Covid-19 Forsakes Syrian Refugees

Regardless of where you live on this pale blue dot, no one has escaped the coronavirus pandemic. The World Health Organization, United Nations, and even our own CDC here at home have told us the inevitable, that the most vulnerable populations among us will be hit the hardest. Truer words have never been spoken. Let’s take a look at a rapidly brewing humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.

 We all know that war-ravaged Syria has displaced millions of people. This crisis of despair is on-going. No sooner have things begun to stabilize, now we see the coronavirus is upon the very refugee camps created to protect those who lost loved ones, their homes, and nearly all their worldly possessions. Currently, many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been working together to bring relief to these refugee camps. These NGOs have been working in concert with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Northeastern Syria (NES).

 The main NGOs leading the relief effort in the NES include; WHO, Kurdish Red Crescent, and the United Nations. Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse due to the arrival of the coronavirus. These organizations were granted limited access to three checkpoints along the Syrian border, but that number was reduced from three to two, and now to one.

 It’s not difficult to understand why, but medical supplies must get through, as there are just not enough medical facilities, doctors, equipment, PPEs, medicines, or the required supply chain to deal with this pandemic in NES, not to mention the actual refugee camps. Testing is also at issue. Although there have been few coronavirus cases reported in Syria this is most likely because test kits simply have not been made available.

In the districts in the Northeastern Region of Syria medical facilities do not even meet the minimum standard of 18 hospital beds per 10,000 people. The international relief efforts now operate about 58 primary health facilities, 37 mobile clinics, and 13 hospitals – all of which rely on medical supplies, and PPE from across Syrian borders. NGOs have attempted to complain to the United Nations’ Security Council of Syria’s failure to allow shipments, but Russia vetoed the request to look into the issue at the last meeting. 

The Syrian Government claims it has facilitated shipments and processed all the paperwork required, but the NGOs say none have arrived. Have the Syrian refugee camps been forsaken amid the coronavirus? Test kits that moved through Damascus seemed to have pit stopped there, and never made it to their final destination. The total number of infected and the total number of deaths from Covid-19 are simply not known reports foreign policy think tanks tracking COVID-19, like the FDD.

As things get worse and stuck in the bureaucracy and/or in various UN committees people are dying. Although the fighting has stopped, the Syrian Government is not too keen on cross border deliveries to the region which could potentially include weapons, more fighters, or the means to pick up the conflict battle in the future. Turkey doesn’t want the Kurds moving through its border, and the Syrian government doesn’t want any more problems from the Kurdistan area of Iraq moving from one side of the border to the other.

Most Middle East countries do not want these refugees and with the price of oil down they can’t afford to take them even if they did want them. While the rest of the region deals with their own coronavirus problems and they have their hands full, many are on the verge of economic collapse.

Russia as an ally of Syria and involved in the war effort to protect Assad’s Syrian military is not interested in the humanitarian crisis, only protecting the borders during a non-fighting period. If supplies cannot come from Turkey or Iraq, then could they come from Jordan? Well, there seems to be a problem with that, as it would require the convoys to traverse too much of Syria and go through a region where they don’t belong according to a leading report on current events affecting Syria and the Middle East.

Normally, such a humanitarian crisis like this would get the full attention of the world, but right now there is simply too much coronavirus chaos, and nations’ leaders are preoccupied with their own challenges and medical supply needs. Remember everyone needs medical supplies now, so even if the deliveries could be made, they’d still fall short of need, at least this is what indications of how COVID-19 is affecting foreign policy in Syria show us, notes the FDD.

One could say that a big crisis just received the ultimate force-multiplier (the coronavirus pandemic) adding more variables, shortages, and time to any potentially viable solution to the Syrian refugee problem. If you will recall, the EU had already been told by many of its nation members that they were full-up with immigrant refugees even before the Syrian conflict.

The Syrian Government is even using this coronavirus crisis to plant malware and spyware onto the smartphones of those in Syria to find out what they are up to. They are offering an APP for Android Phones that claims to be a digital thermometer so users can track their temperature, it doesn’t work, as it merely shows the same temperature whenever used, but it allows access to the phone and gives geolocation data as well.

As major cities in Syria like Aleppo were bombed by the Russians and the Syrian army millions were displaced and many fled to neighboring countries. Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, and other nations simply couldn’t take anymore. The refugee camps got bigger and bigger, barely manageable, and somewhat controlled chaos at first to an impossible humanitarian crisis not seen in nearly a decade. The data and science and technology information affecting COVID-19 and the Middle East suggests that the refugee camps could lose 100,000 people before all this is over.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Some blame Assad and his regime, some blame the United States, some blame ISIS, some blame Iran, some blame Russia, and foreign policy researchers on COVID-19’s effect say it’s not surprising.

It’s hard to say what will happen to all those refugees, or how many will survive the latest coronavirus crisis, especially considering the issues with hunger in the camps along with the ever-present problem of starvation and extreme weather events the region has experienced so far. Coronavirus and its effect on policy in Syria and the Middle East are not fully known yet, but those with a watchful eye on the issues tell us, this won’t end well.

Will Iran Make Nuclear Weapons – Is the JCPOA Dead?

JCPA or JCPOA stands for The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. In Persian, it’s known as BARJAM or barnāmeye jāme’e eqdāme moshtarak. The Obama Administration called it the Iran nuclear deal or Iran deal, and that is pretty much what it is called today by everyone except international diplomacy experts and those who negotiated the agreement. If it dies, the agreement calls for reverting back to 2005 level sanctions. Is it going to die?

Well, just because the United States under the Trump Administration exited the agreement, it doesn’t make the agreement null and void. Remember there are many other parties to this agreement. The UK, France, Germany, China, Russia, and others as a signer. Thus, theoretically, the agreement is in full force and effect, right? Well, yes and no. You see, since the U.S. redrew from the agreement and implemented economic sanctions, Iran’s leadership has blown past their enrichment limits and purposefully violated other terms.

One could argue that Iran never fully complied with the nuclear agreement from the beginning, and there is now proof that they had lied about their nuclear weapons ambitions. So, perhaps the JCPOA wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, and the Trump Administration got it right and unilaterally took action.

Why Did the U.S. Withdraw from the JCPA or JCPOA?

It wasn’t just one thing or one reason. There were many reasons such as Iran’s meddling in the U.S. Military’s mission in Syria, Iraq, and the funding of proxy terrorist organizations throughout the region. President Trump made a campaign promise to get out of the Iranian Nuclear Deal if elected and to renegotiate a better deal. He still may do that.

Will the Trump Administration honor a deal made by the remaining parties of the agreement? Yes, if it meets his additional terms regarding ballistic missiles, proxy terrorist support, free trade, and commerce movement in the Persian Gulf in addition to better checks and verifications on nuclear weapons-grade uranium enrichment.

What Are the Other Parties to the JCPOA Doing About the Situation? 

Germany and France have invoked a clause in the Iran Nuclear Agreement that calls for dispute resolution. This had slowed down the game a little and has given everyone time to pause and consider the ramification of a potential war. Now that the UK has completed its BREXIT with the EU, the UK is looking to make a favorable trade deal with the U.S. and it’s possible the UK could follow the U.S. and call to end the Iran Nuclear Agreement.

The problem in the meantime is that Iran is continuing to enrich uranium to 5% and some believe they are well on their way to getting enough nuclear material to make a nuclear bomb according to recent reports from The Atlantic. Once they get to 5%, getting to 20% is a lot less work and from there to the 98% needed a hop, skip and a jump.

What Was the Original Intention of the JCPOA – Iran Nuclear Deal?

Originally, one of the Obama Administration’s goals in the deal was to keep Iran from ever getting closer to a year from having enough enriched uranium material to make a bomb says policy analysts at the think tank, FDD. The problem is that since the U.S. withdrew from the agreement, Iran which is suffering greatly under economic sanctions has chosen to use it as an excuse to further violate the terms of the agreement.

What Happens Next?

Iran is now using extortion tactics to persuade France and Germany to intervene and help with economic relief and bring the U.S. back to the table, as indicated by leading foreign policy analysts.

It turns out that this move by Iran may have been a severe miscalculation, along with their attacks on oil assets in the Persian Gulf, shooting down of an American Drone, planning attacks on U.S. Embassies in the Middle East, attacking a couple of U.S. Military Bases, and shooting down a civilian airliner, note researchers at one of the leading foreign policy think tanks. The Trump Administration is in control, economic sanctions are working and Iran is on its last leg.

Some experts on diplomacy and foreign policy suggest that timing is everything and the Trump Administration has perfectly played its cards. Iran appears to be about 5 to 10 months away from getting enough enriched uranium to make a couple of bombs, and they appear to have the technological know-how to build warheads and they’ve demonstrated their ballistic missile technology, but time is running out for the regime. Their main proxy terrorist chief Solemani has been snuffed out by a U.S. drone strike and their ability to pull a last-minute strike like a cornered tiger is going to be a lot harder to pull off now.

Meanwhile, the political wheels in the U.S. are turning as it is an election year, and the Democrats want to try to limit Trump’s war powers against Iran. This is no time to pull-back, it’s time to get tougher. So, the plot thickens to this very critical set of circumstances.

Cash-Low Tehran Using Sovereign Wealth Fund to Stay Afloat

While boarding Air Force One for the G20 in Japan, President Trump said in an ad hoc interview; “The sanctions are very tough and Iran has to deal with them.” Trump stated he thought the leaders of Iran were making a big mistake, and said; “Iran should do the right thing for their people, if the Iranian leaders care about their people, they’ll make a deal. If they don’t, they are just thinking about themselves, and they are selfish and stupid if they don’t negotiate.”

Are Economic Sanctions Working In Iran?

The sanctions are working and Iran’s economy is experiencing 40-50% inflation as of the date of this article. Iran’s currency, the Iranian Rial, is expected to continue devaluation, and is now considered the most distressed currency in the region. The Iranian government is withdrawing money from its NDF – National Defense Fund at an increasingly faster pace, which is unsustainable according to FDD, researchers on sanctions. Iran has no choice, as sanctions have cut oil and gas revenues by over 50% and the regime’s cash flow is drying up.

One of the most recent U.S. allies to honor the Iranian oil sanctions is South Korea, according to reports from Reuters Business News. South Korea has plenty of other options, as it can buy oil from Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and/or the United States. Iran cannot afford to lose many more customers. At some point the low production volume will be below its break-even point. Iran’s economic crisis is getting worse by the day – currency speculators are betting against the Iranian Rial, and the downturn in the economy is affecting the average Iranian and those in the middle class at a very personal level.

Meanwhile, according to reports from Radio Forda the Iranian regime has been steadily drawing down the NDF, taking out billions for the military, its internal state broadcasting propaganda mechanism, and other expenses. If the US were to sanction the NDF and freeze funds, things could get a whole lot worse. Since Iran’s military has been named a state-sponsor of terrorism due to the regime’s proxy terrorist activities throughout the Middle East, the NDF sanctions can easily be justified. Although that decision has not yet been made, as of the writing of this article, things are happening as we speak with the Iranian crisis.

Will The Iranian Supreme Leader Sit Down With President Trump To Talk?

A meeting of the minds does not appear imminent. Ali Khamenei called the United States ‘the most oppressive regime’ and accused the United States of economic warfare – all this among a flurry of other insults and derogatory statements. Apparently, the Iranian regime is trying to play victim and hopes this will help its case with the international community, yet at the same time attempting to look strong to its own people. Most international relations think tanks believe that Iran will have to capitulate (blink first) and eventually negotiate. That assessment appears to be correct from all the economic data coming out of Tehran.

Tensions remain high as the G20 meeting continues, and the Iranian issue is a hot topic. The problems are not going away and the rhetoric continues. Although President Trump hasn’t drawn any redlines yet, he’s hinted on Twitter; 1.) “Iran can never have a nuclear weapon,” and; 2.) “Iran better not attack anything U.S. again or risk obliteration.”The second Trump tweet is in reference to the U.S. drone that Iran shot down while it was flying in international airspace, and as a reminder to all that the Trump Administration has not taken ‘military action’ off the table. Hard to say how much of that is just tough-talk, but most international diplomacy experts concur with the serious nature of the first item.

Trump Hands Iran Victory

 

For all of Donald Trump’s differences from his predecessor, during the presidential campaign he largely followed the same footsteps as Barack Obama when it came to to foreign-policy. They both agreed that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were poorly managed and they both had similar visions for trade with Europe. One area where the two couldn’t be further apart however, is Iran.

In fact, one of President Trump’s most divisive acts was upending a piece of flagship legislature put into place by the previous administration. The nuclear agreement with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was referred to by Donald Trump as the “worst deal ever.” The Foundation for Defense of Democracies CEO, Mark Dubowitz notes that unlike President Obama the current administration’s rhetoric regarding Iran has been far from sugar-coated. Learn more about Mark Dubowitz here.

President Trump had little interest in being diplomatic with Tehran. As he promised, the nuclear deal was ended and sanctions were brought back, but for the most part his administration’s military advisors were able to deal with concerns about blowback in the Middle East and managed to contain Iran’s presence in Syria.

The relative success of President Trump’s controversial decision makes it even more bizarre what he did next. The announcement that the U.S. would withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria and reduce our military presence in Afghanistan left a lot of people shaking their heads for the consequences it would mean for our allies in the region. What’s more concerning though, is the effects the decision will have on the US’s efforts to enforce policies meant to prevent Iran from funding terrorism. Many experts suggest that it will only be a positive for the totalitarian regime.

The President’s threats against Iran were clear about what lines they needed to stop crossing – in short, supporting terrorist organizations in Lebanon and Palestine such as Hezbollah. However he did not state in what way these lines would be enforced. With a minimized military presence in the region the President has left himself few options to enforce his will besides sanctions, which Iran has shown little reverence for in the past.
The most baffling aspect of Trump’s decision to the experts is that it runs counter to the position held by the majority of Democrats and Republicans who believe the U.S. should maintain a military presence in Syria. For little cost and risk of US casualties our troops have provided a stopper against Russian aggression, as well as Iranian and ISIS aggressors, and served as back up to our European allies in the region. It’s unclear what the President’s long-term plan is, if he has one, but one thing is certain, so far it looks good for Iran. Stay in the loop as the story progresses.