The National Interest Foundation Newsletter, Issue 238

The National Interest Foundation Newsletter

Issue 238, May 24, 2024

Welcome to our NIF Newsletter. In this week’s edition, we look into an envoy of former President Trump making a strategic pitch to Arab-Americans who feel disillusioned with President Biden, analyze the International Criminal Court (ICC) decision to seek arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and others, and examine the potential impact of the death of Iranian President Raisi and Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian.

Trump Envoy Makes a Strategic Pitch to Arab-Americans Who Feel Disillusioned with Biden

Trump envoy Richard Grenell met with Arab-American and Muslim-American leaders earlier this week in Michigan. (Photo from The New York Times)

Trump Envoy Makes a Strategic Pitch to Arab-Americans Who Feel Disillusioned with Biden

In Michigan earlier this week, Richard Grenell – an envoy of former President Donald Trump who served as Acting Director of National Intelligence in the Trump administration and as U.S. Ambassador to Germany from 2018 to 2020 – met with a group of around 40 Arab-American and Muslim-American leaders. The gathering was a strategic pitch by the Trump envoy aimed at appealing to those who feel disillusioned over President Joe Biden’s handling of the Gaza War. Many of those in attendance described it as light on the policy details and specific changes that they were hoping to hear about, although the outreach was appreciated and gave participants an opportunity to hear directly from Trump surrogates. The meeting made clear and was an acknowledgement that Arab-American and Muslim-American votes cannot be taken for granted, especially because of several key battleground states including Michigan that will likely determine the outcome of the upcoming presidential election. Throughout the course of the presidential primary season, the significance of the ‘uncommitted’ protest vote movement in various states across the country has demonstrated this.

One of the main takeaways from the meeting was how the issue of Gaza and Palestine is a matter of utmost importance to many members of the Arab-American and Muslim-American community. Dissatisfaction and anger regarding the Biden administration’s handling of the Gaza War, particularly in light of glaring Israeli war crimes and human rights abuses, has been widespread and has even extended beyond the community at-large as evidenced by the array of anti-war protests on college campuses all over the United States. While meeting attendees sought to hear what specific policy changes President Trump would have, should he be elected for another term in November, the Trump envoy mostly danced around the topic of Gaza and failed to address it adequately. The issue of former President Trump’s travel ban on Muslim-majority countries was brought up, which Grenell denied was ever implemented and said was pushed to improve the vetting process and avoid certain “bad actors” from trying to enter the country.

During the course of the gathering, Grenell was also asked about controversial remarks made by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser during his administration. Kushner had recently expressed that Israel should consider removing Palestinians from areas in Gaza that could be developed as “valuable waterfront property.” According to one attendee, the Trump envoy appeared to double down on the comments. Additionally, some of the meeting participants relayed conditions that they had for supporting Trump, such as him backing an immediate ceasefire, initiating funding for the vital humanitarian work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and passing the Leahy Laws that prohibit the U.S. from arming foreign military forces that violate human rights laws. However, unsurprisingly, Grenell was not able to commit to those conditions on behalf of former President Trump.

What the Trump envoy did try to argue was that the Arab-American and Muslim-American community had the opportunity to showcase its impactful political power by supporting Trump instead of Biden. Grenell contended that doing so would prove to both Republicans and Democrats alike that they could not be ignored or dismissed. The hundreds of thousands of citizens who have cast ‘uncommitted’ presidential primary ballots in states throughout the country have in fact already illustrated this. They have demonstrated that even a seemingly slight shift in support between Biden and Trump, deciding to vote for a third-party candidate, or sitting out the election altogether, may be extremely consequential. Thus, the Trump envoy’s outreach effort this week offers a recognition regarding the significance of Arab-American and Muslim-American votes this electoral cycle, and an understanding of the critical role that they could play in helping to determine the outcome of the upcoming presidential election in November.

ICC Decision to Seek Arrest Warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Others

Following the application for the arrest warrants, a panel of pre-trial judges will consider the evidence and decide if they should be issued. (Photo from AP)

ICC Decision to Seek Arrest Warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Others

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has announced that he is seeking arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three senior Hamas officials over war crimes. In his statement, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan expressed that based on collected evidence, he had grounds to believe that Netanyahu and Gallant bear criminal responsibility for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed including starvation of civilians as a method of warfare. He also implicated them in intentionally and systematically directing attacks against a civilian population, obstructing aid delivery by humanitarian agencies, and restricting the transfer of needed supplies. Analysts have highlighted that the move is significant, as it only adds to the sizable criticism towards Israel’s military actions in Gaza and serves to further isolate them internationally. In the aftermath of the request for the arrest warrants, it is now up to a panel of pre-trial judges to weigh the evidence and determine if they will be issued in the coming weeks. Should they decide to do so, this could mean that any of the five individuals – the two Israeli officials and the three Hamas officials – are subject to potential arrest and extradition to The Hague for trial if they travel to one of the more than 120 countries that are parties to the Rome Statute.

A group of international law experts conveyed support for the ICC decision, and their involvement in the process which led to it, even publishing an article outlining this in the Financial Times. They detailed their participation in the months-long review and examination of the arrest warrant applications themselves, as well as the aiding evidence. All of this guided them to agree with the ICC prosecutor’s assessment that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the aforementioned suspects have committed crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the ICC, and that their actions undoubtedly violate international law standards. The experts emphasized that they reached this conclusion impartially, unanimously, and independently, based solely on the evidence. They also drew attention to the noteworthiness of the ICC decision as a milestone in the history of international criminal law, and the hope that it would spur increased protections for civilians.

Among government officials and countries around the world, the reaction to the ICC move was mixed. The decision was backed by several European nations, including France, Belgium, and Slovenia. In a statement regarding the arrest warrant requests, France expressed that it supports the ICC, its independence, and the fight against impunity in all situations, noting that there have been warnings for many months about the unacceptable nature of civilian deaths and insufficient humanitarian access. France’s stance represents a contrast from the positions of the United Kingdom, Italy, and the United States, with U.S. President Joe Biden labeling the ICC move as “outrageous.” Following the announcement from the ICC, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) remarked that the lower chamber of Congress may vote on sanctions against the ICC. Previously, it was reported that some members of Congress spent the recent weeks since news of potential warrants emerged engaging behind the scenes with the ICC to try and forestall the prosecution. It is also anticipated that GOP U.S. Senators are waiting on the House before possibly pushing their own version of an ICC sanctions bill. Meanwhile, there have been some high-profile U.S. lawmakers who have voiced support for the ICC move. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) released a statement asserting that the ICC is right to take the actions that it has because it is imperative that the global community uphold international law.

Fair-minded observers are optimistic that the applications for the ICC arrest warrants are a substantial step forward in holding officials from Israel and Hamas accountable for their egregious crimes against humanity. They contend that due to the overwhelming evidence in support of the charges, there is no reason to suspect that the applications will not succeed. Human rights groups have applauded the way in which the ICC is seeking to apply the standards of international law to both Israel and Hamas, as ICC prosecutor Khan himself even expressed that “the law cannot be applied selectively…if that happens, we will be creating conditions for its collapse.” It is also hoped that the potential issuing of arrest warrants may serve to further strengthen the growing push for an end to the devastating War on Gaza.

Potential Impact of the Death of Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian

Iran’s president and foreign minister were among those killed when their helicopter crashed in a mountainous region near the Iran-Azerbaijan border. (Photo from Reuters)

Potential Impact of the Death of Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian

Earlier this week on Sunday, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian were among the eight people killed when their helicopter crashed in a foggy and mountainous region near the Iran-Azerbaijan border. Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian were traveling back after inaugurating a joint dam project with officials from the neighboring country, and after losing contact with the helicopter and an extensive overnight search, authorities and rescue teams found the crash site on Monday morning local time. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei later announced that now-former First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber would take over managing the government as acting president until the country holds a new presidential election, which has been set for June 28th. With respect to the foreign minister post, one of Amir-Abdollahian’s deputies – Ali Bagheri Kani – was appointed as caretaker. According to many issue experts, no major change is expected in Iran’s policies and agenda given that Ayatollah Khamenei is responsible for much of this, however the death of Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian may alter political calculations within the country.

It is anticipated that the upcoming election will not result in any major surprises, as political figures favored by the establishment are likely to secure victory. As one analyst pointed out, the replacements of both Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian are expected to possess the same degree of loyalty to the regime. However, what may emerge as a source of discord are potential internal disputes and uncertainty regarding succession to the role of Supreme Leader. Prior to his death, Raisi had been considered one of the most credible choices to succeed the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Thus, the longer-term effect on leadership succession and the prospects for infighting are things that are worth keeping an eye on. This has led commentators to express the belief that the death of Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian will test the regime’s ability to efficiently manage a succession process during a time of some notable crises. Since the establishment in Iran is run by conservative and hardline political factions, any possible power struggles are forecasted to be among those, with reformists being out of the picture. As such, hardliners are expected to keep their grip on power.

The death of the Iranian president and foreign minister comes amid a backdrop of domestic and regional challenges for the regime. The country has recently seen high levels of public dissatisfaction manifest via one of the most significant protest movements in its history following the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini back in September 2022 while in police custody. Additionally, parliamentary elections earlier this year in March had the lowest turnout since the Iranian revolution in 1979, so the regime’s public legitimacy is also lacking. At the regional level, tensions with Israel in the preceding months have escalated into direct hostilities, as witnessed with Israel’s attack against an Iranian consulate in Damascus and Iran’s retaliatory missile strike on Israel. This raised concerns regarding the risk of a wider-scale conflict in the region, which still exists the longer that the destructive War on Gaza persists.

While much of the Iranian public holds deep-rooted frustration and criticism towards the regime, the latter has so far been able to withstand this pressure. Whether or not that continues to be the case remains to be seen, as the unexpected political opening may spark renewed activism against the regime. One thing that does seem certain is that the death of Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian is likely to stir up internal power struggles within the establishment in Iran, presenting a considerable challenge to seamless transition and long-term stability.

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