December 9, 2019
By Moon of Alabama
When Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahoo was indicted for several crimes we predicted https://www.moonofalabama.org/2019/11/netanyahoo-indicted-for-bribery-fraud-and-breach-of-trust-becomes-more-dangerous.html that he would become more dangerous:
Netanyahoo will fight tooth and nail to gain and keep immunity. He will try to delegitimize the judicative and he will use any available trick to stay in office.
That makes him even more dangerous than he usually is.
He might even decide to do something, like starting a big war, to prevent his removal from power.
Lebanon, Syria and Iran must watch out.
Now the former MI6 agent and diplomat Alastair Crooke detects a new Israeli attempt https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2019/12/09/preparing-stage-flawed-prospectus-for-war-time-with-iran/ to instigate a war on Iran:
“This is a historic opportunity”, whispered one of Netanyahu’s insiders https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/12/israel-benjamin-netanyahu-donald-trump-benny-gantz-coalition.html into Ben Caspit (a leading Israeli journalist)’s ear this week: ..
What sort of history might that be? Why six months? Well, Caspit points up: “Netanyahu’s people, headed by minister Yuval Steinitz clearly state that a widespread war is likely to erupt in the next six months between Iran and its adversaries in the region, including Israel”. And the new Defence Minister, Bennett, threatens Iran on an almost daily basis.
“Perhaps Netanyahu simply needs a war with Iran in order to survive politically,” one of the Blue and White leaders told Caspit: “That is scary and dangerous …” .
There nothing new with that one might say. Netanyahoo has for years plotted to instigate a U.S. war on Iran. But there was so far no reason for the U.S. to wage one. War needs a narrative, a story than can be sold to the people who will have to pay for it. Crooke sees a possible one in the recent riots in Iran and elsewhere:
Well, here it is https://www.haaretz.com/hblocked?returnTo=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.haaretz.com%2Fmiddle-east-news%2Firan%2F.premium-iran-s-middle-east-empire-of-anarchy-can-t-survive-1.8219564: “For a long time it looked like the spread of Iranian influence across the Middle East was unstoppable. Now, the entire Iran-hegemony enterprise is at risk. Protests have been going on in Iraq and Lebanon for weeks, bringing their economies to a near standstill, and forcing their Iran-approved prime ministers to step down. There’s no end in sight to the protests …”.
And hence, the Israeli push – led by the newly-appointed Defence Minister, Bennet, that now – precisely – is the moment for the US to act against Iran. This is the narrative for war.
So the idea is that the current turmoils in the ‘axis of resistance’ countries – Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran – has weakened Iran so much that it can be attacked.
But a look at each of those countries shows that it is doubtful that the narrative is true.
Lebanon is in a currency crisis because the U.S. has sanctioned remittances from expatriates (around $8 billion per year) to the country. That has triggered the collapse of a fraudulent scheme used by the rich in Lebanon to increase public debt while channeling the state’s money through the central Banque du Liban into their own pockets https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2019/12/02/the-lebanese-street-asks-which-is-stronger-sect-or-hunger/:
The BdL has issued Treasury bonds at very high interest rates; most of that debt has been bought by other Lebanese banks. Jad Chaaban, a professor at the American University in Beirut, has found “individuals closely linked to political elites control 43 percent of assets in Lebanon’s commercial banking sector.” He also calculated that, to take one example, the Hariri family had earned $108 million between 2006 and 2015 from interest on the public debt.
The idea behind the U.S. sanctions was to economically hurt Hizbullah, to instigate a civil war against it and to remove it from the Lebanese government. But the scheme failed https://ahtribune.com/world/north-africa-south-west-asia/lebanon/3707-agents-of-chaos-have-failed.html. While the Lebanese pound lost some 40% of its value Hizbullah raised the pay for its people:
Today, no Lebanese citizen is able to dispose of his own saving or company assets in banks due to restrictions on withdrawals, effective “capital controls”. Only small amounts are allowed to be delivered to account holders–around $150-300 per week in a country where cash payments prevail. No one is allowed to transfer any amount abroad unless for university fees or special demands of goods import of first necessities.
However, Hezbollah, the US-Israel main target, was not affected directly by the US sanctions and by the new financial restrictions. Militants were paid, as is the case monthly, in US dollars with an increase of 40% (due to the local currency devaluation) with the compliments of “Uncle Sam”.
(As many Syrian banks and industries have used the Lebanese banking system, the currency crunch in Lebanon also led to a sharp drop of the Syrian pound. This is a problem for Syria but its allies will help to dampen the effects.)
The U.S. sanctions against Lebanon failed to have the desired effects. There will be no civil war against Hizbullah. The group and its missiles arsenal, which acts as deterrence against Israel, are as ready as ever.
The protests in Iraq are genuine and they have brought the government down. But the U.S. attempt to use them https://www.msn.com/en-in/news/other/us-to-impose-more-sanctions-on-iraq-over-protest-deaths/vi-BBXSaW6 against the Popular Mobilization Forces (al-Ḥashd ash-Shaʿbi), created in 2014 by Iran to defeat the Islamic state, is also failing. The U.S. position in Iraq is weak. It can not out-compete Iran’s influence https://apnews.com/2d15fae86ea3e86dcf417f1d26a3461b:
President Barham Salih launched talks immediately after Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation by making rounds with different political blocs. Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and the architect of its regional security apparatus, also came to Baghdad to meet with key officials.
U.S. military bases in Iraq are increasingly coming under fire https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-12-07/rocket-attacks-hit-2-iraqi-air-bases-where-u-s-forces-stationed.
Genuine protests against fuel price increases in Iran were followed a day later by prematurely triggered attacks from underground groups against the country’s infrastructure and banks. Iran reacted immediately to eliminate them. As Crooke describes it https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2019/12/09/preparing-stage-flawed-prospectus-for-war-time-with-iran/:
The security forces reacted militarily – arresting and killing many insurgents. And yes – the internet was shut down. But, not the internal Iranian internet – only the global internet. So, the Iranian equivalent of WhatsApp and Telegraph, and Iranian news channels were still accessible – though the global internet was not. The overseas anger at the external internet shut-down possibly reflected surprise and irritation that Iran had this capability. Likely, it was not a capacity that Iran was thought to possess.
So what was going on? The Iranian government, it seems, had prior knowledge of plans to stage attacks by ‘activists’, as a part of an (externally formulated and resourced) disruption plan. But that original plan indicated that the start of these actions would take place early next year.
What seems to have happened is that when the fuel hike protests began, these ‘activists’ were given the go-ahead to ‘seize the moment’. In other words, they activated all their pre-prepared plans prematurely. This was exactly what the Iranian security forces wanted, and had sought. It enabled them to ‘smoke out’ the plot, and to arrest, or kill the ring-leaders.
To build the underground network of insurgents in Iran must have taken years. It was likely done by the CIA in collaboration with the MEK cult. The militants were supposed to be directed, like the rioters in Hong Kong, via Internet messaging services. When those command and control lines were cut Iranian security services had, as we predicted https://www.moonofalabama.org/2019/11/there-are-riots-in-iran-and-the-usual-suspect-are-on-it.html, no problems to eliminate the militant groups.
The U.S. has tried everything against Iran except waging an outright war. But its schemes against Iran and its friends are failing everywhere.
The U.S. pressure campaign against Iran was an item of a State Department press conference on Friday where Matt Lee of the Associated Press challenged Assistant Secretary Schenker’s assertion that the campaign shows ‘success’:
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHENKER: The Iranians oftentimes, or have certainly in the past taken aggressive action when they feel under pressure. We see that in the response to, for example, the maximum pressure campaign working over the months. The past five, six months, Iran has become increasingly more aggressive. There is a trajectory, right, where they have first increased the operational tempo of the Houthis against the Saudis, then raised the rhetoric and the temperature in Iraq against U.S. personnel, moving on from there scuttling boats in Fujairah, then kidnapping boats, then shooting down U.S. drones in international airspace, and most recently Abqaiq, targeting directly with their own missiles Saudi oil facilities.
QUESTION: And then you seem to suggest right now that the maximum pressure campaign is a success because it has resulted in greater Iranian aggression and shooting down U.S. drones.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHENKER: I – no.
QUESTION: Well, that’s —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHENKER: Maybe that’s what you inferred.
QUESTION: No, no, no, that’s – that’s – well, no, that’s I think the way —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHENKER: The pressure campaign is working. They are clearly under fear and pressure, and they are lashing out. They are also —
QUESTION: Yeah, but if that’s a success, I mean —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHENKER: They’re also having double-digit negative growth.
QUESTION: Fair enough.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHENKER: The people in the streets are protesting against the regime for its corruption and for its economic mismanagement —
QUESTION: Yeah, but surely there’s —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHENKER: — for spending all the money of the Iranian people on militias abroad, like in —
QUESTION: Surely the metric – surely the metric for the success of U.S. policy, foreign policy anywhere, not just with Iran, is that the country – the other country is less aggressive and less likely to shoot down U.S. drones or attack U.S. bases or threaten —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SCHENKER: There is – no, Matt, there’s – to be fair, there – things sometimes get worse before they get better in those terms.
The U.S. consistently overestimates its capabilities to bring Iran to its knees. While Iran’s GDP is falling for lack of oil sales the internal economy is thriving and employment is on the rise https://djavadsalehi.com/2019/10/27/rising-employment-casts-doubt-on-imfs-grim-forecast-for-irans-economy/#comments as imports get substituted by local production:
The rise of the dollar brings a large change to the price structure in Iran, opening substantial opportunities for profitable production in the non-oil sectors that employ the 99% of the workforce. These are the sectors which are overwhelmed by cheap imports when oil income lowers their prices.
So, in reverse order, and as economic textbooks read, when oil income drop and prices of imports increase, demand shifts from foreign to home goods, encouraging firms to hire workers and expand production. For example, in the past visits to Iran I might have bought a box of Kellogg’s cereal because it tasted better than the Iranian brand and was only twice as expensive. But this past summer, with devaluation having increased the price ratio to four or five, I decided to buy the Iranian brand. Surprisingly, it tasted better, either because the quality had improved or because prices determine taste for Isfahanis!
Inflation in Iran, caused by the U.S. sanctions, is coming down to sustainable levels. The government’s new budget https://news.yahoo.com/iran-unveils-budget-resistance-backed-161051474.html is designed to depend to less than 10% on oil sales:
Rouhani told parliament that the budget of 4,845 trillion rials, or $36 billion at the current street rate, was devised to help Iran’s people overcome difficulty.
Rouhani said that despite the US sanctions, his government expected to earn almost 455 trillion rials ($3.4 billion) from oil exports.
But he also said Iran’s non-oil economy would “be positive” in the next year.
So while Iran and its allies are under stress they are certainly not in danger of collapsing. The Israeli war narrative is fraudulent.
Netanyahoo may want a war, if only to stay out of jail. But war is not popular in the U.S. and Trump will not start one during an election year.
What Trump needs is an off-ramp from his failing aggression against Iran. He needs talks with Iran but the country insists that he must first lift the sanctions.
I expect him to do that only after his reelection.