Iran announced that it expects western sanctions to be lifted today. It awaits an IAEA report that will confirm it is adhering to provisions of the nuclear deal finalized several months ago by the P5+1 powers and Iran.
This is a major milestone not just for Iran, but for its enemies as well. While it could lead to a recalibration of relations between the Iranians and the U.S., it will also intensify hostility with the former’s leading regional adversary, Saudi Arabia.
The GOP and Israel are also deeply unhappy with the unraveling of their anti-Iran machinations. But the Saudis are most angry of all. Anything that helps their worst enemy hurts them, or so they believe. That is certainly one of the reasons they executed Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr last week. It is also why they were only too happy to cut off diplomatic relations with Iran after Iranians trashed the Saudi embassy in Tehran in response to the hanging. Finally, the Saudi-led war in Yemen is another extension of this rivalry as the Kingdom sees the Houthi rebels there as allies of Iran.
All of this is making for some very strange bedfellows as relations and alliances shift. Israel has for decades been the Arab world’s Enemy No. 1. But no longer. The “Jewish State” is only too eager to recruit new allies, thus dividing the enemy camp and weakening it (or so the strategic thinking goes). It forged an alliance of convenience with the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, which enforces quiet along the Golan frontier on Israel’s behalf.
Over the past decade, military collaboration between Israel and Saudi Arabia has flourished. Barry Lando reported some years ago that the Saudis funded Israel’s covert war against Iran to the tune of $1-billion. That was in a period when Prince Bandar and Tamir Pardo held regular, semi-secret meetings, one of which was in Eilat. Though Bandar fell out of favor when the new King Salman ascended to the throne, the relationship continues to thrive. Israeli advanced weapons systems are highly sought after by Saudi arms buyers.
A leading intelligence website says that Mohamed bin Nayef, the Crown Prince and hard-fisted Interior Minister has been seeking to buy Israel’s most sophisticated drones for months. He needs them, among other things, to monitor the restive Shiites in the kingdom’s oil-rich east, where he fears increasing Iranian plotting against his regime.
Murder in the Kingdom
There are a few issues that could complicate things, but haven’t appeared to till now. Precisely a year ago, Christopher Cramer, a weapons engineer who worked for the U.S. subsidiary of Israeli weapons manufacturer, Elbit Systems, was found murdered on the street outside his Saudi hotel. He had arrived there a week earlier to demonstrate a thermal imaging sighting system for Israeli-made TOW missiles that had been sold to the Saudi military.
Though the Saudis claimed Cramer had committed suicide, the story seems beyond far-fetched. The victim texted a close friend the day he died saying he feared for his life and urging the State Department be contacted immediately. Forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden examined the body and found his death was a homicide and that Cramer had been thoroughly beaten before his death. It appears someone wanted to send a clear message, probably to the engineer’s employer.
The victim’s family believes they know what happened:
In the absence of a transparent and thorough investigation into Cramer’s death, his nephew and lawyer have come up with their own theory. They both suggest Cramer may have been killed for getting on the wrong side of a corrupt Saudi contracting officer and threatening a lucrative arms deal…
Also along on the trip was Todd Kulik, a fellow Kollsman employee. Kulik met with Cramer’s family after his death and told them that the two of them had worked closely with a Saudi employee of Global Defense Systems, a defense contractor based in the Gulf kingdom.
“My uncle was getting into it with this guy from day one,” Arsenault said of the Global Defense Systems worker…
Mandell believes that the same Saudi contractor was intent on sabotaging military equipment that Cramer was being paid to fix.
“According to Kulik, before the big demonstrations the equipment was checked out and worked fine,” Mandell said. But “when Chris and people showed up nothing worked. All the circuits were down.”
“In two hours, Chris got everything working,” Mandell said. “That upset people because they didn’t want it to work.”
“The point of sabotaging equipment is you get a customer who has to buy a new set and you’ve still got the old equipment,” Mandell said.
In the opaque society of Saudi Arabia, a man is murdered and it’s far more convenient to sweep the death under the rug. Elbit and even the U.S. government go along because there are far more lucrative contracts in the offing from the Saudi military. What is the life of one man when billions stand in the balance? So what if one weapons deal is sabotaged. There are so many more in the offing.
The response of the State Department has been: we can only investigate foul play against U.S. citizens if permitted by the country where the incident happened. And Saudi Arabia has refused to “ask for assistance.” That’s right. A U.S. citizen is murdered and our government would have us believe it’s powerless to lift a hand in the matter.
This is standard operating procedure for Saudi Arabia when something embarrassing happens. It has been nearly four months since the Hajj stampede in which 2,000 Muslim pilgrims were trampled to death. Despite the deaths of Muslims from many different countries, none of them could force the Saudis to open a transparent investigation. Nor will any lessons be learned by the Saudis, who supposedly have spent billions in improving infrastructure to avoid precisely the bottlenecks that caused this massacre.
Returning to Iran, my money is on that country when it comes to charting the future of the region. As I’ve written here before, it has a young, ambitious, highly-educated population eager to participate in the global economy if given the chance. While there is no question that Iran is a nation divided into a ruling élite, some of whose members can be brutal and cruel; there is a competing element of Iranian society which seeks a different path.
It was the Rouhani government which immediately seized on the naval incident in the Strait of Hormuz and quickly resolved it. You may recall a similar incident involving British sailors a decade ago took nearly two weeks to resolve. The latest one ended in less than twelve hours.
That didn’t stop an anti-Iran war hawk like Aaron David Miller from tweeting this threatening message about the seizure of the Americans:
Iran detains US sailors. Released promptly or not, a hostile act by a regime that acts w/o US cost/consequence https://t.co/0MNy0FnsjI
— Aaron David Miller (@aarondmiller2) January 12, 2016
Miller appears to be suggesting the standard Israel Lobby narrative: that Obama is weak on Iran. That the Iranians exploit this weakness to the hilt and get away with murder.
The Lobby ignores the tangible deeds and commitments Iran has performed in dismantling centrifuges and reactors as part of the deal. So what “cost” should we assess against Iran? And for what reason? What have they done that so provokes the Millers of the wonk-world? And just what U.S. policy would satisfy him? War? Regime change? Sanctions unto suffocation or death? And is that a policy or a punishment?
Keep in mind, that these U.S. sailors were apprehended inside Iranian waters, only miles from Iranian territory. They are part of a massive U.S. military presence not in Iran’s backyard, but its front yard. How would Miller react to Iranian warships a few miles off the cost of New York and Washington DC? What if they strayed accidentally into our waters? Would he be forgiving then? If he wouldn’t, then why isn’t Iran entitled to enforce sovereignty over its own territory? Little bit of a double standard, don’t you think?
You’ll recall that Miller served alongside Dennis Ross as the Israel Lobby’s eyes and ears in the Clinton administration. Both of them bear a large share of responsibility for the failures in negotiating an Israel-Palestine peace deal. Miller is now affiliated with the Woodrow Wilson Center, whose president is Jane Harman. She is the former Congresswoman charged with siccing Haim Saban on Nancy Pelosi to pressure her to appoint Harman chair of the House Intelligence Committee. That little bit of drama failed miserably and led to the FBI considering opening an investigation into the influence of an Israeli intelligence asset into a sensitive Congressional appointment process.
Returning to the GOP, which I mentioned above, Jim Lobe, notes the new love-affair the U.S. neocons have developed with the Saudis. Way back in 2001, the Saudis were one of our sworn enemies who produced 15 of the 18 hijackers. Some right-wing pundits thought we should set our sites on the Saudis for a bit of regime change. How times change. Now the Saudis are a bulwark, so some claim, against Iranian hegemonic ambitions. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saudis have sprinkled a bit of wonk-fairy-dust their way. A few consulting contracts, speeches to Saudi universities, etc. will work wonder at changing hearts, minds, and bank accounts.
“A U.S. citizen is murdered and our government would have us believe it’s powerless to lift a hand in the matter.”
A U.S. citizen, Washington Post reporter, Jason Rezaian, rots in a Iranian prison for 500 days and our government would have us believe it’s powerless to lift a hand in the matter.
Well. Not powerless. Our government had the power to make nuke deal with Iran, all the while Rezaian sat in prison.
In July 2015, journalist Major Garrett made headlines when he asked President Obama during a press conference why he was “content” with the Iran Nuclear Deal that left four Americans trapped in Iran, referring to Rezian and three others (Amir Mirza Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Robert Levinson). Obama admonished Garrett by responding “I’ve got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions. The notion that I am ‘content’ as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails, Major, that’s nonsense, and you should know better. Now, if the question is why we did not tie the negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly, Iran realizes, ‘You know what? Maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals.”
Well, well, this is from Haaretz:
“Iran has released four American prisoners, including a Washington Post reporter, a Christian pastor and a former U.S. Marine, Iranian television said on Saturday.
A fifth American, student Matthew Trevithick, was also released, a U.S. official said, separately from the four other Americans. It was unclear when Trevithick, a student, was released.
The Americans released included Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post’s Tehran correspondent, Saeed Abedini, a pastor from Idaho, Amir Hekmati, a former Marine from Flint, Michigan, and Nosratollah Khosravi, state television said.
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/1.697760
Richard Silverstein says
@ Barbar: I’d say you have a very bad case of bad timing. Shall I hand you a napkin to wipe the egg off your face?? Apparently, our government wasn’t powerless to lift a hand to free Rezaian. Not only that but three other Americans were freed as well.
I hear Kerry is available to negotiate for the freedom of Avera Mengistu next, since your government “refuses to lift a hand in that matter.”
Let’s be frank. Both the Saudi regime and the Iranian regime are despicable violator of human rights, and both support international terrorism.
Yet, you whitewash Iranian abuses ONLY because of their opposition to Israel.
Now that the Saudis appear to tilt to Israel, you start to attack them.
You prefer one evil regime over another. I think they should both go to hell.
Richard Silverstein says
That is a lie. I have never whitewashed “Iranian abuses.” But what I have done is distinguish between hardliners and more pragmatic forces inside Iran. Actually, the pragmatists in Iran are much more powerful than pragmatists in Israel. The hardliners control Israel. If the same type controlled Iran we’d already be at war. It is only because of Iranian pragmatists that we aren’t.
It’s funny you only find two “evil regimes” in the region. Israel’s crimes are just as bad as those of Iran or Saudi Arabia. Yet you conveniently ignore them. Tells us something.
Hey Richard, you mean the same oh-so-enlightened Islamic Republic of Iran that executed “between 4,000 to 6,000 gays and lesbuans” since 1979, according to a British 2008 Wikileaks dispatch?
The same devoutly bloodthirsty Iran whose commander of the IRGC recently said “the formation of [the Islamic State group] and Takfiri [extremist] groups, and the events that occurred in the past years are paving the ground for the emergence of Imam Mahdi,” Middle East Monitor reported. “You can now see the positive results in the readiness of nearly 200,000 young armed in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.”?
The same tolerant and progressive Iran where throngs scream “Death to America!”. Oh, right, they’re talking about U.S. POLICY. Riiiight.
So, do you really think they’re a forward-thinking, modern country? Or are you simply cheerleading Iran because it gets you gigs on PressTV?
Richard Silverstein says
@ DS1216: Your hasbara passed its sell-by date about a decade ago. If you go back 40 yrs sure you can find Iran killing gays. But a lot changes in that period. And even more will change in a very short time moving forward into the future. Did Ayatollahs approve killing gays at one time? They did. Do those Ayatollahs make such rules now? They don’t.
Excuse me but you have yr pals, John Hagee sermonizing about the clash of Gog & Magog and the Second Coming; and you have Israeli generals calling for cutting off the foreskins of the Philistines of Gaza, and you worry about the Imam Mahdi? I’d say your priorities are a bit screwed.
I’d rather hear “Death to America” at a protest rally in Tehran than see Palestinian babies burned to death and offensive graffiti screaming from the walls of the houses in which they were incinerated. What was it I just said about your priorities being screwed??
I actually “get gigs” in Makor Rishon & other haredi publications, where I’ve been profiled. So why don’t I support their causes as well? BTW, I’ve said things on PressTV that did not support Iranian policy. And guess what? They invited me back.
Would you be kind enough to share links to the ‘Makor Rishon & other haredi publications’ articles? Just curious and couldn’t find online.
Richard Silverstein says
It was B’Kehilla and Yaakov Mann wrote the profile. I have a jpg of the article if you’re very interested in it. I don’t think it’s available online. I’ve also been the subject of long profiles in both Yediot & Maariv and shorter ones in Yisrael HaYom & Jerusalem Post.
@Richard – ” I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saudis have sprinkled a bit of wonk-fairy-dust their way”.
How much are you paid for your Iran PressTV interviews?
Richard Silverstein says
@Arik: Not that I owe insolent jackasses like you any explanation. But the answer is $0.00. And I earn that for every interview. So clearly I’m becoming quite wealthy from this enterprise.
How much are you being paid for your hasbara efforts?