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Iran, USA and Israel

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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When considering the direct connection between Iran and the Jewish State, we should never forget the issue of the border between the Golan Heights and Southern Lebanon.

 Nevertheless, while the Islamic Republic of Iran is increasingly interested in a periodic military confrontation with the United States – as it seems currently evident – it is so, also in this case, in an ever more indirect and unconventional way.

 Obviously this regards also the Israeli engagement to defend the country against the missile attacks of Iran, the Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad.

 The various types of overt military clash between Iran and Israel could be: a) a small-scale war on the Litani river border, but much more relevant than the one in 2006.

Or, b) a direct war between Israel and Iran, on the Syrian border and also an autonomous clash with Hezbollah on the Litani river – mainly a missile one –  in connection with the movements of the Shiite forces on the Golan border.

 Finally, c) a war could be possible on two borders between Israel and Iran: the Hezbollah, Iran and probably Syria would simultaneously fight a war against the Jewish State.

 The trigger could be a US, and possibly even Israeli, bombing of an Iranian nuclear site or the continued interdiction of the sea transit of Iranian oil cargo ships or anyway of freighters carrying Iranian oil or natural gas.

 In this context, decisive variables are the behaviour of Russia, which is now Syria’s master and has no interest in an Iranian-Israeli war, as well the behaviour of the United States itself, which could favour an action to support Israel but, probably, not long enough as it would be needed.

 The US political cycle often does not coincide with the necessary length of strategic operations.

 In this scenario there is still a possible danger for Israel, i.e.  a Russia that seeks to mediate or prevent the deployment of all the military options at stake, including the Israeli one. There is still the probable limitedness of the US intervention, as well as the structural inefficiency of international organizations to mediate and achieve peace.

 Hence, if- in the contrast within the US-Israeli-Iranian triangle, we head to a “long war”, an Israeli limited success will be more likely. Conversely, if all parties think of a “short war”, the Jewish State’s chances of success will rise. Finally, if the option is an asymmetrical war, for the time being the variables cannot be calculated.

 Moreover, a strategic need for Israel is to prevent Hezbollah and Iran from spreading the attack into several hotbeds, with a view to weakening their own defence forces.

 As is well-known, Hezbollah has about 100,000 missiles available from the Lebanon, but Iran has many more missiles, although only a few of them can reach the Israeli territory.

 Hence, if Hezbollah does not want to destroy its logistical base on the Litani river and its hegemonic relationship with the current Lebanese government – as a result of the Israeli counterattack in the Lebanon – the Shiite group must think of another possible operation, i.e. the already implemented operation to train its proxies from Iraq and Syria, with Iran’s clear support, so as to create a significant attack force on the Golan Heights.

 So far we have considered only the land warfare. In this three-country context, however, we must also think about the naval confrontation.

 Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar have long been at odds to acquire hegemony in the Western Indian Ocean and hence in the Persian Gulf.

 Here we also need to consider the Chinese maritime Silk Road, which is essential for the future equilibria, not just in the Middle East.

 However, there is the “eastward direction” of the Indian Ocean (and the Gulf itself), which will become increasingly important in the future. This is the direction of the major powers using Middle East oil and gas, as well as the direction of Saudi and UAE economies’ diversification, and finally the direction of Iran’s exit from the sanction regime.

Competition between ports will increase, including between the approximately sixteen ports of the Persian Gulf, while Saudi Arabia is already focusing on the Red Sea ports and the Emirates can currently invest directly only in Saudi infrastructure.

 We also need to consider the new and the old chokepoints: the Strait of Bab-el Mandeb, obviously, but also the Suez Canal.

 Also the militarization of the Red Sea (an anti-Iranian variable in the aforementioned war regions) underlines an already noted trend: Turkey, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran are carving out a strategic niche in the region for their power projections.

 The Emirates’ military bases in Eritrea and Somaliland are designed to ensure safe navigation in the Strait of Bab-El-Mandeb.

 There is also the Saudi military base in Djibouti, parallel to the Chinese and the US base, an essential military control point for the whole Middle East. Finally, in 2017, Turkey obtained the temporary control of Suakin in Sudan.

 Nevertheless, Iran’s Navy is currently the most present one throughout the Red Sea for “anti-piracy operations” – as it calls them.

 The Sunni monarchies’ policy is therefore competition between ports.

  Finally, India is increasingly connected to Oman and will soon build its own military base in Seychelles.

 In the future Saudi Arabia will enter Sinai permanently, in continuity with its future bases in the Red Sea.

 This will greatly change the Israeli Southern security dimension.

 Conversely, the Emirates will increasingly head to the Mediterranean or to Cyprus, Libya, Spain and France.

 Hence, as can easily be guessed, the Sunni maritime powers’ closure to Iran’s “long-arm” operations will be almost complete.

 At terrestrial level, there is already the “Arab alliance” against Iran, a project of President Trump’s Administration and of Israel.

 The problem is 2020, precisely the year in which the United Nations will put an end to the embargo against Iran, in keeping with Resolution No. 2231.

 Furthermore, the “alliance” also proposes to Israel the Arab Peace Initiative, the old regulatory framework of 2002, which is anyway already overtaken by events.

 According to The Economist, Saudi Arabia would even buy 100 billion of defence equipment from Israel.

 In short, Israel’s remote defence area is not 100% sure, but anyway reliable, at least until the first signs of a clash.

 We still wonder, however, how could a conflict between Iran and the USA develop.

 Probably Iran would directly hit the US military structures, without anyway hitting Saudi Arabia and the other US allies in the region.

 Moreover, as already stated by a Pasdaran leader, if the USA sent troops to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, Iran would hit the US cargo ships with missiles or “new top secret weapons”.

 In all likelihood, there would also be sabotage operations against Saudi Arabia and the Emirates – very similar to those recently occurred in the Gulf- so as to prevent the US and Israeli friendly powers from immediately entering the conflict between Iran and the United States (as well as Israel).

 Furthermore, considering that Saudi Arabia has always carefully hit the Iranian oil and gas export routes, for years there will be attacks on Saudi and Emirates’ freighters by the Houthi insurgency in Yemen and by other Shiite minorities armed by Iran.

 Iran will have no qualms about using its missile sector to drive away the military troops arriving in the Gulf and to harshly hit the US bases in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The war between Iran and the United States will be fought on Israeli territory alone.

 In this case, Iran could use both Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Southern Israel.

  The Syrian military organizations that are now trained by the Pasdaran in Syria itself will also be involved.

 The same holds true for the Shiite networks -again armed by Iran – already operating in Iraq.

 For the United States, the area of confrontation with Iran could go from the Euphrates area to its base in Tanf, on the border between Iraq, Syria and Jordan.

 Another Iranian target is the US military bases in Iraq.

 From Iraq, Iran’s direct point of contact with the United States is the Gulf of Oman.

 From the Gulf of Oman to Yemen there is the above mentioned Houthi insurgency. Hence we can see that Iran has a continuity between land and sea that other countries in the region have not.

 We also need to consider Iran’s recently reactivated enrichment of uranium.

 According to some analysts of the RAND Corporation, if it were relevant for the manufacturing of a new series of nuclear weapons – as cannot certainly be ruled out – the chances of a war between the USA and Iran (and hence Israel) would rise by approximately 35%.

 Furthermore, if we witnessed a military clash between the United States, Israel and Iran, the oil barrel price should reach approximately 150 US dollars, but there could also be a share of US oil and natural gas entering again the global market, which would significantly lower the oil barrel price.

 This is unlikely, at least until the next presidential election in 2020.

 Moreover, scientists believe that – considering the current 4.5% rate of uranium enrichment – the nuclear risk of bombing Iran is such that there is no danger of radiation outside the borders.

 What about Russia?

  For Russia Iran is a major bulwark to stop and curb the US power in the Middle East and to influence – from the United States – the world cycle of oil and gas prices, thus indirectly determining Russia’s economy cycles.

 Russia, however, wants to avoid confrontation with the USA in the Middle East.

 Another factor to consider are the sales of the very efficient Russian S-400 anti-missile system, which is already in the Turkish arsenals and will soon be in the Qatari ones.

 Moreover,Russia wants the EU to implement the INSTEX system that can make the European companies avoid the US sanction regime against Iran.

Russia also wants a powerful, autonomous and secular Syrian regime.

 It also wants any possible de-escalation between Iran and Israel.

 This is the system of forces in the field, with all the related variables.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Middle East

“Today Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen.”

Eric Zuesse

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On August 17th, an anonymous German intelligence analyst who has perhaps the world’s best track-record of publicly identifying and announcing historical turning-points, and who is therefore also a great investigative journalist regarding international relations (especially military matters, which are his specialty) headlined at his “Moon of Alabama” blog, “Long Range Attack On Saudi Oil Field Ends War On Yemen”, and he opened:

Today Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen. It has no defenses against new weapons the Houthis in Yemen acquired. These weapons threaten the Saudis economic lifelines. This today was the decisive attack:

Drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked a massive oil and gas field deep inside Saudi Arabia’s sprawling desert on Saturday, causing what the kingdom described as a “limited fire” in the second such recent attack on its crucial energy industry.  …

The Saudi acknowledgement of the attack came hours after Yahia Sarie, a military spokesman for the Houthis, issued a video statement claiming the rebels launched 10 bomb-laden drones targeting the field in their “biggest-ever” operation. He threatened more attacks would be coming. 

New drones and missiles displayed in July 2019 by Yemen’s Houthi-allied armed forces

Today’s attack is a check-mate move against the Saudis. Shaybah is some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from Houthi-controlled territory. There are many more important economic targets within that range.  …

The attack conclusively demonstrates that the most important assets of the Saudis are now under threat. This economic threat comes on top of a seven percent budget deficit the IMF predicts for Saudi Arabia. Further Saudi bombing against the Houthi will now have very significant additional cost that might even endanger the viability of the Saudi state. The Houthi have clown prince Mohammad bin Salman by the balls and can squeeze those at will.

He went on to say that the drones aren’t from Iran but are copies from Iran’s, “assembled in Yemen with the help of Hizbullah experts from Lebanon.”

He has been predicting for a long time that this war couldn’t be won by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud (MbS). In the present report, he says:

The war on Yemen that MbS started in March 2015 long proved to be unwinnable. Now it is definitely lost. Neither the U.S. nor the Europeans will come to the Saudis help. There are no technological means to reasonably protect against such attacks. Poor Yemen defeated rich Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi side will have to agree to political peace negotiations. The Yemeni demand for reparation payments will be eye watering. But the Saudis will have no alternative but to cough up whatever the Houthi demand.

The UAE was smart to pull out of Yemen during the last months.

If he is correct (and I have never yet found a prediction from him turn out to have been wrong), then this will be an enormous blow to the foreign markets for U.S.-made weapons, since the Sauds are the world’s largest foreign purchasers of those, and have spent profusely on them — and also on U.S. personnel to train their soldiers how to use them. So (and this is my prediction, not his), August 19th might be a good time to sell short U.S. armament-makers such as Lockheed Martin.

However: his prediction that “the Saudis will have no alternative but to cough up whatever the Houthi demand” seems to me to be the first one from him that could turn out to have been wrong. If the Sauds have perpetrated, say, $200 billion of physical damage to Yemen, but refuse to pay more than $100 billion in reparations, and the Housis then hit and take out a major Saudi oil well, isn’t it possible that the Sauds would stand firm? But if they do, then mightn’t it be wrong to say, at the present time, that: “Today Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen.”? He has gone out on limbs before, and I can’t yet think of any that broke under him. Maybe this one will be the first? I wouldn’t bet on that. But this one seems to me to be a particularly long limb. We’ll see!

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Middle East

The message behind the release of Iranian oil tanker

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The Gibraltar court ordered the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 to be released. The tanker was seized by the British Royal Marines about a month ago. 

This verdict was the ending of an elaborate game designed by John Bolton National Security Advisor of the United States and Mike Pompeo, carried out by the Britain government. 

With seizing the tanker, Bolton was trying to put psychological and political pressures on Iran and force other countries to form a consensus against Iran, but he couldn’t fulfill any of these goals. 

Iran’s firm, logical and wise answer to the seizure of Grace 1 (like making solid legal arguments) and the seriousness of our country’s armed forces in giving a proper response to Britain’s contemptuous act, made the White House lose the lead on reaching its ends. 

Washington imagined that the seizure of Grace 1 will become Trump’s winning card against Iran, but the release of the tanker (despite disagreement of the U.S.) became another failure for the White House in dealing with Iran.  

Obviously, London was also a total loser in this game. It is worth noting that U.S. was so persistent about keeping the oil tanker in custody that John Bolton traveled to London and insisted on British officials to continue the seizure of the ship. Their failure, however, clearly shows that the White House and its traditional ally, Britain, have lost a big part of their power in their relations with Iran. 

Clearly, the illegal seizure of the Iranian oil tanker by Britain proceeded by the seizure of a British tanker by Iran and the following interactions between the two countries is not the whole story and there is more to it that will be revealed in coming days. 

What we know for sure is that London has to pay for its recent anti-Iran plot in order to satisfy Washington; the smallest of these consequences was that Britain lost some of its legal credibility in international arena as it illegally captured an Iranian oil tanker. 

The order of the Gibraltarian court revealed that London had no legal right to seize the Iranian oil tanker and nobody can defend this unlawful action. Surely, Iran will take all necessary legal actions to further pursue the matter.  

In this situation, the Islamic Republic of Iran is firm on its position that it doesn’t have to follow the sanctions imposed by the European Union on other countries (including Syria). 

No entity can undermine this argument as it is based on legal terms; therefore, Iran will keep supporting Syrian nation and government to fight terrorism. This is the strategic policy of the Islamic Republic and will not be changed under the pressure or influence of any other third country. 

Finally, it should be noted that the release of Grace 1 oil tanker was not only a legal and political failure for Washington and London and their allies but it was also a strategic failure. Undoubtedly, the vast consequences of this failure will be revealed in near future. 

From our partner Tehran Times

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Middle East

Business and boxing: two sides of the same coin

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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What do a planned US$15 billion Saudi investment in petroleum-related Indian businesses and a controversial boxing championship have in common?

Both reflect a world in which power and economics drive policy, politics and business at the expense of fundamental rights.

And both underscore an emerging new world order in which might is right, a jungle in which dissenters, minorities and all other others are increasingly cornered and repressed.

Rather than furthering stability by building inclusive, cohesive societies both support trends likely to produce an evermore unstable and insecure world marked by societal strife, mass migration, radicalization and violence.

A world in which business capitalizes on decisions by a critical mass of world leaders who share autocratic, authoritarian and illiberal principles of governance and often reward each other with lucrative business deals for policies that potentially aggravate rather than reduce conflict.

No doubt, the planned acquisition by Saudi Arabia’s state-owned national oil company Aramco of 20 percent of the petroleum-related businesses of Reliance Industries, one of India’s biggest companies, makes commercial and strategic economic and business sense.

Yet, there is equally little doubt that the announcement of the acquisition will be read by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, days after he scrapped the autonomous status of the troubled, majority Muslim region of Kashmir, as a license to pursue his Hindu nationalist policies that discriminate against Muslims and other minorities and fuel tensions with Pakistan, the subcontinent’s other nuclear power.

The ultimate cost of the fallout of policies and business deals that contribute or give license to exclusion rather than inclusion of all segments of a population and aggravate regional conflict could be far higher than the benefits accrued by the parties to a deal.

Underscoring the risk of exclusionary policies and unilateral moves, cross border skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani forces erupted this week along the Kashmiri frontier in which at least five people were killed.

The timing of the announcement of the Aramco Reliance deal in a global environment in which various forms of racism and prejudice, including Islamophobia, are on the rise, assures Indian political and business leaders that they are unlikely to pay an immediate price for policies that sow discord and risk loss of life.

Like in the case of Saudi and Muslim acquiescence in China’s brutal clampdown on Turkic Muslims in the troubled, north-western Chinese province of Xinjiang, the most frontal assault on a faith in recent history, the announcement risks convincing embattled Muslim minorities like the Uighurs, the Kashmiris or Myanmar’s Rohingya who are lingering in refugee camps in Bangladesh that they are being hung out to dry.

To be sure, Kashmiris can count on the support of Pakistan but that is likely to be little more than emotional, verbal and political.

Pakistan is unlikely to risk blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog, at its next scheduled meeting in October by unleashing its anti-Indian militants.

Anthony Joshua’s controversial fight with Andy Ruiz scheduled for December in Saudi Arabia, the first boxing championship to be held in the Middle East, pales in terms of its geopolitical or societal impact compared to the Saudi Indian business deal.

Fact is that Saudi Arabia’s hosting of the championship has provoked the ire of activists rather than significant population groups. The fight is furthermore likely to be seen as evidence and a strengthening of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s selective efforts to socially liberalize the once austere kingdom.

Nonetheless, it also reinforces Prince Mohammed’s justified perception that Saudi Arabia can get away with imprisoning activists who argued in favour of his reforms as well as the lack of transparency on judicial proceedings against the alleged perpetrators of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia insists the killing was perpetrated by rogue operatives.

What Saudi investment in India and the scheduled boxing championship in the kingdom have in common is that both confirm the norms of a world in which ‘humane authority,’ a concept developed by prominent Chinese international relations scholar Yan Xuetong, is a rare quantity.

Mr. Yan employs the concept to argue without referring to President Xi Jinping, Xinjiang, China’s aggressive approach towards the South China Sea or its policy towards Taiwan and Hong Kong that China lacks the humane authority to capitalize on US President Donald J. Trump’s undermining of US leadership.

Mr. Yan defines a state that has humane authority as maintaining strategic credibility and defending the international order by becoming an example through adherence to international norms, rewarding states that live up to those norms and punishing states that violate them. Garnering humane authority enables a state to win allies and build a stable international order.

Mr. Yan’s analysis is as applicable to India and Saudi Arabia as it is to China and others that tend towards civilizational policies like the United States, Russia, Hungary and Turkey.

It is equally true for men like Anthony Joshua promoter Eddie Hearn and business leaders in general.

To be sure, Aramco is state-owned and subject to government policy. Nonetheless, as it prepares for what is likely to be the world’s largest initial public offering, even Aramco has to take factors beyond pure economic and financial criteria into account.

At the end of the day, the consequence of Mr. Yan’s theory is that leadership, whether geopolitical, economic or business, is defined as much by power and opportunity as it is by degrees of morality and ethics.

Failure to embrace some notion of humane authority and reducing leadership and business decisions to exploiting opportunity with disregard for consequences or the environment in which they are taken is likely to ultimately haunt political and business leaders alike.

Said Mr. Yan: “Since the leadership of a humane authority is able to rectify those states that disturb the international order, the order based on its leadership can durably be maintained.”

What is true for political leaders is also true for business leaders even if they refuse to acknowledge that their decisions have as much political as economic impact.

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