Israeli Deputy FM says military-administered sanctions on Gaza were "ineffective"

It appears that National Public Radio (NPR) correspondent in Jerusalem, Lourdes Garcia Navarro, managed to get a big admission from Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon: Israel’s two-and-a-half-year-old program of military-administered punitive sanctions against Gaza was “not that effective”. The Israeli military sanctions, which were to have been progressively tightened, were unsupervised by any other government body, After consideration of a petition by Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups, led by GISHA, against the military sanctions policy, the Israeli Supreme Court refused to intervene, other than to instruct the military that it was not to cause a “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza.

The military sanctions followed a determination by Israeli Government cabinet ministers in September 2007 that Gaza was a “hostile territory”, or an “enemy entity”, less than three months after a Hamas rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security forces in the Gaza Strip.

In her radio report, aired on NPR’s All Things Considered program on August 30, 2010, Navarro reported that:

    “…this summer, Israel came under heavy international pressure to ease the blockade, after an Israeli military raid on a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead.

    Mr. DANNY AYALON (Deputy Foreign Minister, Israel): Actions like a flotilla certainly is trying to put Israel in a no-win situation.

    GARCIA-NAVARRO: Danny Ayalon is Israel’s deputy foreign minister. He says Israel has to keep weapons and items that could be used for military fortifications out of Gaza, which is why it retains such tight restrictions on the land and sea borders. But he acknowledged in an interview with NPR that the punishing, three-year ban on most foodstuffs and other commodities was a mistake.

    Mr. AYALON: Denying different items or products into Gaza was not that effective. Hence, now we have changed the policy altogether.

    GARCIA-NAVARRO: But people would say that you’re – that what you’re saying now is disingenuous, that this is only in reaction to pressure put on you after the Turkish flotilla incident.

    Mr. AYALON: It certainly expedited this decision, but I believe this decision would have come up anyway“.

The transcript of this NPR report is posted here.

For an idea of exactly how the Israeli blockade of Gaza was — though brutal — just “not that effective”, see Nicholas Pelham’s report to MERIP, posted here.

Roxana Saberi's reporting

The American public radio network, National Public Radio (NPR) lists links to 22 broadcast stories to which Roxana Saberi contributed as a journalist or which she prepared herself (between May 2003 and August 2007). The list of these stories is noted below (without links), and can be found here, with links.

In addition, NPR says that “In addition, reports from Roxana Saberi have been included in NPR newscasts, which are not transcribed, as recently as January 2009”.

Saberi was apparently arrested on 31 January.

On 10 March, an expression of concern combined with a request for information about her condition was signed by executives of these news organizations: NPR, ABC Television, BBC, Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, Public Broadcasting System, and Feature Story News, in which they said that “For the past six years, Ms. Saberi has resided in Iran, where she is an established and respected professional journalist. She has filed for NPR, ABC, BBC and others. Before her arrest, she was pursuing a master’s degree in Iranian studies and international relations and writing a book about Iran … Roxana Saberi is a U.S. citizen, born in New Jersey, raised in North Dakota and educated in Minnesota. She has many friends and colleagues across the nation”… This statement can be read in full here.

Roxana Saberi with her beauty pagent crown - photo on BBC website

Photo of Roxana Saberi 12 years ago, as Miss North Dakota beauty queen in 1997.

On the 18th of April, NPR issued a statement “appealing for Ms. Saberi’s immediate release and return to the United States. NPR President & CEO Vivian Schiller said this morning, ‘We are deeply distressed by this harsh and unwarranted sentence. Ms. Saberi has already endured a three month confinement in Evin Prison, and we are very concerned for her well-being. Through her work for NPR over several years, we know her as an established and respected professional journalist. We appeal to all of those who share our concerns to ask that the Iranian authorities show compassion and allow her to return home to the United States immediately with her parents’.” This statement is posted here.

No one has explained, so far, why Saberi’s Iranian press credentials were revoked in 2006 — the same year she apparently made more than one trip to Israel. This is something worth following up on … It might be possible to report from the U.S. without any press credentials (especially if you are an American citizen), but this is surely not true for most other countries of the world.

Nor has there been any explanation of why Saberi’s case evolved the way it did, by comparison to the Canadian-Iranian photographer Zahra Kazemi, who was beaten — and probably worse — to death in Evin Prison in 2003. Kazemi had been arrested outside Evin Prison while trying to photograph visitors to family members imprisoned inside.

And, yes, an Iranian blogger sentenced to lashes and several years in jail, and suffering from depression, did die in Evin Prison recently — apparently due to an overdose of his own medication — while several other bloggers are still in jail. See our earlier posting here.

The BBC’s John Leyne in Teheran wrote a story on Friday 15 May, entitled Trying to explain the Saberi case, that, in his view, “For anyone who knows Roxana Saberi, the idea that she was a spy was faintly ridiculous. And working as a journalist without a press card would be the worst possible cover.  The case grabbed headlines around the world. Her father, Reza Saberi, said she became a symbol for press freedom.  But it was also the sight of the fragile-looking former beauty queen, against the might of the Islamic Republic. Who could fail to be moved? … [O]ne former beauty queen, photocopying one piece of paper, can be interpreted as part of a wider plot to undermine the Islamic Republic. As so often in Iran, there are many more strands to the story, much we will never know”.   This story can be read in full here.

A very recent BBC profile of Saberi reveals this: “She graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, with degrees in mass communication and French. Ms Saberi also holds a master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago and another master’s degree in international relations from Cambridge University in the UK. She is currently working on yet another masters degree in Iranian studies. Ms Saberi moved to Iran six years ago and worked as a freelance journalist for various news organisations, including the BBC, before her press credentials were revoked … then came her arrest. The development surprised former BBC Tehran correspondent Frances Harrison, who remembers her as a very careful person. ‘She was a very cautious person and the kind of person who wore a headscarf even at diplomatic functions where there were no restrictions’, she said. ‘She was careful about her reputation, being a young, single woman living in Iran’. She added: ‘She would know as a journalist that she would be under a lot of scrutiny – her phone would be listened to and she would be watched’.” This profile was posted here.

However, according to information just published on NPR in a story by Mike Shuster here, and picked up in our post yesterday here, Saberi travelled to Israel in 2006 — apparently more than once — either “to look for work as a journalist” [this is described in the NPR story as her admission when confronted with evidence by the Iranian prosecutor], or “just for fun, as a tourist” [according to one of her attorneys, Saleh Nikbakht] — both versions are recounted in Mike Shuster’s story here].


» Middle East: Tehran Enforces Dress Restrictions
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» Middle East: Iranians Riot After Gas-Rationing Program Begins
Jun-27-2007, Day to Day

» Middle East: Wary Reaction in Iran to News of Talks with U.S.
May-15-2007, Morning Edition

» News: Iran Calls Release of British Troops a ‘Gift’
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Apr-01-2007, Weekend Edition – Sunday

» Middle East: Iran Moves on Enrichment Despite Sanctions
Dec-27-2006, Morning Edition

» Religion: Iranians Urged to Dress More Conservatively
Oct-18-2006, Day to Day

»World: Iran Bans Women from Attending Men’s Soccer Games
May-17-2006, Morning Edition

»Middle East: Iran Provides Money to Palestinian Government
Apr-17-2006, Morning Edition
The NPR-provided link leads here, which is a Q + A with Saberi. Because the story deals with the Israel-Palestinian conflict, a transcript is also provided here. According to the transcript, Saberi was asked about the significance of an Iranian pledge, made at the end of a three-day Palestinian conference in Tehran in April 2006, to “provide $50 million to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority”. Saberi’s reply was this: “The significance, I think, is more so that it’s the first time Iran is announcing a specific amount that it’s planning to give to the Palestinian government; although it’s not clear that this money is going to go to Hamas or to the Palestinian Authority. Iran’s Foreign Minister said yesterday at this conference that Iran will be giving the money to the Palestinian government and people. Until now, any time that the United States has accused Iran of giving weaponry or training to Palestinian resistance groups, Iran has always said it gives groups like Hamas only moral and spiritual support. But at the same time, this $50 million is really not that significant, if you consider the amount of money that the Palestinian government needs to function … The head of Hamas, Koled Nasald(ph) [n.b. this must refer to Khaled Mashaal], who was also at this conference over the weekend, has said that this government needs $170 million a month to run. And I spoke to a member of Iran’s Parliament, he’s on the security commission here, and he said that it’s clear that this $50 million that Iran is pledging is not enough, but Iran expects all Muslims of the world to unite and help the Palestinians. And also the foreign minister of Iran had said yesterday that Tehran is calling on other Muslims countries to follow its move. And he also announced that Iran will be setting up a bank account for other countries to contribute“.

»World: Reaction in Iran to Possible U.N. Sanctions
Feb-2-2006, Day to Day

»Middle East: Iran to Press Ahead on Nuclear Technology
Jan-14-2006, Day to Day

»Middle East: Plane Crash in Tehran Kills More than 100
Dec-06-2005, All Things Considered

»Middle East: Iranian Military Plane Crashes into Tehran Building
Dec-06-2005, Morning Edition

»Middle East: Iran’s New Leader Vows to Restart Nuclear Program
Jun-27-2005, Morning Edition

»Arts & Culture: ‘The Lizard’ Raises Eyebrows in Iran
May-13-2004, Morning Edition

»Muslim Clerics Bar Liberals from Iran Elections
Jan-12-2004, Day to Day

»World: Relief Efforts Take Hold in Iran
Dec-31-2003, All Things Considered

»Weapons Inspectors Assess Iran’s Nuke Program
Nov-07-2003, Day to Day

»Fighting Against Discrimination in Iran
Sep-09-2003, Day to Day

»Is Cuba Jamming U.S. Broadcasts to Iran
Jul-31-2003, Day to Day

»World: IAEA Chief to Visit Iran for Nuke Talks

»U.S. and Iran Relations
May-28-2003, Talk of the Nation

This list is posted on NPR’s website here.

In some of the NPR stories, Saberi is identified as Teheran correspondent. In others, she is identified as working for Feature Story News (FSN), whose website is here. Some of the staff of FSN (Saberi was not listed on the FSN website as being on the staff) also work for Fox News and Wall Street Journal Television, and Saberi is said to have also contributed to those media from Iran. On the Free Roxana website, here there is a compilation of some of her reporting (some of what is listed above), and she is identified on one of the 2003 items as “Tehran Correspondent and Bureau Chief for Feature Story News“.

The BBC lists this one story under Roxana Saberi’s name:
Sport – World Football – Iran rejects World Cup ban calls – Last updated: 24 Jan 2006
Mr Ahmadinejad’s comments received international condemnation Disqualifying Iran’s team from the World Cup would create an uproar in Iran, said World Football’s Roxana Saberi in Tehran. This story can be read online here.

There is also another website that was dedicated to obtaining her freedom, which is now being transformed into a website for her own use when she wants,, and here we learn that it can now be arranged to contact her for interviews or for speaking requests through Diana Finch, Diana Finch Literary Agency,

GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN — NPR reports that Roxana Saberi took CIA contact as "a joke", traveled to Israel in 2006 "for fun, as a tourist"

The National Public Radio reported, in its “All Things Considered” program on 13 May, that “A lawyer for Roxana Saberi, the American journalist who was convicted of espionage last month in Iran, disclosed new details about her case Wednesday, telling NPR that the Iranian prosecutor in the case had claimed Saberi was actively recruited by a CIA agent. Saberi, who has worked as a freelance reporter for NPR and other news organizations, was released from Evin prison in Tehran on Monday after an appeals court reduced the eight-year sentence she received on charges of espionage to a two-year suspended sentence … Before Wednesday, what was known about the evidence Iranian authorities used to level charges against Saberi was this: She had copied a confidential document belonging to the Expediency Council, an agency of the Iranian government connected to the office of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, that concerned the U.S. war in Iraq. And she had traveled to Israel, which the authorities claimed was suspicious and illegal. She acknowledged traveling to Israel to seek work as a journalist. One of her attorneys, Saleh Nikbakht, said Wednesday that the prosecution’s case also included the allegation that Saberi had met with a person identified only as Mr. Peterson, who told her he worked for the CIA and tried to recruit her into the agency. ‘She said that yes, she had met a Mr. Peterson’, Nikbakht told NPR, ‘and that Mr. Peterson asked her to work for the CIA. But she took it as a joke, and didn’t take him seriously’. It appears that in an earlier interrogation, Saberi had been questioned about this Mr. Peterson and had given answers that she then recanted during the appeals procedure. She told the appeals court, according to Nikbakht, that ‘what she said about Peterson earlier had been a lie’. It is not known where and when she met Peterson. As for the trips to Israel, during the appeals procedure, Saberi said she had traveled to Israel “for fun as a tourist’, Nikbakht said. The authorities also said Saberi was in possession of a report from the Center for Strategic Studies, which is connected to the office of Iran’s president. But that report was determined to be unclassified. In the end, the appeals court dismissed all the charges and claims against her, with the sole exception of the document from the Expediency Council that she kept”. This NPR report can be read in full here.

That report refers to more than one trip to Israeli.

Roxana Saberi arrived in Vienna from Tehran on Friday 15 May 09

A day earlier, NPR reported that “A lawyer for Roxana Saberi said Tuesday that the American journalist had obtained a confidential Iranian document on the U.S. war in Iraq that became a key piece of evidence for prosecutors at her espionage trial. Attorney Saleh Nikbakht said Saberi’s conviction for spying came in part because she had copied and kept a ‘confidential bulletin’ issued by the Expediency Council, an Islamic clerical body that enjoys close links to the Iranian government. Nikbakht said Saberi told an appeals court Sunday that she obtained the document two years ago while working as a freelance translator for the council. He noted that while Saberi apologized and admitted to copying the report, she said she did not pass it to the Americans. Nikbakht gave no details on what was in the document because it remains confidential. He said prosecutors also cited a trip to Israel that Saberi made in 2006, he said. Iran bars its citizens from visiting Israel … Saberi, who has worked as a freelance reporter for NPR, the British Broadcasting Corp., ABC News, Fox and other news organizations, looked thinner after a recent two-week prison hunger strike … A native of Fargo, Roxana Saberi had been living in Iran for six years. She had allowed her press credentials to expire but continued to file occasional reports for U.S. and British broadcasters while she pursued a university degree and researched a book, according to her parents”. This NPR report can be read in full here .

Before that, Time Magazine reported that “Iranian intelligence officials had been particularly suspicious of a trip Saberi had made to Israel, as well as her relationship with U.S. government officials. ‘From an intelligence perspective, there were issues that were sensitive, but Saberi was able to convince the judges that there was no intention of espionage whatsoever,” said one of her lawyers, Saleh Nikbakht. Nikbakht and her other lawyer Abdolsamad Khoramshahi told TIME that the turning point in the five-hour appeals court session on Sunday was their argument that Iran and the United States were not at war. Saberi had initially been charged with spying for an enemy country. Nikbakht explained that in 2003, when another journalist and political analyst, Abbas Abdi, was charged with the same crime for publishing a poll that showed 74% of Iranians favored dialogue with the United States, he proved in court that this charge was legally unsound because Iran was not at war with the U.S., a point emphasized by citing a ruling by the Iranian parliament’s National Security Commission, which was, most importantly, approved by the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This same argument, Nikbakht said, persuaded the judges that, ‘from a purely legal point of view, Saberi’s actions were free of that crime. There is no basis at all for espionage in her file’. In the end, the court found Saberi guilty based on Article 505 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, which states, in loose terms, that any person who collects classified information and puts it at the service of ‘others’ with the goal of destabilizing national security is committing a crime. Previously, Saberi had been charged with putting that information at the service of an ‘enemy country that Iran is at war with’, according to Nikbakht. That wording was dropped, reducing her crime”.

Time Magazine reported in that article that Saberi had studied journalism at Northwestern University — and that her reporting credentials had been “withdrawn” in Iran in 2006. The Los Angeles Times reported from Tehran on Friday [see below] that her “official press credentials were revoked in 2006, though she continued to discreetly work as a journalist while researching a book about Iran”.

Time Magazine also reported that as Saberi was released last week, “there was additional drama in front of the prison. Also waiting there was internationally acclaimed filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi, who had published an open letter last month declaring that Saberi was his fiancee. He told TIME that he believed it was in great part because of his endeavors that Saberi was being released so quickly. He said he had a meeting with government and judiciary officials a few days ago, in which he explained to them the importance of Saberi appearing at the opening of his new film on Thursday at the Cannes Film Festival, ‘because she was going to talk about the Persian Gulf. I told them it would be good for Iran’. Ghobadi has cited Saberi as a co-writer on his latest film.
There was clear friction between Ghobadi and Saberi’s parents, who kept themselves several feet apart from the director. At one point, Ghobadi approached Saberi’s visibly shaken mother, but she pushed him away, motioning him away with her hands. After Ghobadi’s letter, Reza Saberi announced that he could not confirm Ghobadi as his daughter’s fiancee. One source close to the family said they perceive him as taking advantage of her recent newsworthiness to publicize his film, and wonder why he was not speaking out for her before her case attracted such international attention. Ghobadi said he had been ordered to keep silent by sources he could not reveal, and finally broke his silence when he ‘could no longer hold it’.” This report can be read in full here.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Friday that “Her lead attorney Abdul-Samad Khorramshahi said he spoke to Saberi shortly before she boarded the plane. ‘I told her she can come back and leave Iran again, but if she comes back to do journalism over the next five years she will have to serve two years in prison’, he said in a telephone interview … Authorities arrived at her house with a warrant on Jan. 30 and took her away. Khorramshahi dismissed the widely disseminated report that she was initially arrested for purchasing a bottle of wine, an explanation she gave her father during a hurried prison phone call 10 days or so after her arrest. He also said neither Saberi’s unauthorized journalism work nor the content of her reports on NPR, BBC or Fox were the cause of her arrest. ‘There was no charge like that in her file’, he said. ‘We don’t have anything like that in Iranian law’. Rather, from the start, the charges stemmed from her possession of a classified document about U.S. involvement in Iraq that she had copied while working as a translator for Iran’s Expediency Council, a powerful board that mediates disputes between government bodies, her lawyers said … Intelligence ministry officials alleged she was a spy collecting information to pass on to the Americans, or even Israel, where she had visited. But Saberi claimed she intended to use the document for her book and had no intention of handing it to another government, Khorramshahi said. ‘Roxana accepted that she shouldn’t have had the document but that she didn’t make use of it’, he said. ‘It was for her book’.” This LATimes report can be read in full here.

Bahman Ghobadi (centre) in Cannes with the stars of his film he says Saberi coauthoried -- Negar Shaghaghi (l) and Hamed Behdad (r)

Bahman Ghobadi (centre) in Cannes this week along with the stars of the film Negar Shaghaghi (l) and Hamed Behdad (r).  According to an entertainment report on the BBC, “Ghobadi has been in the news recently following the imprisonment and subsequent release of his partner, journalist Roxana Saberi, in Iran earlier this week. The film-maker acknowledged that Saberi – who was only released on Monday and who co-wrote the film – was unable to join him in Cannes because she wanted to stay close to her family in the US.  [Ghobadi’s film] No One Knows About Persian Cats is essentially a showcase for the extraordinary movement of underground music that exists in Tehran, where young people are largely banned from performing Western-style music. It features real bands and real musicians – and I was struck by the diversity and quality of the music – from indie to rap to heavy metal – and by Ghobadi’s raw portrayal of city of Tehran. It’s also very funny, and ultimately very sad.  Ghobadi, who shot the film in just three weeks without permission from the authorities, introduced the film – revealing how he first came across the underground music scene when he was looking to music as a means of escaping a period of depression – prompted by obstructive measures being taken against his film-making”.  This BBC report on Ghobadi in Cannes this week is posted here

We have previously reported on this story — including about Ghobadi’s letter — here.

Saberi, who celebrated her 32nd birthday during her four-month stay in Evin Prison, has left Iran and is presently in Vienna — where the Iranian Ambassador “and his family” was very helpful to her, according to one report (or was it the Austrian Ambassador to Iran, as the LATimes reported?)– on her way back to her parents home in Fargo, North Dakota. Saberi is at least a dual national — U.S. and Iranian. Her father is of Iranian origin, and her mother is Japanese. Saberi herself was once a Miss North Dakota (1997), and competed in the Miss America beauty pagent, reportedly coming in 19th. The Free Roxana website, however, says here that she was among the ten finalists in the 1998 Miss American pagent.

Roxana Saberi arrives at her home in Tehran a day after being freed from Evin Prison

Roxana Saberi outside her home in Tehran after being released from prison

Looking quite the celebrity after her release (earlier, she looked quite the kittenish seductress in most of her headscarf-covered photos taken during her days in Iran), Saberi told reporters at Vienna airport that while various statements have been made about her case over the past few days, she said: “I think that if somebody is supposed to speak about my case from now on, nobody knows about it as well as I do, and I will talk about it more in the future, I hope, but I am not prepared at this time”.

Reporters without Borders poster calling for Saberi's release