Syria’s three-party strategic system, with the minor addition of the United States and its now remote allies on the field, is undergoing a radical transformation.
This is also due to the clear signs that the United States is sending to everyone that concern, in particular, their quick leaving Syria.
President Trump is not entirely wrongly when he says that Syria “has always been an old friend” of Russia and hence the Syrian issue is in Russia’s traditional area of interest.
This is true but, if we all thought this way, in the mid-nineteenth century China would have been reduced to its coastal regions only.
In geopolitics we do not talk with the logic of a golf club.
However, if the United States does no longer care about Syria, said country and its equilibria will still deal with the United States.
In fact, the United States will soon be bottled up in its CENTCOM of Tampa, which could no longer operate directly and effectively in Northern Africa (with the jihad going on in Central Africa and in Mediterranean Africa),nor in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the play has gone too far with the agreement between the US contingents and the Taliban.
Exactly the Taliban, the Islamic “students” that the Pakistani allies, apparently very loyal to the United States, trained with their excellent intelligence services and sent to fight against the United States.
At the time, however, the United States was a close ally of India and hence prevented Pakistan from having the strategic depth it absolutely needed to oppose the first Indian nuclear salvo and respond to the second one.
And not even the United States could now use the Al Udeid Command located in Qatar, the CAOC that the United States itself has put in difficulty, by following Saudi Arabia against the “terrorist” Qatar and hence – with a great leap in logic – “Iran’s friend “. What about Saudi Arabia?
Hence the Americans have also been bottled up in their beautiful and very recent Al Udeid base, controlled by all the Arab forces on the field as if they were hyperactive children.
Therefore, by now, the game in Syria involves only three countries, namely Iran, Israel and Russia.
While the reborn “Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate” is reconquering some areas around Deir Ezzor and is directly threatening the Kurdish areas and the major Syrian cities of the region.
Another crazy variable, which could bring the United States back into play and prolong the time needed for the stabilization of the Syrian territory, which is exactly what the “Caliphate” wants.
Meanwhile, however, the two Kurdish groups have allied with the Syria led by Bashar al-Assad and now know that the real player of US interests in Syria is Turkey.
Iran, Israel and the Russian Federation. This is the starry sky above Syria. Hence much closer negotiations than in the past on the control of the Syrian territory between Israel and the Russian Federation, the only real regional actors interested in controlling the whole Syrian territory.
Here Iran’s intelligence and security policy comes into play, with good technical knowledge and the ability to play its political weight well.
The weight of Iranian intelligence services is lower than others’ in Syria, but it is certainly not negligible.
Clearly Russia does not care much that Iran takes its continuous line of connection between Iran and the Lebanese Central and Southern coasts.
However, that was an idea of the past. Currently the issue is much more complex. Today the Russian Federation cannot fail to put Israeli interests at the core of its strategic Middle East choices.
Nevertheless, if Iran takes its advanced control network on the border of the Bekaa-Golan Valley – that Israeli re-conquered in 1975 – Russia will no longer hold Syria, which will have an immense territory – covered by Iranian lines southwards – to free itself from the Russian Federation’s control and then fall into Iran’s hands. Exactly what Iran is waiting for.
Iran must not have stable bases or buffer areas in Syria. This is also in Russia’s interest. It would be a trouble for Russia and Israel altogether, if that happened.
Nor should we forget the level of pressure that the Lebanese-Iranian axis over (and inside) the Bekaa-Golan region could exert on the Russian bases of Latakia and Tartus, in the Mediterranean, in addition to Iran’s tension on the Russian facilities of Humeinim, on an airport, and finally on the T4 base (Thiyas) in the Homs Governorate, east of Palmira.
Let us not even forget the Russian base of Sharyat, at the 50th Air Brigade in the Homs area.
The “corridor” – as the Iran’s “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps” currently calls it – runs from Iraq to Syria, precisely to DeirEzzor.
It is a real and powerful strategic target for Iran that has not -but absolutely wants-an outlet to the Mediterranean, under its full control and not under the now irrelevant organization of Lebanese security.
It goes up to the Southern Lebanese coasts, obviously passing not only through the capital city, but also through Deir Qanun, Kafra and, finally, the Litani river.
However, with a parallel connection between Beirut and the Hezbollah command of the Litani area.
Hence, the Russian strategic thinking is currently simple: to prevent Iran’s further expansion to Syria, as well as to mainly avoid the persistence of the conflict in that area, and to maintain good relations with Israel.
In fact – and this is particularly interesting to us – the Russian Federation has partially deactivated its S-300 missile defenses that operate in Syria and will also do so in the future.
The S-300s are a sequence of long-range surface-to-air missiles manufactured by Russia.
As clearly seen in Syria, they operate very effectively against aircraft, cruise ships and ballistic missiles.
Its radars are capable of chasing over 100 targets simultaneously, since they can engage in battle 24-36 of them at the same time.
The missile range of the S-300sis between 150 and 200 kilometers, with fully automatic operation.
Hence what does Iran want?
Firstly, it wants Russia not to selectively deprive the S-300 systems in the case of aircraft, missiles and carriers arriving in the corridor or the Bekaa-Golan region from Israel.
In addition, some experts of the Iranian intelligence services have noted a strong correlation between the organization of the Israeli attack forces and the timing and positions of the new Hezbollah and Pasdaran launching points.
In fact, in mid-January, Russia announced that the training of Syrian troops for using the S-300s would be completed in March, when the S-300 batteries should become operational.
But they will probably be “operated” selectively and, in any case, always under the immediate and active control of the Russian Supreme Command.
Iran, however, hopes for a miracle, i.e. that the weapons of a quasi-ally of Israel – namely Russia that is currently in Syria – become the best defense against Israel’s attacks on the Iranian-Lebanese “corridor”.
For Iran, the optimal target would be the dual and simultaneous attack between the Bekaa-Golan region and the Litani river, coordinated by actions south of the Israeli border supported by the Palestinian Islamic jihad.
We will talk about it later.
In fact, we should not forget the many small organizations of the radical Palestinian universe, which can no longer be connected with the Sunni axis that, indeed, does no longer wants to annoy Israel.
This happens precisely against Iran. It is a broad political-military axis mainly orphan of Hamas, which is now a criminal-business organization still devoted to raise funds among the most gullible and naïve Western “democrats”.
Or even worse.
Two Islamist Norths and a South, with a new master, namely Iran, simultaneously allied against the Jewish State.
This is the strategic dream of the Shiite Republic of Iran.
Russia, however, still wants to carry out joint actions with Iran, but always outside Syria.
Moreover, since the beginning of the Russian conflict in Syria, in 2015, it has been openly recognizing the central role played by Israel.
In fact, Russia wants its cake (the common interests with Iran, especially in the oil sector) and eat it, too (the full and reliable alliance with Israel).
Russia still wants to do much business with Iran in Venezuela, where both actors operate with great care.
Russia, however, also wants to collaborate with Iran for the Arab League’s recent and future peace initiatives, which should create a new climate of stability throughout the Greater Middle East.
It would be nice to believe it.
Conversely, also based on the official documents of the meetings with Russia, Iran immediately wants to use the “corridor” for a diagonal attack against Israel and later acquire Syria as large part of a Shiite territory. It also wants to operate as an ally of Russia – only and always in oil terms – between Qatar, Bahrain and the Emirates, which are areas in which the Russian Federation has been working very well in recent years. Iran, however, is working worse there.
Hence Iran could strengthen its positions in Syria, especially to force Russia to surrender there, as well as to also force it into a harsher position towards Israel.
Nevertheless, should Iran do so, it could lead to the strong tendency – in agreement between Russia and Israel – to immediately and harshly close the “corridor” and quickly get rid of the massive presence of Pasdaran and Hezbollah.
Hence, also Iran must consider its strategic equation well.
Moreover, reverting to the positions on the ground, Russia is taking additional five months to train the Syrians to use the S-300s.
With ongoing connections of the equipment both with the Humeinym base in Syria, but above all with the Russian Central Air Command in Moscow.
Putin will leave not even his field knife uncontrolled on the Syrian territory.
We have already seen the results of Russia’s very strict tactical and operational control of the Syrian forces, which would have certainly not achieved these excellent and quick results if they had not had patient and constant guardians from Moscow.
Obviously Russia does not want any relationship between its weapons on the Syrian territory and any attack against Israeli targets.
This implies that Russia wants to be absolutely sure that no Syrian and Iranian force, whether airborne or not, can use the S-300s against the Jewish State.
This approach has always been part of the Russian “Grand Strategy”, unlike the relationship between Russia and Iran that has been cold and only technical throughout the development of the Syrian wars.
Who knows what could happen if the Hezbollah bases on the Mediterranean were to prevent or harm the Russian operations between Latakia and Tartus.
Russia knows all too well it cannot trust Iran, but it will still try to make it carry out operations outside its great unitarian and Mediterranean Shiite dream-although this will certainly be very difficult.
What would happen if the Israeli aircraft, searching for Iranian targets on the Galilee-Bekaa-Golan line, bombed an S-300 or something else and created a severe dispute with Russia?
What would happen if all this could also trigger a short-term struggle between Shiite powers, in the North, in addition to local Syrian populations, also hit by the “Zionist entity”?
This, too, would be the incident preferred by the Shiite Republic of Iran, which is now trying to unleash a great all-out clash, on Syrian Southern borders, to lay all the blame on Israel. This would make Hezbollah and Pasdaran shift from the guerrilla warfare phase to the “people’s war” phase, which is more suitable for them.
Or we could also think of a mediation in which the bases of the precision-guided missiles brought from the “corridor” to Northern Lebanon and the Bekaa region are destroyed by Israel’s quick operations, which eliminate them all, while the S-300s around Damascus are still silent.
Clearly time is pressing.
Everything still depends on Russia’s ability to blackmail Iran, which – indeed -is fading ever more.
A possible solution could be a strong demonstration action by Israel on the skies of the advanced Hezbollah missile positions, not envisaging the use of S-300s, thus also allowing to reduce risks significantly.
While the “corridor” – which annoys both Russia and Israel – would be well closed in the meantime.
All this can only be done by the end of March.
Another option could be a bilateral operation between the North and the South, between Russia and Israel, but only on the “corridor”, which isolates the batteries of Hezbollah missiles and makes it clear to the “Party of God” that the missiles are no longer needed. It should also make clear that the missiles will not be repaired or “fueled” and that their communications with Iran will be very problematic.
Obviously if the United States does not fully leave Syria, there will be no argument that will make Iran go away from Bashar al-Assad’ Syria.
It is their favourite counterargument.
Like two blind people, lost in their dream of the great Shiite region or the even greater Middle East “democracy”, Iran and the United States justify each other, but without being able to do much any longer.
Furthermore, in a few choice words, Russia asked Netanyahu to use his influence on President Trump to immediately make the remaining US troops – that are there without a precise strategic idea – withdraw from Syria.
Inter alia, the demand to the Israeli Prime Minister implied the Russian request to make the American soldiers withdraw also from the Al Tanf base.
It is a large base located on the border between Syria and Iraq, in the Homs Governorate.
Clearly for the Russians who operate much in that area, the Al Tanf base – the old headquarters of a “coalition against terrorism” organized by the United States and later left to the “Free Syrian Army”, which is now an umbrella of terrorist groups that is currently self-named “Revolutionary Commando Army” – is a constant danger.
It is also obvious that this old base is only a remnant – however currently jihadist, albeit certainly “moderate” – of an old set of US forces in Syria.
The request for Netanyahu to put pressure on President Trump, with a view to putting an end to these two issues, had been made to Israel about six months ago, in late September, but without results. Clearly Israel does not fully trust Russia yet. And Russia does not want other “godfathers” for Israel in the global world, since the United States has now been “branded” or blocked outside the Middle East.
Also upon Russia’s explicit direct requests, President Trump has not yet clarified the issue of the Al Tanf base, thus being vague about its possible future use, although associating the timing for its closure with that of the now certain evacuation of all US troops from Syria.
Both Israel and Jordan, however, have made an explicit request to the United States to keep the Al Tanf base open.
Simply because this position is excellent to prevent Russia (and probably also Iran) from closing a base where also Jordanian illegal forces operate, since Al Tanf is right on Jordan’s border.
Israel does not want to be sealed in that important region by a base in Russian hands, with dangerous friends, while it does not even want to deprive its friendly country, namely Jordan, of a very useful base for possible bilateral operations.
Nevertheless, if Israel were to accept Russian pressure for the Al Tanf base – which is only an annoying mirage for it -Russia could make a nice gift to Israel.
In fact, it could prevent pro-Iran forces from slipping between the Jordanian and Israeli borders, thus recreating, elsewhere, another more artisanal and less sophisticated “corridor”.
Hence, Israel will ask Putin for some things before scrapping the Al Tanf base: firstly, to create an effective, controllable and real distance of at least 80 kilometers between the Iranian and pro-Shiite lines and Israel’s Northern borders.
How? Currently the control systems are manifold and very accurate, but the point is that we must be able to react before the start of the operation and 80 kilometers are always too few.
However, if the Russian Federation could guarantee an effective and armed line of control between its Iranian allies and the Israeli border, the negotiations could be made. Basically, it would be convenient also for Russia.
Hence, how can we convince Putin? Reminding him that being fooled by an ally is certainly not the best way to become the hegemonic country of the Greater Middle East.
Others did the same and we saw how they ended up.
Israel’ second request to Russia is to stop arms trafficking, by air, from Iran to Syria and Hezbollah.
So far Russia has never accepted this.
It must also be made clear, however, that if Russia does notget carried away by Iran in Syria, there could be a successful diarchy between Israel and the Russian Federation in the future, with all the allies they have in common in the Gulf, and no power outside the region could bother them.
For Russia the message could also be persuasive – and even credible.
Finally Israel wants the factories near the Syrian-Iranian bases on the Syrian territory, which usually produce precision materials for Hezbollah missile launches, to be completely and permanently scrapped.
Easier said than done. Iran could re-establish them elsewhere, in Jordan or in the Lebanon, or even in Iraq.
In that case, however, they could easily be checked in due time, even for a future targeted attack.
Here, probably, an agreement could easily be reached.
Not even Russia likes this production of weapons, which it cannot fully control.
And here comes Russia’s trump card: if no global negotiations with Iran are made, there will be no military operation on the Syrian skies that will enable Israel to have peace.
This is true – but it is also true that the Israeli air operations give Russia the strong power to be credible with Iran.
There is no way out. Either we make Iran understand that its “corridor” does not work or cannot work – and hence it can only give few and not even effective missiles to the Shiite Lebanese – or nothing can be done about it.
This is a possible agreement of convenience between Israel and Russia.
Furthermore, in any case, the missile operations of the Lebanese Shiites could be used not only for a real war, but above all to terrorize, change and distort the behaviour of the Israeli population and government.
As already mentioned, the leaders of the Palestinian Resistance Committees, operating south of the Israeli border, were cheerfully hosted by Hezbollah in Beirut on January 30 last.
Hence the issue here would be to have -from the Palestinian Resistance Committees and before the elections scheduled in Israel on April 9 – a series of missile attacks, especially in the Gaza Strip, a perfect point for the real attack, but also for distracting Israel in relation to a strong action from the North.
The timing gap between the two is essential for the success of the Iranian-Shiite-Palestinian operation.
Furthermore, the Palestinian Resistance Committees are small organizations in Hamas’ hands.
This means that Hamas has become Hezbollah’s direct counterpart in the South.
In this case, the issue lies in avoiding – with the usual intelligence operations – mass missile attacks, which should take place about three weeks before the elections. The right psychopolitical timing.
We could also envisage, however, a quick and surgical attack by Israel on Hamas before their operations, with a view to belittling them vis-à-vis their funders and associate the fate of Hamas with that of these new pro-Shiite groups.
The tension between Iran and the United States
At the beginning of last summer, precisely on May 8, 2018, US President Donald J. Trump carried out one of his old projects, i.e. to explicitly walk out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached between Iran, the United States, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom + Germany and the European Union on July 14, 2015.
The IAEA inspectors spend 3,000 days a year, on average, checking Iran’s nuclear facilities, and so far they have not ascertained any particular Iranian infringement of the 2015 agreement.
Immediately after the US action, the EU adopted a blocking statute, based on the fact that the USA had unilaterally stated that Iran had not publicly declared a previous nuclear programme, prior to the JCPOA.
According to the 2015 Treaty, Iran had agreed to destroy its arsenal of medium-enriched uranium, as well as to eliminate 98% of its low-enriched uranium production, and to finally reduce the number of its gas centrifuges for the selection of isotopes by two thirds, for a period of 13 years starting from the signing of the agreement with the P5 + 1, namely the JCPOA.
For the subsequent 15 years, in fact, Iran had committed to enrich its uranium by only 3.67% compared to the levels before the signing of the agreement, without building other centrifuges for the following 10 years as from the signing of the JCPOA, while the enriched uranium production had to be reduced to the activity of a single first-generation centrifuge.
As previously mentioned, the EU put in place a blocking statute mainly to protect EU-based companies from the effects of US sanctions against Iran. In May 2019, however, IAEA established that Iran had basically complied with the JCPOA, except for some doubts about the number of centrifuges actually in operation.
Immediately after the US withdrawal from the treaty, Iran reaffirmed its acceptance of the treaty of July 14, 2015, along with France, Germany and Great Britain, while the Russian Federation and China explicitly supported Iran, which stated that only the USA had unilaterally and illegally withdrawn from the agreement.
According to President Trump, one of the political reasons for the US withdrawal from the JCPOA was the resulting strengthening of his positions during the negotiations with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, while the former US President, Barack Obama, said that the US withdrawal from the treaty of July 14, 2015 left the USA torn between two equally suicidal choices: a completely nuclearized Iran or the quick breaking out of another war in the Middle East.
The only countries supporting President Trump, against the nuclear agreement with Iran, were Saudi Arabia, the traditional enemy of the Iranian Shiites, and obviously Israel.
The US President also added that the USA would cooperate with the EU to “put pressure” on Iran, but the European Union implemented a project, called Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), to avoid the negative effects of US sanctions on European companies. INSTEX, officially announced on 31 January 2019, is led by Per Fischer -former Head of Financial Institutions at Commerz bank -as President, and includes Simon McDonald, permanent undersecretary for foreign affairs of Great Britain, Miguel Berger, Head of the economic office at the German Foreign Ministry, and Maurice Gourdault de Montaigne, Secretary General of the French Foreign Ministry (“and of Europe”, as the official formula states). The whole body does not include senior managers of the banking system and of commercial institutions.
A political organization that has political purposes vis-à-vis Iran and the USA, not a real starting point for continuing to do business in Iran.
Hence for many countries, including Iran, INSTEX is more a political move to differentiate themselves – with difficulty – from the USA than an effective and operational system against the US sanctions on Iran.
On April 29, Iran announced it had set up the Special Trade and Finance Institute (STFI) to monitor the INSTEX activities and thus favour Iran-EU trade even during the US sanction regime.
The Iranian President of STFI is Ali Askar Nouri, former consultant of Iran Zamin Bank and the Institute also includes Hamid Ghanbari, former director of the Central Bank of Iran, Farshid Farrokh, manager of the Refah Bank, and finally some other managers coming from the Iranian banking system.
Given the low political level of the Iranian STFI, it is likely that the Iranian government does not trust the INSTEX system at all as a way to really solve the trade relations between the EU and Iran.
The European system also implies that the profit generated from the purchase of Iranian oil by companies having their headquarters in the EU must be transferred to the INSTEX “special-purpose vehicle”.
Nevertheless, considering the general US restrictions on the sale of Iranian oil, in all likelihood the EU “special-purpose vehicle” will be increasingly linked to ever smaller Iranian funds and hence will not be in a position to collect enough liquidity to justify reasonable trade with Europe.
Moreover, considering that the major buyers of Iranian oil belong to non-European States, it is equally unlikely that these countries, namely China, India, Korea and Japan, will accept to transfer their payments to INSTEX.
Moreover, considering the US regulations, even if the EU vehicle really worked, Iran could spend all the funds included in the EU mechanism only for medicines and- to a little extent – for food.
Hence no mechanism to protect Iran-EU trade can be created unless agreements are also made with the USA.
However, who is really hit by the US sanctions? Rather than the political and military actions of the Iranian government, what is really destroyed is Iran’s private economic sector.
Currently the Iranian population is equal to 82 million inhabitants, with an economic ranking that places the Shiite Republic of Iran in the eighteenth position in the world.
In the case of Iran, another reason for the economic crisis led by foreign countries is the devaluation of its national currency, namely the rial.
The local government’s inflationary actions, the restriction of foreign currency assets and the related slowdown in growth, with an inflation rate at 13% and an unemployment rate at 12.3%, are drastic measures. This is official data from the Iranian government, which is apparently much more acceptable than real data.
Furthermore, the Shiite regime has imposed restrictions for as many as 1,300 types of product, in addition to the escape from the dollar in transactions and the preferential use of the Euro in international trade.
In the real exchange market, currently the rialis worth 90,000 as against the US dollar, while at the end of last year one dollar only was worth 42,840 rial. An induced Weimar-styleinflation, which is destabilizing for every social system.
The Euro, however, is not a currency that has the characteristic of being a Lender of Last Resort, as Paolo Savona often says- hence its global use is inevitably very limited.
Therefore the rial should still decrease by at least 10% in the exchange with the US dollar.
At official rates, bank interest is already at 24%. Hence, in these crisis contexts, the Euro is therefore not allocable, while the role of the Chinese renmimbi is growing, considering China’s vast purchases of Iranian oil – which will not last forever.
If not to maintain a game of tensions with the USA, on the part of China, pending the trade war that inflames the two major players in global economy, namely the USA and China.
Transfers abroad- to the EU in this specific case – cost the Iranian companies at least 20% of the total capital transferred.
It should also be recalled that oil sales are worth only 40% of Iran’s total GDP, considering that the largest sector of the Iranian economy is services, which account for 51% of GDP, followed by tourism (12%), the real estate sector, and finally the mining sector (13%) and agriculture (still at 10%).
What could be a possible solution? The greater economic correlation between Iran and China, considering that the commercial crisis between the United States and China is almost simultaneous to the crisis between Iran and the USA – and it has quite similar strategic potentials.
Hence for the United States the effects will be the maximum pressure available against Iran, in addition to greater US military presence in the Middle East and the damage caused by the USA to the European allies still tied to the signing of the 2015 JCPOA.
It is also impossible not to think about the inevitable negative reactions on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, already under pressure from various parts.
Moreover, the bilateral relations between China and Iran are still growing significantly, at economic, political and strategical levels.
Furthermore, China currently imports 11% of its oil from Iran, in addition to an investment of over 5 billion US dollars for the technological upgrading of the refining and transport of oil and gas.
China has also invested in the urban transport system, particularly in the Tehran subway, as well as in regional motorways and in the Mehran Petrochemical Complex, in addition to a credit line of the Chinese State financial holding (CITIC) to the Iranian government, amounting to over 10 billion US dollars.
The China Development Bank has also guaranteed additional 15 billion US dollars – up to a transfer of capital – between Iran and China, which, as stated by Hassan Rouhani, the current leader of the Iranian government, are expected to reach 600 billion US dollars.
Currently Iran is China’ second trading partner, after the United Arab Emirates, and is also capable of permanently supplying the Shiite republic with advanced weapons.
Therefore, it is a real “substitution of Iran’s imports” both from the EU and, obviously, from the USA, which enables China to create an economic and military outpost in the Persian Gulf, capable of opposing – in a short lapse of time-the US strategic presence in the region. Not to mention the EU countries’ military set-up and arrangement in the Middle East.
Moreover, also the USA knows that, considering the asymmetric structure of Iran’s military forces, a clash with Iran could be very costly and even burdensome for the United States, which probably could barely penetrate the Gulf, while it is still believed that a direct North American action on Iranian soil is currently ever more difficult.
Meanwhile, Iran is struggling to create new markets for its oil, in areas that cannot be integrated into the JCPOA and the US system.
The target countries of Iran’s expansion are Brazil, China – as usual – but also India, which can be decisive today, considering that the Iranian production reached only 400,000 barrels per day last May, less than half of the sales in the previous month and even below the 2.5 million barrels per day of April 2018.
Everything started with an annual income from Iranian oil of approximately 50 billion US dollars.
Currently, however, according to US experts, oil proceeds have fallen by at least 10 billion US dollars, after the US re-imposing full sanctions last November.
The situation is still better for Iranian exports – also to Turkey – of petroleum by-products, such as urea, but above all for the sales of natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, biofuel, methanol, and even other non-oil energy products.
Iran accepts payments either in currencies other than the dollar or with the old trade-in system, which is a traditional and widespread system in the oil world.
However, let us revert to the bilateral political crisis between the USA and Iran.
After the sanctions renewed by President Trump, Iran has started again to enrich uranium to 20% and has also announced it would update the Arak reactor, which was part of the Iranian military system and produced plutonium.
Moreover, Iran claims that the Arak reactor is still subject to the JCPOA rules and that its productive activity will end soon.
In Natanz, another important centre for the Iranian production of enriched uranium, the extraction of isotopes has increased significantly. As Iranian leaders themselves say, this extraction should be increased by 400% compared to the JCPOA rules.
It should be recalled that the treaty of July 14, 2015 limits the production of uranium to 300 kilos of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), which has a real content of active and useful uranium to the tune of 202.8 kilos.
On a strictly military level, the USA has already sent to the Persian Gulf region a group of warships, including the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and four destroyers armed with missiles. Furthermore, some B-52 bombers have been deployed in the Al-Obeid US base, Qatar, in addition to over 120,000 soldiers, distributed in the various US facilities in the Middle East, although President Trump has said that the shipment of these troops is a fake news.
Nevertheless, this shipment has recently been confirmed by the US Administration.
However, on May 12 last, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the so-called Pasdaran, attacked four-seven large commercial ships in the port of Fujrairah, one of the great world hubs in oil maritime trade. Other data has not been provided to the press.
Allegedly, they were vessels belonging to companies based in the United Arab Emirates.
It is also likely that at least two of those ships were of Saudi nationality.
Another attack of obscure Iranian origin occurred on May 19, when a Katjuscia rocket was fired against the US Embassy in Baghdad, but without causing victims.
On May 14, however, Supreme Leader Ali Akhbar Khamenei said that “there would be no war against America”. At the same time, however, the Iranian Rahbar does not want to re-open the nuclear talks with the United States.
Both because Khamenei does not want to give the impression of rapidly succumbing to the United States – and here the Shiite regime could even self-destruct – and because, in all likelihood, reopening negotiations would imply the end of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
It should be noted that there is also the oil issue for the USA itself.
Tension in the Gulf leads to a fast and significant increase in all OPEC crude oil prices while, even considering its higher extraction costs, the US oil is also capable of producing profit, in a context of quick and uncontrollable growth in the OPEC oil barrel prices.
The United States has now reached a production of at least 2.5 million barrels per day, which makes the USA attentive to any possible useful hedging on OPEC oil, with a view to exploiting any geopolitical crisis that – in the oil market – always has immediate consequences on the oil barrel price.
It should also be noted that the Strait of Hormuz is twenty miles wide. It is technically impossible for Iran to control or block it all.
Iran, however, can use strong cyberattacks against the oil networks of the neighbouring States that, in various ways, are also all linked to Saudi Arabia.
Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have alternative pipelines that can easily bypass the Strait of Hormuz.
Even in the case of an Iranian unconventional attack, Saudi Arabia can sell at least 6.5 million barrels per day and currently the USA is much less exposed to an oil shock like those of the 1970s, given that the American economy is less oil-dependent and particularly considering that the national production of American (and Canadian) oil and gas is such as to ensure an acceptable level of oil use, even without the North American purchases from OPEC countries.
In 2019, however, China has agreed to keep on buying oil and gas at low prices in Iran, at a level ranging between 700,000 and 800,000 barrels per day.
Iran has no interest in dealing with the United States, right now that a new presidential election cycle is starting.
On June 8 last, Iran officially declared that it would break some other restrictions included in the JCPOA if the 2015 treaty continues not to provide the expected economic benefits to Iran.
The remaining parties that adhered to the JCPOA have recommended Iran to comply – even unilaterally – with the agreement of July 14, 2015 – and these countries are China and the United Kingdom.
The EU, however, will continue to carry out checks on Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA, both in the collection of heavy water and in the production of enriched uranium, which is essential for building nuclear weapons.
On a strictly economic level, Iran has abolished the oil subsidy regime for the population – a cost of 38 billion US dollars a year, equal to approximately 20% of GDP.
As both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have noted, this is the first aspect to be kept in mind.
Nevertheless, in a context like the sanction regime, it is impossible to maintain a policy of internal liberalizations.
However, on a purely strategic level, what could all this mean, insofar as a permanent geoeconomic clash is emerging between Iran and the United States?
For example a much harder and more continuous war in the Lebanon than we have already experienced.
Or a clash with Israel involving Assad’ Syrian Army, the Hezbollah, some units of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and even Hamasin the South.
A long-term war capable of slowly consuming both the material and soldiers of the Jewish State and its international support.
Or a new war in Syria, between the Golan Heights and the areas close to Damascus, forcing Russia to play a military role in Assad’ Syria and creating a clash between Israel and Russia, again on Syria alone.
Or another possibility could be a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran, with airstrikes on the territory of the Shiite republic and the whole panoply of means available for non-conventional actions.
Or finally a clash throughout the Middle East, with the possible presence of Saudi Arabia and Iran’s coordination of all Shiite forces inside and outside the opposing countries.
It is from this viewpoint that we must evaluate the above mentioned strengthening of the US military structure throughout the Middle East.
It should also be noted that the 120,000 US military to be deployed in the various US bases in the region are more or less the same – in number – as those that were used in the attack on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003.
Meanwhile, the economic crisis is tightening on Iran: last March oil exports fell drastically up to reaching only 1.1 million barrels on average, while Taiwan, Greece and Italy stopped their imports and the major importers, namely China and India, reduced their purchases from Iran by 39% and 47% respectively.
The more the crisis deepens in Iran, the more likely the option of a regional war – probably triggered by Iran – becomes.
The probable clash between Iran and the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia must be assessed in the framework of this very weak balance between a possible anti-Shiite war and a careful evaluation of the effects and results of a probable war against Iran and on how it will leave the Middle East.
The economic summit in Bahrain won’t be about Palestinian-Israeli conflict
In less than two weeks Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt will present in Manama the first part of the long-awaited “deal of the century”, the peace initiative of president Donald Trump designed to find an ultimate solution for the prolonged Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Iraq and Lebanon will not take part in the event, while Tehran had already accused the participants, mainly Saudi Arabia of “betrayal of the Palestinian struggle”. Following the massive pressure on Arab leaders and promises of significant economic development, the American administration was finally able to secure the participation of Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf states, and probably Morocco. Israel didn’t receive an official invitation for this event yet. It is, however, clear that it will be invited, and some rumors imply that PM Netanyahu himself might come to Bahrain, a country with which Israel doesn’t have any diplomatic relations.
Yet, it seems that this odd event in Manama will resemble a wedding without the bride. The groom will be there, so are the loving parents who will provide the dowry and the guests, but the bride, i.e. the Palestinian autonomy had already declared that it will not send any official or unofficial delegation to the upcoming economic conference.
The relations between the White House and the Palestinian administration had gone sour since President’s Trump decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. The Palestinians are suspicious of Trump’s attempts to promote “a deal” that might not include a reference to a two-state solution. For the last two years, the sole connection between Washington and Ramallah has been maintained by the respective security agencies. Recent remarks made by the U.S. Ambassador to Israel on Israeli territorial claims in Judea and Samaria and the hints of Israel’s annexation plans intensified Palestinian concerns towards the unveiling of the first part of “the deal”. Palestinian officials had harshly criticized the participation of Arab countries in Bahrain conference, expressing hope that they will send low-key representation, while the Jordanian Kind explained that he decided to send a delegation to the summit “to listen and remain knowledgeable of what is taking place”.
Yet, the most fascinating thing about the economic conference is that it’s not at all about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict despite its title. With only one year left prior to the US presidential elections and considering the political turmoil in Israel and the unwillingness of the Palestinian partner to engage in any plan presented by Trump’s administration, there is little hope in Jerusalem, Ramallah or Washington that the “deal of the Century” will accumulate in peaceful solution in the current century.
Why, then, the American administration is investing time and energy in the upcoming Bahrain summit? The answer is clear: mostly, to consolidate the alliance of the “moderate Arab states”. Considering the recent dramatic events at the sea of Oman and the attack on two oil-tankers, it will not be far-fetched to imagine that the growing tensions in Iran will overshadow the official reason for the gathering. In the same fashion, the “anti-terror” conference in Warsaw that took place in February this year, was solely about Iran, while all other aspects of anti-terrorism activities were left behind. The deterioration of the situation in the Persian Gulf is crucial for the hosts and their allies – the Arab countries in the Gulf. Egypt and Jordan were required to be there because they are key American allies in the region who also maintain diplomatic relations with Israel. The plan that is envisaged by Kushner and Greenblatt will include economic benefits and development programs for both Amman and Cairo who are dealing with pressing economic hardships. Would they prefer to stay away from the conference that is being shunned by the Palestinians? Probably. Could these two countries, who receive significant economic help from the US say no to the invitation and not show up at the wedding of the century? Highly unlikely.
Ironically, some 52 years ago in Khartoum, it was the Arab league that had unanimously voted on the famous “three no’s” resolution in Khartoum, declining any possibility of dialogue with Israel. Today, when the Arab states are weakened by the “Arab spring” and preoccupied with growing tensions in the Persian Gulf while the focus has shifted from the Palestinian question elsewhere, they are more prone than ever to go along with practically any American plan, while the only ones who refuse to cooperate with Trump and obediently fulfil his orders are the Palestinians who will be absent from Manama gathering. The support of the Palestinian struggle and its importance in Arab politics had dwindled, while other regional affairs had moved center stage. Considering this dramatic change of circumstances, the odd wedding in Bahrain doesn’t seem so odd anymore. It can be seen as yet another step in American attempts to consolidate an Arab alliance against Iran. The Palestinian-Israel conflict that will keep simmering after the conference just as it did before has nothing to do with it.
Who benefits most of suspicious attacks on oil tankers, tensions in the Gulf?
The events roiling the Persian Gulf in recent weeks and days have the potential to affect everything from the price of gas to the fate of small regional states.
A look at the tensions going on around the world including the Middle East and Persian Gulf region, East Europe, Venezuela all indicate that these tensions originate from the US administration’s unilateral unlawful measures.
The White House’s unlawful withdrawal from the Iran’s nuclear deal (JCPOA), designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group, reimposing sanctions on Iran and trying to drive Iran’s oil export to zero all are provocative and suspicious moves of the US that have fueled the regional tensions.
The US and its regional allies including Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s suspicious and provocative move to accuse Iran of being behind the attacks on two ships at Fujairah in the UAE without presenting any document was also foiled by Iran’s vigilant approach and reduced tensions to some extent.
While the Japanese Prime Minister is visiting Iran after 4 decades and many expected even more reduction of the tensions in the region due his visit, in another suspicious and provocative move two oil tankers were targeted in Sea of Oman, a move that can intensify the tensions more than before.
Undoubtedly the US and its proxies in the region as usual will accuse of Iran being behind the incident without any document in hours once again, but the main question is that who is benefiting the most of the tensions in the Persian Gulf region?
Pondering the following reasons one can realize that the number one beneficiary of the tensions and attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East is the USA and respectively Tel Aviv and the undemocratically appointed rulers of some regional Arab states seeking their survival in following the US policies.
– Contrary to decades ago the US is now one of the biggest oil and gas producers in the world seeking to grab the market share of the other countries in the world. Following US unlawful withdrawal from the JCPOA and its efforts to drive Iran’s oil export to zero under the pretext of different accusations, in fact the US is making efforts not only to grab Iran’s share of the energy market but also to limit Iran’s income to reduce Iran’s regional influence. The US move to create tensions in Venezuela and East Europe and slapping sanctions against Caracas and Moscow can also be interpreted in this line.
– Any tension in the Persian Gulf not only will increase the energy price in global market but also will create enough pretexts for Washington to boost its military presence in the region. This means control of energy routes by the US in order to contain its rivals like China, EU, Japan and new rising economies like India which their economies are heavily dependent on the energy coming from the Persian Gulf and Middle East.
– Tensions in the region besides Iranophobia project will guarantee continuation of purchase of American weapons by some regional countries such as Saudi Arabia. By continuation of selling weapons to Saudi Arabia the US not only creates thousands of jobs for Americans but also keeps its rivals like China and Russia out of Middle East weapon market.
– Tensions and conflicts created by the US in Middle East has resulted in great rifts and divergence among regional states which is vital for Tel Aviv’s security and its expansionist policies.
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