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Iran and Turkey’s energy game in the Gulf and the Caspian basin

Nargiz Hajiyeva

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he two major non-Arab countries Iran and Turkey have the significant and most populated geographical locations in the region. From a historical perspective, it is clear that both of them have long shared similarities and differences regarding religion, national identity, populations, energy factor and etc.

Both of them have a strong sense of national identity and also were the homeland of different historical civilizations. The one of the major difference is that since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, “velayat e-faqih” as a prominent doctrine has been implemented in the government system of Iran. On the other hand, Iran is a predominantly Shia majority and Turkey is major Sunni-based country. Another major difference between them is based on energy factor. Today, the crucial aspect of Turkey and Iran relations is energy factor. Since the beginning of the relations in energy in the 1990s, the glaring differences between them in the energy sector have influenced their relations and resulted in the close cooperation between them. Apparently, the relations in the field of energy commenced in 1996 with the signing of the agreement on natural gas amid the Welfare Party Leader of Turkey Necmettin Erbakan’ visit to Tehran. The natural gas agreement envisaged the export of 4 bcm of natural gas in 2002 and of 10 bcm in 2007 from Iran to Turkey within the period of 25 years. However, this volume was never reached to the capacity of 10 bcm due to different kinds of reasons, especially the coercive diplomacy of the U.S, the economic sanctions lessened the export of natural gas to Turkey at the expected volume and only 6 bcm of natural gas was delivered to Turkey during the sanction period. To date, Iranian gas has been really important for Turkey in terms of economic development, its domestic needs, and energy demands. Because of the fact that Iran has sufficiently proven crude oil and gas resources in the Gulf region, in contrary, Turkey holds limited number of oil and gas reservoirs and these resources are not able to provide the both economic and domestic demands of Turkey adequately and thus, heavily depends on foreign supplies.* Therefore, Iranian gas is really meaningful for industry and for residential heating in Eastern Anatolia.

Apart from the oil and gas sectors, the electricity trade between them is really important. Iran and Turkey have agreed to develop their electricity generation sufficiently. For instance, in 2014, Iran exported 2,252 GWH electricity to Turkey that constituted 1,1% of that year’s total electricity source. Energy as a solid rock of economic relations between Turkey and Iran exhibits itself as the main provider of economic growth. The relations between Turkey and Iran can be characterized in some reasons:

1.The role of Turkey as a transit route between North and South, East and West. The main role of Turkey would be really important for the rational and secure transportation of Iran’s natural oil and gas resources to Europe via Turkey;*

2.The growing massive dependence of Europe on natural gas resources force the European countries to seek for new alternative energy supplies and countries and strives to decrease its natural gas dependency on Russia . In this case, the West has pivotal interests regarding Southern Gas Corridor which links the one side of Asia with Europe. Here, Iran is eager to export its energy resources to Europe at affordable prices and wants to acquire the Westward transportation of its natural gas. This is one of the main reasons why Iran holds close relations with Turkey;

3.Turkey is the main consumer of Iran’s oil and natural gas resources, although there have been some challenges regarding security, sanctions, and disagreement over high prices;

4.Despite having massive resources Iran is not a major player in the global gas market, it only exports gas to Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan and therefore, it is not ready to lose its reliable consumer like Turkey in international energy market;

5.The main aim of Iran is to gain broad access to flexible LNG export capability. However, Iran does not have terminals, technical expertise and required funds due to the sanctions. In fact, Turkey as an economic savior offers commercial and investment opportunities to Iran in order to build terminals and possess newly generated technologies to export LNG;

6.The one of the major reasons is the growing Turkish investments in the country. Turkey has long invested in Iran’s energy products in order to boost mutual trade between them in the energy sector.

Consequently, the emergence of cooperation between Turkey and Iran stems from the energy factor. The resources-rich Iran has an adequate capability to export its natural gas and oil products not only to Turkey but also the European market. Turkey as a stable consumer of its energy products try to diversify its energy supplies and source countries, at the same time, it is importantly in need to maintain its both domestic and foreign economic growth. As a result, it can be said that the continuing of a balanced relationship between Tehran and Ankara can be beneficial for the maintenance of the West’s energy security by diversifying its energy supplies and source countries.

Competition between Turkey and Iran

In XXI century, energy factor has caused to gain both a partner and a rivalry among states. In terms of a partnership, the nation-states try to show “win-win” position in order to meet their domestic demands and develop economic growth with mutual trade agreements. In contrary, in the position of rivalry, the states strive to acquire access to much more energy resources, and source- rich countries by imposing grand energy projects and sets of rules, at the same time, want to prevent the influence of rival states over energy-rich regions. It can be shown in the example of the relationship between Turkey and Iran. Currently, there are pivotal reasons why Iran does not have in mind to digest the geopolitical and economic positions of Turkey in energy-rich regions.

On the other hand, the rivalry in some cases, tensions can be observed in the ongoing process of Syrian Civil War. The severe civil war which caused loads of humanitarian crisis and calamity led to the misperceptions and different positions between major regional power including the U.S, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Since the beginning of the conflict, Russia and Iran has been the main supporter of Bashar-Al-Assad regime. In the contrary, Turkey is opposed to the Assad regime in the country. These different positions have caused the clash of interests between the two regional powers regarding Syrian Civil War.

Moreover, after the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran seeks alternative methods to export its natural gas products to European market via Turkey. However, Iran well understands that Turkey as a transit country is really significant for the multi-sided transportation of energy products, especially its natural gas resources. The anti-western position of Iran compels it to strengthen relations with Russia. Both of them are opposed to the Western-backed economic projects in the Caspian region.

To a large extent, after the completion of impressive projects in the South Caucasus, it is difficult to Iran to see Turkey will turn to be a grand power in the Southern Gas Corridor. In this case, Iran is afraid of being marginalized from the political and economic processes taking place in the Caspian region. The implementation of necessary energy-efficient projects in this region will lead to the dominant position of Turkey. Therefore, If Iran’s natural gas is transported to Europe via Turkey, this will give it a powerful bargaining chip against Iran. In fact, Iran never wants to give empowerment to Turkey against itself. Another reason is that Iran wants to keep the regional balance of power in energy. Therefore, the emergence of Turkey as an authoritative power will deprive Iran of the economic and political perks in the region. The transit role of Turkey in Southern Gas Corridor will lead to the realization of Turkish Stream. Because of the fact that the construction of Turkish Stream along with Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) and the Iraq-Turkey gas pipeline, will give Turkey the powerful authorization over major pipelines in the future. As a result, Turkey as an energy hub will be able to control the flow of energy supplies from Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iraq. Today, Iran wants to provide its flexible LNG export. Therefore, in order to attain the goal, Iran tends to boost cooperation with China. In fact, China possesses novel energy infrastructure and technologies that will be able to help Iran to build LNG terminals.

However, it is undeniable fact that the emergence of terrorist organizations, (Islamic State, ISIS or ISIL, PKK), extremist movements, sectarian tensions, and the Kurdish problem put the major pipelines in jeopardy along with the Middle East region and Turkey. These arduous situations can be the favor of Iran because the construction of all major projects and an emergence of Turkey as energy commander will take a long time. The animosity and tensions in the Middle East region give the chance for the extremist and terrorist groups to take the major pipelines under their control as a source of revenue. (See annex No.5)

All in all, in any cases, the collaboration is much more beneficial than the competition. Collaboration stands on the “win-win” proposition and is inclined to the mutual perceptions of the parties. However, the competition mainly focuses on the success of only one party and does not give a chance to another one. Therefore, the relationship between Turkey and Iran should have to be characterized from the prism of the collaboration rather than competition, because both of them have a huge potential in order to participate in and get “win-win” position in the energy game.

Conclusions

The deep analysis of research revealed the following consequences:

1. As a result of the analysis, it was perceived that energy security forms a unity within the circle of national security and foreign policy. In today’s globalized world, the growing demands for energy, interests of nation states regarding alternative energy resources, in particular, the export of energy products at affordable prices to the international energy market create a competitive environment among states. Thus, it is undeniable fact that energy closely relates with the national power of states. The broad access to well-off energy resources, the secure transportation and rational utilization of them mainly depend on the relations between or within states. Therefore, energy as a guarantor of national security is important for states’ survival and well-being. However, it is clear that the acts of states sometimes evoke some problems and obstacles in global level, for example, the over- exploitation of energy resources causes the huge environmental problems, and today the climate change issue as a result of irrational overutilization of energy products should force all states to take active and accommodative actions in order to solve this problem at international level.

2. The research showed that like other major states, both Turkey and Iran have their own goals and geostrategic interests in the energy spectrum. According to Turkey, the pivotal goal stands on the diversification of energy supplies in conjunction with source countries. At the same time, it strives to gain an authoritative power over major grand energy projects in the energy-based regions; the Caspian Basin and the Gulf region. For today, the South Caucasus gives a huge chance to Turkey to be a future energy hub in the region. The implementation of future grand energy projects is able to open a successful way with which Turkey as a key transit country will be able to import energy products at affordable prices. However, in the Gulf region, basically the Middle East, the emergence of extremist movements, the Kurdish problems, the risk of İSİS and PKK, ongoing severe Syrian crisis and other problems challenge the situation in the region that engender barriers in the face of Turkey.

3. It is obvious that similar to Turkey, Iran has also geo-energetic and political interests in the energy game in the following countries. Amid the period of sanctions, the West put many restrictions on Iran. Therefore, Iran was not able to export its products to the international energy market. Upon the lifting economic sanction, Iran strives to gain more access to foreign markets in order export its energy products adequately. At the same time, Iran offers reasonable prices for its products in order to gain access to European markets. Although Iran holds affluent energy deposits, it has a limited number of consumers importing its products and Iran would have never wanted to be isolated from the economic and political processes taking place in the Caspian Basin and the Gulf region. On behalf of a regional partnership, it tries to strengthen the energy-based cooperation with other countries including China, India, Brazil, and mainly, Russia.

4. The development of the relationship between Turkey and Iran chiefly related with energy. Today, Iran has adequate energy assets in order to export them to international energy markets. Turkey is a stable and reliable consumer of Iran’s energy products because of its scarce oil and gas deposits. Iran well realizes that Turkey would be a reliable provider for the transportation of its energy products to the European market. Therefore, Iran strives to be one of the main parts of Southern Gas Corridor in the South Caucasus region, in which Turkey as a pivotal trade bridge provides the secure shipment of Iran’s gas products directly to Europe. Iran’s such an approach toward Turkey gives both of them to benefit from the economic processes in the region that create “win-win” position between them. However, the situation in the Gulf region is not as the same as the Caspian region. The movements of radical Islamists, hostility, fear of proxy war regarding Syrian Civil War, force both Turkey and Iran to take another stance regarding the problems in the region.

5. The research emphasized that the relationship between Turkey and Iran can be characterized from the prism of both collaboration and competition. Both of them have varied goals and interests in the energy game and strive to keep their influences in the following regions. Turkey as a stable consumer of Iran’s products is a reliable partner, but when it comes to competitive relations, Iran sees Turkey as an important rival in the region. Since last decades, these have been many difficulties in the relations between them regarding the disagreement over prices, sanctions, and the various stances on Syrian Civil War. At the same time, today Iran can not digest the growing role of Turkey in the following regions. The main reason is that the future application of energy pipelines will give Turkey empowerment and bargaining chip against Iran. Therefore, Iran on the one side does not want to see as a winner in the energy game, on the other side, it does not have in mind to lose its trade partner in the energy field. However, it is difficult for Iran to take radical actions against Turkey and tries to set up accommodative approach toward Turkey. Hence, both of them realize that going into mutual bargaining is much more beneficial rather than competition.

Ms. Nargiz Hajiyeva is an independent researcher from Azerbaijan. She is an honored graduate student of Vytautas Magnus University and Institute D'etudes de Politique de Grenoble, Sciences PO. She got a Bachelor degree with the distinction diploma at Baku State University from International Relations and Diplomacy programme. Her main research fields concern on international security and foreign policy issues, energy security, cultural and political history, global political economy and international public law. She worked as an independent researcher at Corvinus University of Budapest, Cold War History Research Center. She is a successful participator of International Student Essay Contest, Stimson Institute, titled “how to prevent the proliferation of the world's most dangerous weapons”, held by Harvard University, Harvard Kennedy School and an honored alumnus of European Academy of Diplomacy in Warsaw Poland. Between 2014 and 2015, she worked as a Chief Adviser and First Responsible Chairman in International and Legal Affairs at the Executive Power of Ganja. At that time, she was defined to the position of Chief Economist at the Heydar Aliyev Center. In 2017, Ms. Hajiyeva has worked as an independent diplomatic researcher at International Relations Institute of Prague under the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Czech Republic. Currently, she is pursuing her doctoral studies in Political Sciences and International Relations programme in Istanbul, Turkey.

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Middle East

Iran vs. US: Bracing for war?

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On May 8, 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal, and imposed tough unilateral sanctions on Tehran. Exactly a year later, this move looks dangerously fraught with unpredictable and potentially catastrophic consequences for the Middle East.

Britain, France and Germany, as participants and co-sponsors of the JCPOA, strongly criticized Trump’s anti-Iranian policy and, with Russian and Chinese support, they established, registered and set in motion, albeit in a test mode, the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) – a special-purpose vehicle (SPV) to facilitate non-dollar trade with Iran.

Tehran took its time hoping for European support. However, on April 22, 2019, Trump ended waivers that Washington had earlier granted China, India, South Korea, Turkey, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Japan and Taiwan that allowed these countries to import Iranian oil. A complete ban on the purchase of Iranian crude came into force on May 2, 2019. The United States’ ultimate goal is to stop all Iranian crude exports. Whether this is actually possible is not clear. What is clear, however, is that the US is ramping up economic pressure on Tehran.

Meanwhile, Europe will hardly be able to resist Washington’s sanctions against Iran, which are almost as hard-hitting as the ones that were in effect between 2012 and 2016 when the Iranian economy was going through hard times. Still, the EU’s foreign affairs commissioner Federica Mogherini recently went on record saying that “we will continue to support [JCPOA] as much as we can with all our instruments and all our political will.”

Just how much will the EU really has to resist US pressure is a big question though.

Iran found itself in a real fix with President Hassan Rouhani saying that the situation the country is in today is no different from what it experienced during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq.

“During the war, we had no problems with our banks, oil sales, imports and exports. There were only sanctions for the purchase of arms,” he noted.

Hassan Rouhani emphasized the US sanctions’ strong impact on the country, and called for a concerted effort by all to minimize their effect.

“The enemies’ sanctions against our banking sector also affect our oil, petrochemicals, steel and agricultural exports, impair the work of Iranian seaports, shipyards and sea carriers. Our shipping companies have been blacklisted by the US Treasury,” Rouhani added.

He said that Iran would not bow to US pressure and will be looking for a way out of this situation.

What can Iran do?

First, it could exit the nuclear deal. Not immediately, like the US did, but gradually, refusing to fulfill the specific terms of the accord. Iran is already doing this now.

On May 8, President Rouhani announced that Iran would no longer observe two key commitments under the JCPOA accord, namely to sell to Russia and the US uranium enriched to 3.76 percent at volumes exceeding the storage allowed in Iran (over 300 kilograms). By the time the JCPOA was signed in 2015, the Islamic Republic had accumulated 10,357 kilos of such low-grade uranium, and 410.4 kilos of uranium enriched to 20 percent. To date, Iran has destroyed its entire stock of 20-percent-enriched uranium and has shipped surplus low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia and the United States. According to the JCPOA, Tehran was allowed to enrich limited quantities of uranium for scientific purposes and sell any enriched uranium above the 300-kilogram limit on international markets in return for natural uranium. Now Iran will start stocking up on low-enriched uranium again. 

Neither will Tehran consider itself committed to the caps agreed under the deal on the mandatory sale of excess heavy water used in the production of military-grade plutonium. Iran has a working facility to produce heavy water, which is not covered by the JCPOA. However, it can store no more than 130 tons of heavy water. Tehran has already exported 32 tons to the US and 38 tons to Russia. Now it will start storing heavy water again.

President Rouhani gave the other signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal 60 days to make good on their promises to protect Iran’s oil and banking sectors. The Iranian move is certainly not directed at Washington but, rather, at Brussels in order to make it more actively and effectively resist US sanctions or see Iran resume higher levels of uranium enrichment, potentially all the way to bomb-making capability.  

He added that if the EU fails to address Iran’s concerns, Tehran will suspend the implementation of two more commitments under the JCPOA.

If its demands are not met, Tehran will no longer be bound by its commitment to enrich uranium up to 3.76 percent. Ali-Akbar Salehi, director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said in January that the country had already taken the necessary steps to resume enrichment in larger volumes and with a higher level of enrichment.

Tehran will also reject help from the 5+1 group of initiators of the JCPOA (Russia, US, Britain, France, China and Germany) in the reconstruction of the heavy water reactor in the city of Arak.

The R-1 heavy water reactor was designed to produce up to 10 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium a year, which is enough to build two plutonium nuclear weapons. The terms of the JCPOA accord require redesigning the reactor in such a way as to make it incapable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. To oversee the process, they set up a working group of representatives of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the Atomic Energy Authority of China and the US Department of Energy. In 2017, a UK representative moved in to fill the void left by the departing US representative. According to an official Iranian report issued in April 2018, the country had already completed a “conceptual reconstruction of the reactor.”  Still, the reconstruction process is slow and can easily be reversed. At least for now.

If, however, the EU comes across, then, according to Hassan Rouhani, Iran will honor its commitments under the JCPOA deal. “If [the five JCPOA co-signatories] could protect our main interests in oil and banking sectors, we will go back to square one [and will resume our commitments],” Rouhani said.

The question is whether the European Union can fully activate INSTEX and  ensure continued oil exports and imports. Many people doubt this.

According to analysts, by demanding that Europeans “bring down to zero” their purchases of Iranian oil, the United States threatened to slap sanctions on European companies paying for Iranian oil. Shortly afterwards, almost all European banks refused to finance Iranian crude imports. The EU thus inadvertently joined the US sanctions, even though it continued to stick to the terms of the JCPA accord.

At the same time, European companies were all too happy to go ahead with the implementation of the part of the agreement that had not yet been banned, selling unauthorized goods to Iran. Tehran then complained that the deal allowed Europeans to make money inside Iran while preventing Iranians from selling their oil in the EU – a violation of the fundamental provision of the nuclear accord.

Tehran’s threat to walk out of the 2015 nuclear deal is sending a clear signal to the dithering Europeans to resume Iranian oil imports or see Tehran restarting nuclear production.

However, preoccupied by more pressing problems, the Europeans have other things to worry about. Moreover, no one is looking for a showdown with the EU’s main ally, the United States. According to Russian Oriental affairs expert Nikolai Kozhanov, Europeans consider the issue of circumventing US sanctions as an important part of their search for a mechanism of counter-sanctions in similar situations with more important economic partners, such as China or Russia.

Therefore, Iran is likely to press ahead with suspending its obligations under the JCPOA, which include the activation and acceleration of R&D in the field of improving centrifuges and building more of them in the future. Tehran could also hold up the implementation of the Protocol Additional to the Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. Signed in 2003, the Protocol gives the UN nuclear watchdog greater access to Iran’s nuclear facilities and provides for surprise inspections. Iran has not yet ratified this document, even though it fulfilled its requirements until 2006 and has done so since 2016.

Of course, Iran will go about additional suspensions very carefully (if it will at all), mindful of their possible consequences, because it would hate to see Europe turning its back on it and siding with Washington, adding its own sanctions to the American ones, thus essentially making them international.

Ever since the US’ exit from the JCPOA, Iran has issued a flurry of serious warnings that it might end its participation in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the IAEA. On April 28, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif went on record saying that Tehran was mulling an exit from the NPT as a response to US sanctions. He added that Tehran “has many options” of response. “Exit from the NPT is one such option,” Zarif noted.

This was only a rhetorical threat, however, meant to prod the European Union towards closer cooperation with Iran as a means of countering US sanctions. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Iran would withdraw either from the NPT or the IAEA, because this could make it an absolute outcast and the butt of scathing criticism worldwide.  

Second, to demonstrate strength and willingness to resist and safeguard the country’s interests. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei never tires of emphasizing the need for a tough policy of “resistance,” based on:

  • an active and effective search for ways to circumvent crippling economic sanctions;
  • strengthening the armed forces with an emphasis on the development of a missile program;
  • active promotion of Iranian interests in the region.

The “resistance” policy is primarily built around the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which brings together the country’s military, intelligence, police, political, ideological, as well as financial and economic structures. The IRGC is actually an all-embracing mega holding, led directly by the Supreme Leader and members of his inner circle. The Revolutionary Guards, who have proved highly efficient in countering sanctions,  modernizing the armed forces and promoting Iranian activities in the region, are all Tehran actually needs to implement a strict “resistance” policy.

With the situation developing as it is, Ayatollah Khamenei’s recent decision to replace the IRGC commander, General Mohammed Ali Jafari, who led the Corps for more than 11 years, with Brigadier General Hossein Salami looks pretty natural. The IRGC’s former deputy commander, General Salami is ideologically closer to Khamenei and is known for his radical statements. Ayatollah Khamenei also replaced about 60 officers both in the IRGC central office and local administrations with relatively young, ambitious, ideologically tested and competent officers. They are tasked with turning the IRGC into an indispensable and all-embracing institution that dominates the entire gamut of Iranian life: from ensuring internal and external security all the way to economic activity and cyberwarfare.

According to Mehdi Khalaji, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Ayatollah Khamenei is strengthening the IRGC, which he sees as the cornerstone of the country’s triad of advanced missile technology, a nuclear program and asymmetric military capabilities to ensure reliable defense against any potential aggression by anyone.

Tehran’s decision to strengthen the IRGC was certainly prompted by President Trump’s statement on April 8, which branded the Corps as a “foreign terrorist organization.” Until recently, President Rouhani sought to keep the IRGC in check and limit its impact on many aspects of the country’s life. In fact, Trump’s recent statement played right into the hands of diehard radicals within the IRGC and in Iran as a whole.

Iran’s Supreme National Security Council responded to President Trump’s statement by putting on the list of terrorist organizations the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), whose area of responsibility includes the Middle East and Central Asia. Simultaneously, the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces said that the Iranian military was ready to use any means at its disposal against US troops in the region who are now likewise designated by Tehran as terrorists. This is putting Americans in peril all across the Middle East region, primarily in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and in the Persian Gulf – wherever Iranian and US military might cross their paths.

Washington’s latest anti-Iranian move seriously exacerbated the already very strained relations between the two countries.

Third. To ramp up anti-American propaganda and warlike rhetoric in order to demonstrate Iran’s strength to the United States and its readiness to defend its interests even with the use of military force.

Increasingly frustrated with the situation around the JCPOA and doubting the EU’s ability to resist the US pressure on Iran, Tehran has been rolling back its participation in the nuclear deal, which is dangerously fraught with a new nuclear crisis and heightened tensions with the United States.

Meanwhile, an escalation is already happening. The United States is sending a battery of Patriot air defense missiles and an amphibious warship, USS Arlington, to CENTCOM’s operational responsibility zone. The Arlington will join a naval strike carrier group led by the world’s largest warship, the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln (5,680 crew, 90 combat aircraft and helicopters on board) and a tactical group of B-52 strategic bombers.

Moreover, an updated plan that has just been presented by the Acting US Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, envisions the dispatch of up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran steps up the development of nuclear weapons, or attacks the US military. However, the plan does not provide for a ground operation against Iran, which would require a lot more troops.

Iran has promised serious response to any use of force by the United States, with the IRGC commander, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, warning that “if America takes a step against us, then we will strike a blow to the head.” He believes, however, that the United States will not risk using its aircraft carriers against Iran, and added that since Iran’s defense capabilities are adequate and sufficient, US aircraft carriers are quite vulnerable.

Military experts know better of course, but when it comes to politics, chances of resolving the current crisis between Iran and the United States look pretty slim. In fact, the conflict may be beneficial to both President Trump and the IRGC.

Trump could use the standoff as a chance to show the opposition Democrats how tough he is with Iran, which is equally loathed by his supporters and many of his opponents alike.

Meanwhile, a US military buildup close to the Iranian borders would play right into the hands of local hardliners who have always been up in arms against any negotiations concerning the Iranian nuclear program and the nuclear deal itself.

With the situation favoring the opponents of President Rouhani, the IRGC is ruling out any possibility of negotiations with the US. The head of the IRGC’s political bureau, Yadolla Javani, said that “there will be no negotiations with the Americans,” in a remark that could also be aimed at politicians inside Iran who would like to maintain a dialogue with the US no matter what.

Still, according to unconfirmed reports, the Iranians are negotiating behind closed doors with American representatives in Oman, which is a traditional meeting place for both.

The IRGC needs tensions running high because this is turning it into the country’s foremost institution.

What is also clear is a dangerous psychological war now raging between Washington and Tehran. Just where things may go from now is hard to tell, but it still looks like the sides will not come to blows after all. The Iranian-American brinkmanship with concentrations of troops and military hardware in the region is fraught with unpredictable accidents that can force the parties to go overboard. Hopefully, things will not go beyond bellicose rhetoric.

“There will be no war, the Iranian people have chosen the path of resistance to America, and this resistance will force it to retreat,” Ayatollah Khamenei said, emphasizing, however, that this resistance is not military in nature. Neither side wants a military showdown.

Tehran and Washington realize full well that if the situation comes down to a military flare-up, then this, regardless of the real scale of the fighting, would spell disaster for the entire Middle East with equally dire consequences for the rest of the world.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Middle East

A survey of Arab youth highlights gaps between policies and aspirations

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Results of a recent annual survey of Arab youth concerns about their future suggest that Arab autocracies have yet to deliver expected public services and goods, explain autocratic efforts to promote nationalism, and indicate that jobs and social freedoms are more important than political rights.

The survey provides insights that should inform autocrats’ quest for social and economic reform. It also suggests, together with the intermittent eruption of anti-government protests in different parts of the Arab world, that Western and Middle Eastern interests would be better served by more nuanced US and European approaches towards the region’s regimes.

Western governments have so far uncritically supported social and economic reform efforts rather than more forcefully sought to ensure that they would bear fruit and have been lax in pressuring regimes to at least curb excesses of political repression.

Critics charge that the survey by Dubai-based public relations firm asda’a bcw focussed on the 18-24 age group was flawed because it gave a greater weighting to views in smaller Gulf states as opposed to the region’s more populous countries such as Egypt, used small samples of up to 300 people, and did not include Qatar, Syria and Sudan.

The results constitute a mixed bag for Arab autocrats and suggest that squaring the circle between the requirements of reform and youth expectations is easier said than done and could prove to be regimes’ Achilles’ heel.

A majority of youth, weened on decades of reliance on government for jobs and social services, say governments that are unilaterally rewriting social contracts and rolling back aspects of the cradle-to-grave welfare state, have so far failed to deliver.

Even more problematic, youth expect governments to be the provider at a time that reform requires streamlining of bureaucracies, reduced state control, and stimulation of the private sector.

A whopping 78 percent of those surveyed said it was the government’s responsibility to provide jobs. An equal number expected energy to be subsidized, 65 percent complained that governments were not doing enough to support young families while 60 percent expected government to supply housing.

By the same token, 78 percent expressed concern about the quality of education on offer, including 70 percent of those in the Gulf. Yet, 80 percent of those in the Gulf said local education systems prepared them for jobs of the future as opposed to a regional total of 49 percent that felt education was lagging. Nonetheless, only 38 percent of those surveyed in the Gulf said they would opt for a local higher education.

There appeared to be a similar gap between the foreign and regional policies of governments and youth aspirations.

Assertive policies, particularly by Gulf states, that have fuelled regional conflicts, including wars in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, the Saudi Iranian rivalry and the two-year-old diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar run counter to a desire among a majority of those surveyed to see an end to the disputes. In favour of Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini rulers, 67% of young Arabs see Iran as an enemy.

The survey also suggests that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, contrary to common wisdom, is an issue that resonates. With 79 percent of those surveyed saying they are concerned about the dispute, the question arises whether the Gulf’s rapprochement with Israel and support for US president Donald J. Trump’s peace plan that is widely believed to disadvantage the Palestinians enjoys popular support.

The suggestion that Gulf policies towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may not be wholeheartedly supported is bolstered by the fact that the number of people surveyed this year that viewed the United States as an enemy rose to 59 percent compared to 32 percent five years ago.

Similarly, Arab leaders’ reliance on religion as a regime legitimizer and efforts to steer Islam in the direction of apolitical quietism are proving to be a double-edged sword and one probable reason why men like Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman have sought to reduce the role of the religious establishment by promoting hyper-nationalism.

Some two thirds of those surveyed felt that religion played too large a role, up from 50% four years ago. Seventy-nine percent argued that religious institutions needed to be reformed while half said that religious values were holding the Arab world back.

Publication of the survey coincided with the release by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) of its 2019 report. The report designated Saudi Arabia as one of the world’s “worst violators” of religious freedoms, highlighting discrimination of Shia Muslims and Christians.

“Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia continue to face discrimination in education, employment, and the judiciary, and lack access to senior positions in the government and military,” the 234-page report said.

Leaders of the United Arab Emirates, accused by human rights groups of systematic violations, are likely to see a silver lining in the survey and a reconfirmation of their policy of economic and relative social liberalism coupled with absolute political control.

Forty-four percent of those surveyed named the UAE as their preferred country as opposed to less than 22 percent opting for Canada, the United States, Turkey or Britain.

In a white paper accompanying the survey, Afshin Molavi, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, concluded that the survey showed that “the demands and dreams of young Arabs are neither radical nor revolutionary” and that they were unlikely to “to fall for the false utopias or ‘charismatic’ leaders their parents fell for.”

In the words of Jihad Azour, the International Monetary Fund’s top Middle East person, “what is needed is a new social contract between MENA (Middle East and North Africa) governments and citizens that ensures accountability, transparency and a commitment to the principle that no one is left behind… The latest youth survey makes clear that we have a long way to go,” Mr. Azour said in his contribution to the white paper.

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Middle East

US-Iran Tension: Avert any big disaster to humanity

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US-Iran tension is growing to a dangerous level. Irrespective of who is right and who is wrong, but everyone agrees that it is leading toward a big disaster. Human life and natural resources are at stake. Irrespective, who will suffer more and who will suffer less, but it is human life, which is the most precious thing in this world, is at stake.

Middle-East is an oil and gas-rich area and meets the major portion of world energy demand. Any disturbance in this region will have a severe impact on the global economy. Whether one is right or wrong, will be the victim of this crisis directly or indirectly.

This war will be not like the Iraq war or the Libya War. As at that time, there was only one superpower and the world was unipolar. There was no resistance from any corner of the world. US and allies, without any resistance, conducted the war and achieved their desired results. But a lot of resistance was witnessed in case of Syrian War. The whole scenario has been changed, the calculated results were not achieved yet. Finally, the US has decided to pull back its troops. Similarly, Afghanistan case is not ideal, after spending trillion dollars, and fighting for 17 years, not gains on the ground and finally has to pull back.

It may not be limited to only US-Iran but may engulf the whole region. As traditional rivals are waiting for an appropriate opportunity to settle their old disputes. Whether, it is Arab-Iran, or Israel-Iran, or Arab-Israel enmity, may it spread to a much wider sphere than expected. It is in control of a few countries to start or refrain the escalation, but once it has been broken, it may be beyond the control of either country.

Especially, Russia and China are not sleeping at this time. They are in a strong position to offer resistance. It should not be taken an easy task like Iraq or Libya war. It is difficult to predict the exact reaction of Russia or China, but anticipated resistance.

If we expect, US or Iran to avert this foreseeable war will be not a realistic approach. As if they were to avoid any disaster, they should not have created so hype and should not have moved to this stage. They may not accept total hegemony of the US in this part of the world. They have heavy stakes in the middle-East and cannot be spectators only.

Geopolitics has been changed, regional alliances have emerged, and nations have re-aligned themselves. Much more complex changes have been witnessed after the war on terror. Public awareness has been enhanced, maybe some of the governments in this region have a different outlook, but public opinion is much more realistic and may play a vital role in the days to come. Old time’s friends may stand on the other side of the table. Some radical changes may be visible on grounds.

UN role was ineffective in the past and a little is expected in the future. In fact, the UN has been hijacked and curtailed to a very limited role practically. While one of its major mandates was to resolve the disputes among nations and avoid wars or war-like situations.

Under this serious scenario, there is a hope that all peace-loving nations and individuals, may peruse the UN and International Community do something to avert this bid human disaster.  We all share one world, we have the responsibility to save this world. Any loss of human life in any part of the world is considered the loss to the whole of humanity. And the destruction of natural resources may be considered a loss to humanity. Any damage to Environment or ecology or biodiversity may be a net loss to humanity. We all are son and daughter of ADAM and share a common world, common environment, common resources. We need to protect humanity, environment and natural resources.

It is strongly appealed to the UN, International Community and all individuals who believe in Peace, must act, and must act now, and must act strongly, to avert any bid disaster to humanity.

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