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Does Iran represent a nuclear problem or a gas problem?

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It is said that there are always two reasons for people’s behavior: the reason they give, and the real reason. Throughout history, religious and political reasons have been invented to justify struggles for natural resources, firstly land, and secondly resources passing through or embedded in land.

So we find (in addition to what is essentially a real estate issue) that Israel is keen to commercialize development, production and export of major gas reserves in the Mediterranean and to export surplus gas beyond domestic needs from Mediterranean deep sea bed to EU Market.

Weaponization of Islam

From the initial discovery of oil in the Middle East the strategy of the successive British and American Empires has been to weaponize, divide and return Islam to the Seventh Century with a view to controlling and extracting resources at minimal financial cost. The rise and fall of ISIL merely represents the latest evolution of this cynical and amoral strategy.

It is increasingly clear that ISIL military hardware and training were funded ultimately by the Saudi dynasty while details are emerging of a secret Israeli- Saudi-US deal on Syria and Iraq with regard to creation and support for ISIL.

Whatever the truth of reports, I always found it hard to believe that US satellites which can read my newspaper were unable to observe columns of brand new ISIL Toyota pick-ups streaming across the Syrian and Iraq deserts, and the ISIL convoys of Syrian road tankers which carried oil and products which funded their expansion and cruel medieval governance.

US strategy has always been based on control of the entire region’s resources using Israel as an armed proxy, where Israel’s proposed annexation of the Golan Heights is based on potential oil and gas reserves in that area. It is with that background that we must view Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Germany, France and UK after President Donald Trump on May 8 announced America’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

The Netanyahu reason – “It’s an Iranian Jihad!”

In the same crass and clumsy way that Netanyahu attacked Iran’s motivation in relation to the JCPOA deal in the US Congress, he now attempts to convince a much more sophisticated European audience that Iran wishes to “basically conduct a religious campaign in largely Sunni Syria, but try to convert Sunnis,” as he said at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Continuing,

“This will inflame another religious war — this time a religious war inside Syria and the consequences will be many, many more refugees and you know where exactly they will come.”

This cynically and transparently played on the current wave of anti-immigration populism and rise of extreme nationalism in Germany and the EU.

Many regional observers agree that this narrative aims to prepare the ground for further US armed and Saudi funded sectarian war, with the blame laid at Iran’s door.

The real reason – “It’s the gas, stupid!”

The Israeli gas partnerships Tamar and Leviathan, which are owned by Israel’s Delek and US Company Noble Energy, have signed a contract with the Egyptian company Dolphinus as has the Cypriot gas reserve Aphrodite, in which the same companies are partners. Recently the US Navy was forced to protect Exxon ships exploring for gas in the region after Turkish warships blocked explorations for natural gas off Cyprus.

The US and Israel aim (as with the Southern Corridor from the Caspian) to use Mediterranean gas supply to Europe to displace the supply of Mediterranean gas to Europe by Russia and Iran.

Israel’s nuclear hypocrisy:

As Israel works hard to increase diplomatic pressure on Iran, new attention has been focused on Israel’s own nuclear capabilities and the challenges its program poses for peace in the Middle East. Israel began its nuclear program in the mid-1950s and the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) puts Israel’s arsenal at around 200 nuclear warheads. These warheads can be launched by air, by ground (intermediate-range ballistic missiles), or by sea (submarines or ships). Experts say Israeli missiles can reach Iran, or even Russia. It is also believed Israel possesses at least 100 bunker-busting bombs—so-called mini-nukes—which are laser-guided and capable of penetrating underground targets like nuclear labs or storage facilities.

So, while Israel has mastered weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Iran has not and will not, following fatwa by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. To describe the aim of Israeli prime minister’s recent visit to Europe as ‘peace & justice’ is hypocrisy of the highest and most cynical order.

Interfaith support for JCPOA:

All religions ultimately share the same values, even if these values are manifested and implemented in very different ways culturally and socially.

Of course there are divisions within Christianity with regard to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA between 5+1 nations and Iran. The Vatican supported the deal and pronounced it an “important step”, calling for a “commitment to make it bear fruit” and basically affirming the Pope’s wish for peace.  It is also the fact that the Pope and Israel are divided on many issues, such as on the value of Iran’s deal, and on the Pope’s views in respect of a Palestinian state. Even the group Catholics for Israel has not opposed the Pope’s position on the Iran deal.

Christian organizations like Sabeel, Christ at the Checkpoint Conference and hundreds of other Christian groups do not believe that there is any threat posed by Iran either to Israel or any other Western country.

American Christians who advocate for the “deal” believe that the time has come to give diplomacy a chance. United Methodism’s Capitol Hill lobby office is one of the church agencies which denounced US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. In a statement they said,

“We are deeply disappointed by President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Iran Deal. Even though we are disappointed, The United Methodist Church will continue to support diplomacy as an effective tool for peace building around the world. As followers of the Prince of Peace, we can do no less. The facts show that the Deal is working, and the International Atomic Energy Agency continues to verify the efficacy of the safeguards in fulfilment of the terms of the Deal…Reinstating sanctions on Iran is concerning on many levels, but most pressing: it will worsen living conditions for the Iranian people. Further, the call for regime change of the Iranian government by high-ranking US officials has all the markings of comments leading to war. We are encouraged that the other signers, including Iran, have signaled a commitment to working together for the continued implementation of the Deal. We continue to pray for peace, wisdom, and an increased priority for diplomacy with Iran and among nations across the world.”

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop and the Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Bouman Executive Director, Domestic Mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in a letter addressed to prominent law professors in Iran Ayatollah Dr. Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad and Professor Dr. Hossein Mir-Mohammad Sadeghi have stated that:

“We want you to know how sad we are that our country has walked away from the nuclear accords and is again imposing sanctions against your country. We grieve that this will cause unnecessary suffering to innocent people. We want you to know that Evangelical Lutheran Church in America remains committed to peace with Iran.”

The letter emphasized that, “We share the same God.” and continued, “We will resist the sanctions and call the leaders of our country back to honoring the commitments toward peace we have already made in the nuclear accords.” The letter was addressed as an expression for their solidarity and support for an interfaith gathering of scholars in London during May 2018 and concluded by stating that they seek ways to influence their government to honor the promises it made in the nuclear accords. “We have prayed with you and worked with you to grow our relationship. We stand ready to continue the journey towards peace and understanding with you,” the letter concluded.

Energy dominance

Israel’s prime minister drives President Trump’s policies through his use of simplistic and false stories or narratives based on myths and manufactured lies in respect of Iran, while being much more careful in relation to Israel’s relationship with Russia, who have shown their willingness and capacity to intervene in Syria and essentially have a veto on dominance of Syria by any faction.

The US strategy of Energy Dominance declared on June 29, 2017 aims for “America First” global energy markets, through both financial dominance, through the creation of a new global oil market financial architecture, and real world dominance of oil and gas flows by the US and Israeli military machine and regional proxies.

Europe now faces a crucial turning point in their relationship with the US, and the next few months will in my view come to be seen as a seminal moment in human history.

Energy for peace

One of the highlights of my career at the Ministry of Petroleum was the supply (not sale) of natural gas to Armenia in exchange for a supply to Iran of power. This evolved into what became known as Energy Diplomacy and an Energy for Peace initiative in Nakhchivan through ensuring energy supply during conflict, for humanitarian reasons.

I asked Chris Cook, energy strategist of University College London, whether Energy for Peace might be achieved in the wider region:

“The writer HG Wells observed that the only thing stronger than the will to power (domination over others) is the will to freedom (from such domination). Having been a friend and adviser to Iran for many years I observe that Iran’s constitution embodies the ‘will to freedom’ in that no branch of governance can dominate the whole, and the Supreme Leader has what is essentially the right of final veto.”

But he further observed: “The problem is that Iran’s sophisticated governance makes necessary action extremely difficult due to internal rivalries & lack of trust; the absence of an agreed strategic mandate; and the absence of legal trust frameworks for collaboration. My research has involved the designed & developed a legal framework agreement which I term ‘Nondominium’ because it is based upon agreement to a common purpose between sovereign individuals, enterprises and nations. When combined with the ability to create, issue and return credits (promises) based directly (rather than through banks) on the use of real world productive assets like land and resources, I believe that Energy for Peace is possible on a global scale.”

Being familiar with his thinking I entirely agree with Mr. Cook and can only add that the principles of fairness in risk, surplus and cost sharing which underpin Nondominium are those which underpin the texts and rules of all the great religions.

My experience with Nakchivan taught me that energy is uniquely value-free and objective, and that neither ideology nor religion has any bearing on the economics of energy cost. That is why I believe that Energy First policies based on energy cooperation will transcend America First policies of energy conflict, and I commend such a strategy to global strategic decision makers, particularly in the EU.

First published in our partner MNA

Mahmood Khaghani, now retired, had more than 33 years of service in senior international positions in Iran's petroleum industry. He held the position of the Director for Energy, Minerals and Environment at the Secretariat of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) during 1996-2000. Mr. Khaghani is advisor to Caspian Energy Grid- the ICCIMA Education & Research Institute and RIEMP-University of Tehran.

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Iranians move into front line of the Middle East’s quest for religious change

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A recent online survey by scholars at two Dutch universities of Iranian attitudes towards religion has revealed a stunning rejection of state-imposed adherence to conservative religious mores as well as the role of religion in public life.

Although compatible with a trend across the Middle East, the survey’s results based on 50,000 respondents, who overwhelmingly said they resided in the Islamic republic, suggested that Iranians were in the frontlines of the region’s quest for religious change.

The trend puts a dent in the efforts of Iran as well as its rivals, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, that are competing for religious soft power and leadership of the Muslim world.

Among the rivals, the UAE, populated in majority by non-nationals, is the only one to start acknowledging changing attitudes and demographic realities. Authorities in November lifted the ban on consumption of alcohol and cohabitation among unmarried couples.

Nonetheless, the change in attitudes threatens to undercut the efforts of Iran as well as its Middle Eastern competitors to cement their individual interpretations of Islam as the Muslim world’s dominant narrative by rejecting religious dogma and formalistic and ritualistic religious practice propagated and/or imposed by governments and religious authorities.

“It becomes an existential question. The state wants you to be something that you don’t want to be,” said Pooyan Tamimi Arab, one of the organizers of the Iran survey, speaking in an interview. “Political disappointment steadily turned into religious disappointment… Iranians have turned away from institutional religion on an unprecedented scale.”

In a similar vein, Turkish art historian Nese Yildiran recently warned that a fatwa issued by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Directorate of Religious Affairs or Diyanet declaring popular talismans to ward off “the evil eye” as forbidden by Islam fueled criticism of one of the best-funded branches of government.

The fatwa followed the issuance of similar religious opinions banning the dying of men’s moustaches and beards, feeding dogs at home, tattoos, and playing the national lottery as well as statements that were perceived to condone or belittle child abuse and violence against women.

Funded by a Washington-based Iranian human rights groups, the Iranian survey, coupled with other research and opinion polls across the Middle East and North Africa, suggests that not only Muslim youth, but also other age groups, who are increasingly sceptical towards religious and worldly authority, aspire to more individual, more spiritual experiences of religion.

Their quest runs the gamut from changes in personal religious behaviour to conversions in secret to other religions because apostasy is banned and, in some cases, punishable by death to an abandonment of religion in favour of agnosticism or atheism.

Responding to the Iranian survey, 80 per cent of the participants said they believed in God but only 32.2 per cent identified themselves as Shiite Muslims, a far lower percentage than asserted in official figures of predominantly Shiite Iran.

More than a third of the respondents said that they either did not belong to a religion or were atheists or agnostics. Between 43 and 53 per cent, depending on age group, suggested that their religious views had changed over time with six per cent of those saying that they had converted to another religious orientation.

Sixty-eight per cent said they opposed the inclusion of religious precepts in national legislation. Seventy per cent rejected public funding of religious institutions while 56 per cent opposed mandatory religious education in schools. Almost 60 per cent admitted that they do not pray, and 72 per cent disagreed with women being obliged to wear a hijab in public.

An unpublished slide of the survey shows the change in religiosity reflected in the fact that an increasing number of Iranians no longer name their children after religious figures.

A five-minute YouTube clip allegedly related to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards attacked the survey despite having distributed the questionnaire once the pollsters disclosed in their report that the poll had been supported by an exile human rights group.

“Tehran may well be the least religious capital in the Middle East. Clerics dominate the news headlines and play the communal elders in soap operas, but I never saw them on the street, except on billboards. Unlike most Muslim countries, the call to prayer is almost inaudible… Alcohol is banned but home delivery is faster for wine than for pizza… Religion felt frustratingly hard to locate and the truly religious seemed sidelined, like a minority,” wrote journalist Nicholas Pelham based on a visit in 2019 during which he was detained for several weeks.

The survey’s results as well as observations by analysts and journalists like Mr. Pelham stroke with responses to various polls of Arab public opinion in recent years that showed that, despite 40 per cent of those polled defining religion as the most important constituent element of their identity, 66 per cent saw a need for religious institutions to be reformed.

The polls suggested further that public opinion would support the reconceptualization of Muslim jurisprudence to remove obsolete and discriminatory concepts like that of the kafir or infidel.

Responses by governments in Iran, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East to changing attitudes towards religion and religiosity demonstrate the degree to which they perceive the change as a threat, often expressed in existential terms.

In one of the latest responses, Mohammad Mehdi Mirbaqeri, a prominent Shiite cleric and member of Iran’s powerful Assembly of Experts that appoints the country’s supreme leader, last month described Covid-19 as a “secular virus” and a declaration of war on “religious civilization” and “religious institutions.”

Saudi Arabia went further by defining the “calling for atheist thought in any form” with terrorism in its anti-terrorism law. Saudi dissident and activist Rafi Badawi was sentenced on charges of apostasy to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for questioning why Saudis should be obliged to adhere to Islam and asserting that the faith did not have answers to all questions.

Analysts, writers, journalists, and pollsters have traced changes in attitudes in the Middle East and North Africa for much of the past decade.

Kuwaiti writer Sajed al-Abdali noted in 2012 that “it is essential that we acknowledge today that atheism exists and is increasing in our society, especially among our youth, and evidence of this is in no short supply.”

Mr. Arab argues nine years later that his latest survey “shows that there is a social basis” for concern among authoritarian and autocratic governments that employ religion to further their geopolitical goals and seek to maintain their grip on potentially restive populations.

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Sign of a Volcano Erupting in Iran

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Since its inception in 1979, the Iranian regime has relied on two pillars to sustain its hold on power: relentless repression at home, and terrorism and warmongering abroad. Since the regime is out of step with the modernity of the 21st century, it needs to resort to belligerent policies in order to impose itself upon the existing international order.

Regime leaders know that it is exactly their foreign transgressions that have now become a source of serious alarm for European and American interlocutors. Even if a new round of negotiations were to take place, both the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and the President, Hassan Rouhani, understand that the nuclear issue will not be the only topic of conversation.

In a speech on January 8, Khamenei insisted on the regime’s regional adventurism and missiles program, saying that “the Islamic Republic has a duty to act in a way that strengthens its friends and supporters in the region.” Tehran has always made renouncing regional influence and its missiles program a red line. 

However, speaking on behalf of the European Union, German Foreign Minister Haiku Moss has said that a reinvigorated Iran deal must include new nuclear restrictions as well as an end to the testing of ballistic missiles. At the same time, he called for “limitation of Iran’s regional power” in the form of a “new agreement.”

Therefore, one of the pillars of the regime’s survival (foreign adventurism) has clearly been targeted by foreign powers. The other (domestic repression) is being challenged by the Iranian people.

A Social Volcano about to Erupt

In recent months, hundreds of centers controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the paramilitary Bassij, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) have been targeted by young activists seeking to overthrow the regime. Simultaneously, posters and banners of regime leaders like Khamenei and eliminated Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani have been torched across the country.

The regime often blames these acts of dissent on “Resistance Units,” which are organized teams of young dissidents calling for the theocracy’s overthrowand reported to be affiliated with the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).A few short months before the massive November 2019 uprisings in Iran, the Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi claimed 116 of these “teams have been dealt with” in a matter of months. That is an indication that Tehran is witnessing a significant rise in such activities.

Time will tell if the trajectory of Iranian politics would experience a radical departure in the form of the regime’s ultimate collapse. All indicators are that the pace and depth of resistance appear to be increasing. Therefore, officials in Tehran may not be as optimistic as the rest of us about what lies ahead in 2021.

Warnings of Mass Uprisings

Practically every media outlet or official in Iran has been warning of a pending social explosion due to prevalent poverty and rampant unemployment. For example, one state-run daily refers to the worrying conditions and the lack of a “barrier against the volcano of the hungry” (Arman, December 26, 2020).

Another warns that “in an instant and with a simple spark of provocation, the Army of the Hungry may revolt.” (Hamdeli, December 20, 2020).The Iranian economy is collapsing andmore than 70% of society now lives below the poverty line.

Despite the supreme leader’s empty rhetoric and desperate show of power, he is well aware that he must negotiate and so that the sanctions on the sale of oil are eased, albeit in small quantities, in order to avoid more uprisings.

Khamenei is Weak and Vulnerable

Despite the danger of a social explosion, however, Khamenei and his regime are now at their weakest point since 1979. They cannot enter negotiations with US President Biden and Europe at this time. Khamenei can ill afford to look weak by backing down and engaging in such talks, especially prior to the presidential elections in June. So, he has decided to close ranks instead of opening up.

Khamenei is looking to limit rival factions’ power, including those supporting Rouhani. During the recent parliamentary elections, he pretty much purged so-called “reformist” candidates. Recent laws defining new conditions for presidential candidates have paved the way for Khamenei’s allies – like parliamentary speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf – to replace Rouhani. Khamenei calculates that once he has closed ranks and his faction controls all the levers of power, including the presidency, parliament, and judiciary, he would be able to entertain negotiations.

At the same time, he is trying to gain as much leverage in the nuclear arena in order to avoid giving concessions in other areas. Khamenei wants to boost the morale of his forces. Doling out regional or missile concessions would spell disaster for that strategy, leading to more defections in the ranks of the IRGC.Still, due to the sanctions, he is between a rock and a hard place. His regime is at its weakest point in history and extremely vulnerable.

One of the extremely unpopular moves he recently made was that he personally banned the import of coronavirus vaccines from France, Britain, and the US. Average Iranians, who have lost tens of thousands of loved ones to the virus and are reeling under the severe economic ramifications, are furious.

The Iranian society is growing more enraged at the regime by the day. Calls for overthrow, as indicated in the November 2019 uprising, are growing. Meanwhile, the regime has little leverage to demand the lifting of sanctions as both Europe and Washington target its regional interference and missiles program. With options severely narrowing, the regime may finally be at the end of its rope.

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100th Anniversary of the Turkish Constitution

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Teşkilatı-Esasiye Law, the law provides for the establishment of the State of Turkey on January 20, 1921. This law also carries its status as Turkey’s first constitution.

The Ottoman State displayed a submissive understanding in the face of the occupations experienced in its last period. The people displayed an important struggle for independence by showing the necessary reaction and effort during the 1st World War against these invasions. After the war, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, exhibited a legitimate ground to fit this into the struggle for independence and contemporary, landed in Samsun on May 19, 1919 to establish a modern Turkey. This date was also the first step in the War of Independence launched against the occupations across the country.

After Samsun, Mustafa Kemal, who held various meetings and congresses in Amasya and Erzurum, respectively, went to Sivas from here and held the Sivas Congress with the representatives determined by the people from every province. September 4, 1919 at the congress held in Sivas with the participation of delegates from all over Turkey, Istanbul until the establishment of the new Chamber of Deputies of the general elections made the government decide to cut all formal ties. A Council of Representatives was established in order to establish a new administrative and political organization throughout the country.

As a result of the election held in 1920, the last Parliamentary Assembly of the Ottoman Empire was established, but on March 16, 1920, Istanbul was occupied by the British and the pro-National Struggle MPs were arrested. The parliament that convened on March 18 announced that it dissolved itself. With the dissolution of the last Ottoman Parliament, Mustafa Kemal announced in the statement he published on behalf of the Representation Committee that he wanted the MPs who could escape the occupation in Istanbul to come to Ankara.

The Grand National Assembly was Established

MPs who managed to escape secretly from Istanbul deputies from all over Turkey, Mustafa Kemal’s leadership in Ankara on 23 April 1920, which was collected and laid the foundations of the Republic of Turkey Grand National Assembly was opened. The next day, on April 24, 1920, Mustafa Kemal Pasha was elected president of the Grand National Assembly. The Assembly, which adopted the principle of unity of forces, thus started its work to ensure the independence of the nation and the liberation of the state.

Mustafa Kemal Pasha, as the Speaker of the Assembly, presented a draft on September 13, 1920 with the title “Populism Program” consisting of 31 articles. For the draft, Mustafa Kemal said, “The nature of our existence, the essentiality of the nation, has proved the general trend of the nation, it is populism and the people’s government. It means that governments fall into the hands of the people ”and stated that this is an obligation. On September 18, 1920, the Populism Program prepared by the government was read in the Parliament. Malatya Deputy Lütfi Bey “This statement contains many principles”. First of all, I recommend him to go to the Principles of Law ”. Trabzon Deputy Ali Şükrü Bey stated that this draft was not a draft law and did not want it to be sent to the committee. In his speech, Minister of Finance Ferit Bey underlined that the draft law is a draft law and said, “This program is the political program of the government.”

At the end of the discussions, it was decided to send the program to a special committee consisting of three people from each branch. The members of the special commission named Encümen-i Mahsus were determined on September 25 and started their work. The Council completed its first work on October 21, 1920, and the program was put on the parliament’s agenda on October 27. The Council made some changes in the Fundamental and Administration sections of the Government Program and arranged this as a draft Law of Organization. He presented the justification of the arrangement he made to the Parliament. The draft law prepared by the Encümen-i Mahsus, which was submitted to the Parliament as the Fundamental Law of the Organization, consisted of 23 articles and two sections as Mevaddı Fundamental and Administrative. Some of the articles in the Populism Program were not included in the Draft Law on the Organization-ı Esasiye, which was arranged by the Encümen-i Mahsus and submitted to the Assembly. Article 5, which includes the subject of caliphate and sultanate, Article 10, which includes the number of people in the Grand National Assembly, and Article 16 regarding the army, were not included in the Draft Law on the Principles of Organization. While 11 items were accepted as they are, changes were made on 12 items. An Article-i Individual was added by the Encümen-i Mahsus. It was requested that the articles and provisions of the Basis of the Law, which were not contradicted to the law at the time the draft Law on the Principles of the Organization was discussed in the Assembly. However, as the Speaker of the Assembly Mustafa Kemal opposed this request, such a provision was not included in the Constitutional Law of the Organization. Therefore, with the Law of Fundamentals of the Organization, his relationship with the Ottoman Empire’s Basis of Law was officially terminated.

These discussions lasted about five months. The Fundamental Organization Law was accepted in the Parliament on January 20, 1921. A special method and quorum was not sought in the adoption of the law. Mustafa Kemal sent the Law of Constitution to the Grand Vizier Tevfik Pasha by telegram. No. 85 “Organization Fundamental Law” Article 23, and also carries the distinction of being Turkey’s first constitution, which consists of discrete items. One of the most important features of this Constitution is that even though the Ottoman Empire did not come to an end, it was declared that it would be administered by the Grand National Assembly and that sovereignty belonged to the nation, and the system, which was actually implemented with the principle of unity of powers, was placed on a constitutional basis.

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