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Who’s Protecting George Nader? (Part I of III)

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George Nader

It is hard to imagine what was going through the mind of Lebanese-American businessman George Nader when he passed through customs at JFK airport on June 3rd of this year, with three portable phones containing child pornography previously nabbed by FBI officials, portraying heinous video material of minors suffering. 

Immunity from prosecution must have been a chief factor to drive him to take, what at first sight, appears to be an absurdly risky venture, given that he has a record of such vile exploits.

Of course, he does have a track record of writhing out of charges by striking deals with federal prosecutors and relying on friends in high places to pull him out of the abyss. 

Nader is a supremo “fixer.” He’s the go-to guy for Middle East leaders, despots, and intelligence agencies to fix their problems and oil the wheels of corruption, dirty deals and blackmail. 

In the world of pedophilia, blackmail is the perennial currency which keeps everyone in business and far from prosecutors.

In the world of pedophilia, blackmail is the perennial currency which keeps everyone in business and far from prosecutors. It’s hard to imagine this is not the same scenario for monsters like Nader, addicted to child pornography, who recently permeated the royal household of the United Arab Emirates with his unique consultancy role as Washington fixer and Arab world impresario.  

The answer of how through his connections and roles he might rescue himself one more time lies almost certainly in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a degenerate, hedonistic playground which is mistakenly perceived by many in the West as a modern Arab country which accommodates every vice and is struggling to mature into a western oasis, contrasted against Saudi Arabia which is ruled by an elite, has no pretense of any democratic functionality, and revels in its own backwardness. 

Rise to Senior Adviser for UAE

Nader was born in a Christian northern town in Lebanon called Batroun and was fortunate enough to move to the US just before the Lebanese civil war started in 1975. According to one report, he always wanted to be a journalist and in 1980 started his own magazine although he showed little flair for it, according to one Lebanese diplomat in Washington DC who he interviewed for the first edition and whom Middle East Online contacted. The magazine gave him the basis to present himself to the DC circuit as someone important when it came to matters involving the Arab world – which largely meant that people used him to set meetings up. In many ways, that’s what he was doing for the UAE leader in Abu Dhabi. A fixer. 

In reality though, the UAE is a much darker place than Ohio, which a British academic recently found out, when he was arrested on trumped up spying charges, following a botched police investigation and also perhaps the Jordanian-British wife of one of its leaders in Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who fled recently to London. And there really is no one darker than Nader who blended in perfectly into the shadows of Abu Dhabi. 

Nader became a senior adviser to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ), a ruler who punches above his weight both in the region and in DC, who no doubt was charmed by the Lebanese-American and who engaged him as a fixer, long before Trump took office. Once the US president arrived in the Oval office, however, MbZ was keen to exploit Nader’s ability to bring Russians close to Trump, Nader’s contacts in Israel, Hezbollah, and even Iran which together helped to manipulate regional (US) policy as he became a facilitator of payments and carried the cash. 

Nader does, after all, have an impressive track record of connecting powerful people around the world.

Nader does, after all, have an impressive track record of connecting powerful people around the world. After the 2016 US presidential election, according to reliable reports, in December he introduced Kirill Dmitriev, who runs the Russian sovereign wealth fund, to officials advising the incoming President Donald Trump.

Later in January 2017, he also arranged  a meeting in the Seychelles between Dmitriev, who is close to Putin, and Trump ally Erik Prince, Black Water chief and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, according to Mueller’s lengthy report (pp. 155, 160) on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.  MbZ was present at this meeting and noted that the Russian investor was disappointed with the Prince being the best Trump confidante that Nader could muster.

Published Editions of the Muller Report

Nader’s testimony to the grand jury came after he attended the Trump Tower meeting with the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, and Joel Zamel, the owner of Psy-Group, an Israeli private intelligence firm; Zamel is believed to have extracted $2 million from Nader for a social media campaign for Trump. 

At the vortex of the Mueller Report, which many were hoping would impeach the US president, was Nader, working the levers of power with his sweaty palms, who is reported ultimately to have “co-operated extensively” with the investigation. Has Nader played all his aces with the FBI to evade prosecution? Is this why he remained in the UAE as he knew that FBI investigators, or even the so-called “deep state,” would be out to get him after he ratted on the president? 

Placing yourself close to MbZ would be a good move as the UAE leader is far smarter and more effective in the nefarious arts of espionage, dirty diplomacy, and blackmail than his clumsy friend MbS in Riyadh could ever hope to be. Many in the Middle East fear MbZ and his reach more than anyone in the Arab world. 

So why leave the UAE which is a haven in so many ways? The reason is simply that open heart surgery that Nader had had just months before was not a success and he had complications, which only his surgeon could address, which is why he flew back to New York (JFK airport) and triggered the arrest warrant—put on hold in April 2018, but automatically becoming effective the moment Nader entered the US. 

But to understand the mechanics of the latest Nader debacle, we have to go back further when federal agents stopped him at Washington-Dulles International Airport on January 17, 2018, after a flight from Dubai, according to an FBI affidavit. Interestingly, agents had a warrant to search any electronic device stemming from a matter that prosecutors now say was unrelated to child pornography. The FBI were looking for other elements of evidence, probably linked to the Mueller inquiry, and accidently came across the child porn, setting Nader’s fate then and there on US soil.

Nader had three iPhones, including one with a dozen videos of children engaged in sexually explicit conduct, as well as grotesque video involving animals according to the FBI. After meeting with prosecutors, Nader soon began to cooperate, according to details in Mueller’s report.

He had little choice. In poor health and the walls closing in on him, his only hope was leniency from a US judge, who ultimately refused bail, based on Nader’s international assets known to be considerably more than the $3 million he claims to have and his relationship with MbZ. And yet the mysterious case throws up more questions than answers and leaves many wondering if there was more to the search warrant than meets the eye. 

It is likely that investigators were actually probing Nader and his other activities relating to Trump—especially with regards to the UAE and Saudi Arabia. According to a trove of emails later leaked, the FBI already knew about the payoff to Trump via Broidy. Furthermore, the Mueller investigation which gave Nader immunity from the January 2018 child porn content charges only extended to the Russia link. 

Were investigators, in April 2018 when Nader’s immunity had been effectively lifted, looking for messages from both MbS and MbZ which built a case against Trump as a US president happy to take payments from foreign entities to create tailor-made policies suited to their needs? 

Nader and his new partner Republican fundraiser Elliot Broidy (who also was charged with bribing US officials earlier in his career as an investment guru) by then were both celebrating their success in making Trump support the Qatar blockade and for getting Congressman Ed Royce  to do a U-turn on his previous resistance to an anti-Qatar bill in the House.  They had bigger plans though, as getting the US base in Qatar moved to the UAE or Saudi Arabia was always a target.

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This is part 1 of a 3-part expose of the shady dealings of George Nader in Middle East politics based on the Mueller Report. 

EU Aid Racket in Lebanon Raises Stink for Foreign Policy Chief (Part 2 of 2)

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Special to Inside Arabia

The investigation itself centered on one plant near the northern city of Tripoli which, quite apart from swallowing a massive 2.5 million euros to build and equip with entirely bogus composting drums—which never produced even a handful of compost—was set up in a hurry by an inept and arrogant Lebanese government official who incriminated himself in an interview with the journalist by admitting that the plant’s compost was probably toxic and that “corruption” is a real problem. This official at the heart of allegations of graft dismissed the same drums for which he paid as “bogus technology,” while admitting that USAID has been using them for years in Lebanon without incident.  

simply bypassed a number of critical environmental warnings, uncovered in a study which the EU delegation tried to block the journalist from seeing.

The government agency that handled the tender and awarded it to a company which had no experience whatsoever to build a “composting drum”—in preference to another company which had a proven track record—was in such a hurry to hand the cash over, that it simply bypassed a number of critical environmental warnings, uncovered in a study which the EU delegation tried to block the journalist from seeing. Those same recommendations, such as taking water samples in the area as a reference so in future years toxicologists can monitor if the plants’ compost being put back into landfills is destroying the environment and causing public health concerns, are still not being heeded even today. 

The penchant of the EU’s local delegation to overlook such basic measures, or even to create an independent committee of environmental experts to vet the companies trying to get their hands on the quick cash, is shocking. It is also, some would argue, an indictment of culpability. The situation is now drawing the attention of OLAF and Federica Mogherini, who has visited Lebanon many times and who will not want to leave office with a cloud over her head, tainting her legacy.  

Unlike the very recent scandal of millions of euros being embezzled by the Czech Republic’s billionaire prime minister Andrej Babis, who used EU agricultural aid to build a swanky conference center, the Lebanon scandal is closer to Mogherini: the aid in question is handled by her own team.    

The former Italian foreign ministers’ appointment in 2009 as the EU’s chief foreign policy chief and European Commission Vice president was controversial as she was expected to champion a 1 billion euro budget for a new diplomatic service made up of 140 EU “ambassadors” around the world, aimed at pushing the EU dream of hegemony in the developing world. In Lebanon, the appointment of Lassen is an important one as this tiny country has the potential to give Brussels a real headache if it were to decide to kick out the Syrian refugees. The power Hezbollah has in the region and the EU’s warm relations with Iran are also important. 

Mogherini was chosen by the European Socialist block in the European parliament which wanted one of their own in the top job, a woman, and one from a Mediterranean country. Gomes is from the same political bloc. Thus, Gomes’s letter and the explosive charges in it, sent to Mogherini will likely be taken seriously.  Indeed, it will be hard for the EU chief to block an OLAF investigation—one which may well create a momentum of accountability in the EU towards overseas aid money in hundreds of countries around the world. 

The mere assertion in the journalist’s article that Hezbollah was part of the money grabbing scheme will be the cause of some concern by Mogherini and whoever takes over her post in November.  US state department officials are certainly likely to raise the point with the new EU chief, given that the aid scam going back 14 years was masterminded by a Lebanese government agency which has had more than its fair share of Hezbollah-aligned ministers—all of whom, just like Lassen, do not miss an opportunity to take to the podium and give speeches about the importance of press freedom and the importance of the fourth estate. 

the incendiary 150-page study  which, when finally obtained, revealed a shocking disregard for, if not criminal irresponsibility by the EU over the plants’ construction.

However, they also have evidenced a real phobia of western journalists’ requests for interviews or even answering straight forward questions. Lassen, over a period of almost a year, never replied to any questions put to her about the plants, but referred all enquiries to her environment officer who himself blocked the article’s author from obtaining what has turned out to be the smoking gun—the incendiary 150-page study  which, when finally obtained, revealed a shocking disregard for, if not criminal irresponsibility by the EU over the plants’ construction. 

The legal question raised by Gomes’s letter is important. Her call for OLAF to carry out an investigation could possibly lead to prosecutions of EU officials and Lebanese government officials, action which legal experts in Beirut have called for.    

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This is Part II of a two-part article regarding this unprecedented investigation.

Moroccan Doctor Saves Civilians in Conflict Zones

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Moroccan doctor Zouhair Lahna

Doctors often take their vacations away from their workplace to seek relief from stress, but 50-year old Zouhair Lahna is different. He dedicates his time off to serving humanity. 

The activist surgeon has accumulated 20 years of unique humanitarian volunteer experience. He has traveled frequently to the Gaza Strip, Syria, and, more recently, to Yemen. Dr. Lahna told Inside Arabia that his travels have taught him that the commonalities humans share should be enough to abolish differences based on “borders and beliefs and tribal affiliations.”

His determination to serve others inspired him to opt for “medicine as a human profession.” In 1992, he received a Diploma in General Medicine from the University Hassan II in Casablanca before moving to France, where he studied Gynecology and Obstetrics and received a Diploma in Surgery in 1998. Since then, he has worked in France with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders), an international humanitarian medical NGO. 

Inside Arabia met Dr. Lahna at his home in Casablanca, Morocco, where he recounted his experiences. 

Medicine for Humanity: Touching Moments from Palestine

“Health is priceless, but it has a cost, and everyone must have the right to health.” This is the belief that Dr. Lahna adopted after his graduation. His volunteer work began in Afghanistan in 2001, when the U.S. invaded the country post September 11. 

The war doctor has visited Palestine seven times since 2002; the West Bank four times; and the Gaza Strip three times. He provided field assistance to the wounded during the three wars (2008, 2012, and 2014) launched by Israel in the Gaza Strip since 2007. He witnessed Israeli air strikes and the casualties, injuries, and disabilities they inflicted. The 2014 Gaza war was the worst of the three, lasting for 51 days and killing 2,322 Palestinians, including 578 children, 489 women, and 102 elderly people. 

Dr. Lahna saw the Palestinians’ tragedy with his own eyes for 30 days. He arrived in Gaza on the fifth day of the Israeli offensive, an unforgettable moment that he remembers as “bloody and terrifying.” 

The first man Dr. Lahna saw had been severed in half. “That night three people died in my arms and I saved a child,” he said. “I received more than 50 people per day. The number of casualties coming to Shifa Hospital and Nasser Hospital was dramatic, that’s why I had to work in the Emergency and General Surgery Department.”

Dr. Lahna was supposed to spend two weeks in Gaza, but Egypt’s closure of the Rafah Border Crossing—the only entry to the Gaza Strip under Palestinian and Egyptian control—forced him to stay for one month. “I took the opportunity to provide more medical assistance,” he added. 

For years, Egypt has used the Rafah Border Crossing to exert pressure on Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. However, the crossing’s closure is now a collective punishment of the whole Gaza Strip by restricting the movement of its residents and isolating them from the rest of the world.

Gaza’s wars have deeply touched Dr. Lahna. After his departure, he decided to dedicate 80 percent of his time off to voluntary work. 

Without MSF: Dr. Lahna’s New Challenge to Save Syrian Civilians 

When Dr. Lahna began volunteering with organizations other than MSF in 2011, it was a turning point. “MSF has imposed restrictions on us in the places we visit, preventing us from going to conflict zones,” he told Inside Arabia.

In 2012, a year after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Dr. Lahna visited the Zaatari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. “The situation of women and children was very tragic. We established an obstetric unit and provided a lot of assistance,” he stated. 

In coordination with the Syrian Relief Federation, which includes Syrian doctors living in France, Dr. Lahna visited war-torn Syria between 2014 and 2018.  The war between Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and the opposition destroyed the healthcare system. More than half of Syria’s medical centers were closed or partially functioning, and 11.3 million people needed health assistance, including 3 million experiencing serious injuries and disabilities, according to the World Health Organization.

The demands for medical aid campaigns in the northern, opposition-held areas grew as the war escalated. This drove Dr. Lahna to travel to Idlib eight times. His ninth visit was to the Kurdish-controlled northeast. Although his visit was purely humanitarian in nature, he was not able to obtain a government permit to help the wounded in other areas of the country. 

The region received more than 2 million displaced people and there was a “severe shortage of medical facilities in Idlib due to a systematic targeting of the health sector,” Dr. Lahna explained. “The international organizations did not have an emergency plan for the arrival of the displaced and the response was limited to local actors in this area,” he added. 

The image of a five-year-old Syrian child who was admitted to the emergency department of a hospital in Idlib is still etched in Dr. Lahna’s memory. “Her pelvis was torn apart after a shell fell on her house and killed her mother and aunt,” he said, trying to hold back his tears. “She was my daughter’s age. I felt better after I managed to save her, and I still visit her whenever I travel to Turkey.”

Resistance Against the Saudi-led Coalition Blockade in Yemen 

During the wars in Syria and Yemen, patients have been killed in their beds and medical staff attacked while rescuing the wounded, according to MSF. Dr. Lahna described his trip to these conflict hotspots as “a risk because the authorities deal with victim rescuers as opponents.”

Wars often restrict individuals’ mobility, but Dr. Lahna finally made it to Yemen in late 2018. It was “unimaginable,” he said, explaining that he had obtained the visa to go to Yemen from France “after three years of trying.” 

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab of Emirates (UAE) have imposed a land, sea, and air blockade on Yemen since the start of their military intervention in March 2015. The UAE and local forces’ control of the seaports and airports, as well as the entry of any imports, has severely impacted  the living conditions of millions of Yemenis.

Dr. Lahna visited the city of Marib and Al Jawf governorate, where medical services were devastated due to their proximity to the battle front lines between the Saudi-UAE-led coalition and Iran-backed Yemeni rebels known as the Houthis. 

In Al Jawf city, “there is only one hospital, though it lacks staff,” Dr. Lahna told Inside Arabia. “Only one surgeon and two doctors serve hundreds of patients. Most of the treatment is provided free of charge, but . . . medicines are scarce.” In contrast, the situation seems somewhat better in the government-supported Marib province. Marib’s general hospital provided immense help for the Yemenis. “I conducted 14 surgeries per week and trained 60 midwives and nurses [during my stay],” Dr. Lahna added.

Denying access to health facilities has been the most lethal weapon against Yemenis. According to the United Nations, the war has destroyed 50 percent of the country’s health facilities, many by coalition air strikes, and much of the transportation infrastructure. Dr. Lahna remembers a woman who travelled 300 miles from the province of Taiz to reach Marib hospital. But due to the damaged and unsafe roads linking the two cities, it took her a whole day to arrive instead of the normal seven hours. 

Dr. Lahna found that the war on health in Syria and Yemen is more horrifying than the one he saw in Gaza. “The rivals have used health as a weapon in these conflicts,” he said.

The experiences that Dr. Lahna has had over the past two decades have made him believe that he is a doctor for all human beings regardless of ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality. “I am looking forward to being a catalyst for all doctors in the world to save lives in conflict areas.” 

As so many doctors who risk their lives to heal the injured and dying in war torn countries, Dr. Lahna knows that nothing else in the world is more meaningful or more fulfilling. Their work is an expression of love and compassion in the truest sense. For those of us who observe from the sidelines, it is a lesson in humility. 

Water-Scarce UAE Bets on Solar-Powered Water Desalination

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Dubai's huge desalination plant

Dubai announced this February that it would begin using solar energy, namely, from photovoltaic (PV) cells, to power reverse osmosis desalination plants to produce 305 million gallons per day (MIGD) of potable water by 2030. Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), a government-owned utility, hopes to use 100 percent renewable energy to desalinate water and save $13 billion by that year. 

It is an ambitious goal for the sheikhdom that relies on 470 MIGD of desalinated water through an extremely energy-intensive process that currently only uses fossil fuels. The decision underpinning Dubai’s move was a successful run of a pilot program to desalinate water in Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi, in 2016 with the help of 100 percent solar energy. Now DEWA is planning to reach an industrial scale with the solar technology.

Abu Dhabi is on the same path. On May 13, 2019, Abu Dhabi reached a deal with Spanish company Abengoa to build the world’s largest reverse osmosis desalination plant powered by solar energy, which will aim to provide fresh water to four and a half million people in this emirate. The level of water desalination in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the highest in the Middle East and North Africa, hovering at around 24 percent. The transition to clean energy for water desalination is part of Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s overall decarbonization efforts. The UAE aims to increase the share of clean energy in its total energy mix up to 50 percent by 2050 and decarbonize the electricity sector by 70 percent, as part of its Energy Strategy 2050 plan. Solar-powered reverse osmosis desalination has also generated acute interest in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis plan to launch a commercial solar desalination plant by 2021.

Developed in the 1950s, reverse osmosis technology, which purifies water by using permeable membranes to remove unwanted chemicals, is gaining ground in the Middle East, where fossil fuel-run thermal plants account for about 90 percent of their desalination requirements. Because reverse osmosis is relatively more energy-efficient than thermal desalination, it is starting to displace thermal plants in the Middle East. 

The sun-drenched Arabian Gulf nations have one of the highest levels of solar irradiance in the world. At this juncture, the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) from solar PV projects in Saudi Arabia and the UAE is already as low as $0.03 kilowatts per hour (kWh). By comparison, the weighted average LCOE from PV solar power worldwide was at around $0.12/kWh in 2016. As defined by the U.S. Department of Energy, LCOE “measures lifetime costs divided by energy production” of a generating plant. It relies on calculations of the present value of the total cost of building and operating the generating unit throughout its assumed lifetime.

A 99 percent drop in the global prices of PV solar cells this decade has increased their installations worldwide, as illustrated below. They are now cost-competitive with fossil fuels to purify water in certain desalination plants, and they are particularly favorable in remote areas with no or limited access to the power grid. Prices of solar cells are expected to drop even further in coming years.

Solar Cell Prices and Installation Rates

 

*Estimate. Sources: Bloomberg, Earth Policy Institute

The idea behind transitioning to solar-powered desalination is to free up oil and gas for exports and to make the process cleaner and more efficient. At the same time, the burgeoning population rates in the Gulf region have boosted demand for water, which will continue to grow. 

While the rates of converting seawater to potable water are only going to increase in the region, there are several problems related to desalination, particularly the thermal method, to meet the growing demand. 

Thermal water desalination is still used in the Middle East. This technique produces more than just water – it generates massive amounts of potentially environmentally hazardous brine, which is often released into the sea. This byproduct of desalination is often warmer and more saline than the sea water, potentially posing a danger to marine life. But brine does not have to be discharged into the sea. It can also be placed into evaporation ponds or it can be secured underground. 

According to Manzoor Qadir, a researcher from the United Nations University in Canada, close to half of the world’s desalination takes place in the Arabian Gulf where “oversight tends to be relatively weak.” Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest producer of desalinated water, followed by the U.S., the UAE, China, Spain, and Kuwait. Biologists are also concerned about the presence of chemicals, such as copper and chlorine, in the brine from using fossil fuels in thermal desalination plants. They can pollute the sea and may end up in the food chain. As Gulf countries continue to embrace the reverse osmosis method and clean energy to power them, it may be possible to cut down on the chemical-ridden brine.

That brings us to the question of whether reverse osmosis is the best way to purify water in the Arabian Gulf and what kind of clean energy technologies, in terms of cost and efficiency, are best suited for desalination. Compared to thermal desalination, reverse osmosis does not require heat to evaporate saltwater. But because of high water salinity in the Arabian Gulf, some observers argue that evaporation techniques may still be necessary and the reverse osmosis approach may have some limitations to purify saltwater in the region without added costs. As the countries in the region embrace reverse osmosis with the goal of making the desalination process cleaner and cheaper, they will need to find innovative ways to achieve it. 

The type of solar technology used can determine its cost competitiveness to desalinate water. Concentrated solar power (CSP) uses mirrors to focus sunlight toward thermal salts that generate electricity and heat. CSP can store power for hours, which is beneficial to some types of desalination plants to help vaporize saltwater. While PV solar cells cost much less than CSP, they only produce electricity but not heat. Thermal energy generated from CSP can reduce the cost of saltwater evaporation. Therefore, CSP will be costlier than PVs, but it could be a better fit for use in the Gulf region than the PV-based desalination. The cost of energy to desalinate water will never be low, especially given the massive scale of purification needed to satisfy the water demand in the Middle East. Moreover, the use of fossil fuels has made the process not only costly, but also dirty. The relative social and economic costs of different types of energy used to desalinate will vary to a certain degree. However, at this juncture, it makes good environmental and economic sense to use clean energy.

The arid Gulf region has one of the scarcest supplies of water in the world, and some predict its water may run out in a few decades due to climate change and overuse. Indeed, water consumption in the Gulf is one of the highest in the world. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization reported that water is overexploited in the Arabian Peninsula by over 500 percent. While cleaner and more efficient technologies, such as solar-powered reverse osmosis desalination plants, are now less expensive, and water desalination in the Gulf is bound to increase with the expected rise in population rates, government subsidization of water remains highly problematic. Subsidization hides the real cost of this scarce and vital commodity, and it will continue to devalue it by causing more waste and inefficient use. According to research conducted by Germany’s Max Planck Institute, the changing climate will make the region drier and hotter with more frequent dust storms in coming years, and continued water subsidization will only exacerbate the situation.

Anatomy of a Police State: Activists on Capitol Hill Deplore State of Human Rights in Bahrain

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Protests against human rights violations in Bahrain

In a time of rising tensions in the Middle East, barely a day goes by without fresh revelations of human rights abuses in the Gulf. From the Saudi-led war in Yemen, to public executions, to the detention of members of the Royal family in the UAE, the world is paying increasing attention to violations in the region. Amid this coverage, an often overlooked state is the small island nation of Bahrain. Yet the kingdom has no shortage of alleged abuses to its name. A recent conference on Capitol Hill sought to redress this imbalance. 

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), in a briefing on June 11, reviewed corruption and human rights abuses in the Gulf state, committed by the Bahraini Ministry of the Interior (MOI) with the alleged support of the US government. 

According to ADHRB’s website: “The event, moderated by ADHRB’s Executive Director Husain Abdulla, featured expert panelists including Seth Binder from Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), Jodi Vittori from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Monica Zuraw from ADHRB. Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) both delivered opening remarks, thanking ADHRB for its work to address human rights concerns in Bahrain and calling upon Congress to give more attention to the issue.”

Rep. McGovern expressed that, following the repressive measures undertaken by the Bahraini government to quell the mass uprising in 2011, there was more vocal bipartisan support for pressuring Bahrain to uphold human rights standards. However, he lamented that, under the current administration in Washington, this support has diminished. 

McGovern called on the Bahraini regime to cease its discriminatory practices against the Shia, to allow for the operation of a free press, and to strip its national security officials of their arrest powers. Congressman McGovern is an advocate for prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, who is currently serving prison time in Bahrain in relation to tweets. He also suggested utilising the Tom Lanton Defending Freedoms Project to support Bahraini prisoners of conscience. 

“When we support a government that violates human rights, we undermine our efforts and standing around the world.”

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) used her time to highlight the widespread tendency for activists to be jailed, raped, tortured, executed or disappeared in Bahrain, noting that Bahrain has the highest rate of mass incarceration in the Middle East. Omar also advocated ending US arms sales to Bahrain, stating: “When we support a government that violates human rights, we undermine our efforts and standing around the world.” Hasain Abdulla concurred, stressing that the US should place much more emphasis on human rights in its relationship with Bahrain. 

During most of the event, Monica Zuraw outlined ADHRB’s report, “Anatomy of a Police State: Systematic Repression, Brutality, and Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior.” According to ADHRB: “The report analyzed over 1,000 discrete incidences of abuse comprising more than 3,000 specific rights violations attributable to the Ministry of Interior between 2011 and 2018, and this pattern of police brutality and repression was apparent at every command level.” 

According to the ADHRB report: “1 in every 635 Bahrainis has been arbitrarily detained, disappeared, tortured, raped, killed, or otherwise abused” by the Ministry of Interior.

Zuraw accused the Bahraini government of creating a culture of impunity that rewards and incentivises abuses. According to the ADHRB report: “1 in every 635 Bahrainis has been arbitrarily detained, disappeared, tortured, raped, killed, or otherwise abused” by the Ministry of Interior. Zuraw said that Bahraini nationals accused of taking part in human rights violations should be barred from entering the US, as most are in violation of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. 

ADHRB uses Interpol to publicly accuse such individuals online by issuing “ADHRB Red Notices.” Zuraw concluded her remarks by calling on the international community to impose sanctions for violations perpetrated by individuals throughout Bahrain’s Interior Ministry, up to and including Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdulla AlKhalifa himself. 

In response to a question from the audience, Zuraw said that ADHRB has recorded 46 cases of abuse by Bahrain’s Special Security Force Command (SSFC), including 25 extrajudicial killings. She also spoke of 77 further cases, of which 46 were extrajudicial killings, in which no perpetrator has been clearly identified but which match SSFC patterns of abuse.

In her statement, Jodi Vittori broadened the discussion by commenting on Bahrain’s Ministry of Defense (MOD). Vittori emphasized the role played by the US and other western powers in providing security apparatus to Bahrain; that apparatus that is often used to coerce and repress citizens. 

The US provides 85% of Bahrain’s military equipment and Vittori stressed that this support comes in many forms: arms, food, surveillance, housing, and so on. She went on to highlight the fact that, in a recent report, Bahrain received the lowest possible ranking of “F” in terms of the level of transparency of its state budget. The country has no independent audits and no parliamentary proceedings overseeing such matters—even the exact size of the security budget is not made public, making high levels of corruption extremely likely. 

Vittori also discussed sectarianism in Bahrain and the demonization of the Shia (actually a majority in the country) by the Sunni royal family. The Shia are often presented as loyal to Iran and are essentially excluded from holding government positions. This sectarian feeling is often called upon to justify the regular crackdowns on dissent, including extensive censoring of social media. Vittori suggested that the US should use its leverage as the Bahrain’s chief arms provider to insist that Bahrain publish reliable budgeting reports. 

The final speaker, Seth Binder, elaborated on the political relationship between the US and Bahrain, recognizing also the role played by close regional allies Saudi Arabia and UAE. Binder lamented the Trump administration’s preoccupation with Iran, which he claims is causing Washington to ignore human rights violations by countries in the Gulf. Binder reiterated the remarks of earlier speakers, calling on the US to use its leverage to help improve Bahrain’s human rights standards. 

All panelists stressed that Bahrain mirrors Saudi Arabia, although on a much smaller scale: The country is controlled by a small, Sunni, aristocratic class and is awash with severe economic inequality and human rights abuses. In focussing on an often overlooked state like Bahrain, ADHRB highlighted the importance of holding all abusers of human rights to account.

Lebanese Mothers Fight to Pass on Citizenship to Children

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Protesting Citizenship Discrimination in Beirut

lias Atallah was born to a Palestinian father and a Lebanese mother. Even though he was born and raised in Lebanon, he cannot obtain Lebanese citizenship because Lebanese women who are married to foreigners are not allowed to pass on their nationality to their spouses or their children. The fact that Atallah’s father is Palestinian further complicates matters, as Palestinian refugees have limited rights in Lebanon. Unfortunately, Atallah’s situation is not unique.

Lebanon is home to thousands of children born to Lebanese mothers and foreign fathers who are denied very basic rights. Their male counterparts, on the other hand, face no such restriction. For decades, Lebanese human rights activists have been fighting this act of discrimination by demanding reform of the country’s nationality law; however, it continues to be an uphill battle. 

Lebanese Passport

Discriminatory Nationality Laws in the MENA region

A 2018 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) survey of nationality legislation revealed that 25 countries have yet to achieve equality between men and women when it comes to conferring nationality upon children. Over half of these states were in the Middle East and North Africa. These countries include Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon. The UNHCR report grouped the nationality laws of the 25 states into three distinct categories. 

The countries in the first group have “nationality laws which do not allow mothers to confer their nationality on their children with no, or very limited, exceptions.” The second group provides for “some safeguards against the creation of statelessness,” with some exceptions being made if the father of a child is unknown or stateless. In the third category, the countries “limit the conferral of nationality by women but additional guarantees ensure that statelessness will only arise in very few circumstances.” Lebanon falls in the first category, leaving many children with limited rights in their mothers’ country of origin. 

Lebanon’s 1925 nationality law allows the foreign spouses of Lebanese men to obtain citizenship after one year of marriage. The law only grants Lebanese citizenship “to children born to a Lebanese father, those born in Lebanon who would not otherwise acquire another nationality through birth or affiliation, or those born in Lebanon to unknown parents or parents of unknown nationalities.” This law is blatantly discriminatory against Lebanese women, as “children of Lebanese mothers with unknown paternity” have greater rights to citizenship than “those with Lebanese mothers and a known foreign father.”

Lebanon’s citizenship rules affect almost every aspect of the lives of the spouses and children of Lebanese women. Children of these unions can obtain nationality from their fathers. However, if the fathers are from stateless populations, the offspring are in jeopardy of becoming stateless themselves. By not granting the children of Lebanese mothers and foreign fathers citizenship, Lebanon is denying them access to basic rights, including education, healthcare, and employment opportunities. 

Lebanon’s Hidden Political Tug-of-War

There is no publicly available data on the number of Lebanese women who have married foreigners, or the number of children affected by Lebanon’s nationality law. Nevertheless, a 2009 UN Development Program-backed study found that there were 18,000 marriages between Lebanese women and foreigners in Lebanon between 1995 and 2008. Another 2012-2013 study conducted by Lebanese human rights organization Frontiers Ruwad Association found that 73 percent of stateless people in Lebanon, who were not of Palestinian origin, were born to Lebanese mothers. 

In addition to violating international law, Lebanon’s nationality law violates Article 7 of its own constitution, which guarantees that all Lebanese people are “equal before the law.” For two decades, Lebanese activists have campaigned to amend this legislation. However, their efforts have often been met with resistance from politicians in Beirut, who have suggested that allowing women to confer their citizenship to their spouses and children could undermine the country’s long-term national security interests. 

Politicians fear that integrating Lebanon’s large Syrian and Palestinian refugee populations could alter the country’s demography and disrupt the sectarian political power-sharing system. “We’re being told that should women have the right to confer nationality that they are going to ‘destroy’ the delicate sectarian balance of this country, hence leading to another war. This is truly bizarre,” Lina Abou Habib told the Women’s Right to Nationality Group. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has stated that this justification is “clearly discriminatory,” as it is not applied to Lebanese men “who marry foreigners—as many as four wives for Muslim men.”

While individual ministries in Lebanon have implemented some incremental changes to increase the access of children of Lebanese mothers and foreign fathers to some elementary rights, such as education and work, they are “piecemeal and subject to change,” according to HRW. Yet, the lack of information about the existing rules and procedures complicates their ability to access these rights. To date, efforts to completely overhaul Lebanon’s citizenship law have failed. 

“We used to say that Lebanon is advanced, and women are getting their rights. No, we’re not getting our rights,” Hanadi Nasser, a Lebanese woman married to a foreigner, told HRW. “I’m not going to stop fighting for my rights. No matter what they do. We’re going to keep calling for our rights. We’re Lebanese and so are our children,” Nasser concluded defiantly. 

Some hope that Lebanon’s newly-elected government will be more open to reform, as four women were appointed to the country’s cabinet in January, including the first woman in the Arab world to serve as an interior minister. However, even if there is currently no political will to reform Lebanon’s nationality law, the fearless love of the country’s mothers is sure to overturn this discriminatory policy in the future. The call for women’s rights and gender equality is gaining momentum worldwide and someday Lebanon will have to abide by its own constitution, which guarantees equality before the law to all Lebanese regardless of gender or religion.

The Iran-Britain Tanker Row: Implications for the Nuclear Deal

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Supertanker Grace 1 suspected of carrying crude oil to Syria

On July 4, a team of around 30 British Royal Marines were deployed to Gibraltar to help detain supertanker Grace 1 believed to be carrying two million barrels of crude oil to the Baniyas Refinery in Syria in violation of European Union sanctions against the Assad government, a major ally of Iran’s.

The incident took place against a backdrop of a simmering dispute on Tehran’s retaliatory breach of the nuclear accord—officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—and how European powers should redeem it in the face of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic Republic. The confiscation was reportedly carried out at the behest of the United States and warmly welcomed by the US National Security Advisor John Bolton as “excellent news.” 

Deeply in the throes of leaving the EU, Britain is unsurprisingly trying to warm up to the US and its regional Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which it will have to rely further on economically and politically in the post-Brexit era, by being so-called “tough” on Iran. 

Yet, given the strained European silence on the issue, including by France and Germany—both signatories to the nuclear agreement—the tanker seizure seems to have been interpreted in Tehran as a signal to the Iranian leadership that Europe is willing and ready to overlook its differences with the US and join Washington’s pursuit of crippling pressure on Iran if it carries through with threats of nuclear escalation.

In an alarming reaction to the incident, Mohsen Rezaee, Secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council and a Revolutionary Guards commander, warned in a tweet that “if Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities’ duty to seize a British oil tanker.” 

The threat of reprisal was reinforced the following day by Mohammad Ali Mousavi Jazayeri, a member of the Assembly of Experts—a clerical body in charge of overseeing the Supreme Leader and choosing his successor—who stressed that Britain should be “scared” of Tehran’s retaliatory measures over the “illegal” seizure of the supertanker. 

A few days later, on July 11, the UK government announced that a Royal Navy warship had staved off three Revolutionary Guards speedboats trying to block a British-owned tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz between the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.

The detention of Grace 1 has put Tehran in a difficult position. 

The seizure of a British oil tanker in retaliation could spark a diplomatic crisis between Iran and the European Union and push the latter closer towards the United States at a time when the Islamic Republic needs European help to keep its economy afloat. More specifically, it can adversely affect European tolerance of Iran’s gradual reduction of nuclear commitments under the JCPOA in response to US sanctions.     

Iranian inaction, on the other hand, runs the risk of prompting a so-called domino effect and encouraging Tehran’s other nemeses to follow suit and try to enforce American or European sanctions against it in the high seas. 

Public suspicion and sensitivity about the UK in Iran do not help either. The incident has revived bitter historical memories of a British-American coup in 1953 against Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh who nationalized the Iranian oil industry at the expense of Britain. The Persian-speaking social media have been awash with calls for retaliatory measures against British interests until London is forced to release the confiscated oil tanker.

Diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions have so far failed to yield substantial results.

Diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions have so far failed to yield substantial results. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is also a Tory leadership contender, has offered to return the tanker in exchange for guarantees that its massive oil cargo not be delivered to Syria. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has denied the allegation, insisting that Grace 1 was headed to a legal destination in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. 

Either as a result of British lobbying to ease tensions or for fear of regional escalation and its grave security consequences, some of Iran’s neighbors seem to be adopting a more conciliatory stance. On July 15, Tidewater Middle East Co., Iran’s largest port operator, declared that Kuwait had released a major Iranian crane vesselArvand Tide 1000—10 months after it was detained at the Kuwaiti Port of Shuaiba over “baseless allegations.” Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh has also told lawmakers in Tehran that the faceoff with the UK could be resolved through diplomacy, suggesting that retribution is not necessary. 

Ayatollah Khamenei warned that the Islamic Republic and its “devout elements will not leave vicious Britain’s piracy unanswered.”

On Tuesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei warned that the Islamic Republic and its “devout elements will not leave vicious Britain’s piracy unanswered.” The menacing rhetoric is reminiscent of a mob attack on the UK embassy in Tehran by a group of pro-state plainclothes hardliners who were indignant at London’s “anti-Iran” policies over its nuclear program. 

Yet, Tehran will likely try to use the Gibraltar incident as a source of political leverage to increase pressure on the EU and compel it into shielding Iran’s economy against US nuclear sanctions. But if push comes to shove, and European powers resort to punitive measures to coerce Iranian nuclear compliance, Tehran might very well respond by seizing the assets of its adversaries or a repeat of sabotage attacks on international shipping in the Gulf.

Libyan Families Sue Haftar in U.S. for War Crimes

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Former general Khalifa Haftar

Khalifa Haftar took part in the coup that brought Muammar Gaddafi to power in 1969, but he was captured in 1987 during a Libyan war against Chad and later released in 1990 in a deal with the U.S. government. Haftar lived in exile for 20 years in Virginia and attained U.S. citizenship.

The Libyan families of slain men filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, against U.S. citizen Khalifa Haftar for carrying out an indiscriminate bombing campaign in the outskirts of Tripoli that has claimed the lives of their relatives.

Abdulhakim Tunalli, brother of Msaddek Tunalli, who was killed outside Tripoli by Haftar’s forces spoke to Inside Arabia.

“My brother along with his comrades were helping people to evacuate the area in Ain Zarah, a southern Tripoli neighborhood because it was inhabited mainly by women, children, and the elderly. After making sure no one was left behind they were fleeing the targeted area when Haftar’s forces bombed them, and my brother was killed.”

Legal Basis for the Lawsuit

Tunalli said the U.S. law allows the Libyan families to file a lawsuit against a U.S. citizen if he committed atrocities and killed citizens abroad.

The court filings state that, “The terrorist activities committed by Defendant Haftar constitute a violation of the laws of nations prohibiting torture, mass murder, indiscriminate destruction of civilian property and genocide.”

Faisal Gill, the attorney representing the Libyan families told Inside Arabia that Haftar is a war criminal and that being an American citizen provides a strong legal basis for the lawsuit.

“Under the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act and Torture Victim Protection Act, there is a legal basis to sue people who commit such acts of atrocities that general Haftar has been committing. The lawsuit against Haftar is for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and gross violations of human rights,” Gill said. “The fact that he is a U.S. citizen makes his legal situation even worse.” 

Next Step

The families are seeking $100 million in punitive damages and financial compensation and $25 million for pain and suffering caused by Haftar’s forces’ attacks on their relatives, killing and injuring many of them.

Gill told Inside Arabia that the next step will be to serve the warlord Haftar a court summons.

“There are several ways; either to use the official court mechanism to serve him a notice overseas or to serve him the court summons if he comes to the U.S., and as soon as he receives the notice, the lawsuit will be activated. If he does not fight it, or does not respond, we can swiftly get a so-called a default judgement and win the case,” Gill said.

Gill added that he is confident of winning the case. Because Haftar’s family is still living in the U.S. and he has property and assets in America, the Libyan families filing the lawsuit can take general Haftar’s U.S. assets if they prevail in their lawsuit.

Gill stresses that the lawsuit is not symbolic, but a real case and controversy. He hopes that the civil lawsuit will become a criminal case in which general Haftar could be tried criminally by the U.S. Department of Justice for these alleged war crimes.

Congressional Pressure

Five House Democrats and two Republicans have called on the Trump administration to launch an investigation into Haftar’s conduct, which they perceive as a violation of the law of war. Tom Malinowski, a Democrat from New Jersey is one of the House Representatives demanding such an investigation.

“I will follow through on this and other measures to ensure that the international community does not forget Libya’s conflict and that the U.S. government remains committed to prosecuting war crimes and grave injustices,” Malinowski said.

Abdulhakim Tunalli is hoping that congressional pressure will help the lawsuit.

“I believe that a congressman like Malinowski, who was an Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, is the right person to proceed because he has frequently stated that he will follow up with the Justice Department to open an investigation into the war crimes that U.S. citizen Khalifa Haftar has committed,” Tunalli told Inside Arabia.

Essam Omeish, President of the Libyan-American Alliance has called on the Trump administration to expedite the investigation into Haftar’s war crimes.

“The Libyan people have suffered enough under the heinous transgressions of this war criminal, and the U.S. government and its legal system must intervene to put a stop to his unspeakable crimes.”

Omeish told Inside Arabia that “Warlord Haftar has been the biggest impediment to the peace and prosperity of Libya: his actions have derailed the democratic process in Libya and his war crimes have inflicted much suffering upon all Libyans who yearn for peace, stability and democratic transition in Libya.”

Oman: A Facilitator of Diplomacy

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Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said

Since Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said’s ascendancy to power in 1970, the Sultanate of Oman’s foreign policy has been distinct. Despite being a founding member of the mostly anti-Iranian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Oman’s international policies have been informed by a doctrine of neutrality and an impartial approach to global affairs and developments.

Strategically located along the Arabian Peninsula’s south-eastern corner near the Strait of Hormuz, through which thousands of tons of oil reach world markets daily, the Sultanate sits at a location of paramount importance to navigation and the global economy. This geography heavily shapes Oman’s delicate geopolitical position based on a relatively independent foreign policy that does not follow the blueprints set forth by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Oman map location

Oman’s main priority is to maintain friendly relations with all its neighbors and major players in global politics. The Sultanate was the first GCC member-state to resolve all its border disputes with neighbors and since 1970 Oman has never severed diplomatic relations with any government in the world.

Such an approach has enabled Muscat to actively facilitate negotiations in the Middle East. Maintaining this unique position has required Oman to distance itself from others in the GCC at certain times. Muscat has refused to align with its fellow Arabian Peninsula monarchies on a host of foreign policy endeavours such as the Arab coalition’s war against Houthi insurgents in Yemen, backing Sunni rebels fighting the Syrian regime, taking diplomatic action against Iran, blockading Qatar, and intervening militarily in Libya and Bahrain’s internal crises during the Arab Spring revolts of 2011.

Through its carefully constructed foreign policy that is mostly neutral, Oman has established a reputation as a trustworthy peace broker in the Middle East with a host of regimes across the ideological spectrum often welcoming its mediation in various conflicts. Historically, Oman played an important role in facilitating the peace process between Tehran and Baghdad amid the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). Additionally, Muscat’s contribution was crucial in the liberation of two American hikers who were detained near the Iraqi-Iranian border in 2010 and were eventually freed thanks to Oman’s diplomatic intervention. Similarly, numerous Westerners detained by various factions in Yemen have also been liberated from their captors via Omani mediation.

Due to Oman’s working relationship with Tehran, Muscat has served in the past as a facilitator of discussions between the United States and several Arab states on one side and Iran on the other. Oman’s service in this capacity culminated with the Sultanate holding the preliminary, secret talks in the negotiation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which strengthened Oman’s role as a mediator. The Sultanate is viewed as a credible partner within both American and Iranian circles. However, Oman wants to guarantee that its relations with both Washington and Tehran are not jeopardized by other Gulf states’ geopolitical interests. This is why Muscat is allowing the opening of new US and UK bases on Oman’s strategic coast as part of an expansion of defense and security ties with Western powers.

Regarding Syria, the Omanis have maintained their characteristic neutrality throughout the past eight years of civil war between Bashar al-Assad’s regime and his enemies. It was hardly any surprise earlier this month when Yusuf bin Alawi, the Omani State Minister for Foreign Affairs, met Assad as well as Alawi’s Syrian counterpart, Walid Muallem in Damascus. Since the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011, this was Alawi’s second visit to the war-torn country. Officials in Damascus have always seen Oman as a benevolent Gulf state and a trusted party which has embraced “supportive positions towards Syria at various Arab and international forums.”

Similarly, on the Palestinian file, Oman has been ahead of the curve among GCC member-states in terms of pushing for an opening with Israel while also taking steps to show support for a Palestinian state that no other government in the Arabian Peninsula has done so far. Specifically, Muscat’s announcement last month that the Sultanate plans to open an Omani embassy in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. That Oman made this announcement shortly after the “Peace to Prosperity” summit in Bahrain (which Oman did not attend) spoke volumes about Muscat’s continued independence from the “Riyadh consensus” within the GCC.

With respect to Yemen, Oman is considered by all parties “a diplomatic arbiter,” having met with the UN special envoy to the country, Martin Griffiths, and the Houthi negotiator, Mohammed Abdulsalam. From the onset of the civil war, the Sultanate has maintained a strictly neutral stance. Questioning the ability of the GCC coalition to defeat the Yemeni Houthis militarily, Oman has pursued a strategy of “constructive engagement” and is a proponent of implementing the Stockholm Agreement. To date, Oman’s approach has been relatively fruitful, as Muscat has successfully negotiated the release of prisoners from Houthi militants and has hosted intra-Yemeni peace talks.

Oman is regarded by the warring factions as a trustworthy partner which could play a key role in resolving the conflict in Yemen.

Oman is regarded by the warring factions as a trustworthy partner which could play a key role in resolving the conflict in Yemen. Indeed, it has vested interests in resolving the war, as it fears a refugee crisis, economic difficulties, and the threat from extremists who could take advantage of the power vacuum that the civil war has created. In addition, having openly expressed its disagreement with the UAE’s foreign policy, Muscat is suspicious of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) which is closely linked to the UAE, and does not want to be trapped by another “UAE-aligned state,” should it be established. As an Ibadi Muslim-majority country without vying sectarian interests, the Houthis have openly expressed their preference for Oman as a mediator.

Significantly, Oman opposed the onset of a war after Ali Abdullah Saleh’s assassination, and has since the beginning of the Saudi-led coalition’s Operation Decisive Storm in March 2015 refused to take part. Finally, Oman’s role in efforts to achieve peace in Yemen have also been viewed favourably by the current internationally recognized president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s side, which trusts the Sultanate due to its “consistent track record of negotiating with the Houthis.”

As expected, Oman’s approach to foreign policy has often raised the ire of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The Sultanate’s close relations with Qatar and Iran, for example, could potentially undermine its mediating efforts and hurt its credibility. While Oman’s absence from Operation Decisive Storm has been tolerated, in the future, Muscat’s actions could adversely impact its relations with its GCC allies. Consequently, Sultan Qaboos’ successor might be pressured to reorient Oman’s diplomacy away from Iran and closer to the GCC.

Muscat’s ties with Israel are also in the limelight, particularly following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Oman in October 2018. Yet the Sultanate’s leadership has denied that normalization of bilateral ties is on the table unless a Palestinian state is established.

Overall, it remains to be seen how Oman will be able to preserve its foreign policy independence and continue to serve as a facilitator of diplomatic interactions in the Gulf region, while also maintaining relations both with the GCC member-states and Iran. The region is heating up and the challenges to Oman will grow as various players in the region become less flexible and increasingly maximalist in their foreign policy agendas.

Theodore Karasik is the senior advisor at Gulf State Analytics, a Washington, DC-based geopolitical risk consultancy. Follow him on Twitter: @TKarasik.

Andreas Paraskevopoulos is an intern at Gulf State Analytics.

The Harrowing Humanitarian Toll of Sanctioning Iran

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Drug Shortages in Iran under new US sanctions

Iran has faced repeated rounds of multilateral sanctions from the U.S., EU, and UN, since its 1979 revolution, which overthrew the Shah and brought Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power. Although the sanctions were intended to curb Iran’s nuclear program and end its alleged support for international terrorism, they have spilled over into unrelated civilian sectors, exacting a harrowing toll on ordinary Iranians by denying them life-saving medication as well access to travel, study, and banking abroad. 

Jimmy Carter initiated the first series of U.S. sanctions against Iran in November 1979 in response to the Iranian Hostage Crisis, when a group of students took control of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held dozens of U.S. diplomats hostage. The U.S. froze Iranian government assets in the U.S. and in American banks abroad, until the release of the hostages in January 1981. Reagan later re-imposed sanctions on Iranian products in 1984 due to Iran’s alleged support for international terrorism. The U.S. expanded sanctions against oil exports from Iran under the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 and subsequently extended the ban to all trade and investment activities. 

In 2010, Congress passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, which amended the existing sanctions under the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 to put greater pressure on Iran to curb its nuclear program. The new law banned the import of most Iranian goods and services and forbade American citizens from exporting goods and services to Iran. 

Although section 3, article 10 of the Act notes that: “the people of the United States have feelings of friendship for the people of Iran,” and “regret that developments in recent decades have created impediments to that friendship,” the U.S. intensified sanctions the following year. It extended them to include punitive measures against persons and companies that aided or supplied Iran’s oil or chemical industry and to target groups such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. 

The U.S. has been the primary but not the sole instigator of sanctions. The UN Security Council also imposed sanctions on Iran in 2006 and subsequently passed a series of resolutions imposing a travel ban on certain persons, freezing individuals’ and companies’ assets, embargoing material that could be used for Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and banning the exportation and procurement of arms.

The EU also enacted its own sanctions, restricting the importation of equipment that could be used for domestic repression in 2010. Then, in 2012, it embargoed Iranian oil and froze assets belonging to Iran’s central bank.

Finally, in 2015, it appeared that the international community was ready to turn over a new leaf. U.S. President Obama broke with precedent when he and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani signed the landmark Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), along with five other major powers. The JCPOA lifted sanctions in return for Iran agreeing to limit its nuclear activities. Iran’s GDP rates soared to 12.3 percent the following year and grew by a modest 3.7 percent in 2017. 

President Donald Trump, however, reversed Obama’s decision in May 2018 when he announced that the U.S. would unilaterally withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and re-impose sanctions on Iran. The first round of the Trump administrations’ sanctions targeting Iran’s currency market and non-petroleum economic sectors went into effect in August. The second round was imposed on November 5, directly targeting the petroleum, shipping, energy, and insurance sectors. The U.S. issued sanction waivers to eight of Iran’s oil customers to allow them to continue crude oil exports until May 2019. But the U.S. has since announced that it will not be renewing the waivers. 

In June, the U.S. Treasury Department announced additional sanctions, targeting Iran’s petrochemical industry. Tensions have only escalated since then. 

Britain said Iran was “almost certainly” responsible for attacks on two oil tankers.  On July 4, authorities in Gibraltar, assisted by British Royal Marines, seized an Iranian oil tanker, claiming it was carrying oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. Following threats of retaliation by Iran, on July 10, gunboats allegedly from Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) approached a British oil tanker and allegedly tried to take into Iranian waters.

While political tensions escalate, the impact on Iran’s economy has been severe. As a result of the Trump administrations’ previous sanctions, Iran’s GDP declined by 3.9 percent in 2018, according to the IMF, and is expected to contract by an additional 6 percent in 2019. The World Bank reported in June that Iran is likely to experience an even worse recession than it originally predicted, as U.S. sanctions choke off the oil exports that have been Tehran’s main source of revenue. Meanwhile, year-on-year inflation is rising, increasing from around 10 percent in mid-2018 to 52 percent in April of this year. 

Yet, sanctions have done little to stunt Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and Tehran has outright rejected proposals to reopen international dialogue.

Yet, sanctions have done little to stunt Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and Tehran has outright rejected proposals to reopen international dialogue. In May, Rouhani publicly compared current life in Iran under U.S. sanctions to the devastating Iran-Iraq war period (1980-1988), acknowledging the hardship experienced by many Iranians. At the same time, he made clear that Iran had no intention of capitulating to Washington’s demands. Iran also rejected French proposals for international talks, retorting that it would negotiate only the existing nuclear deal with world powers.

In addition to being ineffective in yielding the political outcome sought by Washington, sanctions have been detrimental to ordinary Iranian citizens who have no say in their government’s nuclear ambitions or alleged support of international terrorism.

The economic implications of sanctions have severely affected various sectors, such as the paper industry. The “paper crisis” has led 100 independent publishers to go bankrupt, and some newspapers to cease printing. The government has, meanwhile, been forced to subsidize paper.

While sanctions do not directly target pharmacies or the medical sector, they are also harming public health institutions and causing shortages of critical medicines, medical supplies, and devices. According to the World Bank, health expenditures in Iran fell to $415.39 per capita in 2016. Setayesh and Mackey (2016) identified 73 reported drug shortages in Iran for treatment of diabetes, cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, MS, cardiovascular conditions, hemophilia, Alzheimer’s, malaria, Parkinson’s, and depression, among others. 

Many of the victims of the Iran-Iraq war are dependent on medical care for various chronic respiratory, skin, and eye problems, and sanctions have left them without access to inhalers, oxygen tanks, and organ transplant medication.

Over 100,000 Iranians are victims of chemical warfare dating from the Iran-Iraq warthen the U.S. and UK had supplied many of the chemical agents to the Iraqi regime to use against Iran.  Many of the victims of the Iran-Iraq war are dependent on medical care for various chronic respiratory, skin, and eye problems, and sanctions have left them without access to inhalers, oxygen tanks, and organ transplant medication. Even basic painkillers like Advil and Tylenol have become scarce and what little is left has become prohibitively expensive. 

Sanctions have also led to discrimination against Iranians abroad, from frozen bank accounts, to denied student loans, to outright rejections of their university applications. Moreover, in 2012, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, expelled some 30 Iranian banks, in compliance with EU sanctions.

If the U.S. and the broader international community are sincere about their “feelings of friendship” for Iranians, they may wish to find an alternative to sanctions which have failed to change Iran’s nuclear policy over the last forty years. They have, however, unquestionably inflicted profound and unwarranted suffering on many innocent Iranians.