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MIDEAST MIRROR 06.11.18, SECTION B (THE ARAB WORLD)

 

1-Mixed signals and brave stances

2-Netanyahu defends, the Saudis procrastinate

 

1-Mixed signals and brave stances

 

In both Tehran and Washington, there are those who still tend towards the option of negotiation and dialogue and would rather avoid policies that seek decisive victories, militarization, and 'bone-breaking.' They will not stand aside in silence as they see both their countries sliding toward the bottom of a dark abyss. And in their effort to avoid such an outcome, they will receive backing from an international community, which, while not sympathetic to Iran, does not agree with Trump's rash and aggressive positions and policies. There is another side to the image of U.S./Iranian relations whose main features have yet to be fully drawn, but that still raises its head from among the folds of the fiery statements emanating from the two administrations' hawks and conservatives--'Urayb ar-Rintawi in Jordanian ad-Dustour

What would really remain of the deterrent effect of this new package of sanctions if the process unfolds and the exemptions were to expand exponentially? Moreover, did the first installment of U.S. sanctions and the overall strategy of sanctions imposed on Iran for many long years succeed in achieving their aims – namely, to force Iran to abandon its nuclear program completely (which was the declared aim) and alter the nature of Iran's political regime by exacerbating its daily livelihood difficulties (which was the real aim)? The answer, of course, is 'No,' as witnessed by 19 previous packages of sanctions. They succeeded in aggravating the Iranian citizens' livelihood problems, in fact; but they did not weaken the regime as much as consolidate its domination domestically and expand its influence regionally, to say nothing of strengthening its hardline conservatives and ayatollahs--pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi

We hope that the Iranian people and government will not offer any concessions to the U.S./Israeli alliance. We hope they will stand up to the blockade and learn from the sad lessons of Iraq and Libya. For, if the course of concessions ever begins, it will only end in invasion and occupation. But we are confident that the Iranian leadership, which astonished the six major powers during the nuclear negotiations, is fully aware of this fact. Trump fears Iran because it is a strong country that possesses an arsenal of missiles and military equipment that can destroy his allies, his bases, and his forces in the Gulf region. This is why he is resorting to a blockade in the hope that the Iranian people will rebel against their government and topple the regime. But the U.S. president forgets that this country lived for forty years under blockade without ever raising the white flags of surrender. We have no doubt whatsoever that it will not do so now-- 'Abdelbari 'Atwan on pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com

 

Despite the hostile rhetoric emanating from Washington and Tehran regarding the latest installment of U.S. sanctions on Iran, there may be another side to this picture, argues a leading Jordanian commentator. For the U.S. administration realizes that sanctions will not compel Iran to surrender, and Iran is aware that the sanctions will harm it in the long run, which is why both sides may be seeking a back channel for dialogue. Sanctions may hurt Iran's economy, but they will not succeed in altering the regime's behavior, maintains the editorial in a Qatari-owned pan-Arab daily. It is difficult to see how Iran's oil exports will fall to zero when the U.S. has exempted major industrial powers from the sanctions. Iran will succeed in withstanding the sanctions regardless of how harsh they may be, insists the editor-in-chief of an online pan-Arab daily. But it is unclear whether the U.S.'s Arab allies and Israel can stand their ground if Iran were to retaliate against any military attack on it via its regional allies.

 

TAKING NOTE OF THE SIGNALS: "In the heat of mutual accusations and threats between Tehran and Washington, and with their verbal exchanges reaching unprecedented levels of tension and escalation, no one seems to have noted the signs that could open the door to options other than confrontation, and that keep the possibility of reaching accords and understandings at the negotiating table alive," writes 'Urayb ar-Rintawi in Tuesday's Jordanian daily ad-Dustour.

This is the result of two things:

- The first has to do with the U.S. administration, which undoubtedly realizes that bringing Iran's oil exports down to 'zero' is impossible, that the 'net' of sanctions it has imposed on Iran is ripped in more than one place, and that President Trump may leave the White House before Tehran raises the white flag of surrender – as we said in yesterday's article. [See Mideast Mirror, Section B, 05/11/2018]. And the last thing that Trump and his administration want is to head towards a fourth Gulf war. So what is to be done? What options does the administration have if it becomes clear that Iran is once again able to meet the challenge of sanctions, as it did when they were even more comprehensive and effective?

- The second reason has to do with Iran. For even if defiance, dismissal of the sanctions, and confidence in its ability to defeat on Washington has dominated its discourse, Rowhani's government (with Khamene'i's authority behind it) is also fully aware that it will be difficult to bear the sanctions' heavy burden for a long time. This could also have dire consequences in the medium and long-term. Moreover, Tehran's regional influence is facing real challenges after rising to unprecedented levels in recent years.

In light of these 'difficulties', both sides have issued signals that are worth noting and pursuing. Trump has repeatedly said that he is waiting for a phone call from the Iranians to start new negotiations without any preconditions, thus seemingly completely ignoring [Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo's twelve points. Meanwhile, Iran's smiling Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has told the Japanese News Agency Kyodo of a single precondition for resuming negotiations with the 'Great Satan' – namely, that they should be conducted on the basis of mutual respect!

At the same time, reports continue to come in of indirect negotiations via numerous mediators, including the Sultanate of Oman, in order to soften the sharp edges of the two countries' positions. Some have explained the sudden development in Muscat's relations with Tel Aviv by placing it within this context, despite all the talk of an Omani mediation between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Relations between the two countries will pass through a phase of arm-twisting that will be painful to Iran, the international community, and the region in particular. It is difficult to argue that an imminent and genuine easing of tension will occur in this file. However, it may not be too long before Trump's positions and policies do a surprise U-turn, as has been his wont. Iran realizes this, and every now and then issues statements and expresses positions that could make it easier for Trump to do so.

The latest such statement came from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Deputy-Commander, who suddenly and without any preliminaries said that his country's military presence in Syria was not permanent and that it does not aspire to such a presence. True, this came in the context of denying any 'strategic divergence' between Iran and Russia in and over Syria, but it is also useful as a message of good intentions for Washington's 'remote sensing' centers to pick up.

To this one should add that in both Tehran and Washington, there are those who still tend towards the option of negotiation and dialogue and would rather avoid policies that seek decisive victories, militarization, and 'bone-breaking.' They will not stand aside in silence as they see both their countries sliding toward the bottom of a dark abyss. And in their effort to avoid such an outcome, they will receive backing from an international community, which, while not sympathetic to Iran, does not agree with Trump's rash and aggressive positions and policies.

"There is another side to the image of U.S./Iranian relations whose main features have yet to be fully drawn, but that still raises its head from among the folds of the fiery statements emanating from the two administrations' hawks and conservatives," concludes Rintawi.

End…

 

TRUMP'S BOAST: "On the occasion of the second installment of U.S. sanctions re-imposed on Iran after Washington has withdrawn from the international agreement on Tehran's nuclear program, President Donald Trump has boasted that these sanctions have already had 'a destructive effect on Iranian economy,' noting that the value of the national currency has fallen by 70%, inflation has risen by 37%, and that 'recession has begun to threaten the Iranian economy'," writes Tuesday's editorial in the Qatari-owned, London-based, pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi.

These and other direct effects may have really occurred; in fact, they are likely to worsen after the second installment of sanctions has begun, especially since they will affect the oil, energy, banking, shipping, and ship-building sectors, and include more than 600 Iranian figures and institutions this time around. The new installment also includes further restrictions and punitive measures against any international company that deals with the Iranian economy.

But the strange thing is that while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has declared that the aim of the new package of sanctions is to drive Iranian oil exports down to zero, he has also decided to exempt eight countries from any restrictions on importing Iranian oil. After it has become clear that this list includes China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey, it is possible to ask: How can there be zero oil exports in light of the giant industrial economies of countries such as China, Japan, and India, for example? And what would really remain of the deterrent effect of this new package of sanctions if the process unfolds and the exemptions were to expand exponentially?

Moreover, did the first installment of U.S. sanctions and the overall strategy of sanctions imposed on Iran for many long years succeed in achieving their aims – namely, to force Iran to abandon its nuclear program completely (which was the declared aim) and alter the nature of Iran's political regime by exacerbating its daily livelihood difficulties (which was the real aim)?

The answer, of course, is 'No,' as witnessed by 19 previous packages of sanctions. They succeeded in aggravating the Iranian citizens' livelihood problems, in fact; but they did not weaken the regime as much as consolidate its domination domestically and expand its influence regionally, to say nothing of strengthening its hardline conservatives and ayatollahs

On the other hand, this strategy has deepened the disagreements between Washington and its partners in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement regarding Iran's nuclear program that was concluded with the UN Security Council's permanent members. It has also created serious problems with the great majority of the U.S.'s allies, especially in the industrial, metal, and energy fields.

One of the wonders of Trump's actions is that he does not want to cancel contracts worth $110 billion with Saudi Arabia lest these contracts go to Russia and China, but is tightening the noose around the Iranian economy and handing it over as easy prey to these two countries and others in the process.

Like the first installment, the latest sanctions are in violation of international law. However, and before that, they are an extension of the policies of isolation and arrogance that the U.S. president has been pursuing ever since he reached the White House.

"True, these policies affect the entire world; but it is also true that they do not absolve the U.S. itself of their dire consequences," concludes the daily.

End…

 

THE HONORABLE ARAB STAND: "When Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu describes the implementation of the second installment of U.S. sanctions on Iran directed at its energy and banking sectors as a 'historic day,' all honorable Arabs and Muslims must unhesitatingly take a forceful stance against these sanctions," writes Editor-in-Chief 'Abdelbari 'Atwan on the pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com.

These sanctions have been imposed on Iran because it stands in the trench of resistance to Israel's occupation of Arab and Islamic holy sites in occupied Jerusalem. Had the Iranian government been laying out the red carpet for Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and had its gymnastics and Judo teams been playing on its soil, had it been playing the Israeli national anthem for those teams [as in the UAE], it would have been the close friend of the U.S. and its Jewish lobby, and the leader of the region crowned with the jewels of the U.S. Treasury.

By imposing a starvation blockade on the Iranian people, President Trump is implementing a purely Israeli agenda, just as his Republican predecessor George Bush Jr. did in Iraq. But this blockade's prospects of success are weak, not to say nonexistent. The fact that eight countries have been exempted– including China, India, Japan, and Turkey – offers the most prominent evidence of its failure, because these countries have already declared their intention, and have courageously announced that they would continue to buy Iranian oil without hesitation, just as they continued to trade with Iran despite the first installment of sanctions that were not oil-related.

We hope that the Iranian people and government will not offer any concessions to the U.S./Israeli alliance. We hope they will stand up to the blockade and learn from the sad lessons of Iraq and Libya. For if the course of concessions ever begins, it will only end in invasion and occupation. But we are confident that the Iranian leadership, which astonished the six major powers during the nuclear negotiations, is fully aware of this fact.

Trump fears Iran because it is a strong country that possesses an arsenal of missiles and military equipment that can destroy his allies, his bases, and his forces in the Gulf region. This is why he is resorting to a blockade in the hope that the Iranian people will rebel against their government and topple the regime. But the U.S. president forgets that this country lived for forty years under blockade without ever raising the white flags of surrender. We have no doubt whatsoever that it will not do so now.

We will not use the language of figures and oil barrels, but that of reason and logic. After all, if ISIS managed to find buyers for its impure and primitive oil, will Iran fail in this regard? (And please forgive us for this completely inappropriate comparison). And if North Korea has managed to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads and reach deep inside the U.S. despite an unprecedented and suffocating starvation blockade, will Iran prove unable to stand its ground, and perhaps retaliate as well?

The unarmed but heroic Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip have remained steadfast for more than ten years in the face of a suffocating blockade imposed by Israel and its Arab allies. They have confronted three Israeli aggressions, during which they succeeded in sending three million Israeli settlers to the shelters in fear and panic. Moreover, the resistance's 'primitive' missiles suspended air travel in Tel Aviv Airport for over 18 hours when this heroic nation was living on just half-a-meal and two hours of electricity a day, with all the crossing points shut in its face. This being so, what are we to expect in the case of the Iranian nation that lives in a land as large as a continent, eating from what it plants, and wearing and fighting with what it produces?

What the Israelis, their American representatives, and their new and old Arab allies fear most are the resistance factions that Iran has sponsored and 'fattened up' waiting for the 'white day' [when they will be put to use]. We are speaking here of Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, which are laying siege to the occupation state from North and South, and whose missile strike forces – especially Hezbollah's – are protecting Iran instead of the other way around. These are the forces that will make Israel and the U.S. think a thousand times before firing a single bullet at Tehran.

Iran, the continent with rough terrain, will absorb the first American strike. But will Israel and its Arab allies succeed in absorbing the first retaliation from Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad? Can they withstand the thousands of missiles that will rain down on them from all directions? If the Patriot missiles, the pride of America's air defense systems, have failed to intercept the Houthis' missiles [fired at Saudi Arabia], will they succeed in intercepting the thousands of more advanced and accurate Hezbollah missiles when they are launched simultaneously, with tens and perhaps hundreds in each salvo?

On Sunday, President Hassan Rowhani revealed that during his stay in New York, four countries offered to mediate a meeting between him and Donald Trump on the margins of the UN General Assembly, but he rejected them all. This man rejects these proposals because he stands on firm ground and relies on an even firmer nation. He is not intimidated by the U.S. And anyone who says otherwise knows nothing about dignity, pride, and the will to stand one's ground and resist.

Once again, we say this loud and clear: When Netanyahu describes the imposition of blockade on Iran as a historic day this makes our choice very easy. And that is to stand in the other and opposed trench without hesitation.

"After all, life is nothing more than an honorable stance," concludes 'Atwan.

Ends…

 

2-Netanyahu defends, the Saudis procrastinate

 

Netanyahu's call to address [the Khashoggi affair] in an 'appropriate manner' is intended to set a ceiling for the way the murder is handled, making sure that it does not harm the Saudi regime's stability or damage its crown-prince. In doing so, he was inviting U.S. officials to address this issue in a manner that takes Israel's regional priorities into consideration. And Netanyahu made no secret of their nature when he added that the greater problem lies in Iran. Netanyahu's position amounts to a direct admission of the scale of the role played by the Saudi regime, and Mohammad bin Salman in particular, in the battle against Iran alongside Israel. The motive behind the Israeli PM's public entreaty clearly stems from his concern that harming the Saudi crown-prince would have domestic repercussions that could affect the entire scheme that the Trump/Netanyahu/bin-Salman triad relies on--Ali Haidar in Lebanese al-Akhbar

The Saudis may be wagering on the time factor to diminish the effect of what happened. After all, should a major crisis break out in the region, this issue would become of secondary interest for people in general, and could completely disappear off the map as far as politicians are concerned. The second notion suggests that the procrastination is intended to allow the Saudi ruling family to rearrange the regime's domestic household. For the Khashoggi case has not only undermined the Saudi crown-prince's image, reputation, and rule: It has also had repercussions on Saudi Arabia's political and economic situation. And if the situation remains the same, or if new evidence were to emerge that directly implicates the crown prince in what happened, that would have a ruinous effect on the ruling family's future as well--Mohammad Hussein Bakeer in Qatari al-Watan

 

Israeli PM Netanyahu's recent public defense of Saudi Arabia in light of the Khashoggi case is an indication of Israel's concern and uncertainty over the fate of a major regional ally, says a commentator in a pro-Hezbollah Beirut daily. This follows signs of secret attempts by Israel to protect Saudi Crown-Prince bin Salman against the repercussions of this case. Despite its admission that Khashoggi's murder took place with prior intent in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Saudi authorities have been procrastinating about revealing the location of his corpse, notes a Jordanian commentator. Three theories may explain what lies behind this procrastination.

 

FROM SECRET TO PUBLIC DEFENSE: "Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu's defense of Saudi Crown-Prince Mohammad bin Salman and his call for the need to safeguard the Saudi regime's stability was not only a decision to abandon Israel's official silence more than one month after journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder," writes Ali Haidar in Tuesday's left-leaning pro-Hezbollah Beirut daily al-Akhbar.

It also expressed a decision to move Israel's defense of this regime from the secret to the public phase as required by the course of unfolding developments and as a result of which there are concerns for the regime's stability and the possibility that the scheme that seeks to undermine the Islamic regime in Iran and confront the [Iran-led] resistance axis may be damaged.

Ever since Khashoggi's murder, its political repercussions have continued to unfold in response to the flow of information from Ankara regarding what actually transpired. As a result, Riyadh was forced to abandon the initial narrative that it tried to promote. Parallel to that, it became clear that Israel's defense of the Saudi regime, and specifically that of Crown-Prince Mohammad bin Salman, has also passed through different phases in tandem with the continuing developments that have apparently lasted longer than Saudi Arabia had anticipated and what Tel Aviv had hoped for.

As for the secret phase of Israel's defense of the Saudi regime, The Washington Post has revealed that Netanyahu has devoted himself to defending bin Salman in his talks with President Donald Trump's administration. The paper revealed that Netanyahu has beseeched U.S. officials not to harm relations with the Saudis because they are vital allies in the region. In fact, Israel's role in this issue may be very extensive, after it has become clear that Netanyahu played a direct role himself due to his realization of the dangers lurking in what is happening.

It seems that the growing concern for bin Salman's fate as a result of the continuous and escalatory political consequences of this case has driven Netanyahu to the phase of defending the Saudi regime in public. He chose the Hungarian capital Budapest to express his position, which seemed closer to an open plea after his secret efforts in this regard. This is why he formulated his position in a careful and deliberate manner: 'What happened in the Istanbul consulate was horrendous and it should be duly dealt with. Yet [at] the same time I say it – it is very important for the stability of the world, for the region and for the world, that Saudi Arabia remain stable… I think that a way must be found to achieve both goals. Because the larger problem is Iran and we have to make sure that Iran does not continue the malign activities that it has been doing...'

Netanyahu's call to address what happened in an 'appropriate manner' is intended to set a ceiling for the way the murder is handled, making sure that it does not harm the Saudi regime's stability or damage its crown-prince. In doing so, he was inviting U.S. officials to address this issue in a manner that takes Israel's regional priorities into consideration. And Netanyahu made no secret of their nature when he added that the greater problem lies in Iran.

Netanyahu's position amounts to a direct admission of the scale of the role played by the Saudi regime, and Mohammad bin Salman in particular, in the battle against Iran alongside Israel. The motive behind the Israeli PM's public entreaty clearly stems from his concern that harming the Saudi crown-prince would have domestic repercussions that could affect the entire scheme that the Trump/Netanyahu/bin-Salman triad relies on.

Among bin Salman's most important roles is that of financing many activities linked to Israel, as revealed by Trump himself a few days ago when he told The Wall Street Journal: '[The Saudis] have been a very good ally with respect to Iran and with respect to Israel.' And he added that Saudi Arabia 'has helped us a lot with Israel, and they have been financing many things.'

Saudi Arabia has also been playing a fundamental role in providing cover for the attempt to bypass the Palestinian cause and pushing for normalization with the enemy. It may be no coincidence that this track has coincided with the increasingly rapid rush towards normalizing relations between Israel and the Gulf states, moving on to the phase of publicizing the secret relations that have existed for some time, and leading up to successive official Israeli visits to these states. And this is in addition to the Saudi Arabia's role regarding the sanctions on Iran, specifically those having to do with the ban on Tehran's oil exports.

The detailed assessments that Israeli intelligence has presented to the political establishment regarding the horizon for the continuing repercussions of Khashoggi's murder have not been disclosed. Nevertheless, what the Head of Israeli Military Intelligence's Research Division Brigadier-General Dror Shalom revealed in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth (on 2/11/2018) points to some of Tel Aviv's concern and uncertainty. In response to a question as to whether the repercussions of Khashoggi's murder could end in toppling Mohammad bin Salman; Shalom said that that was possible. And he went on: 'The stability of regimes in the Middle East is shaky. A shake in any of them is possible. All of the world's intelligence agencies were taken by surprise in 2011. And this remains true today. It is not possible to predict when a regime might fall. I cannot guess the crown-prince's fate; but it is enough to say that Saudi Arabia has received a serious blow.'

"In light of this, it is not insignificant for Netanyahu to have no qualms about publicly defending the Saudi regime's stability against the pressures it is being subjected to, as this suggests his fear of a domino effect on the Saudi and regional situation, especially since the issue remains alive despite the fact that over a month has passed since it first erupted," concludes Haidar.

End…

 

A MONTH AND A FEW DAYS ON: "A month and a few days have passed since the heinous murder by a Saudi assassination team that came to Turkey with the specific intent of carrying out this mission," writes Mohammad Hussein Bakeer in Tuesday's Qatari daily al-Watan.

After a long period of denial and desperate attempts to camouflage what happened, and under pressure from Turkish leaks and investigations, Saudi Arabia confessed to the crime inside the Saudi consulate, as well to the fact that the murder took place with prior planning and intent.

Yet despite this admission, the Saudi authorities are still procrastinating about revealing the location of the corpse, and are avoiding answering the question as to who gave the direct order to the group to carry out this murder.

On this immediate issue, it would appear that revealing the corpse's location would entail a new scandal for Riyadh that would raise the heat of this already very hot dossier. For, if killing a human being is impermissible to begin with, especially if the person concerned is unarmed and was promised safety, one can imagine what the situation would be if the Saudi authorities were to admit to having dismembered the corpse and dissolving it in acid.

But as regards the broader issues, Riyadh may be wagering on other factors. Within this context, there are those who believe that three basic notions may explain the calculations behind Saudi Arabia's procrastination:

- The first notion is that the Middle East is a region brimming with crises, catastrophes, wars, and conflicts. In this sort of environment and because of the rapidly unfolding events, it is rare for any event to dominate the news for a long time. This being the case, the Saudis may be wagering on the time factor to diminish the effect of what happened. After all, should a major crisis break out in the region, this issue would become of secondary interest for people in general, and could completely disappear off the map as far as politicians are concerned.

--The second notion suggests that the procrastination is intended to allow the Saudi ruling family to rearrange the regime's domestic household. For the Khashoggi case has not only undermined the Saudi crown-prince's image, reputation, and rule: It has also had repercussions on Saudi Arabia's political and economic situation. And if the situation remains the same, or if new evidence were to emerge that directly implicates the crown-prince in what happened, that would have a ruinous effect on the ruling family's future as well.

The advocates of this view take into consideration some of the changes in the behavior of certain officials when it comes to dealing with Saudi Arabia. This includes King Salman's brother and former interior minister Prince Ahmad bin 'Abdelaziz's return to the kingdom, as well as the release of Prince Khaled bin Talal, Prince al-Walid bin Talal's brother, after being detained for a year.

- On the other hand, others claim that the procrastination may be linked to an assessment of Trump's situation after the U.S mid-term elections. In this regard, there are those who say that the procrastination is due to another wager on Trump, for if he were to emerge strong from this electoral challenge, he may be able to soften some of the likely consequences of Khashoggi's murder.

Each of these theories is possible. But the decisive factor in determining each of them is intimately linked to the nature of evidence that the Turkish side may produce in this case. The ambiguity about what evidence Ankara has in its possession is keeping the pressure on Riyadh at a high level.

"Meanwhile, it is clear that Riyadh is also trying to make use of this time to find out if this evidence will lead directly to the crown-prince in order to act accordingly," concludes Bakeer.

Ends…