SANCTIONS IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS

 

The coronavirus outbreak in Iran has reached epic proportions, suggesting tens of thousands could die. The crisis has prompted several countries to demand a temporary respite from US sanctions intended to cripple the Iranian economy.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, unilateral US sanctions on Iran had created a deep recession and shortages of foreign goods.

The sanctions were implemented after the 2018 US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, intended to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency stated that Iran had fully complied with the agreement, yet the US still introduced sanctions to apply “maximum pressure” on Iran.

In practice, this “maximum pressure” meant crippling poverty for the people of Iran even as its government continued to comply with the nuclear agreement.

Human Rights Watch revealed that even before the coronavirus pandemic the sanctions were directly impacting the health of Iranian citizens.

“On several occasions, US officials have indicated that the pain US sanctions are causing for ordinary Iranians is intentional, part of a strategy to compel Iranian citizens to demand their autocratic government to ‘change behavior’– a recipe for collective punishment that infringes on Iranians’ economic rights,” Human Rights Watch reported.

Starving a population in order to force them to oust their government would be something that is usually subtle and cloaked in rhetoric and propaganda, but the US has been unapologetic about its campaign, and such a policy rarely works. Citizens can vigorously oppose whatever government rules over them but most of them will join together and resist if they fear their country is going to be attacked, occupied or otherwise humiliated.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thinks otherwise: “Things are much worse for the Iranian people, and we are convinced that will lead the Iranian people to rise up and change the behavior of the regime.”

These sanctions appear to have a siege-mentality intended to “starve them out.” Besieging a city and depriving it of resources in order to break the population is a war crime under international humanitarian law.

When done to an entire country, however, such strategies are portrayed by the media as a light-handed measure that can be freely used as a foreign policy tool by economically powerful nations.

Economic sanctions were already a brutal punishment on the weakest populations in the target country. Now that COVID-19 is creating an unprecedented health-crisis in Iran, calling these sanctions cruel is putting it mildly. Even as the US is struggling with its own Coronavirus crisis, for which its president takes “no responsibility,” it presents Iran’s ineffective and opaque fight against COVID-19 as a wholesale and purposeful murdering of Iranians by its government.

In his March 17 remarks on the matter, while announcing empty gestures that will provide no relief to the thousands of infected Iranians, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “The Wuhan virus is a killer and the Iranian regime is an accomplice.” In return for these meaningless gestures, Pompeo had the unmitigated gall to state “in the spirit of humanitarian gestures the United States also continues to call on Iran to immediately release all wrongfully detained Americans being held inside of that country.”

As the US buckles under the consequences of its own non-transparent and ineffective early measures against the virus, it intends to let Iranians starve and die for their government’s similar ineptitude. The US still hopes that those Iranians who survive the current Coronavirus crisis will blame and overthrow their own government. Until that happens, the US appears committed to their inhumane siege of Iran.

Cathy Sultan is the author of five books on the Middle East. They can be found here:

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AIPAC IS A HATE GROUP

 On February 15, 2020, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote that “Israeli soldiers were allowed to shoot children. Sometimes they wound them, sometimes they kill them. Sometimes the children wind up brain dead, sometimes disabled. Sometimes the children have thrown rocks at soldiers, sometimes Molotov cocktails. Sometimes, by chance, they wind up in the middle of a confrontation. They almost never put the soldiers’ lives in danger. There is no room to express any regret for shooting children in the head. There is no room for mercy, an apology, an investigation or punishment, let alone compensation.”

Gideon Levey can write a harsh condemnation of the Israeli Defense Forces’ use of force against Palestinian children, but no one else can. When a member of the US Congress, someone who has visited the Palestinian Occupied Territory and eye-witnessed the atrocities, voices her concerns about the treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons she is accused of antisemitism and promoting hate speech.

As vice-chair of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Congresswoman Betty McCollum of Minnesota believes defending human rights and freedom are foundational to America’s national security and democracy, but she says, “the struggle to advance Palestinian human rights inevitably results in confronting entrenched forces determined to dehumanize, debase and demonize individuals or entire populations to maintain dominance and an unjust status quo. Hate is used as a weapon to incite and silence dissent. Unfortunately, this was my recent experience with IPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee).”

AIPAC used her image in paid Facebook ads to weaponize antisemitism and incite their followers to attack Congresswoman McCollum for her work. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, an AIPAC petition linked to their ads designed to mobilize supporters stated, “It is critical that we protect our Israeli allies especially as they face threats from Iran, Hezbollah, ISIS and—maybe more sinister—right here in the US Congress.”

Congresswoman McCullum had introduced legislation that would amend a provision of the Foreign Assistance Act known as the “Leahy Law” that would prohibit funding for the military detention of children in any country, including Israel.

AIPAC claims to be a bipartisan organization but its use of hate speech makes it a hate group. By weaponizing antisemitism and hate to silence debate, AIPAC mocks core American values. Its language is intended to demonize, not elevate policy debate. Vile attacks such as this may be commonplace in the Trump era, but they should never be normalized.

“I will not back down from my commitment to peace, justice, equality and human rights for Palestinians and Israelis,” said Congressman McCollum. “I want Jews, Muslims, Christians, and all people to be safe, secure and able to find hope and opportunity in the US, in Israel and in Palestine.”

Cathy Sultan has written extensively about the Middle East. Her books, and in particular her Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides can be found here:

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TRUMP’S “DEAL OF THE CENTURY”

Much of Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” came as no surprise. The so-called “Vision for Peace” unveiled on Tuesday simply confirmed that the US government has publicly adopted the long-running consensus in Israel: that it is entitled to keep permanently the swaths of territory it seized illegally over the past half-century that deny the Palestinians any hope of a state. The White House has discarded the traditional US position as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians and in so doing has given a foreign power the right to eternally occupy someone else’s land.

This was a deal designed in Tel Aviv and was meant to ensure there would be no Palestinian partner. In fact, Kushner copied large parts of his proposal nearly word for word from A Durable Peace, written by Benjamin Netanyahu — a man who has never wanted to genuinely negotiate with the Palestinians.

According to independent Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Trump/Netanyahu annexation plan was written with the clear intention of getting the Palestinians to reject it. Jared Kushner’s anti-Palestinian nastiness was not an accident or a blunder. It was just part of the annexation plan.

Importantly for Israel, it will get Washington’s permission to annex all of its illegal settlements, now littered across the West Bank, as well as the vast agricultural basin of the Jordan Valley while Israel will continue to have full military control over the West Bank, and eventually the annexation of the entire West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced his intention to bring just such an annexation plan before his cabinet as soon as possible. It will doubtless provide the central plank in his efforts to win a hotly contested general election due on March 2.

The Trump deal also approves Israel’s existing annexation of East Jerusalem. The Palestinians will be expected to pretend that a West Bank village outside the city is their capital of “Al Quds”. There are also incendiary indications that Israel will be allowed to forcibly divide the Al Aqsa mosque compound to create a prayer space for extremist Jews, as has occurred in Hebron.

The Trump administration appears to be considering giving a green light to the Israeli right’s long-held hopes of redrawing the current borders in such a way as to transfer potentially hundreds of thousands of Palestinians (some 350,000) currently living in Israel as citizens into the West Bank. That would almost certainly amount to a war crime.

The plan envisages no right of return, and it seems the Arab world will be expected to foot the bill for compensating millions of Palestinian refugees.

All of this has been dressed up as a “realistic two-state solution”, offering the Palestinians nearly 70 percent of the occupied territories – which in turn comprise 22 percent of their original homeland. Put another way, the Palestinians are being required to accept a state on 15 percent of historic Palestine after Israel has seized all the best agricultural land and the water sources.

 

The document was not just a gift to Israel. It embodied every Israeli demand ever made to Washington and effectively destroyed every effort made by the UN Security Council; every UN resolution on Israeli withdrawal; every effort of the EU and the Quartet on the Middle East to produce a just and fair resolution to the Palestinian/Israeli war.

Trump benefits personally from this plan, too. Aside from offering a distraction from his impeachment hearings, it offers a potent bribe to his Israel-obsessed evangelical base and major funders such as US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson in the run-up to a presidential election.

Trump is also coming to the aid of his useful political ally. Netanyahu hopes this boost from the White House will propel his ultra-nationalist coalition into power in March and cower the Israeli courts as they weigh criminal charges against him.

According to Gideon Levy, journalist for Haaretz, “this plan was the final nail in the coffin of that walking corpse known as the two-state solution in which international law and the resolution of the international comunity are rendered meaningless.

Palestinians now have to face this reality. The PLO’s recognition of Israel in 1993 has finally hit a dead end. The US, international law, UN resolutions were never going to come to their rescue, and in this sense alone, Trump’s brutal plan has done Palestinians a favor. It has dashed, once and for all, any hope they may have had of their own state.

 

From a Palestinian perspective, what has to begin is a new wave of struggle for equal rights in one state on all of the land of historic Palestine. This will involve a huge fight. No one should underestimate what will happen if the Palestinian people rise up again. But no one should be in any doubt, either, of the consequences of acquiescence.

 

This is the first time since 1948 that all Palestinians can join together to do this. They have to seize the opportunity or wither away as a footnote in history. A proud tradition of standing up and resisting Israel and its brutal occupation suggests the resilient Palestinian people will not let that happen.

Cathy Sultan’s book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides, as well as her other books on the Middle East can be found on Amazon

 

 

 

IS IT ANY WONDER THEY HATE US?

On January 5, 2020, the Iraqi Parliament passed a non-binding resolution demanding American troops withdraw from Iraq. Trump was angered by the vote to oust all US forces following Washington’s assassination of Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani and Iraq’s Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. He promptly responded with a threat warning Iraq that if it moved to enforce the resolution Washington would shut down Baghdad’s access to a key account Iraq’s central bank holds with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York—an account that is crucial to the management of Iraq’s oil reserves and its overall financial stability—an account that belongs to Iraq.

More than 200 central banks, government and international official institutions hold accounts with the New York Fed, thanks to the oversized role the US dollar plays in global financial transactions. The Central Bank of Iraq’s account at the Fed was established in 2003 following the US invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and is currently estimated to be $35 billion.

The US has repeatedly used the dominant position of the dollar as a preferred currency and medium of exchange to force other countries to toe the line on its policies, essentially using the dollar as a weapon in US economic terrorism against other countries.

Iraqi officials warned of economic collapse if the US made good on its threat to cut off its access to its US-based bank account. In a call to the office of the Iraqi Prime Minister Trump warned he would charge the Iraqis “sanctions like they’ve never seen before,” and would block Iraq’s $35 billion “right now sitting in an account in the US.”

Iraq is the second largest oil producer of OPEC and its oil revenues which are paid in dollars into the Fed account daily, fund ninety percent of Iraq’s national budget. An Iraqi official said “Iraq is an oil-producing country. Those accounts are in dollars. Cutting off access means totally turning off the tap. It would literally mean the collapse of Iraq and the government would not be able to carry out daily functions or pay salaries. Such a move would prompt the Iraqi currency to fall in value.”

Trump told the Iraqi Prime Minister it “should pay back the United States for its investments in the country over the past several years or the American military will stay there.”

The State Department said that Washington would not hold discussions with Baghdad regarding troop withdrawal. “At any time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership, not to discuss troop withdrawal, but our right to an appropriate force posture in the Middle East.”

Trump is also considering other options. One would be refusing to renew a temporary waiver that Washington had granted to Iraq in 2018 that allowed Baghdad to import gas from Iran to feed its gutted power grid, despite US sanctions on Tehran’s energy sector. If Washington does not renew the waiver in February, then the Trade Bank of Iraq which buys the gas, could face secondary sanctions for dealing with blacklisted Iranian entities. Iraqi officials insist such threats would eventually push Iraq into the arms of Russia, China and Iran. “We’d have to form a separate economy with those countries in order to survive.”

More and more the US is relying on illegal unilateral coercive measures in place of war or as part of a build-up to war. Economic sanctions are an act of war that kills tens of thousands of people each year through financial strangulation. Currently, the US’s economic sanctions effect a third of humanity with more than 8,000 measures in thirty-nine countries. As a result, nations are challenging the US dollar domination. They are seeking to conduct trade without the dollar and are no longer treating the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Ultimately, the de-dollarization of the global economy will seriously weaken the US economy and lead to the demise of the US empire.

Cathy Sultan has written five books on the Middle East. Her books can be found on Amazon.

THE SOLEIMANI ASSASSINATION

 

In times of crisis, I always turn to my most trust journalists for some clarity. In the case of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, I can think of no better clear-headed analyst than Pepe Escobar who writes for the Asia Times.

Contrary to what we were led to believe in the US press, General Soleimani had flown to Baghdad on a normal carrier flight carrying a diplomatic passport. He had been sent by Tehran to deliver, in person, a reply to a message from Riyadh on de-escalation across the Middle East. Those negotiations had been requested by none other than the Trump administration.

Again, contrary to what our mass media claims is “all the news that’s fit to print,” we now learn, after the fact, that Baghdad was officially mediating between Tehran and Riyadh, at the behest of Trump, and Soleimani was the messenger. Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi was supposed to meet Soleimani at 8:30 am, Baghdad time, last Friday. But a few hours before the appointed time, Soleimani died as the object of a targeted assassination at Baghdad airport. Also killed by the drone was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of Kateab Hezbollah, both a powerful pro-Iranian paramilitary group and a legal, fully recognized Iraqi military entity. The US may consider paramilitary commanders like Muhandis to be evil terrorists but for many Shia Iraqis, he and his group were the people who fought against Saddam Hussein and defended them against ISIS.

As Mr. Escobar so emphatically points out: “Let this sink in, readers, for the annals of 21st Century diplomacy. It matters not whether the assassination order was issued by President Trump, the intelligence community or Israel. The fact is that the United States government on foreign soil, as a guest nation, has assassinated a diplomatic envoy who was on an official mission that had been requested by the United States government.

Following the assassination, the Iraqi Parliament approved a non-binding resolution asking the Iraqi government to expel US troops by cancelling a request for military assistance from the US.

Predictably, the US will refuse the demand, and Trump said as much himself: “If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”

US troops already are set to remain in Syria illegally – to “take care of the oil.” Iraq, with its extraordinary energy reserves, is an even more serious case. Leaving Iraq means Trump, US neocons and the Deep State lose control, directly and indirectly, of the oil for good.

With a single stroke, the assassination of Soleimani has managed to unite not only Iraqis but Iranians, and in fact the whole Axis of Resistance. And no US mass media PR will be able to disguise a massive strategic blunder – not to mention yet another blatantly illegal targeted assassination.

 

My favorite economist, Michael Hudson, sheds morea light on the killing: “The assassination was intended to escalate America’s presence in Iraq to keep control of the region’s oil reserves, and to back Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi troops (Isis, Al Qaeda in Iraq, Al Nusra and other divisions of what are actually America’s foreign legion) to support U.S. control of Near Eastern oil as a buttress of the US dollar. That remains the key to understanding this policy, and why it is in the process of escalating, not dying down.”

Neither Trump nor the Deep State could fail to notice that Soleimani was the key strategic asset for Iraq to eventually assert control of its oil wealth, while progressively defeating ISIS.

Killing Soleimani does prove that Trump, the intelligence community and Israel all agree on the essentials: there can be no entente cordiale between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Divide and rule remains the norm.

SYRIAN OIL FIELDS AND THE KURDS

Would the international community condone Syria if it sent its troops into US territory to secure US oil refineries for its own use? Of course not.

Why then is there no public outcry when the US forcibly occupies northeastern Syria and robs that war-ravaged country of its oil and gas reserves?

The Al Omar oil field in Deir Ez Zor is the largest in Syria. Prior to 2011, it produced 350,000 barrels of oil per day and exported about half. Today, because of the destruction caused by US bombing raids, it produces only about 24,000 barrels per day, hardly enough to cover Syrian domestic needs. And because of rigid US sanctions, imposed by Trump, Syria is prevented from importing oil to cover those losses.

Initially, the US president had ordered a withdrawal of all US troops from the region around Deir Ez Zor, but then, at the last minute, reversed that decision, deciding, instead, to establish a long-term US occupation of northeastern Syria in order to “secure the oil fields.” Since that reversal, the US military has increased its troop size, built two new military bases in Deir Ez Zor, and invited Saudi Arabia, the largest sponsor of terrorism in Syria, to help repair and extract the black gold. In addition to the oil field in Deir Ez Zor, the US now occupies three other fields along with the largest gas facility in Syria and a crucial power plant.

Shortly after the uprising began in 2011, the Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party), which had been encamped with the PKK (the Kurdish Workers’ Party) in northern Iraq, returned to Syria, bringing with them a contingent of fighters. In July 2012, it took advantage of the regime’s security force withdrawal from Kurdish areas to firmly establish its political and security presence, ousting Syrian government officials from municipal buildings in at least five of its strongholds and replacing the Syrian flag with its own. In so doing, it openly asserted itself as the authority in charge of state institutions in the region, and against the wishes of the local Arab-Sunni population, established relations with the US military.

The Kurds, a distinct ethnic group with their own language, are comprised of mostly moderate Sunnis with a small percentage of Shiites, Christians and Jews. Some thirty million Kurd live scattered across Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, with some 200,000 of them settled along Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey. The Kurds tried but failed to form a separate state after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and instead carved out self-governed regions in Syria and Iraq. After World War I, Western powers divided the former Ottoman Empire into the current Middle East, promising the Kurds a part of present-day Turkey in the Treaty of Sevres in 1920. The Treaty of Lausanne, three years later, scrapped the decision to grant the Kurds a homeland and instead established Turkish sovereignty on the new Republic of Turkey. Today, Kurds make up twenty percent of Turkey’s population.

When the US president ordered the US troop withdrawal, Turkey took advantage of the void and invaded the area. And as the Turks considered the Kurdish militias belonging to the PKK to be terrorists, those Kurds suffered enormous losses. In the face of imminent ethnic-cleansing at the hands of the Turks, the Kurds beseeched Damascus to come to their rescue, which it did, and a renewed alliance was established which saw the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian military police arriving into the area to protect the Kurdish as well as other local residents.

When Trump decided to keep US troops in northeastern Syria, the PYD Kurds, even though they had just formed an alliance with the Assad government, agreed to continue working with the US occupation forces in the oil fields much to the dismay of the local Arab Sunni residents who distrust not only the Kurds but the US military, blaming both for robbing them of their oil wealth.

It is quite possible, because of Trump’s ill-fated decision to keep a US presence in northeastern Syria, that US forces will soon find themselves up against violent local resistance similar to that which US troops continue to experience in their prolonged occupation of Iraq. Is that not too high a price to pay for a few extra gallons of oil?

Cathy Sultan is the author of two books about the war in Syria. Both The Syrian and Damascus Street

can be purchased here: Amazon

 

A DEFINITION OF ANTISEMITISM

A “working definition of antisemitism” was never intended to be a campus hate speech code, but that’s what Donald Trump’s executive order on December 12, 2019 accomplished. This order is an attack on academic freedom and free speech, and will harm not only pro-Palestinian advocates, but also Jewish students and faculty, and the academic institutions themselves.

The problem began in 2010, when rightwing Jewish groups took the “working definition”, which had some examples about Israel (such as holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of Israel, and denying Jews the right to self-determination), and decided to weaponize it with title VI cases. While some allegations were about acts, mostly they complained about speakers, assigned texts and protests they said violated the definition. All these cases lost, so then these same groups asked the University of California to adopt the definition and apply it to its campuses. When that failed, they asked Congress, and when those efforts stalled, they went directly to the president.

With the encouragement of the powerful Israel lobby, President Trump based this executive order on a category mistake. He identified protests against Israeli state behavior with anti-Semitic racism and declared that any university or college that allows the former (permitting criticism of Israel for its violent suppression of Palestinian rights) to be found guilty of the anti-Semitism, and therefore should not receive federal funds. This effort constitutes a tragedy of the highest order not only for the Palestinians, but for the Jewish people as well.

After World War II, every sane individual knew that racism, particularly racism expressed through state power, was wrong. The consequences of such empowered bigotry were seen across the world. That was why, as early as the late 1940s, an expansion of international law and the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights sought to make such behavior criminal, particularly when carried out as government policy.

As it turned out, such resolutions constituted a direct obstacle to the Zionist goal of a “Jewish State” in Palestine. To get around this obstacle, racist policies and practices were often obscured behind a façade of benign-sounding declarations that, more often than not, had little impact on minority rights. In this way, racism became an essential tool for achieving the Zionist goal of ethnic exclusivity.

Apparently, it was not enough for the Israeli government to convince its own citizens that Zionist racism was righteous self-defense and support of Palestinian rights the equivalent of anti-Semitism. This logical fallacy had to be pushed on Israel’s ally, the United States. In Congress, this effort has been remarkably successful because the Zionist lobby has a lot of money that can sway our elected officials or, in some stubborn cases, hinder ambitious politicians.

Coming as we are to the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, there is something particularly Orwellian about a president who, through executive order, expects Americans to accept a specific category contradiction that he and the Zionists are pushing.

Do we defend the category of state-sponsored racism, as President Trump proposes, or do we oppose his misplaced, category contradiction and defend, instead, the category of human, civil and political rights?

Cathy Sultan is the author of Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides. Her book can be purchased here:

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