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Raisi’s Presidency in Iran gets off to an uphill start

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On June 18, 2021, with an unprecedented abstention rate in the history of the Republic (as many as 48% of eligible voters did not go to the polls), presidential elections were held in Iran. They saw the victory of the most conservative and reactionary wing of the Iranian political landscape, personified by Ebrahim Raisi who will take office as the new President of the Islamic Republic next August.

The moderates, gathered around the outgoing President Hassan Rouhani (who had defeated Raisi in the 2017 elections), tried by all means – particularly through propaganda on social media – to stimulate people’s vote against the conservatives, albeit with little success since, prostrated by the effects of the severe economic crisis, half of Iranian voters preferred to express their dissent for the general situation in which the country finds itself by simply refusing to go to the polls.

During the 2017 election campaign, Raisi had harshly criticized Rouhani for his adhesion to the JCPOA Treaty (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), the agreement with the “5+1” (France, China, USA, UK, Russia and Germany) thanks to which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program to civilian uses only, renouncing to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for a resumption of trade and the lifting of sanctions.

Rouhani’s victory in 2017 showed he had the support of the majority of the Iranian people, tired of having to pay for the nuclear power dreams of the conservative wing with an alarming rise in poverty levels. Nevertheless, the significant share of votes obtained by Raisi, i.e. 38%, was there to demonstrate that the reactionary soul of the Islamic Republic was still alive and vital.

The sudden and misguided initiative of President Trump, who in 2018 withdrew the United States from the JPCOA and tightened sanctions against Iran, undoubtedly played in favour of Raisi who, in the eyes of the most conservative voters, appeared as the only strenuous defender of the Iranian cause against the siege of Westerners, allied with Iran’s traditional enemy, namely Israel.

In view of trying to understand how Iran’s domestic and international political strategy will develop under President Raisi – who is a protegé of the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, the country’s highest religious authority and a leading representative of the most orthodox wing of the theocratic regime – we need to start from the biography of this personage who, in the next five years, will be a protagonist of international relations in the Middle East.

Born 61 years ago in the city of Mashad, in 1975 Ebrahim Raisi entered the prestigious Qom Seminary, the highest institute of culture and teaching of Islamic-Shiite doctrine in Iran and the centre developing the ideology of “velayat-e faqih“, the “Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist”, thanks to which Ayatollah Khomeini – at the time exiled in Paris – succeeded in mobilizing the Islamic crowds against Shah Reza Pahlavi, bringing down his reign with the revolution of 1979.

After Khomeini’s victory, to which he had given his enthusiastic support, the young Raisi entered the office of the Special Prosecutor who distinguished himself for the systematic elimination of thousands of representatives of the previous regime and for the brutal repression of Kurdish irredentism.

After being appointed Deputy Prosecutor of Tehran in 1985, for the zeal shown in getting rid of the opponents of the theocratic regime, Ebrahim Raisi was appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini to head a four-member Committee, known as “Death Committee”, with the task of eliminating all dissidents locked up in Iranian prisons.

The “Death Committee” led by Raisi was directly responsible for the killing of 8,000 dissidents imprisoned by the regime. When questioned about his involvement in the repression activity, Rasi replied: “when a judge or a prosecutor has defended the security of the people they should be appreciated for their work … I am proud to have defended human rights (sic!) in every position I have held.”

Thanks to his efforts in the repression of the real or presumed anti-Khomeinists, exterminated in the 1980s, for which the new Iranian President is currently under investigation by the United Nations, Raisi made a brilliant career. From 1989 to 1994 he held the post of Chief Prosecutor in Tehran and in 1994 he was appointed as Head of the General Inspection Office and later Attorney-General of Iran and Prosecutor of the “Special Clerical Court”, entrusted with overseeing and supervising the integrity of the entire administration of the State and its components. In 2004 he was appointed first deputy of the highest Iranian judiciary and, in that capacity, he distinguished himself in the ruthless repression of protests following the presidential elections of 2009.

In 2016, Supreme Leader Khamenei appointed Ebrahim Raisi as “Custodian of the Ali Al Rida Shrine “in his hometown of Mashad, a position that provided him with assets worth billions of dollars placed in a “charitable fund” to be used without supervision or control.

In that role, Raisi showed himself to be incorruptible, thus confirming himself – in the eyes of the most conservative public – as an enemy of corruption and a faithful proponent of Khomeini’s ideals. This played a fundamental role in the elections of June 18 last.

Another important theme raised by Raisi during the recent electoral campaign against his predecessor Rouhani was Iran’s adhesion to the JPCOA which, since 2015, should limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Pursuant to the Agreement, Iran is expected to substantially decrease its deposits of enriched uranium by 98% and reduce the number of centrifuges over the next 13 years, while it is expected to limit the share of enriched uranium to 3.6% of the total over the next 15 years.

In 2018 IAEA inspectors, tasked with checking Iran’s compliance with the terms of the Agreement, expressed substantiated doubts about whether Iran’s commitment to the nuclear race was truly reduced. On April 30, 2018, in a joint statement the United States and Israel formally accused Iran of keeping the nuclear weapons development portion of its nuclear program hidden from international inspectors.

In the following months, after denouncing the JPCOA, U.S. President Donald Trump reinstated the entire sanctions program against Iran and the nations trading with the Ayatollahs’ regime.

Trump’s move was criticized by the other countries adhering to the JPCOA Agreement and by many Western Chancelleries because the further impoverishment of the Iranian population resulting from the sanctions regime would increase – as recently occurred in the presidential elections – the support for those who, like Raisi, had always declared themselves sworn enemies of the American “Great Satan”.

Israel, for its part, has continued to boycott – with clandestine operations that have so far led to the physical elimination of the main technical managers of the nuclear program and to the cyber-sabotage of the equipment dedicated to it – the further progress of Iran’s nuclear research, warning the regime’s leaders that Israel will never allow the Islamic Republic to equip itself with nuclear weapons.

A “nuclear Iran” would be a deadly threat for Israel. Iran is physically present with the Lebanese Hezbollah, permanently established on Israel’s northern borders, and is also physically present in Syria with its own military contingent.

For Israel, Iran’s possible supply of nuclear weapons would constitute such a “clear and present danger” as to be a justified pretext for a pre-emptive war that would upset the whole region.

Next August, when he will take office as President of the Islamic Republic, Ebrahim Raisi – who, during the electoral campaign, had said: “our actions must be aimed at improving the living conditions of the people and restoring lost confidence” – shall face first of all an unprecedented economic crisis, with a 30% inflation rate and 50% of the population living below the poverty line.

Being a “hardliner” but also a pragmatist, as well as incorruptible, Raisi could decide to reopen the JPCOA negotiations, also counting on the support offered by the new U.S. President, Joe Biden, with a view to loosening the noose of international sanctions that strangle the Iranian economy.

To this end, he should relinquish his nuclear ambitions, thus displeasing the “principlist” wing, the most reactionary faction of the Iranian political spectrum, which until now has supported him unconditionally and unreservedly.

A difficult road for the new President who shall demonstrate concretely that he wants détente with the West and, at the same time, that he wants to face the probable reactions of internal fundamentalism.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Middle East

North Africa: Is Algeria Weaponizing Airspace and Natural Gas?

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In a series of shocking and unintelligible decisions, the Algerian Government closed its airspace to Moroccan military and civilian aircraft on September 22, 2021, banned French military planes from using its airspace on October 3rd, and decided not to renew the contract relative to the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, which goes through Morocco and has been up and running since 1996–a contract that comes to end on October 31.

In the case of Morocco, Algeria advanced ‘provocations and hostile’ actions as a reason to shut airspace and end the pipeline contract, a claim that has yet to be substantiated with evidence. Whereas in the case of France, Algeria got angry regarding visa restrictions and comments by French President Emmanuel Macron on the Algerian military grip on power and whether the North African country was a nation prior to French colonization in 1830.

Tensions for decades

Algeria has had continued tensions with Morocco for decades, over border issues and over the Western Sahara, a territory claimed by Morocco as part of its historical territorial unity, but contested by Algeria which supports an alleged liberation movement that desperately fights for independence since the 1970s.

With France, the relation is even more complex and plagued with memories of colonial exactions and liberation and post-colonial traumas, passions and injuries. France and Algeria have therefore developed, over the post-independence decades, a love-hate attitude that quite often mars otherwise strong economic and social relations.

Algeria has often reacted to the two countries’ alleged ‘misbehavior’ by closing borders –as is the case with Morocco since 1994—or calling its ambassadors for consultations, or even cutting diplomatic relations, as just happened in August when it cut ties with its western neighbor.

But it is the first-time Algeria resorts to the weaponization of energy and airspace. “Weaponization” is a term used in geostrategy to mean the use of goods and commodities, that are mainly destined for civilian use and are beneficial for international trade and the welfare of nations, for geostrategic, political and even military gains. As such “weaponization” is contrary to the spirit of free trade, open borders, and solidarity among nations, values that are at the core of common international action and positive globalization.

What happened?

Some observers advance continued domestic political and social unrest in Algeria, whereby thousands of Algerians have been taking to the streets for years to demand regime-change and profound political and economic reforms. Instead of positively responding to the demands of Algerians, the government is probably looking for desperate ways to divert attention and cerate foreign enemies as sources of domestic woes. Morocco and France qualify perfectly for the role of national scapegoats.

It may be true also that in the case of Morocco, Algeria is getting nervous at its seeing its Western neighbor become a main trade and investment partner in Africa, a role it can levy to develop diplomatic clout regarding the Western Sahara issue. Algeria has been looking for ways to curb Morocco’s growing influence in Africa for years. A pro-Algerian German expert, by the name of Isabelle Werenfels, a senior fellow in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, even recommended to the EU to put a halt to Morocco’s pace and economic clout so that Algeria could catch up. Weaponization may be a desperate attempt to hurt the Moroccan economy and curb its dynamism, especially in Africa.

The impact of Algeria’s weaponization of energy and airspace on the Moroccan economy is minimal and on French military presence in Mali is close to insignificant; however, it shows how far a country that has failed to administer the right reforms and to transfer power to democratically elected civilians can go.

In a region, that is beleaguered by threats and challenges of terrorism, organized crime, youth bulge, illegal migration and climate change, you would expect countries like Algeria, with its geographic extension and oil wealth, to be a beacon of peace and cooperation. Weaponization in international relations is inacceptable as it reminds us of an age when bullying and blackmail between nations, was the norm. The people of the two countries, which share the same history, language and ethnic fabric, will need natural gas and unrestricted travel to prosper and grow and overcome adversity; using energy and airspace as weapons is at odds with the dreams of millions of young people in Algeria and Morocco that aspire for a brighter future in an otherwise gloomy economic landscape. Please don’t shatter those dreams!

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Middle East

Breaking The Line of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

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The conflict between Israel-Palestine is a prolonged conflict and has become a major problem, especially in the Middle East region.

A series of ceasefires and peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine that occurred repeatedly did not really “normalize” the relationship between the two parties.

In order to end the conflict, a number of parties consider that the two-state solution is the best approach to create two independent and coexistent states. Although a number of other parties disagreed with the proposal, and instead proposed a one-state solution, combining Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip into one big state.

Throughout the period of stalemate reaching an ideal solution, the construction and expansion of settlements carried out illegally by Israel in the Palestinian territories, especially the West Bank and East Jerusalem, also continued without stopping and actually made the prospect of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis increasingly eroded, and this could jeopardize any solutions.

The attempted forced eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah district, which became one of the sources of the conflict in May 2021, for example, is an example of how Israel has designed a system to be able to change the demographics of its territory by continuing to annex or “occupy” extensively in the East Jerusalem area. This is also done in other areas, including the West Bank.

In fact, Israel’s “occupation” of the eastern part of Jerusalem which began at the end of the 1967 war, is an act that has never received international recognition.

This is also confirmed in a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council Numbers 242, 252, 267, 298, 476, 478, 672, 681, 692, 726, 799, 2334 and also United Nations General Assembly Resolutions Number 2253, 55/130, 60/104, 70/89, 71/96, A/72/L.11 and A/ES-10/L.22 and supported by the Advisory Opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004 on Legal Consequences of The Construction of A Wall in The Occupied Palestine Territory which states that East Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian territories under Israeli “occupation”.

1 or 2 country solution

Back to the issue of the two-state solution or the one-state solution that the author mentioned earlier. The author considers that the one-state solution does not seem to be the right choice.

Facts on the ground show how Israel has implemented a policy of “apartheid” that is so harsh against Palestinians. so that the one-state solution will further legitimize the policy and make Israel more dominant. In addition, there is another consideration that cannot be ignored that Israel and Palestine are 2 parties with very different and conflicting political and cultural identities that are difficult to reconcile.

Meanwhile, the idea of ​​a two-state solution is an idea that is also difficult to implement. Because the idea still seems too abstract, especially on one thing that is very fundamental and becomes the core of the Israel-Palestine conflict, namely the “division” of territory between Israel and Palestine.

This is also what makes it difficult for Israel-Palestine to be able to break the line of conflict between them and repeatedly put them back into the status quo which is not a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The status quo, is in fact a way for Israel to continue to “annex” more Palestinian territories by establishing widespread and systematic illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today, more than 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In fact, a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council have explicitly and explicitly called for Israel to end the expansion of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territory and require recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the region.

Thus, all efforts and actions of Israel both legislatively and administratively that can cause changes in the status and demographic composition in East Jerusalem and the West Bank must continue to be condemned. Because this is a violation of the provisions of international law.

Fundamental thing

To find a solution to the conflict, it is necessary to look back at the core of the conflict that the author has mentioned earlier, and the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to encourage Israel to immediately end the “occupation” that it began in 1967, and return the settlements to the pre-Islamic borders 1967 In accordance with UN Security Council resolution No. 242.

But the question is, who can stop the illegal Israeli settlements in the East Jerusalem and West Bank areas that violate the Palestinian territories?

In this condition, international political will is needed from countries in the world, to continue to urge Israel to comply with the provisions of international law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and also the UN Security Council Resolutions.

At the same time, the international community must be able to encourage the United Nations, especially the United Nations Security Council, as the organ that has the main responsibility for maintaining and creating world peace and security based on Article 24 of the United Nations Charter to take constructive and effective steps in order to enforce all United Nations Resolutions, and dare to sanction violations committed by Israel, and also ensure that Palestinian rights are important to protect.

So, do not let this weak enforcement of international law become an external factor that also “perpetuates” the cycle of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It will demonstrate that John Austin was correct when he stated that international law is only positive morality and not real law.

And in the end, the most fundamental thing is that the blockade, illegal development, violence, and violations of international law must end. Because the ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict is only a temporary solution to the conflict.

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Middle East

Iran unveils new negotiation strategy

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Image source: Tehran Times

While the West is pressuring Iran for a return to the Vienna nuclear talks, the top Iranian diplomat unveiled a new strategy on the talks that could reset the whole negotiation process. 

The Iranian parliament held a closed meeting on Sunday at which Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian briefed the lawmakers on a variety of pressing issues including the situation around the stalled nuclear talks between Iran and world powers over reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The Iranian foreign ministry didn’t give any details about the session, but some lawmakers offered an important glimpse into the assessment Abdollahian gave to the parliament.

According to these lawmakers, the Iranian foreign ministry addressed many issues ranging from tensions with Azerbaijan to the latest developments in Iranian-Western relations especially with regard to the JCPOA. 

On Azerbaijan, Abdollahian has warned Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev against falling into the trap set by Israel, according to Alireza Salimi, a member of the Iranian Parliament’s presiding board who attended the meeting. Salimi also said that the Iranian foreign minister urged Aliyev to not implicate himself in the “Americans’ complexed scheme.”

In addition to Azerbaijan, Abdollahian also addressed the current state of play between Iran and the West regarding the JCPOA.

“Regarding the nuclear talks, the foreign minister explicitly stated that the policy of the Islamic Republic is action for action, and that the Americans must show goodwill and honesty,” Salimi told Fars News on Sunday.

The remarks were in line with Iran’s oft-repeated stance on the JCPOA negotiations. What’s new is that the foreign minister determined Iran’s agenda for talks after they resume. 

Salimi quoted Abdollahian as underlining that the United States “must certainly take serious action before the negotiations.”

In addition, the Iranian foreign minister said that Tehran intends to negotiate over what happened since former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA, not other issues. 

By expanding the scope of negotiations, Abdollahian is highly likely to strike a raw nerve in the West. His emphasis on the need to address the developments ensuing the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018 could signal that the new government of President Ayatollah Seyed Ebrahim Raisi is not going to pick up where the previous government left. 

This has been a major concern in European diplomatic circles in the wake of the change of administrations in Iran. In fact, the Europeans and the Biden administration have been, and continue to be, worried about two things in the aftermath of Ayatollah Raisi taking the reins in Tehran; one is he refusing to accept the progress made during six rounds of talks under his predecessor Hassan Rouhani. Second, the possibility that the new government of Ayatollah Raisi would refuse to return to Vienna within a certain period of time. 

With Abdollahian speaking of negotiation over developments since Trump’s withdrawal, it seems that the Europeans will have to pray that their concerns would not come true. 

Of course, the Iranian foreign ministry has not yet announced that how it would deal with a resumed negotiation. But the European are obviously concerned. Before his recent visit to Tehran to encourage it into returning to Vienna, Deputy Director of the EU Action Service Enrique Mora underlined the need to prick up talks where they left in June, when the last round of nuclear talks was concluded with no agreement. 

“Travelling to Tehran where I will meet my counterpart at a critical point in time. As coordinator of the JCPOA, I will raise the urgency to resume #JCPOA negotiations in Vienna. Crucial to pick up talks from where we left last June to continue diplomatic work,” Mora said on Twitter. 

Mora failed to obtain a solid commitment from his interlocutors in Tehran on a specific date to resume the Vienna talk, though Iran told him that it will continue talks with the European Union in the next two weeks. 

Source: Tehran Times

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