Breakdown of how Unesco countries voted on Palestinian membership
194 member states
173 votes cast
81 required majority
14 “no” votes
107 “yes” votes
Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Palau, Panama, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Sweden, US, Vanuatu.
Albania, Andorra, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Colombia, Cook Islands, Ivory Coast, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Fiji, Georgia, Haiti, Hungary, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kiribati, Latvia, Liberia, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Moldova, Romania, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Switzerland, Thailand, Macedonia, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, UK, Zambia.
Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Chad, Chile, China, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Zimbabwe.
Absent (includes states that lost right to vote because membership fees were not paid):
Antigua and Barbuda, Central African Republic, Comoros, Dominica, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Madagascar, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Mongolia, Niue, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tajikistan, East Timor, Turkmenistan.
The Olympia Food Co-op (OFC) is fighting back against an Israel-backed lawsuit aimed at forcing it to end its boycott of Israeli goods.
Lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, acting on behalf of the OFC, today filed a motion to dismiss the suit on the grounds that it violates a Washington state law to prevent use of the courts to silence free speech and public participation.
In September, The Electronic Intifada first revealed the plan by StandWithUs, a pro-Israel group, in consultation with the Israeli Consul-General in San Francisco, for five individuals to bring the lawsuit against the OFC.
The grocery cooperative located in Olympia, Washington, made international headlines in July 2010 when it decided to ban Israeli goods from its shelves in solidarity with the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel.
An attempt to silence Co-op’s “principled stand”
A press release from CCR stated:
“We hope the court will strike down this effort to silence the Co-op’s principled stand on Israel’s human rights violations,” said Maria LaHood, Senior Staff Attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Allegations that the Co-op Board acted beyond its power are a thinly-veiled attempt to stop concerned citizens from using a nonviolent and historical tool for social change.”
Bruce E.H. Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, the author of the law that protects against abusive lawsuits, said:
“Our nation was born in the middle of a boycott of British goods, and boycotts have played an important role over the centuries in our system of freedom of expression, whether the subject is segregation on the Montgomery municipal bus system, lettuce picked by non-union labor, or apartheid in South Africa.”
Yet, the StandWithUs and Israeli-government-backed lawsuit against the Olympia Food Co-op is part of a nationwide strategy by pro-Israel groups to use lawfare to try to fight BDS and silence criticism of Israel.
The Electronic Intifada cited in legal motion
The OFC’s motion to strike the lawsuit against it cites The Electronic Intifada’s original report as part of the evidence that the individual plaintiffs in the case were effectively only a front for the real party behind the effort: StandWithUs.
The same Electronic Intifada report also uncovered plans by StandWithUs to file a federal civil rights complaint against Evergreen State College, the alma mater of Rachel Corrie, in an attempt to suppress campus Palestine solidarity activism.
Similar complaints have been filed against the University of California-Santa Cruz, and Columbia University, as part of a strategy masterminded by pro-Israel activist and former US government official Kenneth Marcus.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has set up a case page with the motion, all other key documents and background which will be updated as the matter progresses through the courts.
Dennis Gaydos, a homeless man from Palm Springs, was making his home outside of a church in the sunny Florida community without incident until a police intervention changed his life.
Gaydos says he was keeping to himself in his temporary home on the church grounds when the Palm Springs Police department SWAT team, dressed in full military garb, shot him multiple times with rubber bullets.
The close-range blast slashed off a portion of his right ear lobe and rendered his left eye a pulpy mess.
In the four years since the event, Gaydos has filed a federal lawsuit against Palm Beach County, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and the Village of Palm Springs Police Department. The lawsuit, which was filed in late July, is in response to the SWAT team to removing him from his encampment and severely butchering him.
Other damages include “physical suffering, permanent disfigurement including the loss of use of a bodily function, injury and mental anguish.”
“What happened to Mr. Gaydos was outrageous,” says Kevin Anderson to Jose Lambiet of GossipExtra.com. Anderson, Gaydos’ police liability lawyer, adds that “the behavior of the police officers and deputies at the scene was simply unexplainable.”
The lawsuit states, with a deployed helicopter over head, “the plaintiff was overtaken by multiple deputies and police officers. The Plaintiff was not threatening harm to the officers or other individuals upon the defendants’ arrival.”
Authorities claim Gaydos refused to come out and, on the contrary, officers allegedly took action when they spotted Gaydos wielding a cell phone in one hand and a “knife” in the other.
Gaydos admits to having a cell phone in his hands at the night of the incident, but said he had just finished calling a food assistance agency.
It is believed that the food agency’s operator reported to law enforcement that Gaydos was living in underbrush by the church’s parking lot.
Gaydos claims the incident which left him blind and deaf should have never occurred since he had permission from the pastor to reside there.
Gaydos’ attorney added the artificial light in the area was more than sufficient to prevent an “accidental” shooting.
Palm Beach County records indicate the night of the incident, Gaydos didn’t have any criminal charges filed against him and was never arrested.
According to official records no knife was recovered from the scene either.
Hamas earned respect and credibility for its management of a very complex issue. In particular, the entire operation was played out on Palestinian land and largely handled in Palestine for five years under complicated and dangerous circumstances.
The deal brought joy to the lives of prisoners, their families and all Palestinians living in Palestine and abroad. It was a joy combined with honor, dignity and the promising spirit of victory.
Veteran prisoners who were not included in the deal have endured, along with their families, untold pain and suffering. The released prisoners and all the Palestinian people sympathize with them and understand these feelings.
It is important to highlight, however, that the continued suffering of the remaining prisoners is not caused by the prisoner exchange deal, but rather in spite of it. It is caused by a lack of a Palestinian vision for liberation that is tangible and ripe for the moment.
No deal without its limitations
The idea that postponing the prisoner swap could have improved the terms of the deal is simply not true. On the contrary, postponing could have jeopardized the agreement entirely. Such deals are done when the timing is right. They cannot be rushed, postponed, or determined beforehand.
The prisoner swap deal, or any deal of that sort, is not without its limits. One should not expect from a deal to liberate all 6,000 prisoners languishing in Israeli jails. We should evaluate Hamas’ success or failure based on the following question: did the movement exhaust all its capabilities before signing off on the deal? The answer is a definite yes.
The deal, as it was achieved, is the outcome of certain power dynamics, and approving it was a legitimate and appropriate action. In the history of all struggles and liberation movements, even among the victorious, there are losses and victims. That does not make the victory any less significant.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh emphasized an important point in his liberation speech in Gaza.
“The borders of historic Palestine — Gaza, the West Bank, and the 1948 areas — are the borders of the prisoner exchange deal.
“With resistance we liberated Gaza. We liberated the land and the people,” he said.
Indeed, as Haniyeh claimed, resistance achieved what no other track, such as negotiations, was able to achieve or even come close to achieving.
Failure of West Bank “leadership”
In addition to liberating the prisoners and their families from the burden and suffering of imprisonment, the exchange represents another important development. The swap exposed a Palestinian leadership in the West Bank that does not hold much promise, as it has no real vision or project for liberating the rest of the political prisoners.
It is no secret that this leadership is under the illusion that progress is possible without resistance, that it will come about as a gesture of good faith on the part of Israel. The history of the struggle with Israel, however, has taught us that the Zionist state will not hesitate to commit any crime against the Palestinians, unless it is unable to do so or pay the price. The prisoners will not be liberated by laws, courts, mercy, or futile negotiations.
The prisoner exchange deal has created a new margin of freedom for Palestinians and an atmosphere of national reconciliation. It has also rehabilitated a supporting Arab role that had been suppressed by peace agreements from Camp David to Oslo to the so-called Arab Peace Initiative.
It has restored the value of resistance and the prospects of liberation, reaffirming that what was taken by force can only be restored by force; what was taken by occupation can only be restored by liberation; and what was taken by dispossession can only be restored by return.
Inclusion of 1948 prisoners
Hamas’ insistence on including in the prisoner swap deal for Palestinians living in the 1948 lands is a strategic accomplishment. It is not the first deal, historically speaking, to include prisoners from that part of historic Palestine. It is, however, the first deal since the Oslo accords to do so, setting a precedent for the future.
The deal also revealed the multi-strategic role that the new Egypt can play in liberating prisoners and restoring Palestinian rights, if the political will is there.
Hamas was able to take advantage of Israeli public opinion, which pressured the Israeli government for the return of the imprisoned Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. It withstood Israel’s repressive escalation against it, against the prisoners movement and against Gaza.
After the deal, the people expect any action by the Palestinian leadership on the prisoners issue to be connected to the question of their release. The goal is to liberate the prisoners and not merely to improve the conditions of their imprisonment.
It is no longer acceptable to postpone the issue of prisoners or give priority to other issues, as is the case with the Palestinian Authority’s pointless negotiations, conditioned as they are on freezing settlement expansion. The framework around the issue of political prisoners, namely that there will be no final peace agreement without the release of all prisoners, is practically a deferment strategy. But Palestinians do not want this issue deferred as this is an opportunity hastened by the prisoner swap deal.
Israel is taking precautions to prevent the capture of its soldiers and to create a deterrent policy that includes liquidating Palestinian leaders, tightening their grip on prisoners and using intelligence and technological assets. These methods, however, have been tried, and the Palestinian people have remained undeterred.
Nevertheless, one should not underestimate Israeli plans, and there is a need to fashion a Palestinian strategy to minimize the price paid in struggle while maximizing the benefits. This requires Palestinian preparedness. There is also pressing need for a supportive Arab contingent and for investment in Turkey’s role. Since both Egypt and Turkey desire regional power status, they can help foster, along with popular Palestinian, Arab and international solidarity movements, a safety zone that could deter Israel, liberate political prisoners and restore Palestinian rights.
Ameer Makhoul is a Palestinian civil society leader and political prisoner at Gilboa Prison.
This article is co-published by Beirut-based al-Akhbar and translated from Arabic.
Instruments of Annihilation
Nuclear weapons are costly in many ways. They change our relationship to other nations, to the earth, to the future and to ourselves.
In the mid-1990s a group of researchers at the Brookings Institution did a study of US expenditures on nuclear weapons. They found that the US had spent $5.8 trillion between 1940 and 1996 (in constant 1996 dollars).
This figure was informally updated in 2005 to $7.5 trillion from 1940 to 2005 (in constant 2005 dollars). Today the figure is approaching $8 trillion, and that amount is for the US alone.
There are currently nine countries with a total of over 20,000 nuclear weapons, spending $105 billion annually on their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems. That will amount to more than $1 trillion over the next decade. The US accounts for about 60 percent of this amount.
The World Bank has estimated that $40 to $60 billion in annual global expenditures would be sufficient to meet the eight agreed-upon United Nations Millennium Development Goals for poverty alleviation by 2015.
Meeting these goals would eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality/empowerment; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop partnerships for development.
The US is now spending over $60 billion annually on nuclear weapons and this is expected to rise to average about $70 billion annually over the next decade. The US spends more than the other eight nuclear weapons states combined.
We are now planning to modernize our nuclear weapons infrastructure and also our nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. This was part of the deal that President Obama agreed to for getting the New START agreement ratified in the Senate. It may prove to be a bad bargain.
The US foreign aid contribution in 2010 was $30 billion; in the same year, we spent $55 billion on our nuclear arsenal. Which expenditures keep us safer?
Another informative comparison is with the regular annual United Nations budget of $2.5 billion and the annual UN Peacekeeping budget of $7.3 billion. UN and Peacekeeping expenditures total to about $10 billion, which is less than one-tenth of what is being spent by the nine nuclear weapon states for maintaining and improving their nuclear arsenals.
The annual UN budget for its disarmament office (United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs) is $10 million. The nuclear weapons states spend more than that amount on their nuclear weapons every hour. Or, to put it another way, the nine nuclear weapons states annually spend 10,000 times more for their nuclear arsenals than the United Nations spends to pursue all forms of disarmament, including nuclear disarmament.
The one place the US is saving money on its nuclear weapons is where it should be spending the most, and that is on the dismantlement of the retired weapons. The amount that the US spends on dismantlement of its nuclear weapons has dropped significantly under the Obama administration from $186 million in 2009 to $96 million in 2010 to $58 million in 2011. In the 1990s the US dismantled more than 1,000 nuclear weapons annually. We dismantled 648 weapons in 2008 and only 260 in 2010.
The US has about 5,000 nuclear weapons awaiting dismantlement, which, at the current rate of dismantlement, will take the US about 20 years. There are another 5,000 US nuclear weapons that are either deployed or held in reserve.
Beyond being very costly to maintain and improve, nuclear weapons have changed us and cost us in many other ways.
They have undermined our respect for the law. How can a country respect the law and be perpetually engaged in threatening mass murder?
These weapons have also undermined our sense of reason, balance and morality. They are designed to kill massively and indiscriminately – men, women and children.
They have increased our secrecy and undermined our democracy. Can you put a cost on losing our democracy?
Uranium mining, nuclear tests and nuclear waste storage for the next 240,000 years have incalculable costs. They are a measure of our hubris, as are the weapons themselves.
Nuclear weapons – perhaps more accurately called instruments of annihilation – require us to play Russian Roulette with our common future. What is the cost of threatening to foreclose the future? What is the cost of actually doing so?
- Irish and Canadian boats in international waters on their way to challenge illegal siege policy
- Palestinian activists call for end to international complicity in Israel’s crimes
- Support actions taking place throughout the West Bank and inside Israel
Ramallah – Two civilian boats, the Canadian Tahrir (Liberation), and the Irish Saoirse (Freedom), carrying 27 people from nine countries (including journalists and crew), are currently in international waters making their way to the beleaguered Gaza Strip to challenge Israel’s ongoing criminal blockade of the territory. A Palestinian youth activist from Haifa has joined this renewed international mission to challenge Israel’s unrelenting stranglehold on Gaza via the sea. The message they carry is one of unity, defiance, and hope, in spite of Israel’s policies that have physically separated Palestinians from each other. The “Freedom Waves to Gaza” organizers chose not to publicize the effort in advance given Israel’s efforts to block and sabotage Freedom Flotilla II last July. The boats, which set sail from Fethiye, Turkey, are expected to arrive in Gaza on Friday afternoon, sailing from international waters straight into Gaza’s territorial waters without entering Israel’s waters. The boats carry symbolic cargo – $30,000 in medicines, along with a diverse group of passengers, all committed to nonviolent defense of the flotilla and Palestinian human rights.
“Israel has caged Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, prohibiting physical contact between us. We want to break the siege Israel has imposed on our people,” said Majd Kayyal, a Palestinian philosophy student from Haifa on board the Tahrir. Kayyal added, “The fact that we’re in international waters is already a victory for the movement. Israel’s siege of Gaza is untenable and it’s a moral responsibility to put an end to this injustice.”
Meanwhile, a statement signed by Palestinian youth urged the international community and the U.N. in particular “to take urgent action to protect this mission as well as to end its compliance with Israel’s criminal blockade of Gaza.” They condemned the U.N. Secretary General’s previous declarations calling for aid to Gaza to go through “legitimate crossings and established channels,” despite the U.N.’s own admission that Israel’s failure to own up to its responsibilities has created an unprecedented crisis of human dignity.
Throughout the week Palestinian activists in the West Bank and inside Israel are organizing solidarity actions with the Freedom Waves mission, including a presence outside the UN compound (Tokyo Street, Ramallah) and rallies across West Bank towns.
This is the 11th attempt to break the siege of Gaza via the sea, with five missions arriving safely in Gaza between August and December 2008 and the remaining violently intercepted by Israel. On May 2010, Israel attacked passengers of the Freedom Flotilla in international waters, killing nine civilians and injuring over 50. Israel’s actions were widely condemned and led to protests around the world. Efforts to bring a second flotilla to Gaza were foiled by the government of Greece last July following pressure by Israel and Western governments, as well as by acts of Israeli sabotage.
Israel has intensified in the past days its aerial bombardments on Gaza, underlining the need for international initiatives of deterrence similar to this one.
For more information contact:
For up to the minute information on the Freedom Waves flotilla: http://witnessgaza.com/
Twitter: @PalWaves #FreedomWaves
An Anatomy of Sanctioning Iran’s Central Bank
When on October 11, 2011, the Obama Administration claimed that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) had attempted to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, many commentators expressed skepticism. Why would IRGC-QF, supposedly a professional organization, hire a used-car salesman, with a dubious background, to carry out such a delicate task on the US soil, knowing full well that if the plot is uncovered, there would be severe consequences for Iran? Why would those involved in the plot converse on the phone, knowing full well that such phone calls might be monitored? Why would they wire money for the plot via a foreign bank to a US bank, knowing full well that Iran is under severe US financial sanctions and any transaction originating from Iran will be scrutinized? These and a number of other anomalies made the story hard to believe. Indeed the story was so bizarre that in announcing the case FBI Director Robert Mueller stated that it “reads like the pages of a Hollywood script” (Reuters, October 11, 2011). Others, of course, saw it more as a Keystone Kops script.
The comical nature of the case made it appear so implausible that President Obama became defensive when he was asked about the issue in a press conference on October 13, 2011. In answering the question, Obama referred to the Attorney General’s “specific set of facts” and stated: “those facts are there for all to see. And we would not be bringing forward a case unless we knew exactly how to support all the allegations that are contained in the indictment.”
Even though comical, it is difficult, at least in the short run, to prove or disprove the US allegation against Iran. After all, when invading Iraq in 2003 the US government showed a set of evidence that at first was hard to disprove. It was only later that the set of evidence was shown to be fabricated.
In the absence of evidence to prove or disprove the US allegation, one might approach the issue from a different angle. If the plot was somehow concocted by the US—for example, the used-car salesman was entrapped—what was the US motivation? This question is much easier to answer.
On the same day that the US Attorney General and FBI Director went public with the alleged plot, the Department of Treasury issued a press release announcing the “designation” of not only the used-car salesman but four “senior” IRGC-QF officers connected to the plot. Among the four individuals was IRGC-QF commander Qasem Soleimani. As the press release stated, the Treasury Department had designated Soleimani twice before, once for “his relationship to the IRGC” and again for his connection to “human rights abuses in Syria.” Soleimani’s name was also mentioned as a “key person” involved in “nuclear or ballistic missile activities” in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747, issued on March 24, 2007. In addition, on June 23, 2011, the European council had announced that it is banning travel and freezing the assets of some Syrian individuals and companies and targeting three commanders of IRGC for supporting the Syrian government. Among these was Qasem Soleimani. Thus, it appears that the US was connecting a high profile character, such as Soleimani, to the assassination plot in order to make the case more significant and ominous. But why was the Treasury Department involved in what appeared to be a criminal case in the first place?
There was a partial answer to the above question in the Treasury Department’s announcement. The press release quoted David S. Cohen, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, as saying: “Iran once again has used the Qods Force and the international financial system to pursue an act of international terrorism, this time aimed against a Saudi diplomat. . . The financial transactions at the heart of this plot lay bare the risk that banks and other institutions face in doing business with Iran.” In his press conference on October 13, 2011, President Obama also gave a hint as to why the Department of Treasury was involved in dealing with the alleged terror plot and what the US intended to do about it. He stated that we will “apply the toughest sanctions [against Iran] and continue to mobilize the international community to make sure that Iran is further and further isolated and that it pays a price for this kind of behavior.”
A more specific answer became available on October 13, 2011, when Cohen gave his testimony before the Senate Banking Committee. Cohen announced that the Department of Treasury is “weighing more sanctions against Iran’s central bank to tighten the financial screws and deepen the country’s estrangement from the international financial community” (Reuters, October 13, 2011). After this testimony, many news sources correctly realized that the US Treasury Department was intent to use the alleged plot to sanction Iran’s Central Bank or Bank Markazi. Some also realized that such a sanction might paralyze the Iranian economy, since Bank Markazi is the bank of banks in Iran, and sanctioning it is equivalent to immobilizing the US Federal Reserve System. Indeed, one AFP headline on October 14, 2011, read “US mulls Iran ‘sanction of mass destruction’”. The news report correctly pointed out that after “three decades of blanket US sanctions against Iran, it has become received wisdom that the United States has few financial tools left to bend Iran’s will.” One of those tools, the report went on to say, was sanctioning “Bank Markazi—which sits at the center of Iran’s financial and energy interests.” The report quoted Avi Jorisch, a former advisor at the Treasury Department’s office of terrorism and financial intelligence, as saying: “Essentially financial institutions around the world would have to choose between doing business with the United States and with the central bank [of Iran].”
What was missing from the above reports, however, was the history of the attempt by the US to sanction the Central Bank of Iran. Also missing, was the host of characters and institutions behind the attempt. Below, I will provide a brief account of the missing pieces.
After decades of sanctioning Iran and not bringing about the intended “regime change,” the neoconservatives, Israeli lobby groups and their conduits in the US government came up with a novel idea: sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran. In late May and early June of 2008, two resolutions were introduced in the House and Senate, which effectively called, among other things, for a US blockade of Iran and sanctioning of Bank Markazi. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) summarized the two resolutions on its website under “Stop Iran’s Nuclear Program” and called for action:
Members of the House and Senate have introduced resolutions (H. Con. Res. 362 and S. Res. 580) calling on the administration to focus on the urgency of the Iranian nuclear threat and to impose tougher sanctions on Tehran. The resolutions, introduced in the House by Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Mike Pence (R-IN) and in the Senate by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and John Thune (R-SD), urge the president to sanction Iran’s Central Bank and other international banks and energy companies investing in the country. They also demand that the United States lead an international effort to increase pressure on Iran by curtailing Iran’s ability to import refined petroleum products. Please urge your representatives to cosponsor this critical resolution.
The Bush Administration, however, realized that the rest of the world would not go along with sanctioning Iran’s Central Bank. Instead, the Administration relied on the Treasury Department to sanction major banks in Iran and prepare the ground for sanctioning Bank Markazi at some later date. Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, who was well known for his connection to Israeli lobby groups and his personal war against Iran, was given the task . Levey did succeed, and under his tenure, which lasted well into the Obama Administration, major banks in Iran were sanctioned. Yet, the neoconservatives, Israeli lobby groups and their conduits in the US government wanted more.
Sanctioning Bank Markazi became a campaign issue in the 2008 presidential election. As I mentioned in my pre-election essay, “What the Future has in Store for Iran,” in spring of 2008 John McCain, who was being advised by the neoconservatives, delivered a speech at the AIPAC conference in which he mentioned sanctioning Bank Markazi. “Central Bank of Iran,” McCain stated, “aids in Iran’s terrorism and weapons proliferation.”
He further stated that the Europeans “can help by imposing targeted sanctions that will impose a heavy cost on the regime’s leaders, including the denial of visas and freezing of assets; as a further measure to contain and deter Iran, the United States should impose financial sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran which aids in Iran’s terrorism and weapons proliferation. We must apply the full force of law to prevent business dealings with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.”
The push to sanction the Central Bank of Iran continued during the campaign season, and just prior to the presidential election of 2008 Senator Charles Schumer pressed the Bush Administration to impose financial sanctions on Bank Markazi (AP, November 6, 2008). Yet, the Bush Administration remained unconvinced that other countries would go along with the sanction and left the matter to be handled by the next administration. Stuart Levey, who stayed in his post in the Obama Administration, continued to lead the sanction campaign against the financial sector of Iran and waited for an opportunity to sanction Bank Markazi. Once he left office in March of 2011, the campaign was carried on by Levey’s deputy, David S. Cohen.
On August 8, 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported that more “than 90 U.S. senators signed a letter to President Barack Obama pressing him to sanction Iran’s central bank, with some threatening legislation to force the move, an outcome that would represent a stark escalation in tensions between the two countries.” This, as the report noted, would be a drastic action, a “nuclear option” that if implemented, “could potentially freeze Iran out of the global financial system and make it nearly impossible for Tehran to clear billions of dollars in oil sales.” The letter, as the report stated, was co-sponsored by Senators Mark Kirk and Charles Schumer. It told the President:
We must do more to increase the economic pressure on the regime. In our view, the United States should embark on a comprehensive strategy to pressure Iran’s financial system by imposing sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), or Bank Markazi. If our key allies are willing to join, we believe this step can be even more effective.
As you know, the Iranian regime continues to pursue avenues to circumvent both U.S. and multilateral sanctions. In the banking sector, the Central Bank of Iran lies at the center of Iran’s circumvention strategy. In May, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen stated that “the activities of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) have been, and continue to be, a focus of the Treasury Department. Treasury has noted previously that the CBI and Iranian commercial banks have requested that their names be removed from international payment messages to make it more difficult for intermediary financial institutions to determine the true parties to the transaction, and we remain concerned that the CBI may be facilitating transactions for sanctioned Iranian banks.”
The time has come to impose crippling sanctions on Iran’s financial system by cutting off the CBI. There is strong bipartisan support in Congress for the imposition of sanctions on the CBI. As recently as consideration of the FY10 National Defense Authorization Act, the Senate unanimously supported an amendment urging you to impose such sanctions. We urge you to strongly consider imposing U.S. sanctions against the CBI and to encourage key allies to join us in this important action.
According to the above report, in an interview Kirk stated that “he would introduce a law by year’s end to enforce sanctions on Bank Markazi if the White House doesn’t move independently.” The report quoted Kirk as saying: “The administration will face a choice of whether it wants to lead this effort or be forced to act.” It also quoted Schumer as saying: “It’s time for the administration to use the tools Congress has provided and choke off the money spigot.”
The pressure was on and Under Secretary David S. Cohen had to find a plot to push for sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran. The used-car salesman, hired by IRGC-QF to arrange for the assassination of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador, was just that plot. It was now time to bring on board the rest of the world.
Immediately after the alleged plot, US officials, particularly Under Secretary Cohen, were travelling around the world, trying to convince other countries, especially those that were reluctant to sanction Bank Markazi, that the plot was real. On October 14, 2011, Harakah Daily reported from Ankara that a “US team will travel to Turkey soon to brief Turkish authorities on what the US says a clumsy plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States on American soil.” On October 21, AP reported that following the visit by two US officials to Turkey to “brief the country on evidence they have in the alleged plot,” Turkey’s foreign minister urged Iran to cooperate with the US. On October 24, 2011, the headline of a news item published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty read: “Top U.S. Treasury Official [Cohen] in Europe for Talks on Sanctioning Iranian Central Bank.” After his stop in London, the report stated, Cohen will take his message to Berlin, Paris and Rome. On the same day, AP reported the same news and quoted Cohen as saying: “Iran needs to be held accountable for this plot. . . We are going to continue to look at those financial institutions that are involved with proliferation activity for Iran and continue to try to isolate them from the international financial sector.” According to the report Cohen added: “Any further sanctions would also be part of efforts to deter Iran from pursuing nuclear capabilities . . . and could target the country’s central bank.”
In sum, the bizarre story of the used-car salesman, Mexican drug cartel, and the Saudi Ambassador is inextricably linked to the US-Israeli desire to sanction Bank Markazi. It is expected that this “sanction of mass destruction,” or “nuclear option,” will do the trick and will help to paralyze the Iranian economy. Down the line, it is hoped, the shattered economy will create the right conditions for the overthrow of the “Iranian regime” and its replacement by a US-Israeli friendly government.
What a way to bring about regime change!
 On Levey’s connection to the Israeli lobby groups and the role that he played in sanctioning Iran in the Bush Administration see my book: The United States and Iran: Sanctions, Wars and the Policy of Dual Containment, Routledge, 2008.
Sasan Fayazmanesh is Professor Emeritus of Economics at California State University, Fresno. Sasan is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusions (forthcoming from AK Press.) He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
GAZA — A UN report has affirmed that Israel’s blockade on the impoverished Gaza Strip is illegal and demanded an immediate end to it.
This came in the 43rd report that was submitted to the UN general assembly during its 66th session by the special committee that is commissioned to probe and report about Israel’s violations against the Palestinians in the occupied territories.
The report mentioned at length the blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza and its impacts on education, health, housing, employment and human development.
It condemned Israel’s actions against Gaza as mass punishment against civilians, and a violation of the international humanitarian law, adding that Israel also violated its obligations under international law of human rights.
The committee demanded Israel to end its illegal blockade on Gaza and ensure regular and adequate entry of food, medicines and other vital need to it in compliance with resolution 1860 that was issued by the UN security council in 2009.
The committee also called on Israel to end its restrictions on fishing activities in Gaza territorial waters and allow Palestinian fishermen to go 20 nautical miles out to sea according to the Oslo accords it signed in 1994.
The committee recommended in its report that the UN security council and its general assembly should consider imposing sanctions against the Israeli government for its persistent refusal to cooperate with UN bodies and respect their resolutions.
Israeli Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Begin has criticized officials in Tel Aviv over their overt discussions regarding a possible military strike against Iran.
“There has never been a breakdown of responsibility and a campaign of recklessness like there is today,” The Jerusalem Post quoted Begin as saying on Wednesday.
The Israeli minister was making reference to the recent media hype in Israel over the efforts by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to muster a majority in the cabinet to launch a military attack on Iran.
Despite previous opposition of Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to a possible war with Iran, Netanyahu and Barak have recently persuaded him to throw his weight behind the move.
However, there is a “small advantage” in the eight-member Inner Cabinet of senior Israeli ministers for the opponents of such an attack, Haaretz quoted a senior Israeli official as saying on Wednesday.
Begin’s remarks come as four other Israeli ministers, including Israeli Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Interior Minister Eli Yishai as well as Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor reportedly remain firmly opposed to an action against Iran.
The four ministers, who are still opposed to an anti-Iran attack, believe that Israel should proceed with efforts to encourage the West to exert more economic and political pressure on Iran.
They emphasize that any action against Iran should be carried out in full coordination with the United States.
Despite media hype over a possible Israeli attack on Iran, a member of the forum of eight senior ministers has recently claimed that talks are still underway but no decision had been taken yet.
Senior ministers and diplomats claimed that a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), due to be released on November 8, will have a “decisive effect” on the decisions Israel makes.
The United States and Israel have repeatedly threatened Tehran with the “option” of a military strike, based on the allegation that Iran’s nuclear work may consist of a covert military agenda.
Iran argues that as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the IAEA it has the right to develop and acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
In addition, the IAEA has conducted numerous inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities but has never found evidence indicating that the country’s civilian nuclear program has diverted towards a military program.