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.
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
Saudi Arabia and Iran want to be friends again
Eventually the ice-cold relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia began to melt. The two countries sat at the negotiating table shortly after Biden came to power. The results of that discussion are finally being seen. Trade relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have already begun to move. Although there has been no diplomatic relationship between the two countries since 2016, trade relations have been tense. But trade between Iran and the two countries was zero from last fiscal year until March 20 this year. Iran recently released a report on trade with neighboring countries over the past six months. The report also mentions the name of Saudi Arabia. This means that the rivalry between the two countries is slowly normalizing.
Historically, Shia-dominated Iran was opposed to the Ottoman Empire. The Safavids of Persia have been at war with the Ottomans for a long time, However, after the fall of the Ottomans, when the Middle East was divided like monkey bread, the newly created Saudi Arabia did not have much of a problem with Iran. Business trade between the two countries was normal. This is because the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Iran at the time were Western-backed. That is why there was not much of a problem between them. But when a revolution was organized in Iran in 1979 and the Islamic Republic of Iran was established by overthrowing the Shah, Iran’s relations with the West as well as with Saudi Arabia deteriorated. During the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini called for the ouster of Western-backed rulers from the Middle East. After this announcement, naturally the Arab rulers went against Iran.
Saddam Hussein later invaded Iran with US support and Saudi financial support. After that, as long as Khomeini was alive, Saudi Arabia’s relations with Iran were bad. After Khomeini’s death, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatemi tried to mend fences again. But they didn’t get much of an advantage.
When the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran’s influence in Shiite-majority Iraq continued to grow. Since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, Iran’s influence in the region has grown. Saudi Arabia has been embroiled in a series of shadow wars to reduce its influence. It can be said that Iran and Saudi Arabia are involved in the Cold War just like the United States and the Soviet Union. Behind that war was a conflict of religious ideology and political interests. Diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran came to a complete standstill in 2016. Iranians attack the Saudi embassy in Tehran after executing Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimar al-Nimar. Since then, the two countries have not had diplomatic relations.
Finally, in April this year, representatives of the two countries met behind closed doors in Baghdad. And through this, the two countries started the process of normalizing diplomatic relations again. The last direct meeting between the two countries was held on September 21.
Now why are these two countries interested in normalizing relations? At one point, Mohammed bin Salman said they had no chance of negotiating with Iran. And Khomeini, the current Supreme Leader of Iran, called Mohammed bin Salman the new Hitler. But there is no such thing as a permanent enemy ally in politics or foreign policy. That is why it has brought Saudi Arabia and Iran back to the negotiating table. Prince Salman once refused to negotiate with Iran, but now he says Iran is our neighbor, we all want good and special relations with Iran.
Saudi Arabia has realized that its Western allies are short-lived. But Iran is their permanent neighbor. They have to live with Iran. The United States will not return to fight against Iran on behalf of Saudi Arabia. That is why it is logical for Iran and Saudi Arabia to have their ideological differences and different interests at the negotiating table. Saudi Arabia has been at the negotiating table with Iran for a number of reasons. The first reason is that Saudi Arabia wants to reduce its oil dependence. Prince Salman has announced Vision 2030. In order to implement Vision 2030 and get out of the oil dependent economy, we need to have good relations with our neighbors. It is not possible to achieve such goals without regional stability, He said.
Saudi Arabia also wants to emerge from the ongoing shadow war with Iran in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon to achieve regional stability. The war in Yemen in particular is now a thorn in the side of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are unable to get out of this war, nor are they able to achieve the desired goal. Saudi Arabia must normalize relations with Iran if it is to emerge from the war in Yemen. Without a mutual understanding with Iran, Yemen will not be able to end the war. That is why Saudi Arabia wants to end the war through a peace deal with the Houthis by improving relations with Iran.
Drone strikes could also have an impact on the Saudi Aramco oil field to bring Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. Because after the drone attack, the oil supply was cut in half. The Saudis do not want Aramco to be attacked again. Also, since the Biden administration has no eye on the Middle East, it would be wise to improve relations with Iran in its own interests.
Iran will benefit the most if relations with Saudi Arabia improve. Their economy has been shaken by long-standing US sanctions on Iran. As Saudi Arabia is the largest and most powerful country in the Middle East, Iran has the potential to benefit politically as well as economically if relations with them are normal.
While Saudi Arabia will normalize relations with Iran, its allies will also improve relations with Iran. As a result, Iran’s political and trade relations with all the countries of the Saudi alliance will be better. This will give them a chance to turn their economy around again. The development of Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia will also send a positive message to the Biden administration. It could lead to a renewed nuclear deal and lift sanctions on Iran.
Another reason is that when Saudi Arabia normalizes relations with Iran, it will receive formal recognition of Iran’s power in the Middle East. The message will be conveyed that it is not possible to turn the stick in the Middle East by bypassing Iran. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran need to be normalized for peace and stability in the Middle East.
But in this case, the United Arab Emirates and Israel may be an obstacle. The closeness that Saudi Arabia had with the UAE will no longer exist. The UAE now relies much more on Israel. There will also be some conflict of interest between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Prince Salman wants to turn Saudi into a full-fledged tourism and business hub that could pose a major threat to the UAE’s economy and make the two countries compete.
Furthermore, in order to sell arms to the Middle East, Iran must show something special. Why would Middle Eastern countries buy weapons if the Iranian offensive was stopped? During the Cold War, arms dealers forced NATO allies to buy large quantities of weapons out of fear of the Soviet Union. So it is in the Middle East. But if the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia is normal, it will be positive for the Muslim world, but it will lead to a recession in the arms market.
Turkey and Iran find soft power more difficult than hard power
The times they are a changin’. Iranian leaders may not be Bob Dylan fans, but his words are likely to resonate as they contemplate their next steps in Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon, and Azerbaijan.
The same is true for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The president’s shine as a fierce defender of Muslim causes, except for when there is an economic price tag attached as is the case of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims, has been dented by allegations of lax defences against money laundering and economic mismanagement.
The setbacks come at a time that Mr. Erdogan’s popularity is diving in opinion polls.
Turkey this weekend expelled the ambassadors of the US, Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden for calling for the release of philanthropist and civil rights activist Osman Kavala in line with a European Court of Human Rights decision.
Neither Turkey nor Iran can afford the setbacks that often are the result of hubris. Both have bigger geopolitical, diplomatic, and economic fish to fry and are competing with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama for religious soft power, if not leadership of the Muslim world.
That competition takes on added significance in a world in which Middle Eastern rivals seek to manage rather than resolve their differences by focusing on economics and trade and soft, rather than hard power and proxy battles.
In one recent incident Hidayat Nur Wahid, deputy speaker of the Indonesian parliament, opposed naming a street in Jakarta after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the general-turned-statemen who carved modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire. Mr. Wahid suggested that it would be more appropriate to commemorate Ottoman sultans Mehmet the Conqueror or Suleiman the Magnificent or 14th-century Islamic scholar, Sufi mystic, and poet Jalaludin Rumi.
Mr. Wahid is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and a board member of the Saudi-run Muslim World League, one of the kingdom’s main promoters of religious soft power.
More importantly, Turkey’s integrity as a country that forcefully combats funding of political violence and money laundering has been called into question by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international watchdog, and a potential court case in the United States that could further tarnish Mr. Erdogan’s image.
A US appeals court ruled on Friday that state-owned Turkish lender Halkbank can be prosecuted over accusations it helped Iran evade American sanctions.
Prosecutors have accused Halkbank of converting oil revenue into gold and then cash to benefit Iranian interests and documenting fake food shipments to justify transfers of oil proceeds. They also said Halkbank helped Iran secretly transfer US$20 billion of restricted funds, with at least $1 billion laundered through the US financial system.
Halkbank has pleaded not guilty and argued that it is immune from prosecution under the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because it was “synonymous” with Turkey, which has immunity under that law. The case has complicated US-Turkish relations, with Mr. Erdogan backing Halkbank’s innocence in a 2018 memo to then US President Donald Trump.
FATF placed Turkey on its grey list last week. It joins countries like Pakistan, Syria, South Sudan, and Yemen that have failed to comply with the group’s standards. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned earlier this year that greylisting would affect a country’s ability to borrow on international markets, and cost it an equivalent of up to 3 per cent of gross domestic product as well as a drop in foreign direct investment.
Mr. Erdogan’s management of the economy has been troubled by the recent firing of three central bank policymakers, a bigger-than-expected interest rate cut that sent the Turkish lira tumbling, soaring prices, and an annual inflation rate that last month ran just shy of 20 per cent. Mr. Erdogan has regularly blamed high-interest rates for inflation.
A public opinion survey concluded in May that 56.9% of respondents would not vote for Mr. Erdogan and that the president would lose in a run-off against two of his rivals, Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas and his Istanbul counterpart Ekrem Imamoglu.
In further bad news for the president, polling company Metropoll said its September survey showed that 69 per cent of respondents saw secularism as a necessity while 85.1 per cent objected to religion being used in election campaigning.
In Iran’s case, a combination of factors is changing the dynamics of Iran’s relations with some of its allied Arab militias, calling into question the domestic positioning of some of those militias, fueling concern in Tehran that its detractors are encircling it, and putting a dent in the way Iran would like to project itself.
A just-published report by the Combatting Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy West Point concluded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) faced “growing difficulties in controlling local militant cells. Hardline anti-US militias struggle with the contending needs to de-escalate US-Iran tensions, meet the demands of their base for anti-US operations, and simultaneously evolve non-kinetic political and social wings.”
Iranian de-escalation of tensions with the United States is a function of efforts to revive the defunct 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program and talks aimed at improving relations with Saudi Arabia even if they have yet to produce concrete results.
In addition, like in Lebanon, Iranian soft power in Iraq has been challenged by growing Iraqi public opposition to sectarianism and Iranian-backed Shiite militias that are at best only nominally controlled by the state.
Even worse, militias, including Hezbollah, the Arab world’s foremost Iranian-supported armed group, have been identified with corrupt elites in Lebanon and Iraq. Many in Lebanon oppose Hezbollah as part of an elite that has allowed the Lebanese state to collapse to protect its vested interests.
Hezbollah did little to counter those perceptions when the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened Lebanese Christians after fighting erupted this month between the militia and the Lebanese Forces, a Maronite party, along the Green Line that separated Christian East and Muslim West Beirut during the 1975-1990 civil war.
The two groups battled each other for hours as Hezbollah staged a demonstration to pressure the government to stymie an investigation into last year’s devastating explosion in the port of Beirut. Hezbollah fears that the inquiry could lay bare pursuit of the group’s interests at the expense of public safety.
“The biggest threat for the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its head,” Mr. Nasrallah warned, fuelling fears of a return to sectarian violence.
It’s a warning that puts a blot on Iran’s assertion that its Islam respects minority rights, witness the reserved seats in the country’s parliament for religious minorities. These include Jews, Armenians, Assyrians and Zoroastrians.
Similarly, an alliance of Iranian-backed Shiite militias emerged as the biggest loser in this month’s Iraqi elections. The Fateh (Conquest) Alliance, previously the second-largest bloc in parliament, saw its number of seats drop from 48 to 17.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi brought forward the vote from 2022 to appease a youth-led protest movement that erupted two years ago against corruption, unemployment, crumbling public services, sectarianism, and Iranian influence in politics.
One bright light from Iran’s perspective is the fact that an attempt in September by activists in the United States to engineer support for Iraqi recognition of Israel backfired.
Iran last month targeted facilities in northern Iraq operated by Iranian opposition Kurdish groups. Teheran believes they are part of a tightening US-Israeli noose around the Islamic republic that involves proxies and covert operations on its Iraqi and Azerbaijani borders.
Efforts to reduce tension with Azerbaijan have failed. An end to a war of words that duelling military manoeuvres on both sides of the border proved short-lived. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, emboldened by Israeli and Turkish support in last year’s war against Armenia, appeared unwilling to dial down the rhetoric.
With a revival of the nuclear program in doubt, Iran fears that Azerbaijan could become a staging pad for US and Israeli covert operations. Those doubts were reinforced by calls for US backing of Azerbaijan by scholars in conservative Washington think tanks, including the Hudson Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
Eldar Mamedov, a political adviser for the social-democrats in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, warned that “the US government should resist calls from hawks to get embroiled in a conflict where it has no vital interest at stake, and much less on behalf of a regime that is so antithetical to US values and interests.”
He noted that Mr. Aliyev has forced major US NGOs to leave Azerbaijan, has trampled on human and political rights, and been anything but tolerant of the country’s Armenian heritage.
Process to draft Syria constitution begins this week
The process of drafting a new constitution for Syria will begin this week, the UN Special Envoy for the country, Geir Pedersen, said on Sunday at a press conference in Geneva.
Mr. Pedersen was speaking following a meeting with the government and opposition co-chairs of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, who have agreed to start the process for constitutional reform.
The members of its so-called “small body”, tasked with preparing and drafting the Constitution, are in the Swiss city for their sixth round of talks in two years, which begin on Monday.
Their last meeting, held in January, ended without progress, and the UN envoy has been negotiating between the parties on a way forward.
“The two Co-Chairs now agree that we will not only prepare for constitutional reform, but we will prepare and start drafting for constitutional reform,” Mr. Pedersen told journalists.
“So, the new thing this week is that we will actually be starting a drafting process for constitutional reform in Syria.”
The UN continues to support efforts towards a Syrian-owned and led political solution to end more than a decade of war that has killed upwards of 350,000 people and left 13 million in need of humanitarian aid.
An important contribution
The Syrian Constitutional Committee was formed in 2019, comprising 150 men and women, with the Government, the opposition and civil society each nominating 50 people.
This larger group established the 45-member small body, which consists of 15 representatives from each of the three sectors.
For the first time ever, committee co-chairs Ahmad Kuzbari, the Syrian government representative, and Hadi al-Bahra, from the opposition side, met together with Mr. Pedersen on Sunday morning.
He described it as “a substantial and frank discussion on how we are to proceed with the constitutional reform and indeed in detail how we are planning for the week ahead of us.”
Mr. Pedersen told journalists that while the Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process, “the committee in itself will not be able to solve the Syrian crisis, so we need to come together, with serious work, on the Constitutional Committee, but also address the other aspects of the Syrian crisis.”
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