The National Interest Foundation Newsletter, Issue 178

The National Interest Foundation Newsletter

Issue 178, February 10, 2023

Welcome to our NIF Newsletter. In this week’s headlines: we explore the political rifts that might slow the relief effort in Syria, examine the Israeli policies pushing Palestinians to resort to more militaristic resistance, and investigate the recent release of tens of thousands of Iranian prisoners.

Political Rifts Might Slow Aid to Syria

Much-needed aid to Syria may be hampered by limited border crossings and American sanctions. (Photo from AP)

Political Rifts Might Slow Relief Efforts After a Massive Earthquake Hits Syria and Turkey; Death Toll Still Rising

Internal and international political rifts could hamper relief efforts in rebel-held parts of northern Syria after parts of Turkey and Syria were devastated by a series of massive earthquakes. The first quake was a massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake according to the United States Geological Service. Its epicenter was located about 20 miles from Gaziantep, Türkiye. This earthquake was followed by a 6.7 magnitude aftershock about 10 minutes later. The aftershock was just 1 of at least 20 aftershocks that followed the initial quake. The second earthquake, a 7.5 magnitude, struck about 100 miles north. The second quake took place just 6 miles from the surface. Shallow earthquakes cause significantly more damage. So far, over 20,000 deaths and thousands more injured have been reported between the two affected countries. Türkiye has declared a state of emergency for the affected regions.

Northern Syria was hit especially hard by these quakes, as many of the buildings there had already been severely damaged by the nearly decade-long, ongoing civil war. Many of the region’s hospitals have also been destroyed in the fighting, leaving the remaining hospitals severely overwhelmed. Cold weather has been hampering rescue efforts and caused intense hardship for those left without a home. 70-80% of the people living in these areas were already refugees from the civil war, and are now facing homelessness once again.

Syria has been party to an ongoing civil war turned quasi-proxy-war between the United States, which backs Kurdish rebel groups, and Russia, which backs Bashar al-Assad. Many of the rebel-held areas are the ones that were hit the hardest because of the existing damage from over a decade of war. The internal politics and restrictions on aid to rebel-held areas will make the recovery effort complicated. Rebel-held areas will not receive support from the Assad government to help the recovery effort, and organizations working in rebel-held areas are not allowed to work in government-held areas. The Syrian government considers these organizations terrorists for working with rebel groups. So far, only one United Nations convoy carrying aid has made it to Northwest Syria. The one route for aid into rebel-held areas, the Bab-al-Hawa crossing, was damaged by the earthquake. The Bab-al-Hawa crossing became the only route for aid from Turkey into northwest Syria in 2020. Syrian refugees have not been allowed to cross into Türkiye since 2015. Existing sanctions the United States has levied against Syria for past human rights violations have also complicated the entry of aid into Syria.

The United States has been at odds with Bashar al-Assad and his regime since 2011 when U.S. President Barack Obama called for Assad to resign during the Arab Spring. In 2013, Obama famously described Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his people as a “red line” that would draw U.S. retaliation. When Assad used sarin gas later that year, Obama did not keep the promise to retaliate. Instead, sanctions were levied against Syria. Because of this, the United States has been extremely cautious about working with the Assad regime. During a press briefing Monday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price expressed that the United States would help all those affected by the disaster, but would not provide humanitarian aid directly to the Syrian regime. He also told reporters that “it would be quite ironic—if not even counterproductive—for us to reach out to a government that has brutalized its people over a dozen years now—gassing them, slaughtering them, being responsible for much of the suffering that they have endured.” In these comments, the United States seems to indicate that they will not work with the Assad regime during the search and rescue operations, as well as the recovery to follow. Other nations have increased their funding for search and rescue efforts.

The dire situation in northwest Syria demands an immediate and drastic response. The existing political rifts will create many unnecessary obstacles for much-needed aid to flow into Syria. Slowing aid will only cause further death and suffering in an area that has already been through so much. In the interest of human life, it is important that the US sanctions be suspended to allow aid to flow more easily into Syria. This aid must be subject to oversight to assure it is being used properly. There also needs to be an effort made by the United States and international community to open up more pathways for aid from Türkiye into Northwest Syria and allow refugees from the area to seek shelter in Turkey. These policies must be enacted quickly to ensure that as many lives are saved as possible.

Violence Escalating in the West Bank

Tensions will continue to escalate in the West Bank if Israel continues with its oppressive policies. (Photo from Reuters)

Increased Israeli Violence is Forcing Palestinians to Adapt a More Militarized Resistance in the West Bank

Abuses and killings by Israeli forces have been pushing Palestinians into a corner. The latest of these was a raid carried out by the Israeli Defense force in the West Bank near Jericho resulted in the deaths of five Palestinians. All those slain were members of Hamas according to the organization. It is the most recent of the Israeli military’s practically nightly operations against the inhabitants of the West Bank. This year has been especially brutal so far, with Israeli operations already killing 49 Palestinians, of which 17 were children. The new government has been making it easier to kill Palestinians, passing laws allowing easier access to weapons for settlers in the West Bank.

The overwhelming majority of parties making up Israel’s current government have held positions of power for many years. These parties are perceived as covert revolutionaries who do not view the Palestinians as a people. They are mostly nationalists and religious conservatives that promote and enforce policies to attract and excite followers, maintain their power, and carry on with their violent and unjust actions. The Israeli government is embracing radicalism and dividing the Palestinian community.  The extremist right wing is eager to destabilize the current far-right Israeli administration (which it helped create in the past). They have been working to dismantle the separation of powers and liberal components, knowing that demographics favor them. With this action, the right would be able to transform Israeli society and culture but at the consequence of Palestinian lives.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is being accused of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, has a personal stake in subverting the judicial system, though his trial serves just as a spark for more powerful political forces that want to fundamentally alter the nation. They argue that “the people” demanded a regime change based on a slim victory in the election, even though, based on the number of votes cast, the government is supported by less than half of the population. The new administration has attracted many with pledges to make people’s lives better by, among other things, bringing down living expenses, finding young people housing options, and expanding access to free education. The goals of the new administration also include promoting Jewish religious nationalism in the classroom and strengthening neoliberalism’s hold on the Israeli economy.

Israel’s administration has also been extending and annexing illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The United States, a close ally of Israel, has asked that they pause settlement operations to help calm growing tensions. The Israeli government refused. They continue to align and reinforce the perception that Palestinians are a danger to them. These coordinated activities in Israel are abuses of an entire community’s human rights. Outcasting and ignoring an entire people cannot be part of the government’s philosophy.

The nature of Israel’s government has allowed those in power to manipulate it to push their agenda. The legislative body is relatively small and its judicial power lacks safeguards against the abuse and consolidation of power. Israel has implemented gun regulations that make obtaining weapons easier, and many who shoot Palestinians face little to no consequences. The new Supreme Court blueprint for how justices are selected to influence governmental policies and judgments was filed by Justice Minister Levin. Levin wants to discontinue the “reasonableness test”. a standard that is universally acknowledged in the democratic world and utilized to evaluate, in particular, executive branch actions.  The political system is lulling into passivity and even inciting further violence against Palestinians. They are being forced to put up a more resolute fight against the Israeli occupiers.

As tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank rise, some Palestinians’ resistance has taken on a more militaristic tone as a result of the ongoing assault on Palestinian residents of that region. As a result, armed resistance organizations have attacked Israeli military and civilian targets, staged large-scale demonstrations, and engaged in combat with Israeli security forces. The growth of settlements and restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, among other acts by the Israeli government and military, have exacerbated Palestinian resentment and fury and increased violent resistance. The Israeli government’s measures, according to its supporters, are required for the security of the nation and are in response to violent acts committed by Palestinian militant organizations. Regardless of its reasons, the increase in militarized tactics on both sides has contributed to a vicious cycle of violence and further escalated the conflict in the region. Inciting violence against another group of people is unacceptable. This is simply not sustainable. Israel needs to immediately cease violent atrocities against the Palestinian people if there is any hope for tensions to cool. 

Prisoner Release in Iran

The release of prisoners in Iran does not indicate changing

The release of prisoners does not signal a change in the violent strategy used by the Iranian government to suppress protestors. (Photo from AFP)

Tens of Thousands of Prisoners were Given Amnesty or Shortened Sentences in Iran, why?

Iran’s preeminent leader has absolved or sanctioned a diminishing of jail terms for “tens of thousands” of detainees, including some seized in recent anti-government rallies. According to nuances revealed in an official state-run media account, the exonerations approved by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday came with conditions, stating that the decision would not significantly affect any of the countless double nationals detained in Iran. Some people have been charged with “corruption on earth,” a deadly offense that has resulted in the execution of four protesters, and these criminals would not be granted clemency. Those who have spied for foreign intelligence services or are associated with organizations hostile to the Islamic Republic are also among those who have not received pardons. According to the Iranian news organization Farsnews, only those that express remorse and confirm no repeat actions will be released.

It seems as though these caveats upon release for these detainees are a form of propaganda as it does not address the majority of circumstances for other prisoners. Iran’s prisons and courts were already overwhelmed before the protests began. Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, stated the amnesty would clear up some of the most minor cases for judicial authorities to focus on higher-priority prosecutions. After the death of Masha Amini in mid-September of last year, protests spread across Iran. Many of the protestors were killed or detained. The uprising was directed first against these rules and then against Iran’s leadership as a whole. Iran needs to focus their efforts on the change to a new secular system and policies to be put in place the people are protesting, for basic human rights, and this will allow them to build trust with the Iranian citizens and grow toward a better path of governance.

These protests in Iran sparked from the death of a young Iranian woman Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police in September of 2022. Iran has not seen such protests since the 1979 revolution. These protests have been very disruptive for the Iranian government and have threatened their control over the country. According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency, around 20,000 people have been detained in connection to these protests. Outside of the hanging executions, there have also been reports of 500 people being killed during the crackdown, which includes 70 minors. at least 100 of the people being detained faced possible death sentences. Iran has been criticized, by organizations like Amnesty International, for designing these brutal reactionary measures to intimidate protestors. Iran acts violently toward their protestors for a variety of reasons, including the government’s fear of losing power and control, the desire to maintain religious and political orthodoxy, and a desire to suppress dissent. Additionally, the Iranian government has a long history of using violence to intimidate and silence its citizens, particularly those who oppose its policies. Rather than implementing these convoluted systems that breed violence in their community, these pardons are a limited showcase of a facade of justice and peace. These releases are not a sign of shifting attitudes in the Iranian government, but rather a simple solution to a logistical problem the Iranian courts were facing. The brutal suppression of protests is likely to continue.