Why Did Biden Slam ICC Over Israeli-Hamas Arrest Warrants? - Assal Rad

The Biden administration has denounced ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan for seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, and Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Ismael Haniyeh, and Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri. Middle East analyst Assal Rad underscores the U.S. government’s complicity in Israeli war crimes in Gaza by arming Israel despite numerous ICJ rulings calling for Netanyahu’s government to adhere to its commitments under the Genocide Convention, and most recently, to immediately halt its operation in Rafah. She also discusses the potential implications of the recent deaths of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. 

Talia Baroncelli

I’m Talia Baroncelli, and you’re watching theAnalysis.news. I’ll shortly be joined by Middle East analyst Assal Rad. We’ll be discussing the ICC prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, and three top leaders of Hamas.

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The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, is currently seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as top Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim al-Masri, and Ismail Haniyeh. On May 20, he filed an application for these arrest warrants for crimes committed in the State of Palestine. Netanyahu and Gallant are accused of seven war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, willful killing or murder as a war crime, intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population as a war crime, extermination and/or murder, and several other forms of war crimes.

The top Hamas leaders are similarly accused of extermination as a crime against humanity, murder as a crime against humanity, taking hostages as a war crime, rape and other acts of sexual violence, particularly in the context of captivity, torture as a crime against humanity, and other inhumane acts.

In response to this request for arrest warrants, several countries have condemned what they perceive the prosecutor to be doing as drawing an equivalence between what they call a terrorist organization, Hamas, and the state of Israel. Netanyahu has called the application anti-Semitic. The request for arrest warrants comes as the humanitarian situation in Gaza is becoming increasingly worse. The United Nations has said that the northern part of Gaza is now in a full-blown famine, and the World Food Programme has said that the entire Gaza Strip is currently experiencing unprecedented levels of food insecurity. The ICJ has also made its ruling, calling on Israel to immediately halt its military operation in Rafah.

Joining me now is a friend of the show Assal Rad. She is a Middle East analyst and author of the book State of Resistance: Politics, Culture, and Identity in Modern Iran. Thanks again for joining me, Assal.

Assal Rad

Happy to be back.

Talia Baroncelli

I wanted to ask you about the ICC prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants against Netanyahu, Gallant, and top Hamas leaders. The prosecutor has said that he has reasonable grounds to believe that these five actors bear criminal responsibility for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Biden said that the ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is outrageous. He said, “Let me be clear, whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence, none between Israel and Hamas.” Blinken has said that the administration will work with politicians or lawmakers to sanction the ICC for the application of these warrants.

Now, it’s important to note that the ICC was created in 2002. It’s based on the Rome Statute. The United States, Israel, Russia, and China have not ratified the Rome Statute. Yet, many international legal scholars argue that the principles in the statute comprise customary international law and that even non-state parties or parties that haven’t ratified the statute are bound to the principles therein. Even if you’re not a signatory to the Rome Statute, you can’t just say, “Oh, it doesn’t apply to me. The court doesn’t have jurisdiction over my actions.”

What do you think of the Biden administration’s response to the ICC prosecutor requesting these arrest warrants?

Assal Rad

There’s a lot that can be unpacked about the specific issue. First of all, the language that the Biden administration is using, specifically President Biden himself, is intentionally misleading. This is how talking points, I should say this is how propaganda works. You frame the issue as one of jurisdiction by using legal jargon, and you frame the issue of a false equivalency between Israeli officials and Hamas. That’s not what is implied by the case at all. If a court issues warrants for individual criminals; let’s take it out of states for a minute so that we can understand the parallel analogy. Just because a court orders a warrant for, say, a rapist or a murderer, two different people, two different crimes, it’s not making those two crimes equivalent. It’s just saying, this is a crime, and this is a crime, so you are a criminal, and you are a criminal. It’s a very basic concept. Yet the way that this language is manipulated by the Biden administration is intentional to avoid accountability for Israeli officials. They don’t care if Hamas is held accountable. What’s funny is in state briefings, when asked this specific question, a state spokesperson, Matthew Miller, has said, “Well, we also don’t believe that the ICC has jurisdiction over Hamas.” They have to do that because you can’t, on one hand, say, “Well, the warrants for Hamas are okay, but the warrants for Israeli officials are not.” It’s really counterproductive to the idea of international law altogether.

You mentioned this idea of how people, experts, and legal experts talk about whether these states that have not ratified the treaty, does the International Criminal Court still have jurisdiction, or do these rules apply to them? Again, this comes down to the way that legal jargon is used to divert from the very obvious parts of it: what is the point of international law? What is the point of international humanitarian law? If you can say, “Well, we didn’t sign that treaty, so that means these things don’t apply to us.” It doesn’t make any sense anymore.

Specifically with the Biden admin, there’s just massive amounts of hypocrisy because guess whose warrants from the ICC they welcomed? Putin from Russia. Joe Biden welcomed it. He said it was just. This is what the stance of the Biden admin was. Not only did they welcome Putin’s arrest warrant by the ICC, but Biden also ordered a release of evidence, U.S. evidence that they were gathering for war crimes to the ICC. This is something that was confirmed by White House spokesperson John Kirby, who said, “We are gathering, even though we do not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC over ourselves, over our own,” basically, war crimes, “but we’re still helping them gather evidence for Russia because the ICC serves a purpose. We understand what purpose the ICC serves.” It serves the purpose of holding our adversaries accountable, but when it comes to holding ourselves or our allies accountable, suddenly, it doesn’t have jurisdiction, or it’s doing false equivalencies. This is all a way of distracting from a very basic reality. You either accept international law or you don’t. You can’t halfway accept it. That’s not how laws work. That’s not how the application of law works.

A decision has to be made from the U.S. side because what’s happened in the case of Gaza is these hypocrisies have become so glaringly obvious that either those systems have to be done away with because they clearly don’t work, or the U.S. has to apply those same principles to its allies and friends as well.

Talia Baroncelli

What’s really interesting about this court, in particular, is how it’s the heir to the Nuremberg trials and the Nuremberg courts, which were supposed to prosecute the Nazi criminals following the Second World War. The UN decided to support the erection or the creation of this particular court because they felt that some of the other international tribunals, such as the International Tribunal for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, weren’t so effective in prosecuting these criminals and in delivering justice to the victims. That’s how this court came about to begin with.

It’s really interesting to see how the United States didn’t ratify it, and that was actually after September 11 and prior to the invasion of Iraq. That’s obviously important to note that it was under President George Bush that the United States did not want to ratify the Rome Statute and accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

What is even more interesting is how the language of Blinken really emulates the language of John Bolton, when John Bolton in 2018 was working for Trump’s administration. John Bolton was threatening [Fatou] Bensouda, the prosecutor of the ICC at the time, with sanctions because she dared to announce an investigation into certain war crimes or crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. What Blinken is doing now, saying that he would support certain U.S. politicians’ attempts to work against or sanction the ICC for this particular announcement of seeking arrest warrants, is really similar to what John Bolton was doing.

I guess that’s why I personally was really surprised by the reaction because usually there’s… I’m not saying that the Biden administration has really upheld any law whatsoever but usually they try to give this impression that they respect international norms, and they find these loopholes or ways of short-circuiting or circumventing those norms while saying that they still believe in this international system, which is to be differentiated from the so-called rules-based order, which is, I think, more of a discursive tool. This is just so flat-out and blatant in terms of trying to undermine and discredit the international system and the international legal system.

Assal Rad

I would say I’m not surprised at all, to be honest. At least at this stage, I’m not surprised anymore. I was never surprised, but mostly shocked, and somehow, those two things can exist together. I’m shocked that we are where we are, but it’s been clear, and it was clear very early on in this administration. If you go back to May 2021, when there were similar talks of a ceasefire in Gaza, you had carpet bombing, you had, I think it was 2021, I want to say, when the AP building, Associated Press building, was bombed. All of these things were happening in May 2021 when the Biden administration had already taken over. They were vetoing ceasefire resolutions at the time. They were doing all the exact same things that they’re doing now. The difference is the sheer destruction, devastation, and death that we have seen in Gaza. It is one of the most destructive wars of the century. The amount of attention that it has gotten publicly because of that devastation because social media has given us the ability to see what is happening on the ground, whereas the media is failing to tell us what’s happening on the ground. That’s the only reason why I think it’s so shocking to people because it’s so brazen.

The sanction case that you’re talking about, the Trump administration did sanction the ICC. Guess what Biden did when he came into office in 2021? He reversed the sanctions. Why now would they support sanctions on the ICC? Because Israel has absolute impunity to do anything it wants, and it will break and undermine every value and principle to allow that to happen. It’s not that Blinken sounds like Bolton. Blinken is Bolton and Pompeo.

Kirby himself in another interview was talking about the ICC in Russia at the time. I think this is probably last year. He was asked by a journalist, “Why doesn’t the U.S. support the ICC? If we were to actually ratify that treaty, wouldn’t that give the ICC a stronger mandate to enforce the very things that we want them to enforce vis-à-vis Russia.” Kirby’s response was, “Well, we don’t want our own soldiers, our own military personnel, to come under question.” This is not a secret. U.S. officials have repeatedly said this.

Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State, I think it was two days ago, posted on social media saying, “Well, if they’re going to go after Israel, guess who’s next? It’s us.” Lindsey Graham said the same thing yesterday in testimony. Where do you get this very open language from? They’re basically telling you, U.S. officials are implicitly saying, “Well, we know we commit war crimes, but we don’t want to be held accountable for them.” That’s the hesitation with, well, how do we use this institution against our adversaries without having to be held accountable ourselves to the very same principles, laws, and rules? The double standard is extremely obvious, and this administration, in this sense, is acting exactly like their predecessors.

Talia Baroncelli

Yeah, I think when I said I was surprised, I was more, maybe surprised is the wrong word. I feel like their PR game is so bad at this stage as well. When you listen to people like Matthew Miller, it seems like he doesn’t even know what he’s talking about. He was talking about a question of jurisdiction. This is Matt Lee, the AP reporter who asks some amazing questions. He’s always asking the really difficult questions. He was asking, “Where do Palestinians go if they want some redress or any justice? Which court should they turn to?” Matthew Miller said that “Israel actually has jurisdiction over these matters in Gaza,” which, to a certain extent, yes, because as an occupying power, they have effective control over the territory. Certain things could be brought to an Israeli court in order to get justice. But in this particular case, it would be the ICC, because in 2021, the ICC actually did rule that they had jurisdiction over what they call the State of Palestine. They were saying that was not a decision saying that the requirements were fulfilled for Palestinian statehood because the Palestinian Authority, for example, or even Hamas at the time in Gaza, didn’t have effective authority or effective control over the territory and sovereignty that you would need to be a functioning state. The court wasn’t saying that those requirements were fulfilled, but they were still saying that because of self-determination and because the territory exists and is supposed to be Palestine, the territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem still represent the state of Palestine, and that they could, as a member to the Rome Statute, they could also seek redress from the court. That was a decision that was endorsed by the majority of the judges on the pretrial chamber. This question has already been dealt with.

I think further back in 2014, there was a big issue at the court because Palestine, or what they call the State of Palestine, wasn’t a member of the Rome Statute. At that time, they were saying they had no jurisdiction. At this time, the court had said that they have jurisdiction over those territories. This isn’t even disputed anymore.

For someone like Matthew Miller, who’s not even a lawyer, even though he worked at the DOJ before, he’s not a lawyer, to then say that the ICC has no jurisdiction. He’s so bad at his PR game that he then said it’s actually the United States that has jurisdiction in some form via the Leahy Laws, but that doesn’t mean they have jurisdictions. The Leahy Law ensures or is supposed to ensure that the United States does not grant weapons to a country that is committing any war crime or crime against international humanitarian law, which is obviously currently the case. Israel is killing so many people in Gaza and even in the West Bank. He brought up the Leahy Law, but he didn’t even bring it up in the right context. Then, to say that the Leahy Law grants the United States jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories by way of them giving Israel bombs and other weapons to obliterate people there and the buildings and the territory is just really bizarre. In that one State Department briefing, I feel like everything unraveled, and the whole thing was exposed as a complete farce.

Assal Rad

Well, there’s that clip, which is from, obviously, I think it’s this week, so that’s only a few days old. What’s interesting is the question that Matt Lee raises to Matthew Miller about who has jurisdiction, and specifically, what Lee was asking is, where do Palestinians go to seek justice for crimes committed against them? That question was raised to this administration very, very early on in its tenure, and this is back in 2021 again by Ilhan Omar. She raises this question to Secretary of State Blinken at the time, saying, “Where do victims of war crimes, whether they are victims of American war crimes, whether they are victims of Israeli war crimes, where do they go to seek justice if we’re saying that ICC is not where they go?” Blinken’s response, and this is why it’s so important to see the language they use to frame it. Blinken’s response was, “Well, they go to those states.” We have the capacity to hold ourselves accountable, and Israel has the capacity to hold itself accountable because we are democracies, and Israel is a democracy. It’s these non-democratic states that do not have the ability to hold themselves accountable, they’re the ones who have to have this external body, is the way that it’s framed. Of course, that makes no sense. No one holds themselves accountable. You have to have independent bodies of justice that have accountability. That’s just how it works. Nobody says, “Hey, we believe that you’re going to tell us if you committed these crimes or not.” The responsibility has to be with an independent party. That same question is still being asked because it’s never been addressed.

To your point, when you listen to Matthew Miller, that exchange is fascinating to listen to because Miller gives them no option. First, he says, “Well, they have to go to an Israeli court.” To your point that you were talking about, well, why can’t Palestinians go to the ICC? He says, “Well, because they’re not a state.” But they support statehood, but then they veto statehood. It’s this constant backwards. It makes no sense. Imagine listening to this. It’s like, okay, so all we’re asking, simply, is these are human beings who should have international law and humanitarian law apply to them, how do they seek justice? The first answer is, “Well if they were a state, they could seek justice, but they’re not a state because we won’t let them be a state. And so they have to seek justice within the state that’s not allowing them to be a state.” I know that sounds ridiculous when I say it all out loud, but that’s basically what they’re saying. So there’s no space. Essentially, they’re saying they can’t; they cannot seek justice. Rather than saying that, they use all this nonsense language to confuse people. If you have not followed this more closely, then you wouldn’t know that. People who are just starting to understand what the situation is probably didn’t know that this question was already asked years ago to this administration. They never cared then. Why would they care now? They’re applying the same logic. They’re just doing it in a context that is so egregious that people can no longer digest it or ignore it, I should say.

Talia Baroncelli

The same question was asked of Ned Price, who preceded Matthew Miller, and he was also asked by Matt Lee and many other journalists: what is the status of these investigations in Israel? Because, as you said, there’s no outsider independent investigation of these war crimes. When American-Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and she was killed, there was a process, but we don’t really know all of the details that came out. It was only after lots of pressure by journalists that something even came out at the end. We still don’t even have a full picture of what really happened. She was American, so I’m sure in many other cases where this happened, we don’t have all that much evidence or any sense of justice for the victim. Why should we trust the United States to put pressure or exact any leverage on the Israelis to have an independent investigation or some civilian body that would oversee the military? Because that’s pretty standard practice in many other places. As you said, there has to be an outside or independent body. That’s why in criminal law as well, people can also turn to other states to present their case. That’s what’s called universal jurisdiction.

For example, there are many cases in Germany where Syrians who suffered under the Assad regime have gone to Germany and presented their case and are seeking justice against those specific Syrian officials because there’s something called universal jurisdiction. That outside body is supposed to oversee the case that’s being litigated or adjudicated. This is not a foreign concept that an outside state or an outside court that’s maybe not recognized by the state that’s being looked into is brought in and is supposed to be the overseer of justice. The whole thing is manufactured when you listen to people like Matthew Miller, and he’s just trying to confuse people, as you say.

Assal Rad

If you think about it, again, this doesn’t require legal expertise to understand very basic facts. If Israel is not committing any crimes, which is the position that is supposed to be being taken, right? They’re not actually committing crimes. Or it’s certainly not a reflection of a systematic issue, individual cases maybe, but they’re being held accountable within their own system, so why not allow an international court to try them? Because if, in fact, they are not committing crimes, then the court will find it as such. If they’re not committing crimes, then why not allow independent investigations? Why don’t you support independent investigations if they’re not committing crimes?

It requires you to have no logic. What they are saying basically is we think if we use confusing language enough, people are too stupid to follow what this means. But it doesn’t work. It’s not working anymore. That’s where all this criticism is coming from. That’s where campus protests are coming from. That’s where protests at every Biden event is coming from. That’s where polling that shows Biden is losing to Trump in key states is coming from. A lot of it comes because of the handling of Gaza.

People see it, and they understand it, and they take issue with it. The people who don’t take issue with it would never have because they have a specific ideological view. This is not ideological. An independent investigation is not an ideological point of view. It’s a basic point of view. I don’t know what happened. You don’t know what happened. Here’s an idea. Let’s have a third party that’s not me or you make that decision. If I say no, if I refuse, then automatically anybody watching from the outside would question why I wouldn’t allow an independent investigation. It’s this constant feeling of they treat us like we are stupid. I don’t know how else to say it. There’s no blunter way of saying it. You can see within these briefings and every time there’s any pushback against Biden officials, you can see their almost frustration with, why are you even questioning me? We have already explained this to you. You’re not really explaining it. You’re not explaining the logic behind why you don’t support an independent investigation through mass graves, multiple mass graves that have been found on hospital grounds where Israeli soldiers have been.

Here’s the response that Matthew Miller gave for that. “Israel says,” because we’re not allowing independent investigations, so we’re just taking whatever Israel says. “Israel says that it was actually Palestinians who buried their dead in this manner, and they just went, and they were looking for hostages, and they dug up the graves that Palestinians had buried their people in.” There were bodies found with their hands zip-tied. Who buries their dead with their hands zip-tied? It’s insane. It requires you to question nothing. That, to me, is not the reflection of a free country, a free press, or any accountability within any legal system.

It is one that, if I were to describe it without telling you who I am talking about, you would assume that is how an authoritarian state operates. If you did, if you took all of that language and put it in a different context, you didn’t know who was saying these sentences, you would assume that’s how authoritarians sound. They wouldn’t support independent investigations. They wouldn’t support international courts. They would come up with ridiculous arguments like, they buried their own dead zip-tide. But this just happens repeatedly every week if you watch these press briefings, which I unfortunately do.

Talia Baroncelli

Yeah, so do I. The argumentation that they’re providing is actually the justification for the opposite position. For example, when Matthew Miller, the State Department spokesperson, says that the ICC is not on the ground in the occupied territories or in Gaza, for example, it’s like, yeah, they’re not on the ground because Israel is not letting them be on the ground for there to be an independent investigation. They’re relying on other sources, such as speaking to people who have been there or open source information.

By using that argument to say, to delegitimize the case of the ICC, they’re actually reinforcing it because they’re saying, “Yeah, there’s something that’s being hidden or something that’s being covered up here because foreign journalists are not allowed to enter Gaza.” The journalists that have been reporting from the ground are Palestinian, and many of them have been killed in action doing their jobs. Sometimes, the reasoning they give is actually proving the point of the activist or the journalist who’s asking them the question. Why isn’t there an independent investigation?

Assal Rad

Because of the way that they have repeatedly used this language, the framing of the conversation is so far removed from logic and reality that it’s like we have to pull them back to reality. Do you know what I mean? We’re having a very basic conversation, but for some reason it sounds like it’s radical to say, “How about an independent investigation.” The key thing that you’re talking about is transparency. There’s a lack of transparency. That’s the exact language used, lack of transparency, when we use the language of human rights organizations to criticize adversarial states in their judicial process. Their judicial process lacks due process and lacks transparency because they have courts, too. Iran has courts. Russia has courts. These states, China has courts. It’s not like they don’t have a judicial system. We argue that their judicial systems lack transparency, and that’s the problem. Well, this entire process lacks transparency. We say it’s okay because we simply decide that we trust this particular state more so than we do basically every international institution and NGO that’s been working on the ground. The U.S. is denying all of it. They’ve denied the ICJ, the ICC, UN experts, countless NGOs that are on the ground.

What you have to conclude is don’t believe anyone except the U.S. and Israel. Essentially, you’re not even believing the U.S. because the U.S. does not have its own information. What the U.S. is telling you is that it only believes in Israel. The ones who are on trial for crimes believe them and no one else, not the system that’s supposed to hold them accountable, but the actual criminal. It makes no sense. This is what we’re being told.

Talia Baroncelli

They’re putting themselves in an awkward position because their allies, European allies such as France and Germany, they’ve also said that they would issue or that they would respect these arrest warrants if they were to be issued. If there’s an arrest warrant against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then Germany would arrest him if he were to enter German territory. I’m not trying to cover for Germany’s position here because there’s a lot to criticize there, of course. They’ve supplied weapons. They’ve supplied something like, I don’t know if it’s like 30% of weapons to Israel in the past few years. Obviously, the United States has supplied the most, 69%, then Germany and then Italy with a few percentage points there. They don’t want to completely undermine the international system because it serves them in certain ways as well. I think the United States is putting themselves in a really difficult or awkward position by saying that they’re not going to recognize the court.

Going back to these international standards, what did you make of all of this noise around the NSM-20 report, which was a report to determine whether the assurance is given by Israel or any country that receives weapons from the United States, and in this case, Israel, the assurance is that they are not used in any way that would contravene international norms or the Leahy Law, et cetera. I think the report was a bit ambiguous because it said that these norms were potentially contravened, but it didn’t actually specify cases in which that happened. There was no punitive response. It sounds like, yeah, sure. They’re not respecting the law, but we’re okay with it.

Assal Rad

Well, it’s really Orwellian, right? The idea of doublespeak is exactly how you could describe the way that this admin is trying to act like they’re doing something. This is the easiest way of saying it. They’re trying to act like they’re doing something without actually doing anything. This has repeatedly been done. There’s the discourse and the narrative. There’s the way they’re trying to tell the story, and then there’s the actual actions that they’re taking. There’s a reason why they’re trying to tell the story in a specific way because they’re getting a lot of pushback.

There’s an election in a handful of months in this country, and it does not look good for Joe Biden. The Democratic Party has been saying that the future of the U.S. is on the line. This is the way that the election is being framed, not just the future of the U.S., potentially the future of the world, because the U.S. is theoretically the leader, according to this narrative, of the free world. If the U.S. collapses, the free world collapses with it. That’s armageddon-like language to use. To have that mentality going into an election but basically refusing to change a policy that is undermining your ability to get re-elected is mind-boggling to me. That’s where you get this narrative building.

Why even come out with something like the National Security Memorandum? Why even talk about red lines or civilians dying? Because it’s necessary. It’s necessary within the political discourse. How do you reconcile that? How do you pretend like you care because your constituents and the people who are going to vote or not vote for you do actually care? How do you reconcile that with the fact that you’re not actually going to do anything about it? You use this vague language. You come out with a report and it says, “Well, yeah, there isn’t enough food going in. There isn’t enough aid. We admit that there’s not enough aid, but Israel isn’t blocking it. Well, there are crimes or things that have happened that might be inconsistent with international law, but Israel isn’t doing it on purpose.” The language has to be finessed in this way to make it seem like, “No, we are taking this very seriously, but we’re not actually going to do anything about it.” I think that this doublespeak has served countless administrations in the U.S. over decades. It has worked in large part. I think the frustration of this administration is that it’s just not working anymore. It’s just failing.

It’s not working because people have seen too much in order for it to work. It has gone way too far. That’s a good thing because that means people actually have humanity. That means on average, the public is appalled at seeing children being slaughtered, which is the correct position to take. The problem is these people who are in power who do not seem to be moved at all to any action based on those very principles.

I think that’s why you get this vague language, because they have to sound like they’re saying something that’s legitimate. But if they were to come out and say, “Yes, Israel is violating international law. Israel is committing war crimes,” then that would mean that the U.S. would have to change policy, or then the U.S. is now violating international law and domestic U.S. law. To avoid any accountability, that’s the vague language that we see in any of these reports.

For months, we’re at the end of May now, for months on end, at every briefing, we have been told that not enough aid is getting in. How is it that for months, not enough aid is getting in, but Israel is not responsible for it? Israel needs to do more. This is also the line that’s used. Israel needs to do more. That’s an acknowledgement of the fact that there is some action being taken by Israel that is resulting in not enough aid getting in. This happens for months on end, but it’s not deliberate. In what situation, in what situation in life would anybody conclude that someone who consistently takes an action that has a specific result for months on end is doing it accidentally then if it’s not deliberate?

Talia Baroncelli

Yeah, just to give some more context to that. In April, I think the UN reported that 5,400 trucks full of aid were getting in via the Kerem Shalom and the Rafah Crossing, but that in May, once the Rafah Crossing was closed because of the increase in fighting in Rafah, only 1,400 trucks were getting in. There’s also a huge decrease from April. In April, they were saying, “Oh, we’re getting so much more aid in.” This is why the U.S. built that pier in Gaza, this so-called emergency pier to bring in more aid. It so far has presented so many additional problems and hasn’t really been effective in getting aid in because the best way to bring in aid is via truck. But if there are settlers that are attacking these convoys, which we have seen, and deliberate ways of slowing down the trucks by holding them up or making sure that if a truck has a scissor or any nail clip or whatever, the entire truck is then sent back and deemed a potential threat and isn’t allowed in. There are all these literal roadblocks and challenges to getting in aid. Of course, Israel also killed numerous civilian officers who would be responsible for distributing the aid. Then defunding UNRWA, along with many other Western countries. It’s like, how do you think this is happening? That is their policy.

Assal Rad

You’ve had over 200 aid workers killed, including the World Central Kitchen aid workers, which just got more public attention, right? It got a lot more media attention. But Israel has been killing aid workers all along.

You have John Kirby calling these extremists that are attacking aid trucks, destroying the actual aid, destroying the food. In one case, you had Israeli extremists beating a Palestinian driver because they thought he wasn’t carrying food. He wasn’t carrying food. So their mistake. But they thought he was, and so they beat him. John Kirby referred to this as protesters. Israeli protesters are one challenge to why aid is not getting distributed.

Campus protesters in the United States are vilified by this administration as if they’re violent criminals. Israelis destroying aid, which is a violation of a court order from the International Court of Justice. The world’s highest court said in January that Israel has to take every step to ensure that there’s no impediment to the flow of humanitarian aid getting into Gaza. I would say Israeli forces standing around while civilians are destroying aid is an impediment to the flow of aid. They don’t do anything about it.

There’s a video of that Palestinian driver when he was beaten, and he’s just laying on the road, laying on the ground after having been beaten. You see there’s no real urgency to help him. At the same time, you see Israeli civilians carrying weapons, and there’s no urgency to detain or arrest or do anything. This has not happened because of some people. It’s happening because the state is absolutely allowing it to happen. The forces are there. They’re just not doing anything about it. They’re allowing this flow to be impeded. Again, on the U.S. side, it’s treated as if this is a fringe problem, when in fact, if that was the case, then enough aid would be getting in. Enough aid has not gone in because the state controlling the flow of aid is Israel, and Israel is not allowing it in. This is something that’s been confirmed by multiple international institutions over the last several months. The U.S. can’t entirely deny it. They have to say, “Well, we know enough aid isn’t getting in, and we know Israel could do more. But they’re not doing it on purpose.”

Talia Baroncelli

Yeah, and there were also reports by The Guardian recently showing how Israeli police and soldiers were tipping off settlers as to the location of these aid convoys so that some of the settlers or other Israeli extremists could go and destroy the aid in the convoys. They’re just essentially bystanders or aiding and abetting what some of these settlers are doing.

Assal Rad

Which has been the case, by the way, in the West Bank for decades. This is not new. Settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank prior to October 7 was ongoing. You had the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank prior to October 7, 2023. That does not happen because B’Tselem, which is a respected Israeli human rights organization, has repeatedly said, “State settler violence is state violence because it is basically sanctioned by the state.” The state allows it to happen because the forces are not there to protect Palestinians. The forces are there to protect the settlers.

Talia Baroncelli

Time and time again, the Israeli government recognizes certain land in the West Bank as being so-called state land. It funds the settlements and supports the settlers, which these settlements are clearly against international law. Yet there are certain candidates in the Likud Party where this is their entire platform. They want to take more and more land away from the West Bank and to make it Israel proper.

Before you leave, I did want to ask you about the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, as well as his Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. Both of them, along with five others, were killed in a helicopter crash in the North-West part of Iran, bordering with Azerbaijan. Apparently, there was really bad foggy weather, and the helicopter they were in suffered a tactical malfunction and crashed. Given that Raisi was strengthening ties with Saudi Arabia, there was a rapprochement between the two countries, and that he was in favor of strengthening relations with countries in the Global South. Iran had entered, the BRICS, forming BRICS+. How would you say foreign policy in Iran might potentially shift following his death and the death of his foreign minister?

Assal Rad

Well, remember, Raisi is someone who was soundly defeated in the election of 2017 by [Hassan] Rouhani at the time. That’s when you had very high voter turnout in Iran. Back in 2017, I think the voter turnout was something around 70%, which is enormous. It’s a pretty significant voter turnout. By 2021, the picture, the landscape in Iran had changed dramatically for various reasons. You had a record low voter turnout, under 50%, I think some estimates put it as low as 42%, and that’s when you have someone like Raisi get elected. I say that to say he would not be a figure that is popular across the country. While he might have a base that is loyal to him as someone who is within the ultra-conservative hardliner camp of the Islamic Republic and close to Supreme Leader Khamenei, across the spectrum, he’s certainly not popular. If anything, he’s quite unpopular. Not only for his current policies but because Raisi is one of the parties responsible for mass executions in the late ’80s in Iran. He’s a very, very controversial figure and for many parts of Iranian society, hated. But that doesn’t mean that he has no support.

There’s all this footage of funeral processions and people coming out to his funeral. Those are Iranians as well. That’s one thing to always keep in mind is it’s a massive country. It has a population, estimates going close to 90 million, 80 some million people. Even if you have a minority base, that’s still millions of people. That’s still millions of people who support you. Even if it’s 10%, you still have millions of people who support you. Still low compared to the entire country. What makes that base significant is it’s a fervent base, so you’ll see them in these kinds of situations.

In terms of the outlook for Iran, it’s very hard to speculate. I think we see a lot of speculation, I understand, because the question makes sense. People would want to know what happens now, but it’s very difficult to predict. What we can say is that what helped usher in a figure like Raisi in 2021, one of the, as I said, many reasons that there was such low voter turnout in 2021 is because of this hyper-vetting process by the Guardian Council, where people who had been able to run before, the people who are staples of the Islamic Republic, we are not talking about reformists. We were talking about people within the conservative camp who are still outed from this process. Because what’s happened to power in Iran in recent years is it’s really been consolidated almost like a mafia state. It’s consolidated amongst a very small group of people, not even an entire what you would call a political party or a camp. It’s like Khamenei and this inner circle. Raisi fit into that, and what you’ll probably see is a similar vetting process unless they make the decision that they actually want to see if people will come and vote, if they have real options. The likely scenario, I guess, if we’re looking at precedent in recent elections, is a vetting process that will bring candidates similar to Raisi.

The biggest issue and impact will be who replaces the Supreme Leader because Raisi was one of the names that was often cited as a contender for replacing Khamenei when he passes away. He’s 85 years old. Eventually, there will have to be some transition of power there. I think that’s where we’re going to see the most impact with Raisi’s death. In terms of, I think, immediate policies, there shouldn’t be much policy shift.

Talia Baroncelli

All right, Assal Rad, it was really great to speak to you. Thanks so much for joining theAnalysis.

Assal Rad

Thank you. Thank you for having me again.

Talia Baroncelli

Thanks for watching theAnalysis.news. See you next time.

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Assal Rad received her Ph.D. in Middle Eastern history from the University of California, Irvine, and currently works on the US–Iran policy. She has written for Newsweek, the Independent, Foreign Policy, and more, and appeared on BBC World, BBC Persian, Al Jazeera, and NPR.

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