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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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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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Middle East

Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A fully loaded Chinese oil tanker ploughing its way eastwards from two Iranian oil terminals raises questions of how far Beijing is willing to go in defying US sanctions amid a mounting US military build-up in the Gulf and a US-China trade war.

The sailing from Iran of the Pacific Bravo takes on added significance with US strategy likely to remain focused on economic rather than military strangulation of the Iranian leadership, despite the deployment to the Gulf of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as B-52 bombers and a Patriot surface-to-air missile system.

As President Donald J. Trump, backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appears to be signalling that he is not seeking military confrontation, his administration is reportedly considering a third round of sanctions that would focus on Iran’s petrochemical industry. The administration earlier this month sanctioned the country’s metals and minerals trade.

The sailing raises the question whether China is reversing its policy that led in the last quarter of 2018 to it dramatically reducing its trade with Iran, possibly in response to a recent breakdown in US-Chinese trade talks.

“The question is whether non-oil trade remains depressed even if some oil sales resume, which I think it will. That’s the better indicator of where Chinese risk appetite has changed. Unfortunately Iran‘s reprieve will be limited—but better than zero perhaps,” tweeted Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, head of Bourse & Bazaar, a self-described media and business diplomacy company and the founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.

A Chinese analyst interviewed by Al Jazeera argued that “China is not in a position to have Iran’s back… For China, its best to stay out” of the fray.

The stakes for China go beyond the troubled trade talks. In Canada, a senior executive of controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is fighting extradition to the United States on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.

Reports that Western companies, including Kraft Heinz, Adidas and Gap, wittingly or unwittingly, were employing Turkic Muslims detained in re-education camps in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, as part of opaque supply chains, could increase attention on a brutal crackdown that China is struggling to keep out of the limelight.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the crackdown but has stopped short of sanctioning officials involved in the repressive measures.

Bourse & Bazaar’s disclosure of the sailing of the Pacific Bravo coincided with analysis showing that Iran was not among China’s top three investment targets in the Middle East even if Chinese investment in the region was on the rise.

The Pacific Bravo was steaming with its cargo officially toward Indonesia as Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was touring his country’s major oil clients, including China, in a bid to persuade them to ignore US sanctions.

A second tanker, the Marshal Z, was reported to have unloaded 130,000 tonnes of Iranian fuel oil into storage tanks near the Chinese city of Zhoushan.

The Marshall Z was one of four ships that, according to Reuters, allegedly helped Iran circumvent sanctions by using ship-to-ship transfers in January and forged documents that masked the cargoes as originating from Iraq.

The unloading put an end to a four-month odyssey at sea sparked by buyers’ reticence to touch a cargo that would put them in the US crosshairs.

“Somebody in China decided that the steep discount this cargo most likely availed … was a bargain too good to miss,” Matt Stanley, an oil broker at StarFuels in Dubai, told Reuters.

The Pacific Bravo, the first vessel to load Iranian oil since the Trump administration recently refused to extend sanction exemptions to eight countries, including China, was recently acquired by China’s Bank of Kunlun.

The acquisition and sailing suggested that Bank of Kunlun was reversing its decision last December to restrict its business with Iran to humanitarian trade, effectively excluding all other transactions.

The bank was the vehicle China used in the past for business with Iran because it had no exposure to the United States and as a result was not vulnerable to US sanctions that were in place prior to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

China’s willingness to ignore, at least to some extent, US sanctions could also constitute an effort to persuade Iran to remain fully committed to the nuclear accord which it has so far upheld despite last year’s US withdrawal.

Iran recently warned Europe that it would reduce its compliance if Europe, which has struggled to create a credible vehicle that would allow non-US companies to circumvent the sanctions, failed to throw the Islamic republic an economic lifeline.

In a letter that was also sent to Russia and China, Iran said it was no longer committed to restrictions on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, and could stop observing limits on uranium enrichment at a later stage.

Russian president Vladimir Putin warned in response to the Iranian threat that “as soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse. Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction.”

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Middle East

The Iran Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Will there be war with Iran?  Will there not be war with Iran?  The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there.  The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered.  Imagine the mess if it was blown up.

There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive.  The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber.  If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense.  It is what Iran has done.  Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided. 

As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force:  some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target.  Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses.  In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system.  It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400.  Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s.  The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally.  The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has friends in Europe also.  Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal.  She is mustering the major European powers.  Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome.  President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture.  In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job.  In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.

So there we have it.  Nobody wants war with Iran.  Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.

Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war.  Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission.  It won’t.  The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton.  He wants war.  A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off. 

In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans.  The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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