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.
Attack On Jerusalem – Where Is The International System?
Since mid-20th century the conflict has been referred to as the ‘most intractable conflict’ in the world with the ongoing Israeli occupation. For more than about 54 years the international system has failed to settle this dispute and the two countries did not reach a peace agreement. In past, the Israeli Government had restricted the Palestinians and have been involved in many illicit activities violating human rights. Palestinians remain subject to Israeli military occupation and the recent attack on Masjid Al-Aqsa is strong evidence of this fact. Tensions in Jerusalem and West Bank accelerated during the Holy month of Ramadan including evictions of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.
The third holiest site for the Muslim community, Temple Mount also known as Masjid Al-Aqsa, located in the city of Jerusalem has been attacked by the Israel forces on the Holy night of Laylat al-Qadar and again after two days in the morning. The incident has been brought forward by the media in several ways calling it an attack conflict or clash. The Israeli police forces stormed hundreds of Palestinians during prayer time. The unrest resulted as cops entered the compound, creating an atmosphere of fear echoes of prayer together with the noise of stun grenades and fires. More than 200 Muslims offering prayer have been targeted and hit by rubber bullets and a score of attackers themselves were wounded. When the prayer zone was turned into a battlefield, the loudspeakers of the mosque called for peace and calm.
“Police must immediately stop firing stun grenades at worshippers, and the youth must calm down and be quiet!”
Violation of Human Rights pushed Palestine to demand a session of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas “held (Israel) responsible for the dangerous developments and sinful attacks taking place in the holy city.” Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law have been violated many times and now the international community is no more silent about it. Whatever is happening in East Jerusalem its occupation, has no legitimate claims. UNSC has asked Israel to withdraw many times and has passed a number of resolutions demanding this. The United Nations has asked Israel to cancel any forced evictions in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, warning that its activities could add up to “war crimes“. Moreover, Israel has no legal claim on the city but is still carrying out an ethnic cleansing campaign in East Jerusalem. The most recent example includes the eviction of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah.
Once again many statements have been given by the international community condemning the actions not finding the solution to end this. Muslim countries united joining hands in hands with their Muslim brothers and sisters. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, UAE gave their stance against Israeli actions and made it crystal clear that such actions cannot be tolerated at any cost. Moreover, European Union (EU) and United States (US) also expressed their concerns about violence.
The atrocities of Israeli police forces have now met the definitions of apartheid and persecution as stated by the report of Human Rights Watch (HRW); “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution” released in April. This includes the crime against humanity in the region of Ghaza Strip, West Bank, and Israel. This well-researched report however has very little impact on the bilateral relations between Palestine and Israel. It states that a system of systematic oppression and racial domination with a claim over land and demographics is what Israel intends to have. Israel’s foreign minister claimed it to be an ‘anti-Israel agenda’ being both false and preposterous.
Blockade of Ghaza strip and freedom movement limitations further poses a serious threat to the population during the COVID-19 pandemic, making it more vulnerable. The firing by Islamic Jihad and its counter-attack, airstrikes against Ghaza and Hisbullah, demolitions, forcible transfers, violation of international law, discrimination, and use of force are all factors that aided the current situation between the two countries. Lack of access to health care units, feeling of fear and terror everywhere, insecure atmosphere all poses a serious question; “Where does the international system stand?”
With each escalation, all that comes forward is another resolution by UNSC for Israel to withdraw, statements from various states condemning the situation, and wait for another incident. While considering the Israel-Palestine conflict one might comprehend this issue as a failure of the international system to maintain peace. Many predictions and solutions have been brought forward by analysts and researchers each with some evidence supporting their stance. However thinking about a solution and solving the problem in actual seem to be two opposite poles of a magnet, but definitely not attracting one another.
For negotiations and peace agreements, the two states need to share a common vision which seems to be very unlikely to happen. The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories seems to end only by establishing a relationship between the two that involves a feeling of trust and security for other states. For this, the political arrangement should be right with adequate involvement of International Organizations such as the UN. Boarder modifications and acceptance for two-state solution tend to develop the ideal conditions for this relationship.
Thus reality points in a different direction and this raises a question to the international system. Where is the international law securing the lives and freedom of people in East Jerusalem? Where is the UN Charter providing education, health, and other facilities to the people of Gaza? Where are the efforts of great powers such US, China, Russia to safeguard and secure the local citizens and maintenance of peace? Where are the rights of citizens during occupation under Geneva Convention? Where is the role of International Organizations while considering this dispute? And last but not least where the answer to all these questions is.
Saudi Arabia and Iran cold war
After almost seven decades, the cold war has reached the middle east, turning into a religious war of words and diplomacy. As Winston Churchill says that “diplomacy is an art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they ask for the direction”. So, both the regional powers are trying to pursue a policy of subduing the adversary in a diplomatic manner. The root of the conflict lies in the 1979, Iranian revolution, which saw the toppling of the pro-western monarch shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi and replaced by the so-called supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. From a Yemini missile attack to the assassination of the supreme commander QassimSoleimani, the political, ideological and religious differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia are taking the path of confrontation. The perennial rivalry between the two dominant Shiite and Sunni power house ins an ideological and religious one rather than being geo strategic or geo political. Back to the time when Saudi Arabia supported Saddam Hussain against the united states of Americathe decline of Saddam and his authoritarian regime was made inevitable and with this, Iran and Saudi Arabia rosed as the powerful, strategic and dominant political forces in the middle east.it was from here that the quest for supremacy to be the prepotent and commanding political powercommenced. The tensions escalated or in other words almost tended to turn into scuffles when in 2016, the Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy as a demonstration of the killing of a Shia cleric. The diplomatic ties were broken and chaos and uncertainty prevailed.
This cold war also resembles the original one., because it is also fueled by a blend of ideological conviction and brute power politics but at the same time unlike the original cold war, the middle eastern cold war is multi-dimensional and is more likely to escalate .it is more volatile and thus more prone to transformation. This followed by several incidents with each trying to isolate the other in international relations. The Saudis and Iranians have been waging proxy wars for regional dominance for decades. Yemen and Syria are the two battlegrounds, fueling the Iran-Saudi tensions. Iran has been accused of providing military assistance to the rebel Houthis, which targets the Saudi territory. It is also accused of attacking the world naval ships in the strait of Hormoz, something Iran strongly denies. This rivalry has dragged the region into chaos and ignited Shia-Sunni conflict across the middle east. The violence in the middle east due to this perennial hostility has also dire consequences for the economy of the war-torn nations. In the midst of the global pandemic, when all the economic activities are at halt, the tensions between the two arch rivals will prove hazardous and will yield catastrophic results. The blockade of the shipping and navigation in the Gulf, attacks on international ships, and the rising concerns of the western powers regarding this issue has left Iran as an isolated country with only Russia supporting her.
A direct military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran will have dire consequences for the neighboringcountries. A direct military confrontation might not be a planned one, but it will be fueled due to the intervention of the other key partners, who seek to sought and serve their personal and national intrigues. Most importantly middle east cannot afford a conflict as it is a commercial hub for the world. The recent skirmishes in Iraq sparked fears of wider war when Iraq retaliated for killings of QassimSoleimani. If the US president had not extended an olive branch, the situation might have worsened. The OIC, which is a coalition of 57 Muslim countries has also failed in bringing measures to deescalate the growing tensions. The OIC, where the Saudi Arabia enjoys an authoritarian style of dominance has always tried to empower her own ideology while rising the catch cry of being a sacred country to all the Muslims. Taking in account, the high tensions and ideological and the quest for religious dominance, the international communities such as UN and neighboring countries should play a positiveand vital role in deescalating these tensions. Bilateral trade, communications between the two adversaries with a regional power playing the role of mediator and extending an olive branch to each other will yield better results and will prove fruitful in mitigating the conflict if not totally subverting it.
First Aid: How Russia and the West Can Help Syrians in Idlib
Authors: Andrey Kortunov and Julien Barnes-Dacey*
The next international showdown on Syria is quickly coming into view. After ten years of conflict, Bashar al-Assad may have won the war, but much is left to be done to win the peace. This is nowhere more so than in the province of Idlib, which is home to nearly 3 million people who now live under the control of extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) with external Turkish protection and humanitarian assistance from the United Nations.
The question of humanitarian access into Idlib is now emerging as a central focus of new international politicking. In so doing, this small province could be pivotal to the future of the larger stalemate that has left the United States, Europe, and Russia locked in an unwinnable status quo.
Russia has said that it plans to veto an extension of cross-border UN aid delivered from Turkey, authorised under UN Security Council resolution 2533, which is up for renewal in July, potentially depriving the population of a vital lifeline amid desperate conditions. Moscow says that all aid should be channelled from Damascus via three new government-controlled crossing points to the northern province. Western governments, to say nothing of the local population, are sceptical, given the Syrian government’s hostility towards the province’s inhabitants. For its part, the UN says that cross-lines aid cannot compensate for a closure of cross-border access.
As ever, the two dominant players—the US and Russia—are talking past each other and are focused on countering each other’s moves—to their mutual failure. It is evident that US condemnation and pressure on Russia will not deliver the necessary aid, and also evident that Russia will not get its wish for the international recognition of the legitimacy of the Syrian government by vetoing cross-border access. While these will only be diplomatic failures for the US and Russia, it is the Syrian people who will, as ever, pay the highest price.
But a mutually beneficial solution to Idlib is still possible. Russia and the US, backed by European states, should agree to a new formula whereby Moscow greenlights a final one-year extension of cross-border aid in exchange for a Western agreement to increase aid flows via Damascus, including through Russia’s proposed cross-lines channels into Idlib. This would meet the interests of both sides, allowing immediate humanitarian needs to be met on the ground as desired by the West, while also paving the way for a transition towards the Damascus-centred international aid operation sought by Moscow.
This imperfect but practical compromise would mean more than a positive change in the humanitarian situation in Idlib. It would demonstrate the ability of Russian and Western actors to work together to reach specific agreements in Syria even if their respective approaches to the wider conflict differ significantly. This could serve to reactivate the UN Security Council mechanism, which has been paralysed and absent from the Syrian track for too long.
To be sure the Syrian government will also need to be incentivised to comply. Western governments will need to be willing to increase humanitarian and early recovery support to other parts of government-controlled Syria even as they channel aid to Idlib. With the country now experiencing a dramatic economic implosion, this could serve as a welcome reprieve to Damascus. It would also meet Western interests in not seeing a full state collapse and worsening humanitarian tragedy.
The underlying condition for this increased aid will need to be transparency and access to ensure that assistance is actually delivered to those in need. The West and Russia will need to work on implementing a viable monitoring mechanism for aid flows channelled via Damascus. This will give Moscow an opportunity to push the Syrian regime harder on matters of corruption and mismanagement.
For its part, the West will need to work with Moscow to exercise pressure on Ankara to use its military presence in Idlib to more comprehensively confront radical Islamists and ensure that aid flows do not empower HTS. A ‘deradicalisation’ of Idlib will need to take the form of a detailed roadmap, including that HTS comply with specific behaviour related to humanitarian deliveries.
Ultimately this proposal will not be wholly satisfactory to either Moscow or the West. The West will not like that it is only a one-year extension and will not like the shift towards Damascus. Russia will not like that it is an extension at all. But for all sides the benefits should outweigh the downsides.
Russia will know that Western actors will respond to failure by unilaterally channelling non-UN legitimised aid into the country via Turkey. Russia will lose the opportunity to slowly move Idlib back into Damascus’s orbit and the country’s de facto partition will be entrenched. This outcome is also likely to lead to increased instability as aid flows decrease, with subsequent tensions between Moscow’s allies, Damascus and Ankara.
The West will need to acknowledge that this approach offers the best way of delivering ongoing aid into Idlib and securing greater transparency on wider support across Syria. The alternative—bilateral cross-border support—will not sufficiently meet needs on the ground, will place even greater responsibility on Turkey, and will increase the prospect of Western confrontation with Russia and the Syrian regime.
Importantly, this proposal could also create space for wider political talks on Idlib’s fate. It could lead to a renewed track between Russia, the US, Turkey and Europeans to address the province’s fate in a way that accounts for Syria’s territorial integrity and state sovereignty on the one hand and the needs and security of the local population on the other hand. After ten years of devastating conflict, a humanitarian compromise in Idlib will not represent a huge victory. But a limited agreement could still go a long way to positively changing the momentum in Syria and opening up a pathway for much-needed international cooperation.
* Julien Barnes-Dacey, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)
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