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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

Saudi Arabia and Iran cold war

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After almost seven decades, the cold war has reached the middle east, turning into a religious war of words and diplomacy. As Winston Churchill says that “diplomacy is an art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they ask for the direction”. So, both the regional powers are trying to pursue a policy of subduing the adversary in a diplomatic manner. The root of the conflict lies in the 1979, Iranian revolution, which saw the toppling of the pro-western monarch shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi and replaced by the so-called supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. From a Yemini missile attack to the assassination of the supreme commander QassimSoleimani, the political, ideological and religious differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia are taking the path of confrontation. The perennial rivalry between the two dominant Shiite and Sunni power house ins an ideological and religious one rather than being geo strategic or geo political. Back to the time when Saudi Arabia supported Saddam Hussain against the united states of Americathe decline of Saddam and his authoritarian regime was made inevitable and with this, Iran and Saudi Arabia rosed as the powerful, strategic and dominant political forces in the middle east.it was from here that the quest for supremacy to be the prepotent and commanding political powercommenced. The tensions escalated or in other words almost tended to turn into scuffles when in 2016, the Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy as a demonstration of the killing of a Shia cleric. The diplomatic ties were broken and chaos and uncertainty prevailed.

This cold war also resembles the original one., because it is also fueled by a blend of ideological conviction and brute power politics but at the same time unlike the original cold war, the middle eastern cold war is multi-dimensional and is more likely to escalate .it is more volatile and thus more prone to transformation. This followed by several incidents with each trying to isolate the other in international relations. The Saudis and Iranians have been waging proxy wars for regional dominance for decades. Yemen and Syria are the two battlegrounds, fueling the Iran-Saudi tensions. Iran has been accused of providing military assistance to the rebel Houthis, which targets the Saudi territory. It is also accused of attacking the world naval ships in the strait of Hormoz, something Iran strongly denies.  This rivalry has dragged the region into chaos and ignited Shia-Sunni conflict across the middle east. The violence in the middle east due to this perennial hostility has also dire consequences for the economy of the war-torn nations. In the midst of the global pandemic, when all the economic activities are at halt, the tensions between the two arch rivals will prove hazardous and will yield catastrophic results. The blockade of the shipping and navigation in the Gulf, attacks on international ships, and the rising concerns of the western powers regarding this issue has left Iran as an isolated country with only Russia supporting her.

A direct military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran will have dire consequences for the neighboringcountries. A direct military confrontation might not be a planned one, but it will be fueled due to the intervention of the other key partners, who seek to sought and serve their personal and national intrigues. Most importantly middle east cannot afford a conflict as it is a commercial hub for the world. The recent skirmishes in Iraq sparked fears of wider war when Iraq retaliated for killings of QassimSoleimani. If the US president had not extended an olive branch, the situation might have worsened. The OIC, which is a coalition of 57 Muslim countries has also failed in bringing measures to deescalate the growing tensions. The OIC, where the Saudi Arabia enjoys an authoritarian style of dominance has always tried to empower her own ideology while rising the catch cry of being a sacred country to all the Muslims. Taking in account, the high tensions and ideological and the quest for religious dominance, the international communities such as UN and neighboring countries should play a positiveand vital role in deescalating these tensions. Bilateral trade, communications between the two adversaries with a regional power playing the role of mediator and extending an olive branch to each other will yield better results and will prove fruitful in mitigating the conflict if not totally subverting it.

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First Aid: How Russia and the West Can Help Syrians in Idlib

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Authors: Andrey Kortunov and Julien Barnes-Dacey*

The next international showdown on Syria is quickly coming into view. After ten years of conflict, Bashar al-Assad may have won the war, but much is left to be done to win the peace. This is nowhere more so than in the province of Idlib, which is home to nearly 3 million people who now live under the control of extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) with external Turkish protection and humanitarian assistance from the United Nations.

The question of humanitarian access into Idlib is now emerging as a central focus of new international politicking. In so doing, this small province could be pivotal to the future of the larger stalemate that has left the United States, Europe, and Russia locked in an unwinnable status quo.

Russia has said that it plans to veto an extension of cross-border UN aid delivered from Turkey, authorised under UN Security Council resolution 2533, which is up for renewal in July, potentially depriving the population of a vital lifeline amid desperate conditions. Moscow says that all aid should be channelled from Damascus via three new government-controlled crossing points to the northern province. Western governments, to say nothing of the local population, are sceptical, given the Syrian government’s hostility towards the province’s inhabitants. For its part, the UN says that cross-lines aid cannot compensate for a closure of cross-border access.

As ever, the two dominant players—the US and Russia—are talking past each other and are focused on countering each other’s moves—to their mutual failure. It is evident that US condemnation and pressure on Russia will not deliver the necessary aid, and also evident that Russia will not get its wish for the international recognition of the legitimacy of the Syrian government by vetoing cross-border access. While these will only be diplomatic failures for the US and Russia, it is the Syrian people who will, as ever, pay the highest price.

But a mutually beneficial solution to Idlib is still possible. Russia and the US, backed by European states, should agree to a new formula whereby Moscow greenlights a final one-year extension of cross-border aid in exchange for a Western agreement to increase aid flows via Damascus, including through Russia’s proposed cross-lines channels into Idlib. This would meet the interests of both sides, allowing immediate humanitarian needs to be met on the ground as desired by the West, while also paving the way for a transition towards the Damascus-centred international aid operation sought by Moscow.

This imperfect but practical compromise would mean more than a positive change in the humanitarian situation in Idlib. It would demonstrate the ability of Russian and Western actors to work together to reach specific agreements in Syria even if their respective approaches to the wider conflict differ significantly. This could serve to reactivate the UN Security Council mechanism, which has been paralysed and absent from the Syrian track for too long.

To be sure the Syrian government will also need to be incentivised to comply. Western governments will need to be willing to increase humanitarian and early recovery support to other parts of government-controlled Syria even as they channel aid to Idlib. With the country now experiencing a dramatic economic implosion, this could serve as a welcome reprieve to Damascus. It would also meet Western interests in not seeing a full state collapse and worsening humanitarian tragedy.

The underlying condition for this increased aid will need to be transparency and access to ensure that assistance is actually delivered to those in need. The West and Russia will need to work on implementing a viable monitoring mechanism for aid flows channelled via Damascus. This will give Moscow an opportunity to push the Syrian regime harder on matters of corruption and mismanagement.

For its part, the West will need to work with Moscow to exercise pressure on Ankara to use its military presence in Idlib to more comprehensively confront radical Islamists and ensure that aid flows do not empower HTS. A ‘deradicalisation’ of Idlib will need to take the form of a detailed roadmap, including that HTS comply with specific behaviour related to humanitarian deliveries.

Ultimately this proposal will not be wholly satisfactory to either Moscow or the West. The West will not like that it is only a one-year extension and will not like the shift towards Damascus. Russia will not like that it is an extension at all. But for all sides the benefits should outweigh the downsides.

Russia will know that Western actors will respond to failure by unilaterally channelling non-UN legitimised aid into the country via Turkey. Russia will lose the opportunity to slowly move Idlib back into Damascus’s orbit and the country’s de facto partition will be entrenched. This outcome is also likely to lead to increased instability as aid flows decrease, with subsequent tensions between Moscow’s allies, Damascus and Ankara.

The West will need to acknowledge that this approach offers the best way of delivering ongoing aid into Idlib and securing greater transparency on wider support across Syria. The alternative—bilateral cross-border support—will not sufficiently meet needs on the ground, will place even greater responsibility on Turkey, and will increase the prospect of Western confrontation with Russia and the Syrian regime.

Importantly, this proposal could also create space for wider political talks on Idlib’s fate. It could lead to a renewed track between Russia, the US, Turkey and Europeans to address the province’s fate in a way that accounts for Syria’s territorial integrity and state sovereignty on the one hand and the needs and security of the local population on the other hand. After ten years of devastating conflict, a humanitarian compromise in Idlib will not represent a huge victory. But a limited agreement could still go a long way to positively changing the momentum in Syria and opening up a pathway for much-needed international cooperation.

* Julien Barnes-Dacey, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)

From our partner RIAC

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Middle East

Iran’s Impunity Will Grow if Evidence of Past Crimes is Fully Destroyed

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No reasonable person would deny the importance of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. But that issue must not be allowed to continue overshadowing Iran’s responsibility for terrorism and systematic human rights violations. These matters represent a much more imminent threat to human life, as well as longstanding denials of justice for those who have suffered from the Iranian regime’s actions in the past.

The Iranian people have risen multiple times in recent years to call for democratic change. In 2017, major uprisings broke out against the regime’s disastrous policies. Although the ruling clerics suppressed those protests, public unrest soon resumed in November 2019. That uprising was even broader in scope and intensity. The regime responded by opening fire on crowds, murdering at least 1,500. Amnesty International has reported on the torture that is still being meted out to participants in the uprising.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and human rights organizations have continued to repeat longstanding calls for increased attention to some of the worst crimes perpetrated by the regime in previous years.

Last year, Amnesty International praised a “momentous breakthrough” when seven UN human rights experts demanded an end to the ongoing cover-up of a massacre of political prisoners in the summer of 1988.

The killings were ordered by the regime’s previous supreme leader Khomeini, who declared that opponents of the theocracy were “enemies of God” and thus subject to summary executions. In response, prisons throughout Iran convened “death commissions” that were tasked with interrogating political prisoners over their views. Those who rejected the regime’s fundamentalist interpretation of Islam were hanged, often in groups, and their bodies were dumped mostly in mass graves, the locations of which were held secret.

In the end, at least 30,000 political prisoners were massacred. The regime has been trying hard to erase the record of its crimes, including the mass graves. Its cover-up has unfortunately been enabled to some degree by the persistent lack of a coordinated international response to the situation – a failure that was acknowledged in the UN experts’ letter.

The letter noted that although the systematic executions had been referenced in a 1988 UN resolution on Iran’s human rights record, none of the relevant entities within that international body followed up on the case, and the massacre went unpunished and underreported.

For nearly three decades, the regime enforced silence regarding any public discussion of the killings, before this was challenged in 2016 by the leak of an audio recording that featured contemporary officials discussing the 1988 massacre. Regime officials, like then-Minister of Justice Mostafa Pourmohammadi, told state media that they were proud of committing the killings.

Today, the main victims of that massacre, the principal opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), are still targets of terrorist plots on Western soil, instigated by the Iranian regime. The most significant of these in recent years was the plot to bomb a gathering organized near Paris in 2018 by the MEK’s parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The Free Iran rally was attended by tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates from throughout the world, as well as hundreds of political dignitaries, and if the attack had not been prevented by law enforcement, it would have no doubt been among the worst terrorist attacks in recent European history.

The mastermind of that attack was a high-ranking Iranian diplomat named Assadollah Assadi. He was convicted in a Belgian court alongside three co-conspirators in February. But serious critics of the Iranian regime have insisted that accountability must not stop here.

If Tehran believes it has gotten away with the 1988 massacre, one of the worst crimes against humanity from the late 20th century, it can also get away with threatening the West and killing protesters by the hundreds. The ongoing destruction of mass graves demonstrates the regime’s understanding that it has not truly gotten away with the massacre as long as evidence remains to be exposed.

The evidence of mass graves has been tentatively identified in at least 36 different cities, but a number of those sites have since been covered by pavement and large structures. There are also signs that this development has accelerated in recent years as awareness of the massacre has gradually expanded. Unfortunately, the destruction currently threatens to outpace the campaign for accountability, and it is up to the United Nations and its leading member states to accelerate that campaign and halt the regime’s destruction of evidence.

If this does not happen and the 1988 massacre is consigned to history before anyone has been brought to justice, it will be difficult to compel Tehran into taking its critics seriously about anything, be it more recent human rights violations, ongoing terrorist threats, or even the nuclear program that authorities have been advancing in spite of the Western conciliation that underlay 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

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