Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. The Trump Administration Places the IRGC, A Branch of the Iranian Military, on the List of Terrorist Organizations
On April 8, the Trump Administration listed the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), a branch of the Iranian military, as a foreign terrorist organization. The unprecedented designation, which takes effect next Tuesday, will allow the Trump administration to seek criminal penalties against elements of the military agency and foreign officials deemed to be aiding it, as well as allow the US military to shoot on sight at any members of the IRGC. President Donald Trump called the IRGC “the Iranian government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign,” and said Iran uses the unit to promote terrorism as official state policy. American officials have long claimed (with little evidence) that the IRGC’s opaque structure and far-flung responsibilities provided a mask for terrorist activities that threaten the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and many European countries, and whether to make the designation has been debated for years. The move continues the Trump Administration’s aggressive posture toward Iran, which includes US withdrawal from the JCPOA, the 2015 nuclear agreement signed between Iran and several other countries (US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and China).
Overall, the reaction to the Trump Administration’s decision was mixed. The Iranian government immediately condemned the designation Monday and alleged that it was done to boost Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s electoral chances. “A(nother) misguided election-eve gift to Netanyahu. A(nother) dangerous U.S. misadventure in the region,” Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, responded in a Twitter Post. Additionally, the Supreme National Security Council of Iran responded Monday by branding “the government of the United States as a supporter of terrorism and Central Command, also known as Centcom, and all of its affiliated forces,
Despite much criticism throughout the world, the decision by the Trump Administration was welcomed in some quarters. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly called for the forcible removal of the current Iranian government from power and the reinstatement of the Pahlavi monarchy, praised the decision. “Thank you, my dear friend, President Donald Trump, for having decided to announce Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization,” Netanyahu wrote in a Twitter Post. The US move was unsurprisingly also welcomed by Saudi Arabia. “The US decision translates the Kingdom’s repeated demands to the international community of the necessity of confronting terrorism supported by Iran,” said Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.
The designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization is likely to complicate US actions in Iraq, where US troops work to prevent the resurgence of ISIS and where Shi’a militias tied to the IRGC operate close by. The IRGC is also tied to Hezbollah in Lebanon, where the political wing of the group is part of the government. Additionally, many observers note that the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization will do little to change Iranian foreign policy and will only serve to increase the chances of an open conflict between Iran and the US/Saudi Arabia/ Israel. “The unprecedented decision to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization will not put any significant additional economic pressures on Iran,” but it does “close yet another potential door for peacefully resolving tensions with Iran. Once all doors are closed, and diplomacy is rendered impossible, war will essentially become inevitable,” said Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC).
2. Saudi Arabia Launches Crackdown Against Regime Critics
Saudi Arabia detained two dual US-Saudi citizens this week during a roundup of activists, intellectuals and writers, including supporters of Saudi feminists and advocates for Palestinian rights, and human rights groups. The detentions of at least 11 people, signaled a revival of a crackdown on dissent by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS). Many of the latest arrests occurred on April 4. Those detained included Salah al-Haidar, a dual US-Saudi citizen and son of prominent feminist Aziza al-Yousef. Yousef, who is on trial with other Saudi women’s rights advocates on charges related to their activism, was temporarily released from custody last week. Another detainee, Bader al-Ibrahim, a doctor and writer, also holds
Although MbS has increased social freedoms within Saudi Arabia, at the same time he has sought to silence dissenting voices in the country, as well as beyond its borders. In October 2018, several Saudi hitmen (with the alleged support of the US and Israel), murdered Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the current Saudi government and a passionate advocate for the oppressed Shi’a minority living in Eastern Saudi Arabia. The Trump administration vigorously defended the Saudi government against criticism after the killing of Khashoggi, a US resident who contributed columns to The Washington Post. Outrage among US lawmakers over his slaying resulted in the bipartisan condemnation of the murder by even the strongest supporters of the Saudi government.
Many observers were puzzled by the timing of the arrests, coming a week after the Saudi government generated a degree of goodwill by temporarily releasing Aziza al-Yousef and two other women who are on trial. Several of the women’s rights activists have said they were tortured while in custody, an accusation the Saudi government has denied. The family of yet another Saudi detainee, Walid Fitaihi, a Harvard-trained doctor who also holds
3. Benjamin Netanyahu Wins Fifth Term As Israeli Prime Minister
With the vast majority of votes counted in Israeli elections by the end of April 9, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked set to clinch a fifth term in office, despite corruption charges, criticism regarding his foreign and domestic policies, and a strong challenger. With about 97 percent of the vote counted, both Netanyahu’s Likud party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White were set to win 35 seats in Israel’s 120-member Parliament. The Central Elections Committee, which oversees the process, said the final tally would not come until April 11. Still, Netanyahu appeared to be the one with a clear path to forming a coalition. His natural allies in the right wing were doing better overall, bringing a possible governing coalition’s predicted total to 65 seats. To create a government, Netanyahu needs to cobble together a 61-seat majority. Speaking to his supporters in the early hours of the morning, Netanyahu said he wanted to thank them “from the bottom of my heart.” “It’s an unbelievable, tremendous victory,” Netanyahu said.
If he remains in power, Netanyahu would be in a much stronger position to fight the charges and draw out the legal process, analysts said. If he forms a new government and survives until July of this year, he will become the country’s longest-serving prime minister, outstripping Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (known for his leadership during the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War, as well as his involvement in the 1953 Iranian coup). With so much at stake, Netanyahu pulled out all the stops in a campaign that attempted to strike fear into the hearts of right-wing voters that a “leftist” government may prevail, one that could team up with Israeli Arab politicians. Netanyahu pressured small right-wing parties to join with the extreme right-wing Jewish Power party, toxic for even those at the far right of Israeli politics. That appeared to have paved their way to the Knesset, with the new alliance winning five seats, according to the partial results. To woo more conservative votes to his party, he made a last-minute promise to expand Israeli settlements into the West Bank and to ultimately annex much of the territory. The partial results point to the possibility of a more extreme right-wing and religious government than ever before, with ultra-Orthodox parties coming in with around 16 seats.
Overall voter turnout stood at ~68 percent, dipping from ~73 percent in 2015, amid reports of low voter turnout among Israeli Arabs. Making up 20 percent of the population, Israeli Arab voters had been frustrated by a split in the leading Arab factions, while Israel’s controversial Nation State law, bolstered calls for a boycott. Despite the legal challenges he faces and the controversies he has courted, Netanyahu has a die-hard base that will vote for him unquestioningly. Michaela Ben Lulu, a lifetime Likud supporter, called Netanyahu a magician and said she admired his diplomacy, especially his relationship with President Trump. “He loves this nation and the nation loves him,” she said of Netanyahu. “I don’t care about the corruption claims or indictment. He doesn’t need money. He’s straight and trustworthy.”
4. Congress Passes Bipartisan Resolution Cutting Off US Support For Saudi Arabia’s War In Yemen
On April 4, the House of Representatives approved a measure to cut off US support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s civil war, in yet another harsh, bipartisan criticism of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy. President Trump is expected to veto the measure, which passed with support from Republicans and Democrats in both chambers. The 247-175 vote in the House of Representatives marks the first time that a War Powers resolution will reach the President’s desk. The effort was a top priority for Democrats after they took control of the House in January amid a worsening humanitarian crisis on the ground in Yemen, where Shi’a socio-political groups such as the Houthis have sought to overthrow the country’s Sunni-dominated government, prompting a Saudi bombing campaign that has lasted nearly five years. It also reflects broad dissatisfaction on Capitol Hill with Trump’s foreign policy, in particular, his posture toward Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “The president will have to face the reality that Congress is no longer going to ignore its constitutional obligations when it comes to foreign policy,” said Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The Defense Department has dispatched top officials to Capitol Hill to try to dissuade lawmakers from taking up a War Powers resolution, arguing that US forces are not engaged in hostilities in Yemen and therefore the legislation would have no effect. “The problem is, there are no US forces to remove,” said Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX), the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, who called the bill a “pro-Iran, pro-Houthi resolution.” President Donald Trump’s rejection of the bill will mark the second veto of his presidency, just a few weeks after he vetoed a resolution to overturn his declaration of a national emergency to build a wall on the southern border. Republican leaders have long tried to stifle the Democrat-led effort, but even some of Trump’s closest allies, including Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Jim Jordan (R-OH), have backed the legislation.
The House initially passed a Yemen War Powers resolution in February, but it couldn’t advance to the Senate because it included a Republican amendment condemning anti-Semitism. The Senate’s parliamentarian said the amendment was not “germane” to the underlying bill, effectively killing it. “Opponents of this measure have used every trick in the book to try to slow it down and derail it,” said Engel. The Republicans tried again to derail the bill this week. Republican leaders offered an amendment to condemn the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement which encourages companies and individuals to cut off ties with Israel and Israeli-linked entities. That amendment failed, but not before a fiery debate on the House floor during which Democrats accused Republicans of trying to sabotage the Yemen bill. “My colleagues are trying to block us from standing in support of our human rights and American values to condemn what’s happening there,” Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL) said to rousing applause from the Democratic side of the chamber.