There is no love lost between Ayatollah Sadiq Shirazi and the Iranian government. In 2018, authorities arrested the dissident cleric’s son for calling Iran’s supreme leader a tyrannical pharaoh. Soon after, Shirazi’s followers stormed the Iranian embassy in London.
So it came as a surprise when the U.S. government blocked Shirazi-affiliated, London-based news websites in a crackdown on Iran’s “malign influence.”
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice seized and censored 33 websites as part of a retaliatory action on the grounds that they violate U.S. sanctions on Iran. Some of the websites belonged to Iranian propaganda networks. Others were Shiite Muslim religious outlets that appeared to have nothing to do with — or were even at odds with — the Iranian regime.
One of the websites, a London-based Bahraini diaspora network, had been a refuge for exiles fleeing repression.
“We’ve seen this for years, where well-meaning efforts to address disinformation campaigns or terrorist propaganda have these serious human rights impacts, because they capture too much,” said David Greene, civil liberties director and senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a technological civil rights organization.
The crackdown is a test case for American control over the internet, as the U.S. government flexed its muscles over the information sphere in a way few states could. The choice of targets also raises questions about whether there are enough guardrails over this newfound power — and whether U.S. officials can separate their political struggle with the Islamic Republic of Iran from an ideological struggle against Shia Islam.
“At the same time the Saudis are trying to claim the Sunni beliefs and religion in their name, Iran is trying to do the same thing with Shia beliefs,” said Mustafa Akhwand, director of the Washington-based organization Shia Rights Watch, who said he has been in touch with the U.S. government about issues relating to adherents of the Islamic sect. “I have told the administration many times, you are not doing a favor for yourselves. ... Shia are trying to disaffiliate themselves from Iran, and you are doing everything you can to tell the Iranians, ‘These are yours.’”
Critics of the moves worried that a lack of transparency around the website seizures cloaked cases of mistaken identity and other errors. In the case of one of the Shirazi movement’s channels, Al Anwar TV, Akhwand believes that the U.S. government may have been trying to close al-Anwar 2, a pro-Iranian station that was set up to compete with the Shirazi-aligned network. Al-Anwar 2’s website is still online.
“Making a mistake like that is showing that the administration — or whoever put [al-Anwar] in — did not do their homework at all,” Akhwand said.
(The departments of Commerce, which assisted in the U.S. decision, and Justice did not respond to a request for comment. The State Department told reporters on Tuesday that it had nothing to say and again declined to comment in an email to The Intercept and Responsible Statecraft. The Intercept and Responsible Statecraft initially emailed questions to Al Anwar, but the server responded with a 'delivery incomplete' message more than a day later.)
Advocates for free speech and democracy in the region also said the seizures of media websites raised thorny issues about freedom of speech in the U.S. and could set dangerous precedents for governments abroad.
“The people who are in this country” — the U.S. — “who want to receive information from them, their willing readers, do have rights to receive that information,” according to Greene. He adds that his “greatest concern” is the impact the decision will have on civil liberties in other countries.
“What the U.S. does with respect to freedom of speech has implications around the world, because we hold ourselves out — mostly rightfully so — as the gold standard for freedom of speech,” Greene said. “What this tells other governments, both democratic governments and nondemocratic governments — the message it sends to them about how they can shut down, censor, seize foreign news services is really concerning.”
Former Iranian journalist Omid Memarian agrees.
“Iran is one of the most repressive countries when it comes to freedom of speech, and has a long history of banning papers, and jamming satellite channels,” said Memarian, now communications director for the advocacy group Democracy in the Arab World Now. “But for the U.S. to use the same tactics to deal with its enemies, it strengthens hardliners’ propaganda narrative that the U.S. uses values like freedom of speech for political purposes.”
The Justice Department claims that the censored Shiite websites were “operated by” Iran’s state-run Islamic Radio and Television Union, like many “components of the government of Iran … disguised as news organizations or media outlets.”
The Islamic Radio and Television Union does list the media websites as members. But it’s not clear what membership entails, other than a willingness to apply and an agreement to post only Islamically acceptable content. One of the censored stations, in a statement to Responsible Statecraft and The Intercept, denied it had any affiliation with the union.
Some of the censored sites, like PressTV and al-Alam, are state-run media. Others, though, are a far cry from Iranian propaganda.
Several of the censored sites are part of religious movements at odds with the Iranian government —longstanding and public confessional rifts in Shia Islam over the role of religious authority in civil government. While revolutionary clerics in Iran created a theocratic republic, many other eminent Shiite jurists — some of whom had sites affiliated with their movements seized — follow a more traditional path of “quietism,” or a belief that clerics should not hold direct political power.
Karbala TV, for example, a channel affiliated with Iraq’s Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a revered cleric who opposed theocracy after the U.S. invasion in 2003, was censored. Sistani has occasionally clashed with the U.S. vision for Iraq but has been viewed as a stabilizing force and even at times an American ally.
Other channels that were censored, such as the Shirazi movement’s al-Anwar TV and Ahlulbayt TV, belonged to schools of thought that supported the Islamic revolution in Iran, but have since its inception found themselves increasingly at odds with the government, often because of esoteric disagreements over how Islamic rule should function.
“These stations are all religious stations and are not part of the Iranian media,” said Ali AlAhmed, a Saudi American media expert who said he briefly advised al-Anwar TV. “The Shirazi movement can be described as anti-Iranian state. This is well known and is not private information.”
Shirazi comes from a long line of prominent clerics, and his family has been at odds with the Iranian government over issues of religious authority since the early years of the Islamic revolution. Iranian authorities in turn labeled the dissident ayatollah a “cult” leader and British “mercenary” who aims to stir up Sunni-Shiite discord.
The Shirazi movement’s most famous disciple in the West is the cleric Mohamad Tawhidi, who calls himself the “imam of peace.” Tawhidi once hosted a Shirazi-aligned television show, but is now a frequent commentator about Islam on right-wing Western media.
In the case of Sistani, the Iraqi cleric, the U.S. government recently claimed that one organ of his movement did not have ties to Iran. A few weeks ago, a U.S.-funded television station accused al-Khoei Foundation, a charity run by Sistani’s followers, of being a front for Iranian terrorism. Facing backlash, the U.S. State Department disavowed the story and affirmed that al-Khoei Foundation is a “well-regarded international charitable and educational organization.”
“In the minds of many in the U.S. federal government ‘Shi’a’ equals ‘Iranian state,’ even if you are clearly at odds with the Iranian state and its religious structures,” said AlAhmed. “This has cost so many Shia lives and allowed for Shiaphobia to fester across the American government, media, academia and other places.”
Shia Muslims are a majority in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan. They are a small minority in the Muslim world overall and have often been the victims of violent attacks, including the recent massacre at a girl’s school in Afghanistan.
Some of the censored websites belonged to Shia-led political movements that appeared to have little to do with Iran.
The station said in a statement that the censorship “represents a confiscation of press freedom, a prosecution of opinion, and an assassination of free speech.” It called the U.S. move “a victory for the oppressive, tyrannical regimes over the repressed peoples whose rights are violated.”
Lualua TV told Responsible Statecraft and The Intercept that the channel has no connections to Iran’s Islamic Radio and Television Union, and that officials with the station had received no advanced warning or other communication from the U.S. about the seizure. "The USA claim of lualua being associated with Iran or any Iranian union is completely baseless and false,” Lualua TV said in its statement. "We believe seizing the website of the only independent Bahraini TV Channel ‘Lualua' is not only disappointing but it is clearly a violation to the freedom of press, a soft and calm assassination of the freedom of speech especially that we face true shut down over all kinds of freedoms in Bahrain."
Jalal Fairooz, an exiled former Bahraini member of parliament, said he is “surprised” to see LuaLua TV censored.
“The people of Bahrain have only this source for spreading their grievances with unfair treatment by the government,” he said. “The Bahraini regime is an ally of the United States. Is that enough to shut down the voice of the Bahraini people?”
Yet another one of the seized websites was al-Forat News, owned by Iraq’s Hikma movement. The movement broke off from a pro-Iranian political party in 2017 and has been pushing to curb the power of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq ever since.
“Al-Forat is a TV channel owned by a political leader FRIENDLY to the United States,” political risk analyst Kirk Sowell wrote on Twitter. “Whoever put them on the list, get a clue.”
Tuesday’s crackdown was not the first time the U.S. government has censored foreign content online. Many registries for .com and .org domain names are based on American soil, so the Department of Justice has long insisted that it could seize foreign websites from domain registries if they violate U.S. law. In the case of the alleged Iranian propaganda channels, the U.S. claims the domain registries are violating U.S. sanctions.
U.S. dragnets against Iran have also previously swept up more than their intended targets. U.S. sanctions have long forced Iranians and even Iranian Americans off of popular online services, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Tuesday’s mass website seizure came at the tail end of the Trump administration’s campaign to drive pro-Iranian content off the internet, part of the “maximum pressure” campaign organized by right-wing, anti-Iran forces in the administration.
In September 2020, U.S. authorities seized the websites of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias, citing U.S. counterterrorism sanctions. A few months later, the U.S. shut down the websites of several “fake news organizations,” alleging that Iranian intelligence was using them to interfere with the 2020 election. Prosecutors cited U.S. economic sanctions on Iran and the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which regulates foreign propaganda organizations operating on American soil.
That same month, the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on the Islamic Radio and Television Union for its alleged connections to the Iranian military.
American think tanks may have helped push the U.S. government into making the decision. U.S. authorities often rely on “open source reporting” from journalists and academics to make decisions on sanctions, according to the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
In January 2019, the risk management firm Kharon published a report alleging that the Islamic Radio and Television Union — as well as the Shirazi-aligned Ahlulbayt TV and the Iraqi Hikma movement — were connected to components of the Iranian military under U.S. sanctions.
In May 2021, the hawkish Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank, published a report praising U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Radio and Television Union but calling for “[a]dditional action against traditional media entities” and “affiliated television channels, radio stations, websites, and related organizations around the region.”
The sanctions against the Islamic Radio and Television Union were used to justify Tuesday’s censorship decision. Because the Iranian broadcasters’ union is now under U.S. sanctions, the Department of Justice claimed, it would not be allowed to purchase American domain names without a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces sanctions and issues exemptions.
U.S. authorities’ statement on the decision was “disappointing,” said Greene, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, because it did not show the “extreme care” that should be taken when shutting down online content.
“We don’t learn anything about the conversations that went on behind this, what type of human rights assessments that went on. There’s no indication that there are free speech interests here,” he said. “What you would want to see is some type of process where someone is notified that they are in violation of some of these rules. Then they have an opportunity to correct that, or to argue that the rules do not apply to them.”
Indeed, there is no sign that U.S. authorities even asked these websites whether they actually belonged to the Islamic Radio and Television Union.
Ahlulbayt TV noted in a Wednesday statement that it had “not received any legal correspondence from any government or regulatory body” before its website was shut down, and was now working “to address the mistaken grounds on which this decision has been made.”
Greene said, “It is a cautionary tale in that we just don’t have enough information from the government that gives us the confidence that this was done in a careful way.”
This story has been updated to include a statement from Lualua TV made after publication.
Matthew Petti is an independent journalist and a non-resident fellow at the Kurdish Peace Institute. He worked for various Jordanian news outlets as a 2022-2023 Fulbright fellow. Previously, he worked as a reporter at Responsible Statecraft and a national security reporter at The National Interest. His work has appeared in The Intercept, The Daily Beast, and Reason Magazine.
Thousands of protesters gather at Pearl Roundabout in the heart of the Bahraini capital Manama February 15, 2011. (REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed)
|An anti-government protester faces off with riot police during a march to Al Farook Junction, formerly known as Pearl Square, in Budaiya, west of Manama in Bahrain, February 17, 2012. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo
With no ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas in sight and Houthi forces in Yemen still firing missiles and drones at commercial shipping in the Red Sea, the EU’s efforts at addressing conflict in Gaza and its broader regional ramifications keep flailing.
After weeks of discussions, the EU officially launched its naval operation in the Red Sea on February 19 to protect international commercial shipping from Houthi attacks. The Houthis claim they wantto force a ceasefire in Gaza. Yet, while the ceasefire remains elusive, the attacks impose real costs on EU members: the EU commissioner for economy Paolo Gentiloni recently estimated that the rerouting of shipping from the Red Sea has increased delivery times for shipments between Asia and the EU by 10 to 15 days and the consequent costs by around 400%.
Around 40% of the EU’s total trade with the Middle East and Asia passes through the Red Sea.
Protecting that shipping route thus is an important collective economic and security interest for the EU. Yet only four countries — France, Germany, Italy and Belgium — out of the 27 member states have agreed to provide warships for the new operation. Spain, which refrained from using its veto power to block the initiative, nonetheless declined to participate, having expressed concerns from the outset that any armed operation would reduce pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire in Gaza.
A bigger question is how effective this new EU operation will be in countering the Houthi threat given its purely defensive mandate to provide “situational awareness, accompany vessels and protect them against possible attacks at sea.” Accordingly, the participating EU warships will be authorized to fire on Houthi targets only if they themselves or commercial vessels they are to protect are attacked. That rules out pre-emptive action against Houthi missile batteries or related targets.
The defensive nature of the operation, however, may not be enough to convince the Houthis to refrain from attacking the European ships. In fact, Houthi leaders warned Italy, one of the new operation’s chief promoters, that it will become “a target if it participates in attacks on the Houthis.”
If this threat comes to fruition, will the EU authorize offensive action against the Houthis, potentially drawing itself into a wider conflict? Will it rely on U.S. hard power for protection given that Washington is already engaged against the Houthis through “Operation Prosperity Guardian,” in which a few EU nations – Denmark, Netherlands and Greece, as well as non-EU NATO members Britain and Norway -- are also participating?
Would such developments not lead to a de facto merging of the U.S. and EU-led operations under Washington’s lead — an outcome Europeans sought to avoid and which is the very reason why they launched their own mission in the first place?
That these are not abstract questions is underscored by the failure, so far, of scores of U.S.- and UK-led strikes to degrade the Houthis’ capabilities to the point where they would no longer pose a significant threat. Indeed, just as the EU announced its mission, the Houthis hit a British cargo ship which was at risk of sinking in the Gulf of Aden in what the Yemeni rebels claimed was their biggest attack yet. The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations confirmed the incident, though it did not name the ship.
Ironically, the safest way for the EU to avoid a direct military engagement with the Houthis, apart from testing their vow to stop attacking shipping if Israel ends its Gaza offensive, would be to reduce the number of targets in the Red Sea by encouraging ships to reroute. But such an outcome would, of course, vindicate the Houthi strategy to impose costs on the Western powers for the failure to stop the war in Gaza.
And that brings us back to the mother of all conflicts in the Middle East: the continuing war in Gaza. The EU’s approach so far has been to delink Gaza from the crisis in the Red Sea and the broader escalation in the region, including clashes between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Yet mounting tensions on that front show that its approach is not working.
Some actors in the EU understand the urgent need for a ceasefire in Gaza as a necessary condition for regional de-escalation. The EU high representative on foreign policy Josep Borrell has been particularly vocal in his criticism of Israel. He suggested limiting arms sales to Tel Aviv on the grounds that such transfers violate EU guidelines that ban sales to countries accused of violations of the international humanitarian law.
A Dutch appeals court recently ordered a halt to exports of F-35 jet parts to Israel on the same grounds. However, it is highly unlikely that the EU as a whole would adopt such a position, given that a number of countries – especially Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary – strongly support Israel.
A stronger point of leverage could be to suspend fully or partially the association agreement between the EU and Israel. The EU is Israel’s largest trading partner. In 2023, that agreement enabled 46.8 billion euros worth of bilateral trade. The prime ministers of Spain and Ireland, Pedro Sanchez and Leo Varadkar, respectively, asked the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to “urgently review” whether Israel is violating the human rights clauses included in that agreement. On February 19, the Spanish foreign minister, Jose Manuel Albares, insisted that the review should be completed in time for the next EU foreign ministers meeting on March 18.
A full suspension of the agreement seems very unlikely even if the Commission finds Israel to have violated its human rights obligations because that would call for a unanimous decision by all member states. A partial suspension would require a qualified majority: 55% of member states (or 15 out of 27) representing 65% of the EU’s total population.
Notably, the only precedent for taking such an action came in 2011 when the EU suspended an association agreement with Syria in response to mass violations of human rights by the Bashar al-Assad regime.
Meanwhile, the EU proved unable last week to issue even an official appeal to Israel not to follow through with its plans to carry out a ground invasion of Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, which has become the last refuge of nearly a million refugees from elsewhere in the enclave. In the face of a veto threat by Hungary, the other 26 member states instead issued a joint statement warning of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences should Israel move ahead with such an invasion.
Notably, however, Hungary was isolated in its opposition to the appeal as Germany and other member states that have traditionally been reluctant to criticize Israel’s conduct of war were on board. That is a step forward, but it’s too little and it comes too late. As long as the EU keeps avoiding imposing real consequences on Israel for its conduct, it will keep losing influence in the Middle East.
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Mike Shoemaker VP F35 customer programs, FMS, Domestic and Partners talks during the inauguration ceremony of Sabca's new production hall for the horizontal tailplane of the F-35 fighter aircraft, in Lummen, Thursday 10 March 2022. T BELGA PHOTO JOHN THYS.
Instead of reevaluating its maximalist national security strategy, the Biden administration is doubling down. It is proposing a generation of investment to expand an arms industry that, overall, fails to meet cost, schedule, and performance standards. And if its strategy is any indication, the administration has no vision for how to eventually reduce U.S. military industrial capacity.
When the Cold War ended, the national security budget shrank. Then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin and deputy William Perry convened industry leaders to encourage their consolidation in a meeting that later became known as the “Last Supper.” Arms makers were to join forces or go out of business. So they ended up downsizing from over 50 prime contractors to just five. And while contractors needed to pare down their industrial capacity, unchecked consolidation created the monopolistic defense sector we have now — one that depends heavily on government contracts and enjoys significant freedom to set prices.
In the decades since, contractors have leveraged their growing economic power to pave inroads on Capitol Hill. They have solidified their economic influence to stave off the political potential for future national security cuts, regardless of their performance or the geopolitical environment.
Growing the military industrial base over the course of a generation would only further empower arms makers in our economy, deepening the ditch the United States has dug itself into for decades by continually increasing national security spending — and by doling about half of it out to contractors. The U.S. spends more on national security than the next 10 countries combined, outpacing China alone by over 30%.
Ironically, the administration acknowledges in the strategy that “America’s economic security and national security are mutually reinforcing,” stating that “the nation’s military strength depends in part on our overall economic strength.” The strategy further states that optimizing the nation’s defense needs typically requires tradeoffs between “cost, speed, and scale.” It doesn’t mention quality of industrial output — arguably the biggest tradeoff the U.S. government has made in military procurement.
Consider, for instance, the B-2 bomber, the F-35 fighter jet, the Littoral Combat Ship, the V-22 Osprey, and many other examples of acquisition failures that have spanned decades. More recently, the Government Accountability Office has reported that while the number of major defense acquisition programs has fallen, both costs and average delivery time have risen.
So what is the military really getting from more and more national security spending? Less for more: Fewer weapons than it asked for, usually late and over budget, and, much of the time, dysfunctional. Acquisition failures are a major reason the Congressional Budget Office projects that operations and maintenance spending will significantly exceed the rate of inflation for the next decade — a considerable budgeting issue for a military that seemingly has no plans to reduce either its force structure or its industrial capacity. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Biden’s new National Defense Industrial Strategy specifically states there is a need for the U.S. to “move aggressively toward innovative, next-generation capabilities while continuing to upgrade and produce, in significant volumes, conventional weapons systems already in the force.” Ironically, the military has spent over two decades developing the F-35, next-generation technology that the Pentagon still hasn’t greenlit for full-rate production.
Throwing more money at an industrial base comprised of businesses too big to fail won’t increase the quantity or quality of its output. But that’s exactly what the strategy urges. One of the priorities is to “institutionalize supply chain resilience.” It’s an important goal, but one the administration proposes the Pentagon tackle, in part by investing in “spare production capacity,” what the strategy defines as “excess capacity a company or organization maintains beyond its current production needs.”
But building factories to sit empty is not supply chain resilience. It’s wasting money on unnecessary infrastructure, creating a profit motive for arms makers to make more weapons. And for an industry constantly sounding the alarm about the need for consistent “demand signals” from Congress, the Pentagon’s plans to invest a generation of U.S. taxpayer money in “spare production capacity” sounds a lot like throwing the demand-supply principle out the window. In that case, the U.S. might as well consider nationalizing the defense industry, which already lacks competition and relies almost entirely on the government. Why not eliminate the profit motive? It’s not like making money drives contractors to produce quality products on time or within budget.
Besides supply chain resilience, another priority laid out in this strategy is “flexible acquisition.” The stated goal is to reduce costs and development times while increasing scalability. In pursuit of that goal, the administration proposes “a flexible requirements process” for multiyear contracts, and the expansion of multiyear contracting writ large. It reasons that as priorities shift in an “evolving threat environment,” so too should contractors’ deliverables. But pairing flexible requirements with an increasing number of multiyear contracts is a recipe for disaster.
Before Russia attacked Ukraine, multiyear contracts were relatively rare — limited to major aircraft and ships. The Congressional Research Service notes that estimated savings on these programs have historically fallen within the range of 5% — 10%. But those are estimates, and they may not apply to other munitions now produced under multiyear contracts. The report also confirms that actual savings are “difficult to observe,” in part because the Pentagon does not track the cost performance of multiyear contracts.
Just because multiyear contracting is more common doesn’t mean it’s cheaper. And while the Pentagon argues that multiyear contracts give contractors the so-called demand signal they need to ramp up production, contractors don’t usually spend their extra money on identifying efficiencies or making capital investments to increase output at a lower cost — and the Pentagon isn’t checking.
The strategy also proposes “aggressive expansion of production capacity.” It notes that during peacetime, weapons acquisition tends to focus on “greater efficiency, cost effectiveness, transparency, and accountability.” Taking caution not to assert that the United States is in wartime, the strategy contrasts peacetime acquisition policy with “today’s threat environment,” calling for “crisis period acquisition policy” that revitalizes the industrial base and shifts focus from efficiency and effectiveness to ensuring that military contractors are “better resourced.” But contractors don’t have a resource problem, and “crisis acquisition policy” puts the United States on a “permanent war footing.”
Lawmakers must challenge the administration’s maximalist national security strategy by interrogating its push to expand military industrial capacity so drastically. It’s critical that they do, not only because the U.S. is limited in what it can produce and provide to other countries but also because arms industry greed is boundless — and without off-ramps or constraints, the U.S. government may find in 20 or 30 years that it’s in a ditch it can’t get out of.
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Israeli soldiers operate next to the UNRWA headquarters, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, February 8, 2024. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
The U.S. intelligence community has found Israel’s claims that employees of a U.N. aid agency took part in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack to be plausible, but it cannot conclude more definitively because it has not been able to independently verify the charges, according to new reporting from the Wall Street Journal.
The Israeli government charged last month that 12 staffers at the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) — which facilitates humanitarian aid to Palestinains throughout the region — either participated or assisted in the Hamas-led atrocities and that others have close ties to the terror group.
UNRWA fired the 12 employees and donor counties, including the United States, have since paused funding, moves that have increasingly become more controversial as the Israeli government has yet to provide clear evidence for its claims. The agency says it will soon run out of money amid the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
According to the Journal, the U.S.’s National Intelligence Council assessed with “low confidence” that a small group of UNRWA staffers participated in the attack. The intel assessment, the Journal reports, “doesn’t dispute Israel’s allegations of links between some staff at Unrwa and militant groups” and that, according to U.S. officials, “Israel hadn’t shared the raw intelligence behind its assessments with the U.S., limiting their ability to reach clearer conclusions.”
"This assessment casts further significant doubt on the veracity of Israel's claims against UNRWA, which remain allegations without confirmed substantiating evidence,” Chris Gunness, a former UNRWA spokesman and now Director of the Myanmar Accountability Project, told RS. "If Israel has allegations against UNRWA, it should hand them over to the internal and external investigations currently underway: one by the U.N.'s Office of Internal Oversight and the other headed by a former French minister. Only when the information has been authoritatively assessed should anyone draw conclusions.”
For years, factions on the right in Israel, along with their supporters in the United States, have been working to close down UNRWA with the apparent belief that the U.N. agency lends credibility to Palestinians' assertions of ownership over land Palestinians argue was taken by Israel. UNRWA also regularly submits a roster containing the names of its staff to the Israeli government, which in turn signs off.
“Those donors who based their decisions to defund UNRWA on unconfirmed information should restore funding and only take a decision when they have a proper understanding of what took place,” Gunness added.