middle East – focused on the responsibility of outside powers like the United States, Russia, China, Europe and India to find common ground and address the causes of Middle Eastern instability. Left unsaid: these same countries are often deeply involved in perpetuating these crises.

If American, European, or Russian leaders truly want to prevent conflicts in the Middle East, their first step should probably be a sort of Hippocratic oath to “do no harm.” The arms trade is a notable case in point. The Middle East is responsible for 32% of global arms imports. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE are three of the five largest customers; their primary suppliers are the US, UK, France, Italy, and Russia.

Rather than encourage stability, this supply of weapons has fed a volatile arms race. Much of that equipment has been used by the Saudi coalition’s intervention in Yemen, which has left eight million Yemenis are the brink of starvation and the country confronting the fastest growing cholera epidemic the world has ever seen. Russia has openly used the civil war in Syria as a venue for showing off its military hardware to potential customers worldwide, even as Bashar al-Assad’s regime continues to massacre civilians.

Instead of helping their local allies arm themselves to the teeth, these outside powers should push Middle Eastern governments to change their damaging patterns of behavior and undertake the kinds of social reforms that are instrumental in easing tensions. Otherwise, systemic inequality and unaccountable leadership will continue to lay the groundwork for conflicts and crises. That might enrich weapons manufacturers, but it will do nothing to achieve the goals pursued in Paris this week.

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The sanctions of a split

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The tough economic sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran have aggravated conflict between Washington and its close allies. The European Union, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have expressed regret over measures taken by American President Donald Trump and signaled the need to protect their companies. Simultaneously, eight countries have received a six-month “sanctions delay” from the United States, which produced a further negative effect on the balance of strength and set the scene for a further escalation of tension.

The United States announced the resumption of anti-Iranian sanctions, which ban the purchase of Iranian oil and oil products, on November 5. The US Treasury Department pointed out that they were the “toughest” in history: “These are the toughest U.S. sanctions ever imposed on Iran, and will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy, such as the energy, shipping and shipbuilding, and financial sectors.  The United States is engaged in a campaign of maximum financial pressure on the Iranian regime and intends to enforce aggressively these sanctions that have come back into effect.”

“The unprecedented financial pressure exerted by the US Treasury Department on Iran should make it clear to the Iranian regime that it will face ever-increasing financial isolation and economic stagnation until it radically changes its destabilizing behavior. From now on, the maximum pressure exerted by the United States will only increase,” – emphasizes US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin. Washington makes it no secret that the ultimate goal of the sanctions is to reduce oil exports from Iran “to zero.”

Over 700 individuals and legal entities have been put on the sanctions list, including the Iranian national air company Iran Air, more than 65 aircraft it owns, and several dozen ships of the merchant fleet. The sanctions prohibit the purchase of Iranian oil and are directed against port operators, shipping and shipbuilding companies, the financial sector,  – primarily tanker insurance companies, – and also restrict operations with Iran’s banks and Central Bank.

Fines will be imposed on anyone who trades oil with Iran and works with its banking system. Secondary sanctions (fines and shutout from the dollar system) may be imposed on companies of third countries. The US also demanded that Iran should be cut off from the SWIFT international payment system. According to reports, on November 5 SWIFT suspended access of some Iranian banks to its system, but without reference to the US sanctions.

This step followed President Trump’s announcement in May this year about Washington’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action on the Iranian nuclear program. Adopted in 2015 with the participation of Iran, the USA, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, the document envisages easing sanctions against Tehran in exchange for its measures to wrap up its nuclear program under the control of the IAEA. The US president dubbed it “the worst deal ever,” saying that it does nothing to stop Iran from pursing its nuclear and missile programs. After Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, the other participants expressed their commitment to this document.

Two days before the sanctions package was put into effect, US President Donald Trump made it clear that the United States was ready to conclude a new agreement with Iran on more stringent conditions. “Our objective is to force the regime into a clear choice: either abandon its destructive behavior, or continue down the path toward economic disaster”, – the US president said on November 3: “The sanctions will target revenues the Iranian regime uses to fund its nuclear program,  development and proliferation of ballistic missiles, fuel regional conflict, support terrorism and enrich its leaders”. At the same time, according to Donald Trump, “the United States remains open to reaching a new, more comprehensive deal with Iran that forever blocks its path to a nuclear weapon, addresses the entire range of its malign actions, and is worthy of the Iranian people. Until then, our historic sanctions will remain in full force”.

Having introduced “unprecedentedly tough” sanctions against Tehran, Donald Trump, as part of his business approach to international affairs, left substantial “windows of opportunity” for the subsequent bargaining on a wider range of issues of the international agenda. The USA made an exception for eight states. China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and South Korea were allowed to buy Iranian oil temporarily. According to the London-based Financial Times, these countries will be able to import a limited amount of Iranian oil over the next six months.

Simultaneously, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that more than 20 countries have already cut down on oil exports from Iran, reducing purchases by more than 1 million barrels per day.  Independent sources indicate that average daily oil production in Iran fell from 3.8 million barrels in May to 3.3 million barrels in early October. This is quite a lot: because of the reduction, Iran loses about 1 billion dollars a month.

Given that the above exemptions from the sanctions list are temporary, the United States will likely resume political and economic bargaining with the eight countries in spring, with a view to preserve a favorable regime for these countries. In the first place, it concerns China. President Donald Trump will try to use the “Iranian factor” in order to achieve maximum concessions on trade and economic issues from Beijing. Among other things, he will probably make an attempt to force the Chinese side to reconsider joint energy projects with Russia. In the meantime, China’s response to the US decision to resume the anti-Iranian sanctions has been markedly restrained. A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry has called on Washington to respect China’s trade rights and expressed “regret” that the United States relaunched sanctions against Iran.

A much more resolute response came from the European Union – whose trade and economic interests are affected by anti-Iranian sanctions first. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, as well as the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement in which they promised to protect their companies from restrictive US measures. “Our goal is to protect the subjects of the European economy that have legal commercial ties with Iran,” the document states.

In the meantime, the European Union is confronted with the problem of creating a specific structure that would allow European companies to continue to trade with Iran without risking falling under Washington’s sanctions. Brussels reported in October that a new mechanism of payment for Iranian oil exports should be legally ready by November 4, and would go into operation in early 2019. However, according to The Financial Times, by the time the current sanctions were introduced, the Europeans did not have even a legal foundation for the defense mechanism and had not come to agreement on the location of the corresponding “special purpose structure” (SPV). “Now we are actively discussing where the SPV will be located, who will participate in it, and are launching the process of registering it. Time is short, and given the complexity and sensitivity of this issue in the light of its geopolitical consequences, we see very rapid and effective progress,” – said a representative of the French Finance Ministry.

For Europeans, sensitivity of this issue lies in their unwillingness to come under tough Washington’s sanctions themselves – especially in the context of deepening trade and economic differences between the US and the EU. “The US authorities are demonstrating that they will act aggressively towards violators of sanctions, which boosts the effect,” warns partner of law firm Morrison & Foerster and former director of the Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Treasury John Smith. “When the United States threatens to punish violators and does it in practice, examples of punished companies force others to think seriously,” he said in an interview published by the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal.

Without waiting for the sanctions regime to come into effect, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani stated that Tehran would be able to overcome it. “America wants to bring down Iran’s oil sales, but we will continue to sell oil to break through the sanctions,” he said.

Tehran could not but point out the fact that the resumption of the US sanctions package against Iran coincided with the anniversary of the capture of the US embassy during the Islamic revolution in Tehran in 1979. Addressing his compatriots, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “The goal of American sanctions is to cripple and restrain the Iranian economy, but the result we obtained in reality was the country’s striving for self-sufficiency.” “The main objective of the United States in all this is to regain the supremacy it had in the period of tyranny. But this will not happen,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.

Meanwhile, Tehran does not attach any fundamental significance to the exclusion of eight states from the sanctions regime. “The Islamic Republic could sell its oil even if these eight countries were not excluded, we would still sell our oil,” said Hassan Rouhani in this regard.

The anti-Iranian sanctions imposed by Washington have not yet had a direct impact on Russia. The sanctions list published by the US Treasury contains only the Russian “daughter” of the Iranian Bank Melli – the Mir Business Bank, registered in Moscow (MB Bank).  Its shareholder is Bank Melli Iran, which, according to the United States, provides multi-billion financial, material and technological support to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). “Bank Melli enabled the IRGC and its related parties to transfer funds both inside and outside Iran,” the statement of the US Treasury said. JSC Mir Business Bank was registered in Moscow in 2002. Bank Melli Iran is its sole shareholder.

According to reports, the Trump administration has decided not to pursue the Russian direction in its pressure on Iran ahead of a new meeting of the presidents of Russia and the United States due to take place at the end of this year. The meeting could be held on November 11 in Paris, at events dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, or — more likely — at the G-20 summit in Argentina in late November – early December this year. However, regardless of the outcome of this meeting, Russia should bear it in mind that its trade and economic ties with Iran, and in a broader context – relations with OPEC – will become the target of a new round of global games of the US administration.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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The Khashoggi crisis: Saudi Arabia braces for tougher post-election US attitude

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Saudi Arabia is bracing itself for a potentially more strained relationship with the United States in the wake of Democrats gaining control of the House of Representatives in this week’s mid-term elections and mounting Turkish efforts to corner the kingdom in the Khashoggi crisis.

To counter possible US pressure, the kingdom is exploring opportunities to diversify its arms suppliers and build a domestic defense industry. It is also rallying the wagons at home with financial handouts and new development projects in a bid to bolster domestic support for crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Democrats’ election victory has strengthened Saudi concerns that the Trump administration may pressure the kingdom to back down on key issues like the Yemen war that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two and the 17-month old Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar.

US officials have argued that Saudi policies complicate their efforts to isolate and economically cripple Iran.

The officials assert that the boycott of Qatar and the fallout of the October 2 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul constitute obstacles to the creation of a Sunni Muslim alliance against the Islamic republic, dubbed an Arab NATO, as well as the achievement of other US goals in the Middle East, including countering political violence and ensuring the free flow of oil.

Going a step further, senior Israelis say they have given up on the notion of a Sunni Muslim alliance whose interests would be aligned with those of the Jewish state and see their budding relations with Gulf states increasingly in transactional terms.

The Trump administration signalled its concerns even before the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.

“Our regional partners are increasingly competing and, in the case of the Qatar rift, entering into outright competition to the detriment of American interests and to the benefit of Iran, Russia and China,” National Security Adviser John Bolton wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in a letter late summer, according to Reuters.

With the House expected to be tougher on arms sales to the kingdom and possibly go as far as imposing an arms embargo because of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen caused by Saudi and UAE military operations, Saudi Arabia has wasted no time in casting around for alternative weapons suppliers.

In apparent recognition that the Saudi military, reliant on US and European arms acquisitions, would find it difficult to quickly shift to Russian or Chinese systems, Saudi Arabia appears for now to be focussing on alternative Western suppliers.

That could prove to be risky with anti-Saudi sentiment because of the Yemen war also running high in European parliaments and countries like Spain and Germany either teetering on the brink of sanctions or having toyed with restrictions on weapons sales to the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia, nonetheless, has in recent days contracted Spanish shipbuilder Navantia to jointly build five corvettes for the Saudi navy and offered South African state-owned defense group Denel $1 billion to help the kingdom build a domestic defense industry.

The partnership with Denel would involve Saudi Arabia taking a minority stake in German defense contractor Rheinmetall, which designs armoured fighting vehicles and howitzers.

With sale of the US-made precision-guided munitions bogged down in Congress, Spain has stepped in to address Saudi Arabia’s immediate need. The question is however whether Spain can fully meet Saudi demand.

A US refusal already before the Gulf crisis and the Khashoggi incident to share with Saudi Arabia its most advanced drone technology, paved the way for Chinese agreement to open its first overseas defense production facility in the kingdom.

State-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) will manufacture its CH-4 Caihong, or Rainbow drone, as well as associated equipment in Saudi Arabia. The CH-4 is comparable to the US armed MQ-9 Reaper drone.

Saudi Arabia also fears that Democratic control of the House could strengthen opposition to a nuclear energy agreement with the kingdom. Five Republican senators called on President Donald J. Trump days before the mid-term election to suspend talks with Saudi Arabia.

Development of a defense industry would over time serve Prince Mohammed’s efforts to diversify the Saudi economy and create jobs.

So would  King Salman’s inauguration this week of 259 development projects worth US$6.13 billion ranging from tourism, electricity, environment, water, agriculture, housing, and transport to energy.  King Salman launched the projects during a curtailed visit to Saudi provinces designed to bolster support for his regime as well as his son, Prince Mohammed

On the other hand, the government’s most recent decision to restore annual bonuses and allowances for civil servants and military personnel without linking them to performance constitutes an attempt to curry public favour that runs contrary to Prince Mohammed’s intention to streamline the bureaucracy and stimulate competition.

Bonuses were cut in 2016 as part of austerity measures. They were restored last year and linked in May to job performance.

In a further populist move, King Salman also pardoned prisoners serving time on financial charges and promised to pay the debts up to US$267,000 of each one of them.

King Salman’s moves appear designed to lessen Saudi dependence on US arms sales and project a united front against any attempt to implicate Prince Mohammed in the death of Mr. Khashoggi.

The moves come as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists that the order to kill the journalist came “from the highest levels of the Saudi government” and the Trump administration demands Saudi action against the perpetrators and those responsible for the murder.

Failure to be seen to be taking credible action may not undermine King Salman’s rallying of the wagons at home but will do little to weaken calls in Washington as well as European capitals for tougher action in a bid to force Saudi Arabia to come clean on the Khashoggi case and adopt a more conciliatory approach towards ending the Yemen war and resolving the Gulf crisis.

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