In the current Iranian economic and political system there are many old and new geopolitical and economic tensions.
At a time when many countries, including China, but not the United States, are adopting the criteria of the Paris Climate Agreement- signed, however, by 196 countries – it is obvious that oil will see its economic and technological importance decrease, while the role of alternative energy resources and, above all, natural gas will increase.
This is the first aspect to be studied: Saudi Arabia does not possess significant reserves of natural gas which, however, is much more “environmental-friendly” than oil, while Iran and Qatar have plenty of it.
Incidentally, the two countries which were accused of “sponsoring terrorism” during the meeting gathering 13 countries in Riyadh in May 2017 to establish the “Sunni Arab NATO” – a meeting where President Trump-led America which, however, is supposed to have some intelligence, had to say only yes.
This is exactly the reason why Saudi Arabia wants to immediately double its gas production up to 23 million cubic feet per day, while the country is also thinking about an OPEC oil reduction of 1.8 million barrels per day until the end of 2018.
This situation has nothing to do with the situation prevailing in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has 18% of all natural gas reserves in the world, the second in size after the Russian Federation’s.
Another political problem in the use of natural gas, as can be easily imagined.
Conversely, Qatar has “only” 14% of global natural gas reserves, the third largest region in the world in terms of oil and gas.
This is the reason why, for example, the issue of renewables is at the core of Vision 2030, the great Saudi reform project.
Saudi Arabia still ranks sixth in terms of natural gas reserves, and the new leader of the Saudi Kingdom, Mohammed bin Salman, wants to expand gas extraction in the country by approximately 4% or at most 6% on a yearly basis – with savings currently estimated at 71 US dollars for each oil barrel “replaced” by an equivalent amount of gas for the same energy production.
Hence the Saudi natural gas is mainly used at domestic level so as to avoid the energy additional cost of using national oil, which must be sold in huge quantities, while for Iran and Qatar gas is the only great economic and geopolitical opportunity of the future.
Moreover, Prince Muhammad wants to increase the production of solar energy, again to be sold to Europe, considering the obvious difference in sun exposure of Saudi lands compared to the European ones.
Hence new formulas for exporting oil and gas require different strategic configurations compared to the current ones, which arise from the now old invention of petrodollars after the Yom Kippur War but, above all, are unavoidable after the transformation of power potentials within the OPEC system.
Even today Iran often sells oil barrels in euros – Saddam Hussein’s original sin.
New energy routes to be established and defended towards Western markets and hence new distribution of satellite or enemy countries in the very long passage from the origin of energy sources up to European end consumers.
Also the United States relies on said consumers. I am afraid that, in the near future, it will try to sell us its shale oil and gas.
This explains the “materialistic” root of the Iran-Saudi Arabia tension in Yemen for the Shi’ite and Zaydist rebels of the Fifth Imam, the Houthis – officially called Ansar Allah – who should be supported by Iran, Eritrea and other Iran’s friendly countries.
Who controls Yemen controls the Suez Canal.
On the contrary, Saudi Arabia is helped there – although softly – by the United States and the United Kingdom.
I have not yet well understood the reason why the United States and Great Britain have long put all their eggs in the Saudi basket, thus relinquishing a more balanced action for hegemony over the Greater Middle East.
Obviously Mohammed Bin Salman still wants to sell significant shares of ARAMCO – the state-owned Saudi oil company – to major foreign investors and later diversify the Saudi economy.
The deal of the century for many US investment bankers.
The Saudi Prince has also planned to spend tens of billion US dollars on US armaments, mainly to support the Saudi invasion of Yemen and, again, to fight the Houthis, who inflicted heavy losses on Saudi Arabia itself and finally to strengthen the strategic friendly relationship with the United States, the primary axis of Saudi Arabia also after Mohammed Bin Salman’s “purges”.
Therefore, if Iran’s economic potential is released, the strategic potentials inside the Greater Middle East and relating to the link between Shi’ites and Sunnis are placed on an equal footing and, indeed, change in favour of Iran.
This is the real problem underlying the “reform” or the termination of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program, signed on July 14, 2015 between the P5 + 1 (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States, plus Germany) and later by the EU and the Shi’ite Republic of Iran.
Furthermore, obviously the post-1979/1981 sanctions against Iran had already seriously harmed Iran’s economy, which began to recover after 2015.
At the time, the cost of international sanctions for the Shi’ite Republic had been calculated at 100 million US dollars per day.
Pursuant to the JCPOA agreements, 1.3 billion US dollars have so far been returned to Iran for interest on frozen assets, while approximately 53.8 million dollars of “frozen” funds have not yet been returned to their legitimate owners.
The United States is keeping on indicating Iran’s persona non grata.
There are still other unresolved issues between Iran and the United States – many years after signing the JCPOA – but, as always happens in these cases, negotiations are very complex.
Iran has many advantages over Saudi Arabia: it has a more developed and diversified industrial structure; a lower fertility rate, as well as a less exploited oil production – and this precisely because of sanctions.
Nevertheless, for the time being Iran and the Caspian gas-producing countries can meet the energy demands of two major global players, namely Europe and China.
Both regions signed the Paris Climate Agreement.
Furthermore, within three years, Iran will have 24.6 billion cubic meters of gas available for being transferred to the pipelines, which can be calculated in addition to the current level of Iranian gas sales to both Europe and China.
What is the connection between this new Iranian geo-energy system and the probable US withdrawal from the JCPOA?
Let us consider the most important data: pursuant to the agreement, the IAEA can check every phase of the process for enriching Iranian uranium and plutonium – to an extent never experienced before in such international agreements.
Iran, however, must explain to the IAEA the relationship existing between the reprocessing of its uranium-plutonium and the probable military applications.
Again controlled by the IAEA, Iran shall certify it does no longer produce High-Enriched Uranium (HEU) or maintain reserves of such material. Furthermore, Iran must convert its heavy-water reactors (HWR) into research centres that can no longer produce plutonium suitable for nuclear weapons, under penalty of termination of the Treaty.
This is still enshrined in the JCPOA and in the IAEA’s practice.
Hence, since July 2015, the International Atomic Energy Agency based in Vienna has been monitoring every phase of the Iranian fuel cycle.
Nevertheless, the strictly military aspects of the Iranian nuclear system are not explicitly dealt with by the P5 + 1 agreement of 2015, but have been tackled in a separate document signed by both Iran and the IAEA, which defines a mechanism through which Iran replies directly to the questions put by the IAEA.
Iran, however, has currently no interest in manipulating or rejecting the 2015 agreement. Nevertheless, it is equally evident that the JCPOA has so far had no noticeable effects on the transformation of the Iranian support to Assad in Syria; to the Houthis in Yemen, who were initially attacked by Saudi Arabia, and to Iran’s operations on Saudi Arabia’s peripheral interests in the Middle East.
In short, the JCPOA works well in itself, but it is not politically useful to influence and condition Iran.
The agreement that President Trump wants to reject alone, possibly in contrast with his European allies, technically counteracts both ways through which nuclear weapons can be achieved, namely enriched uranium and plutonium.
However, with specific reference to uranium, pursuant to the P5 + 1 agreement, Iran must remove all the IR-2 centrifuges – developed from an old and now inefficient Pakistani model – and must also make the IAEA monitor the most modern IR-4 ones. According to the IAEA agreements and checks, they are fewer than thirty.
In the agreement already signed, it is also clear that for 15 years Iran cannot enrich uranium over 3.76% – a level that is very different from the previous 20%.
25 kilos of 20%-enriched uranium are needed to make a nuclear weapon.
Before signing the JCPOA, however, Iran possessed as many as 10,000 kilos of low-enriched uranium, which were enough to make ten nuclear weapons if the material had been further enriched.
With specific reference to plutonium, again pursuant to the P5 + 1 agreement, Iran accepts to immediately stop the construction of the Arak reactor and later turn it into a “normal” heavy-water reactor.
In 2016 Iran even made the Arak system unusable, by cementing the internal pipes.
In accordance with the JCPOA, the IAEA can carry out very intrusive checks.
The Vienna-based Agency can have free access to all Iranian nuclear facilities for the next 20 years.
An arbitration is also envisaged if the IAEA and the Iranian government disagreed with checking a site deemed “suspicious” by the Agency.
The arbitration time is approximately one month, but it is enough to check whether activities not permitted by the agreement have been carried out in that site.
However, every nuclear processing, operation and activity, even the hidden ones, leaves signs and traces that are very evident for the IAEA.
Furthermore, if Iran decided to organize a new production line of nuclear weapons on its own, it should at first build a new series of reactors and centrifuges, by using the scarce uranium it could find both internally and in covert international trade.
Nothing could be easier to discover.
Certainly the JCPOA lacks the immediate and selective procedures to carry out checks, where needed, without limits from the Iranian government but, once again, any deviation from the rule would be easily and quickly discovered by both the IAEA and any intelligence service operating on site.
With regard to the above stated matter of sanctions, it is worth recalling that Europe lifted its sanctions, including the 2012 oil embargo, on the day when the Treaty was signed.
Other sanctions were lifted by the European Union on trade in precious materials and gold, as well as on shipping and insurance.
As already mentioned, after signing the Treaty, the United States lifted sanctions on the Iranian funds frozen in their banks and on the financial assets of the Shi’ite Republic, as well as on part of the oil ones.
Nevertheless, currently President Trump does not want to maintain the agreement reached with Iran in 2015, unless it includes “expanded” safeguards.
Is it a way to favour Saudi Arabia unilaterally? Why? What does the United States get for it? Would it be more useful than a peaceful Iran entering the world market and, consequently, also abandoning dangerous anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli positions?
The US President essentially wants in-depth international inspections for Iran’s specifically military facilities, be they nuclear or not, besides additional sanctions if the Islamic Republic exceeds specific levels of missile tests, be they nuclear or not.
Certainly if President Trump participated in the talks on the North Korean nuclear system with a tough and isolated position, at least as far as the JCPOA is concerned–which many US analysts predict will “be dead and gone in May” – it would be impossible for Kim Jong-Un, for example, to take him very seriously.
Moreover, a few days ago the US President announced an increase in tariffs and duties on Chinese products to the tune of 60 billion dollars.
Obviously President Trump is putting pressures on China for North Korea to make less military investment, but China has well-known and powerful commercial countermeasures to take and it will certainly not leave North Korea alone, especially in a situation of exacerbated Sino-American relations.
Finally, the US President threatened to withdraw a substantial amount of US troops from South Korea.
This makes the traditional US ally in the Korean peninsula, namely South Korea, less loyal and provides to Kim Jong-Un additional cards to play during the negotiations – and the North Korean leader has already proved to be an excellent poker player.
The strategic aim underlying President Trump’s operation is obvious. He wants to favour- far too much – the old circle of interests between the United States and Saudi Arabia, which is connected with economic assessments (the military and non-military Saudi investment in the United States) or with the maintenance of the petrodollar system – which is essential for the whole Sunni and US horizon – so as to later isolate Iran as a “rogue state” and only terrorist country, thus forgetting the well-known ties existing between the Gulf petromonarchies and the Salafist, Qaedist and neo-Caliphate Middle East jihadism.
In simpler terms, “withdrawing” from the Treaty means that the United States wants to return to the pre-JCPOA sanction regime, which implies the return to stricter regimes for both the UN and the ever more reluctant European allies, who have already much business in place with Iran.
Germany is already lobbying in the EU for new sanctions against Iran, which, in its opinion, would convince President Trump not to withdraw from the JCPOA.
As Voltaire used to say, “a little evil is often necessary for obtaining a great good”, but in this case it is unlikely that the mechanism will work.
In this case President Trump would say that sanctions are fine with the EU and would add new ones.
To the delight of Saudi Arabia which, if deprived of geopolitical and military control east of the Middle East, would become much less tractable than it currently is.
Fighting each other – “Befriend a distant State and strike a neighbouring one”, as taught by the everlasting Chinese 36 Stratagems of the Art of War (and not only applying to war and military strategy).
This holds true also for Israel.
Certainly the pressure on the border with Syria must be relieved and Israel is right in conveying harsh signs of its presence. However, are we sure that an all-powerful Saudi Arabia throughout the Middle East still remains friendly to the Jewish State, albeit secretly? What about Palestine?
If, on May 12, President Trump reintroduces sanctions, Iran will no longer be able to export oil or anything else, since it would incur US “secondary sanctions” and any bank acting as a broker in Iran’s transactions would be excluded from the North American circuit, which is certainly no small thing.
The US President, however, can reduce the financial isolation of any country by declaring that one of its banks “has significantly reduced Iranian oil imports”, which provides further room for political autonomy for President Trump.
In fact, the EU is studying mechanisms to shield against US secondary sanctions, but May 12 is very close.
There is also the concrete possibility that President Trump may want to “make an agreement to have another agreement”: the US President may want to make a new JCPOA, with more sanctions, to force the Europeans to follow him in this adventure.
This would be the US President’s real goal, i.e. a EU economy again ancillary to the US cycle – as at the time of Kissinger’s “Year of Europe”.
This would be currently impossible.
The EU Member States also know that the sanctions on Iran increase the oil barrel price by one or two dollars.
And these sanctions against Iran cost to the United States over 272 million US dollars a year.
Approximately 315,000-420,000 fewer jobs for the US rednecks.
What are the possible solutions? A proposal for a new JCPOA to be redrafted immediately, with a specific note in addition to those already present in relation to the IAEA checks on any nuclear weapon systems that could be installed on ICBM carriers.
Abolition – after a three-month standby period – of any secondary sanction procedure, after Iran declaring the size and structures of its missile program which may be used with very unlikely nuclear warheads.
Apart from the technical work carried out by the Vienna-based Agency, political control powers should be granted to a joint committee including JCPOA members and representatives appointed by the UN Security Council, without fearing any possible overlap, which can only do good.
We should make President Trump understand that, while it is true that the EU is the largest commercial region imposing import duties, repeating this model in the United States is not at all useful, neither for America, nor for Europe, nor for the Middle East countries which must let be developed in peace.
It is our primary interest for three main reasons.
Firstly to avoid being tied up, hand and foot, to Saudi Arabia alone; secondly to avoid financial transfers from the Sunni Middle East in one direction only and thirdly to avoid having to cover up, indefinitely, some countries which pay lip service to the fight against “terrorism” and, indeed, finance terrorists massively.
Turkey and the time bomb in Syria
The Turkish attack on northern Syria has provided conditions for ISIS militants held in camps in the region to escape and revitalize themselves.
Turkey launched “Operation Peace Spring” on Wednesday October 9, claiming to end the presence of terrorists near its borders in northern Syria. Some countries condemned this illegal action of violation of the Syrian sovereignty.
The military attack has exacerbated the Syrian people’s living condition who live in these areas. On the other hand, it has also allowed ISIS forces to escape and prepare themselves to resume their actions in Syria. Before Turkish incursion into northern Syria, There were many warnings that the incursion would prepare the ground for ISIS resurgence. But ignoring the warning, Turkey launched its military attacks.
Currently, about 11,000 ISIS prisoners are held in Syria. ISIS has claimed the responsibility for two attacks on Qamishli and Hasakah since the beginning of Turkish attacks.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump said that Turkey and the Kurds must stop ISIS prisoners from fleeing. He urged European countries to take back their citizens who have joined ISIS.
It should be noted that the U.S. is trying to prove that ISIS has become stronger since the U.S. troops pulled out before the Turkish invasion, and to show that Syria is not able to manage the situation. But this fact cannot be ignored that ISIS militants’ escape and revival were an important consequence of the Turkish attack.
Turkish troops has approached an important city in the northeast and clashed with Syrian forces. These events provided the chance for hundreds of ISIS members to escape from a camp in Ayn Issa near a U.S.-led coalition base.
The camp is located 35 kilometers on the south of Syria-Turkey border, and about 12,000 ISIS members, including children and women, are settled there. The Kurdish forces are said to be in charge of controlling these prisoners.
Media reports about the ISIS resurgence in Raqqa, the former ISIS stronghold, cannot be ignored, as dozens of terrorists have shot Kurdish police forces in this city. The terrorists aimed to occupy the headquarters of the Kurdish-Syrian security forces in the center of Raqqa. One of the eyewitnesses said the attack was coordinated, organized and carried out by several suicide bombers, but failed.
In response to Turkey’s invasion of Syria, the Kurds have repeatedly warned that the attack will lead to release of ISIS elements in the region. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyib Erdogan denied the reports about the escape of ISIS prisoners and called them “lies”.
European officials fear that ISIS prisoners with European nationality, who have fled camps, will come back to their countries.
Kurdish forces are making any effort to confront Turkish troops in border areas, so their presence and patrol in Raqqa have been reduced.
Interestingly, the Turkish military bombarded one of temporary prisons and caused ISIS prisoners escaping. It seems that ISIS-affiliated covert groups have started their activities to seize the control of Raqqa. These groups are seeking to rebuild their so-called caliphate, as Kurdish and Syrian forces are fighting to counter the invading Turkish troops. Families affiliated with ISIS are held in Al-Hol camp, under the control of Kurdish forces. At the current situation, the camp has turned into a time bomb that could explode at any moment. Under normal circumstances, there have been several conflicts between ISIS families in the camp, but the current situation is far worse than before.
There are more than 3,000 ISIS families in the camp and their women are calling for establishment of the ISIS caliphate. Some of SDF forces have abandoned their positions, and decreased their watch on the camp.
The danger of the return of ISIS elements is so serious, since they are so pleased with the Turkish attack and consider it as an opportunity to regain their power. There are pictures of ISIS wives in a camp in northern Syria, under watch of Kurdish militias, showing how happy they are about the Turkish invasion.
In any case, the Turkish attack, in addition to all the military, political and human consequences, holds Ankara responsible for the escape of ISIS militants and preparing the ground for their resurgence.
Currently, the camps holding ISIS and their families are like time bombs that will explode if they all escape. Covert groups affiliated with the terrorist organization are seeking to revive the ISIS caliphate and take further actions if the Turkish attacks continue. These attacks have created new conflicts in Syria and undermined Kurdish and Syrian power to fight ISIS.
From our partner Tehran Times
The Turkish Gambit
The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon. One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.
The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria. Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps. The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.
Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian. After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families. About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.
How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question. Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently? For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.
There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter. Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes.
Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability. If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point. Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal: access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.
Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon. It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke. It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood. The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.
A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power. The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson. So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006. Now they are feared by Israeli troops.
To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump. Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past. It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving. If you go in, you will have to police the area. Don’t ask us to help you.” Is that subject to misinterpretation? It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office.
For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions. Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included. Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire. On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May. Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith. The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.
Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can. Where are they headed? Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.
Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences.
Author’s Note: This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org
Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?
On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.
It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.
Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.
Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.
Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.
It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.
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