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The Middle East is a brutal region. In December 2020, Ruhollah Zam, an Iranian journalist living in exile in France, was kidnapped and returned to Iran, where he was immediately brought before a cooked-up “show trial” and summarily hung. His crime? He was accused, as a journalist, of fomenting the 2017 protests against the government. He also established a dissident news feed, Amadnews that had more than a million followers. Such is the cost of freedom of the press in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

(March 05, 2021)

In 2014, much of the Western world was stunned by the trove of photographs brought out by a former military-police photographer with the pseudonym, “Caesar”  of more than 10,000 corpses brutally murdered at the hands of Syrian strongman Bashir Assad. What began as a fluttering of hope in 2011 of the “Arab Spring” has resulted in half a million deaths and over 13 million displaced Syrians, many of whom are now living in sub-human, freezing conditions in Idlib province. under Assad.

A friend of mine who had been a Syrian dissident told me that during the Arab Spring,  parents of young dissidents had been sent something that resembled  cans of dog food by the government, with a note saying, “This is the remains of your child.”

In Egypt, according to Human Rights Watch, tens of thousands of government critics, including journalists and human rights defenders, remain imprisoned under abysmal detention conditions, made even deadlier by the Covid outbreak, leading to the deaths of dozens of prisoners who never received proper medical care, and because f the Covid outbreak, prisoners are denied visits from their attorneys. Female prisoners are often gang-raped, smearing their victims’ reputations by posting lewd photographs of them online. The Interior Ministry’s Security Forces arbitrarily arrest and torture citizens, including children, keeping them in atrocious pretrial conditions for inordinate amounts of time.

On February 4, in Lebanon, the family of prominent Anti-Hezbollah activist Lokman Slim began to worry when he went missing for several days. He was later found dead in his car. Medical authorities in Beirut said he had four gunshots to his head, and one to his back. Such is the price of speaking out against the Iranian Shiite militia group that controls much of Lebanon’s commercial and political interests as well as much of the military, mafioso- style.

Last week, an intelligence report was released concerning the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Which just stopped  short of directly implicating Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman with the murder and dismemberment of the Saudi journalist.

The Biden team is now considering canceling offensive arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This is a considerable move. According to Brookings, between 2015 and 2020 the United States had agreed to sell approximately $64.1 billion worth of weapons to Saudi  Arabia, averaging approximately $10.7 billion worth of weapons to Riyadh each year. On Friday, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) sanctioned Ahmad Hassan Mohammad al Asiri, the former head of Saudi General Intelligence, who coordinated with Saud al  Qahtani in Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, together with the members of the Rapid Intervention Force, (RIF).

What happened to Jamal Khashoggi was indeed horrific. Yet, why now is this report being released? And why not the release of a similar intelligence report concerning the abduction and execution of Ruhollah Zam from France? Or the sudden disappearance and execution of  Lokman Slim in Beirut, or the thousands of summarily executed dissidents in Syria. If we are going to be outraged about human rights then our outrage should extend to almost the entire region. Yet we seem to be experiencing today a case of “situational ethics”.

After our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we should all be well aware of the fact that the Middle  East is a particularly brutal place. And we also know that Iran is certainly no paragon of virtue.

However, there has been a slow emergence of real trust and of friendship between Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco, and Israel. Many of these nations came “out of the closet” and proudly signed the Abraham Accords with Israel, which opens up the region to an economic boom, to tourism and cultural exchanges as well as to a meaningful peace, meant to endure for generations among those nations, and an alliance of strength forged with Israel during the dwindling months of the Trump administration.

Part of the answer to why there is this selective ethics  regarding Saudi Arabia involves the makeup of the Biden administration, many of whom had felt that the Iranian nuclear deal was the crowning achievement of their years of working with the Obama administration

Among them is Robert Malley, our new “Special Envoy to Iran. Mr. Malley met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in 2019, a violation of the Logan Act. His appointment has been met with enthusiasm by the Tehran Times, and by NIAC, which Iranian President Hassan Rouhani calls “Iran’s lobby in Washington.” Another appointment,

Ariana Tabatabai, our “Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security”, comes from a family that is uncomfortably close to the Iranian regime. Her father is a professor at the University of Tehran and has consulted with the regime. No -one should be guilty because of who their father is. However, Ms. Tabatabai, herself is seen on a Tweet, demeaning the role of the dissidents in their demonstrations against the Mullahs, and under-stating the role of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

None of these people appreciate the profound significance of the dawning of the new era of the Abraham Accords. They are of the school who cannot dare to think outside of the conventional box and dare to entertain the concept that there might, indeed, be a meaningful peace between Israel and the Arab world where the Palestinians are not the lynchpin. As John Kerry said, “There will be no advance and separate peace with the Arab world without the Palestinian process and Palestinian peace. Everybody needs to understand that. That is the hard reality.”

And if today’s reality progresses to an enlightened thawing of relations between the Arab states and Israel, these people are determined to bend that reality back to the deep freeze of yesterday. All in order to conform to their tired, stale outdated paradigm.


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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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