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US anti-Iran sanctions: Null effect in political-economic terms, but revealing hidden messages

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The US anti-Iran sanctions strike again. Not counting the renewed sanctions that came back in force following the US withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), US officials have also imposed a number of new ones in recent weeks. In late 2018, the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered the United States to stop the sanctions, as judges in The Hague unanimously ruled that the sanctions on some goods breached a 1955 friendship treaty between Iran and the US. Trump’s administration yet cares very little about international law and agreements. In response to the ICJ decision, United States withdrew from the mentioned bilateral agreement, as well as from the optional protocol under the 1961 Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations. Shortly afterwards, new wave of anti-Iran sanctions followed.

First, at the end of March, the US Treasury imposed new sanctions on a network of banks, companies and individuals spanning across Iran, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, claiming they all belong to the IRGC’s support network. Two weeks later, Tehran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the US Department of State. The move is understandable given the IRGC’s counter-terrorism role in the region and the US pervasive frustration with the defeat of their mercenaries, the true terrorist butchers. The anti-IRGC sanctions themselves are quite ridiculous considering that it is a respectable self-sufficient organization with indigenous weapons, independent of foreign imports or cooperation, as is the case with Saudi Arabia and similar US puppets. Less than ten days after the official designation, the US administration granted important exemptions to new sanctions on IRGC, watering down the effects of the measures.

At the end of June, only four days after IRGC shot down a US RQ-4A Global Hawk surveillance drone in Iran’s airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, Trump targeted Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top Iranian officials with sanctions. This sanctions are aimed at denying Iran’s leadership access to financial resources, blocking them from using the United States financial system or having access to any assets in the United States. Taking into account that none of targeted individuals has financial resources or assets there, sanctions are merely symbolic, a pathetic act of revenge for shoot-down of a spy drone. In American propaganda fairy-tales, the Iranian leader may own billions, but in reality he is widely known for a modest life and there’s no trace of anything which could prove otherwise.

Finally, in early August Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran, also found himself under the attack of sanctions. “It has no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran, thank you for considering me such a huge threat to your agenda,” Zarif tweeted. He further explained that earlier in New York he had been invited to meet Trump in the White House, but turned down the offer despite the threat of sanctions because he didn’t want to participate in Trump’s dishonest public performances. The US explanation for sanctions against Zarif is equally laughable: “Zarif implements the reckless agenda of Iran’s Supreme Leader, and is the regime’s primary spokesperson around the world,” Treasury Secretary said in a statement. “The US’ reason for designating me is that I am Iran’s primary spokesperson around the world, is the truth really that painful?” Zarif responded.

Of particular interest here is that the US regime chose to treat Khamenei and Zarif equally, regardless of their different political views. And without any doubt, these differences in political approaches are result of two different life paths. Khamenei was one of the key figures in the 1979 Islamic revolution and thereafter actively participated in the fight against Iraqi-American aggression. In the same time, 17-year-old Zarif moved to New York within several weeks in the midst of the 1979 revolution, and during the 1980s he attended the US schools and universities, earning PhD in international law and policy. Both his daughter and son were born in the United States.

A nonpartisan politician, never affiliated with any political party in Iran, Zarif belongs to what is popularly called “moderate” in the Western media. These are Iranians who believe that sustainable cooperation with the US is possible and that anti-Iranian hostilities are the responsibility of older individual governments. Even though the US did not make any goodwill gesture at the time, Zarif remained committed to improving ties. He was closely linked with developing the so-called Grand bargain, a plan to resolve outstanding issues between two countries, and in the 2000s he held private meetings with a number of US politicians, including then-Senators. In the mid-2010s, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Rouhani’s government, has made tremendous efforts in negotiations with the six great powers to achieve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). After the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015, Zarif enthusiastically called it as “a remarkable and historic.”

In contrast to Zarif, Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei was much more balanced: “The Americans say that they want to negotiate with Iran. Well, it has been several years that they say they want to negotiate with us. But I am not optimistic, because experience has proved that Americans are unreliable, unreasonable and dishonest when they approach us. I do not trust these negotiations and I am not optimistic about them. However, if they want to negotiate, they can do it”, Khamenei said in November 2013.

One month before the nuclear deal had been reached, Khamenei held his prophetic speech: “Despite the fact that I was not optimistic about negotiating with the US, I did not express my opposition to these specific negotiations and I supported the team of negotiators wholeheartedly. The other side – which is an obstinate and deceitful side, which goes back on its promises, is into the habit of backstabbing and has a tendency to do such evil things – may want to confine our country, our people, and our negotiators inside a circle on the details of the issue. I have never been optimistic about negotiations with the US. This pessimism is not based on an illusion – rather, it is based on experience. We have experienced it. If one day you have access to the details of these events and do the writings about these days, you will definitely see how we gained this experience. We have experienced it. Do not trust them. This is because when they have crossed the bridge, they will turn around and make you a laughingstock.”

With the Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal in May 2018, everything Khamenei said proved to be correct. Khamenei’s stances on the agreement hardly fit into the American narrative about “autocrat” that controls all segments of Iran’s political life. He did not believe in the success of the agreement from the beginning and expressed his disagreement in many of his speeches, but still he left the final decision to Iran’s Parliament. In theory, Khamenei has a veto power, but in practice it’s hard to find an example when he used it.

Regarding Zarif, he and other “moderates,” celebrated as pragmatists in the Western media, must have experienced a bitter awakening. On the other hand, those who were referred by the same media as “irrational hardliners,” proved to be realists. The idea that America would change its stance on Iran and sustainable bilateral relationship could be developed, proved to be a pure utopia. Regardless of political stance or position, the US sanctions indicate that Washington will treat all Iranians equally. Supreme Leader Khamenei, Western-educated Zarif, stem cell scientist Dr. Masoud Soleimani, or Iranian child cancer patient, doesn’t make a difference. The same principle applies to the IRGC elite army or Setad, a humanitarian organization which was among the most active ones in saving victims of the recent Iran floods, and participates in developing rare pharmaceutical products. Those who thought that Iranians should change their stance on America are naive, in fact, Americans should go a long way to change their stance on Iran.

Ivan Kesić is a Croatia-based freelance writer and open-source data analyst. He worked as a writer at the Cultural Center of Iran in Zagreb from 2010 to 2016. His article has appeared on the Consortium News, the Anti War, the Strategic Culture, &Mintpress News among the many.

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Turkey and the time bomb in Syria

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The Turkish attack on northern Syria has provided conditions for ISIS militants held in camps in the region to escape and revitalize themselves.

Turkey launched “Operation Peace Spring” on Wednesday October 9, claiming to end the presence of terrorists near its borders in northern Syria. Some countries condemned this illegal action of violation of the Syrian sovereignty.

The military attack has exacerbated the Syrian people’s living condition who live in these areas. On the other hand, it has also allowed ISIS forces to escape and prepare themselves to resume their actions in Syria. Before Turkish incursion into northern Syria, There were many warnings that the incursion would prepare the ground for ISIS resurgence. But ignoring the warning, Turkey launched its military attacks.

Currently, about 11,000 ISIS prisoners are held in Syria. ISIS has claimed the responsibility for two attacks on Qamishli and Hasakah since the beginning of Turkish attacks.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump said that Turkey and the Kurds must stop ISIS prisoners from fleeing. He urged European countries to take back their citizens who have joined ISIS.

It should be noted that the U.S. is trying to prove that ISIS has become stronger since the U.S. troops pulled out before the Turkish invasion, and to show that Syria is not able to manage the situation. But this fact cannot be ignored that ISIS militants’ escape and revival were an important consequence of the Turkish attack.

Turkish troops has approached an important city in the northeast and clashed with Syrian forces. These events provided the chance for hundreds of ISIS members to escape from a camp in Ayn Issa near a U.S.-led coalition base.

 The camp is located 35 kilometers on the south of Syria-Turkey border, and about 12,000 ISIS members, including children and women, are settled there. The Kurdish forces are said to be in charge of controlling these prisoners.

Media reports about the ISIS resurgence in Raqqa, the former ISIS stronghold, cannot be ignored, as dozens of terrorists have shot Kurdish police forces in this city. The terrorists aimed to occupy the headquarters of the Kurdish-Syrian security forces in the center of Raqqa.  One of the eyewitnesses said the attack was coordinated, organized and carried out by several suicide bombers, but failed.

In response to Turkey’s invasion of Syria, the Kurds have repeatedly warned that the attack will lead to release of ISIS elements in the region. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyib Erdogan denied the reports about the escape of ISIS prisoners and called them “lies”.

European officials fear that ISIS prisoners with European nationality, who have fled camps, will come back to their countries.

Kurdish forces are making any effort to confront Turkish troops in border areas, so their presence and patrol in Raqqa have been reduced.

Interestingly, the Turkish military bombarded one of temporary prisons and caused ISIS prisoners escaping. It seems that ISIS-affiliated covert groups have started their activities to seize the control of Raqqa. These groups are seeking to rebuild their so-called caliphate, as Kurdish and Syrian forces are fighting to counter the invading Turkish troops. Families affiliated with ISIS are held in Al-Hol camp, under the control of Kurdish forces. At the current situation, the camp has turned into a time bomb that could explode at any moment. Under normal circumstances, there have been several conflicts between ISIS families in the camp, but the current situation is far worse than before.

There are more than 3,000 ISIS families in the camp and their women are calling for establishment of the ISIS caliphate. Some of SDF forces have abandoned their positions, and decreased their watch on the camp.

The danger of the return of ISIS elements is so serious, since they are so pleased with the Turkish attack and consider it as an opportunity to regain their power. There are pictures of ISIS wives in a camp in northern Syria, under watch of Kurdish militias, showing how happy they are about the Turkish invasion.

In any case, the Turkish attack, in addition to all the military, political and human consequences, holds Ankara responsible for the escape of ISIS militants and preparing the ground for their resurgence.

Currently, the camps holding ISIS and their families are like time bombs that will explode if they all escape. Covert groups affiliated with the terrorist organization are seeking to revive the ISIS caliphate and take further actions if the Turkish attacks continue. These attacks have created new conflicts in Syria and undermined Kurdish and Syrian power to fight ISIS.

From our partner Tehran Times

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The Turkish Gambit

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon.  One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.

The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria.  Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps.  The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.

Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian.  After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families.  About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.   

How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question.  Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently?  For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.

There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter.  Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes. 

Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability.  If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point.  Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal:  access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.

Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon.  It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke.  It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood.  The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.

A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power.  The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson.  So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006.  Now they are feared by Israeli troops.   

To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump.  Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past.  It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving.  If you go in, you will have to police the area.  Don’t ask us to help you.”  Is that subject to misinterpretation?  It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office. 

For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions.  Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included.  Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire.  On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May.  Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith.  The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.

Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can.  Where are they headed?  Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.

Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences. 

Author’s Note:  This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org

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Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?

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On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.

It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.

Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.

Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.

Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.

It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.

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