Thursday, 21 January 2016

On Iran and geopolitics

Iran Nuclear Deal Leaves Tehran Looking Stronger as
So Many of Its Neighbours Fall Apart
Analysis: Iran has escaped years of isolation and the threat of war without sustaining much damage

Patrick Cockburn

17 January, 2016

Iran is politically and economically stronger because of the agreement on its nuclear programme and the partial end of sanctions.

Israel and Saudi Arabia had argued in their different ways that such a deal would open the door to a radical expansion of Iranian influence in the Middle East. The late Saudi King Abdullah was notorious for calling on the US to go to war with Iran and “cut off the head of the snake”. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously produced a cartoon drawing at the UN to show how close Iran was to producing a nuclear bomb.

If all this demonisation and threat inflation had been true then the agreement with Iran would mark a transformation of the politics of the Middle East. Iran would pause only to digest new oil revenues and an end to its pariah status before embarking on a policy of aggression across the region. In reality the political landscape is changed but not transformed by limited détente between the US and Iran while the inter-related wars and crises in Syria, Iraq and Yemen remain largely as they were.

A remarkable feature of the wider Middle East over the past 15 years has been that the most-radical instruments of change have been the US and its allies, such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, which should have had the greatest interest in maintaining the status quo.

Provoked by 9/11, a US-led coalition overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003. Iran was delighted to find that without it having to lift a finger the West had disposed of two of its worst enemies.

In 2011 the West, led by the US and Sunni states, saw the popular uprisings throughout the Arab world as a chance to get rid of regimes with whom they were at odds. The war in Syria was an opportunity to weaken Iran by eliminating its biggest ally in the Arab world, but instead the war, and likewise that in Yemen, may end up doing more damage to Iran’s rivals such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf monarchies.

There will presumably be less hostility between the US and Iran in future, but there is little sign of this making much difference to the wars in Syria and Yemen. Iran may be attending the Syrian peace talks in Vienna on 25 January, but there is limited expectation that the negotiations will succeed. The US is staying loyal to its allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey which are the bedrock of its power in the Middle East. Claims that President Barack Obama was dumping old alliances in favour of new ones were always exaggerated.

The most-striking feature of the present agreement is that Iran has escaped years of isolation and the threat of war without sustaining much damage. It also looks a stronger regional power because many of its neighbours are weakened by internal divisions or civil war.

Israel vs Iran: Israel loses, *big* time

19 January, 2016

Today I have already posted two excellent analyses of the (possibly temporary) failure of the USA to submit Iran to its will: one by Alexander Mercouris, the other by Soraya Sepahpour Ulrich.  I shall not repeat their very arguments here, mainly because both see this as a conflict between the USA and Iran, whereas I see that as a conflict between Israel and Iran in which Israel attempted, but failed, to get the USA to fight on its behalf.  This is also, albeit to a lesser degree, a conflict opposing the House of Saud to Iran, and the KSA is the other big loser here.  But first, let us look at the real causes of this confrontation.
First and foremost, I have never accepted the theory that the reason behind this was some kind of Iranian military nuclear program.  While there is no doubt that Iran has been trying to master a host of nuclear technologies for many years, and while some of them could conceivable by used for military purposes, I am absolutely convinced that the US Israel Lobby and the Neocons have used this as a pretext to trigger a confrontation between Iran and the USA.  Why do I say that?  For two reasons:
First, there has never been any real evidence of an Iranian military nuclear program, but even more important is the fact that Iran never had any need for nuclear weapons.  A lot of anti-Iranian propaganda is directly predicated on the notion that having nuclear weapons is highly desirable, yields some big advantage, and that all nations would want to acquire them. This is utter nonsense.  In reality, possessing a few nuclear devices would only turn these devices into high priority targets for destruction by the USA and/or Israel.  And even if, by some miracle, the Iranians managed to hide these devices while deploying them on missiles or aircraft, using any one such device would guarantee a massive retaliation from the Empire.  What is the point of having a few nukes when Israel has hundreds?  Finally, the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has declared many times that nuclear weapons are forbidden for Iran because they are un-Islamic.  But we are so used to being ruled by lying politicians that we have apparently lost the ability to imagine that any leader would actually speak the truth, be guided by his conscience or, even less so, his faith.  So we just dismissed it all.
Second, the threat which Iran really poses to Israel (and the KSA) is not a nuclear one – it is acivilizational one.  Think of it:
Iran is an Islamic Republic and the only country on the planet which has dared to openly defy both Israel and the USA.  Not only that, it also represent a radically different model of Islam than the one of the Saudi Wahabis.  Iran is a country which has managed to survive a war unleashed against it by the joint efforts of the USA, the Soviet Union, France and Iraq, which prevailed against the most powerful Baathist ruler of the Middle-East, and which then proceeded to survive economically and politically in spite of decades of crippling sanctions imposed by all the industrialized countries on the planet.  Furthermore, and in contrast to all the Arab and Muslim countries out there, Iran is the only one which as always truly supported the Palestinian cause and which has provided crucial backing for the most formidable national liberation movement on the planet: Hezbollah.  So yes, Iran is very, very dangerous for Israel and for the Saudis.
This is why since roughly 2002 the usual cabal of  US deep state actors, the Neocons, the Israel Lobby, the Israelis themselves and, of course, the Saudis have embarked on a massive campaign to force Iran to its knees and give in to totally ridiculous demands which go way beyond what the NPT mandates (note: while Iran has always been a member in good standing of the NPT, Israel has never accepted to become a member; but then, Israel is not a “rogue state” but the “only democracy in the Middle-East”, right?).
Then things began acquiring their own momentum: if the Empire and Israel had decreed that Iran must either comply or be turned into ruins (economically or militarily) then this absolutely must happen.  But, of course, it did not.  So breaking Iran soon became a goal in itself: to prove that nobody can defy the AngloZionists and survive.  Iran, of course, not only survived but prospered.  And thanks to the fantastically short-sighted policies of the USA and Israel, Iran actually managed to increase its influence in the region, especially after the US invasion of Iraq.  Not only has Iran become a key player in Iraq, but thanks to the “Divine Victory” of Hezbollah against the “invincible Tsahal” in 2006 Iran also became the ally and patron of the only military force in the region to have single-handedly defeated the Zionist state.
As for the Saudis, they are terrified of this Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah coalition which, they believe, is threatening them, and their anti-Shia crusade in Bahrein, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.  The Saudis also fear the fact that Iran is the proof that an Islamic state does not have to be a backward, primitive and oppressive regime, but that Islam, modernity and people-power can coexist and be successfully combined (hence the failure of the CIA-backed Iranian elites to overthrown the Islamic Republic during the “Gucci Revolution”).
It is therefore not surprising that the Israelis and Saudis are absolutely livid at the agreement negotiated between Iran and the P5+1.  For these two countries, the lifting of sanctions against Iran, even combined with the imposition of new, “mini-sanctions”, by the USA, represents the failure of over a decade of sustained anti-Iranian efforts.
This is now the 2nd time that Obama has agreed to basically exchange something against nothing: the first time around, Obama had to cancel a US attack against Syria in exchange for the (costly) destruction of utterly useless Syrian chemical weapons, and now Obama is lifting sanctions in exchange for the monitoring of a non-existent Iranian military nuclear program.  The Israelis fully understand that, and it is no wonder that they hate Obama with a passion.
I sure hope that I am wrong, but I cannot conceive of the Israelis or Saudis simply accepting this situation.  There is no way the Zionist and Wahabi crazies will allow Iran to successfully humiliate them and continue to prosper and grow right in their “back yard” (from their point of view, of course).
In purely military terms, neither Israel nor the KSA have what it takes to successfully attack Iran, nevermind defeating it.  The Israelis were not even capable of controlling a minor Lebanese town right across their own border border (Bint Jbeil) even though they tried for 33 day.  As for the insanely wealthy Saudis can’t even defeat the dirt-poor Houthis in Yemen.  If anything, the KSA and Israel are the proof that neither money not expensive high-tech hardware is not what builds a strong military force.  Compare them with the Iranians who are the folks who trained Hezbollah! QED.
As for the US armed forces, they are overstretched, over-committed and barely holding on to a few positions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they don’t have what it takes to fight Iran either, at least not on the ground.  And, let’s be honest here, the US armed forces are much better at organizing high-visibility “PR drives” (literally) involving a few APCS and Humvees in the Baltics, the Ukraine and Poland than at fighting a determined enemy.  So even if most Presidential candidates now speak about “confronting Russia”, the reality is that the US cannot do much more than bombing a country like Serbia, and even that took the full support of NATO air forces and ended up in an abject failure (at least from the purely military point of view).
This is why the Empire will have to turn to its traditional set of dirty tricks: false flags, support for various terrorist groups, subversion of the Islamic Republic by means of the local money elites, sabotage, “human rights” campaigns (à la Neda), support for “gay rights”, arming of separatists groups, etc.
But, at least for the time being, this is a huge victory for Iran and and equally huge defeat for Israel: the poor Zionists have now been robbed of not one, but two wars they wanted so badly, and even their “success” in Libya is not enough of a consolation.  I can hear the desperate oy vey shouts even from here :-)
Since this is a great day for Iran, I leave you with a beautiful song written by the Iranian rapper Yas in reaction to the release of the US propaganda movie 300 (see the translated lyrics below the video).  Enjoy!
The Saker

Iran versus US: Iran Wins

Russia InsiderThe lifting of sanctions is an unequivocal victory for Iran, sealing its regional position, and leaving its nuclear capability intact

by Alexander Mercouris for Russia Insider.

18 January, 2016

Confirmation that international sanctions on Iran have at last been lifted is unequivocally a victory for Iran.
The sanctions should never have been imposed in the first place.
As I said in April last year in an article I wrote for Sputnik, the evidence suggests Iran did indeed once have a nuclear weapons programme.
That programme was not however intended as a threat to the US or Israel or – needless to say – the EU.
The Iranian leadership is fully aware that a nuclear weapons programme targeting those countries is far more likely to provoke an attack on Iran than to deter one, and that Iran might not survive such an attack.
Rather Iran’s nuclear programme was intended to deter a nuclear attack from Iran’s main regional rival – Saddam Hussein’s Iraq – which is known to have had a nuclear weapons programme in the decade preceding the 1991 Gulf War.
Having fought a bitter war against Saddam Hussein between 1980 and 1988, Iran could not afford to let him acquire nuclear weapons whilst being itself disarmed. It is entirely understandable therefore that the Iranian leadership sought to counter Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons programme with a nuclear weapons programme of their own.
All the evidence however points to the Iranian nuclear weapons programme being significantly downgraded in the decade following Saddam Hussein’s defeat in 1991, and then having been abandoned completely following his overthrow in 2003.
Not only is that the conclusion all the evidence points to, but it is also the opinion of the US intelligence community, which in 2007 publicly confirmed that Iran was no longer pursuing a nuclear weapons programme.
Even the US government does not dispute this. Here is what US Secretary of State Kerry had to say about the Iranian nuclear programme in an interview with Reuters in August 2015:
Our judgment is that clearly there was a period where Iran was chasing a nuclear weapon. We have no doubt about that. In 2003, we found them red-handed with facilities they shouldn’t have had and material they shouldn’t have had………..They have not pursued a weapon – to our best judgment and to the judgment of all of our allies, they haven’t pursued a weapon per se since that period of time.”

It is therefore nothing short of bizarre that US demands Iran discontinue its nuclear weapons programme took off precisely after Iran had – as the US knew – abandoned its nuclear weapons programme.
Not only did Iran face a succession of ever more threatening demands to abandon a nuclear programme the US knew it had already abandoned, but these demands were combined with ever harsher sanctions, culminating in the most comprehensive package of sanctions of all, imposed on Iran as recently as 2012.
These demands and these sanctions were accompanied by a constant drumbeat of propaganda against Iran.
Its leaders were called religious fanatics and sponsors of terrorism. They were accused of genocidal and megalomaniac plans there is no evidence they ever had.
Iran was accused of plotting aggression against neighbouring countries, though there is no evidence of this, and though the single greatest act of aggression carried out in the recent history of the Middle East was Saddam Hussein’s attack on Iran – which the Western powers and the Arab states supported.
Meanwhile the country itself was represented as a repressive and reactionary medieval theocracy, which – for all its problems – no one who knows anything of the country believes it is.
All this happened alongside continuous threats of military action, which – according to some reports  – on more than one occasion came dangerously close to happening, and which the same reports say only failed to happen because of the strong opposition of the US military.
Why this relentless pressure and threats against a country for supposedly having a nuclear weapons programme which in reality – as everyone knew – it had stopped having?
The short answer is that the US and its regional allies – Israel and Saudi Arabia – became alarmed at the influence Iran achieved in the region following the US’s overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Whatever the US’s intentions when it overthrew Saddam Hussein, a regionally dominant position for a politically independent and (relatively) democratic Iran was definitely not one of them.
That however was precisely what Saddam Hussein’s overthrow brought about.
The defeat of Israel by Iran’s ally Hezbollah in 2006 was for Washington – and Riyadh and Jerusalem – the final straw.
The result was the relentless campaign launched against Iran in connection with a nuclear weapons programme everyone knew no longer existed.
Inevitably, in order to give some coherence to this campaign, it escalated into a demand that Iran abandon any attempt to develop an independent nuclear capability at all – whether it be for military or civilian use.
That in essence was what the demand had become over the last few years.
Not surprisingly Iran rejected this demand – which would have required it to stop doing what it had every legal right to do – as would any other country that was faced with such a demand but which valued its political independence.
In the meantime, as the pressure on Iran grew, governments and people in the Middle East who were seen as either actually or potentially allied to Iran – including the Syrian government of President Bashar Al-Assad, the democracy movements in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and the Houthi movement in Yemen, also came under attack.
The result is a Middle East racked by instability and war.
The lifting of sanctions against Iran represents the failure of this policy.
It has not happened because Iran has made concessions over the state of its nuclear programme.
Those concessions Iran did make do not compromise Iran’s ability to develop an independent nuclear capability – which is all Iran has been doing for many years now, and which was the red line it was not prepared to cross. If the US had wanted an agreement along these lines, it could have had it long ago.
It has happened for two other reasons
The first reason is that Iran did not buckle under the pressure.
Far from giving up its nuclear programme, it responded by escalating it to the point where it had mastered the entire nuclear fuel cycle – thereby showing to the US that there was nothing the US could do to stop it.
The second reason was that in 2014 the great Eurasian powers – Russia and China – finally called a stop to the sanctions policy.
The key event was rumours that began to spread in the autumn of 2014 that Russia and Iran were close to finalising an “oil for goods” swap deal, and that Russia was reconsidering its previous decision not to supply S300 missiles to Iran.
This together with fears that China was looking for ways to provide financing to Iran through the new financial institutions it was setting up, caused alarm in Washington that the entire sanctions regime was about to collapse.
Of particular concern for Washington was the fear that following the Russian and Chinese moves it would be impossible for the US to keep its European allies in line by persuading them to continue with a sanctions policy they could no longer see the point in.
The result was that when Iran offered the US a face-saving way out in the form of the present agreement, the US had no option but to agree.
Here is what Secretary of State Kerry had to say about all this in the same interview with Reuters I quoted from above:
But if everybody thinks, “Oh, no, we’re just tough; the United States of America, we have our secondary sanctions; we can force people to do what we want.” I actually heard that argument on television this morning. I’ve heard it from a number of the organisations that are working that are opposed to this agreement. They’re spreading the word, “America is strong enough, our banks are tough enough; we can just bring the hammer down and force our friends to do what we want them to.”
Well, look – a lot of business people in this room. Are you kidding me? The United States is going to start sanctioning our allies and their banks and their businesses because we walked away from a deal and we’re going to force them to do what we want them to do even though they agreed to the deal we came to? Are you kidding?
That is a recipe quickly, my friends, for them to walk away from Ukraine, where they are already very dicey and ready to say, “Well, we’ve done our bit.” They were ready in many cases to say, “Well, we’re the ones paying the price for your sanctions.” We – it was Obama who went out and actually put together a sanctions regime that had an impact. By – I went to China. We persuaded China, “Don’t buy more oil.” We persuaded India and other countries to step back.
Can you imagine trying to sanction them after persuading them to put in phased sanctions to bring Iran to the negotiating table, and when they have not only come to the table but they made a deal, we turn around and nix the deal and then tell them you’re going to have to obey our rules on the sanctions anyway?
That is a recipe very quickly, my friends, businesspeople here, for the American dollar to cease to be the reserve currency of the world – which is already bubbling out there…..”

What Kerry is saying here is that the US had no choice. If it had not agreed to the deal Iran offered, the sanctions regime would have collapsed, dealing a humiliating defeat to the US.
Rather than face that disaster the US had no alternative but to agree to what Iran offered.
What that amounts to is an agreement to lift the sanctions in return for limits on a nuclear programme Kerry admits was never intended to result in a nuclear weapon in the first place.
The deal however still leaves Iran in possession of the technology it has developed. Indeed, according to some experts, the deal leaves Iran with the material and technology to develop a nuclear weapon in about a year, should it ever choose to do so.
This interview of Kerry’s has not been widely reported despite – or perhaps because – it casts a fascinating light on the private thoughts of the US government.
First of all it shows that for all its outward show of confidence the US government is acutely worried about the long-term position of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and is nervous of doing anything – such as threatening to enforce sanctions on its European allies – that might undermine it
Those like the US economist Paul Krugman who say the US dollar’s reserve currency status doesn’t matter should know the US government doesn’t agree with them.
Kerry’s interview also shows that for all the outward show of unity, behind the scenes the US’s sanctions policy against Russia is coming in for a great deal of criticism, with European governments clearly unenthusiastic about it – just as they were unenthusiastic about the sanctions the US persuaded them to impose on Iran.
Lastly, it also shows that for all the tough talk and bluster, the US’s actual ability to force its will on its European allies is limited, and that the US knows it.
If the major European governments unite to oppose a policy, the US has no option but to back down and abandon it.
Ultimately however the single most important thing that comes out from Kerry’s interview is the smell of defeat.
Though Kerry makes the best case for the Iran deal he can, he cannot in the end hide the fact that it was the imminent collapse of the sanctions regime that forced the US’s hand, and which forced it to agree a deal with Iran that it would not have agreed to otherwise.
There is an important lesson here for Russia.
Iran is a much smaller, much poorer and much weaker country than Russia. Though by no means an undeveloped country, it lacks the vast scientific, technological and industrial resources that Russia has.
Nor does Iran have the global influence or the advantage of permanent membership of the UN Security Council that Russia has.
The sanctions the US imposed on Iran hurt Iran far more than the sanctions the US has imposed on Russia have hurt Russia.
Like Russia Iran also has a small but very vocal minority that hankers for rapprochement with the US at literally any price. In 2009 this minority tried unsuccessfully to stage a colour revolution in Tehran – just as Russia’s similar minority tried – and failed – to stage a colour revolution in Moscow in 2011.
In the end, by standing firm on all the essentials whilst acting at all times with maximum flexibility, Iran has seen the challenge off.
The result is Iran has emerged the unequivocal victor from this affair, with its position today stronger than it was a decade ago – before the attack on it began.
If Iran can win this sort of duel against the US, then so can Russia.
Russia is in a much better position to do it than Iran was.
There is no reason in fact why Russia should not do it, and there is no reason to doubt it will.

CrossTalk on Iran: Neocon revenge?

With the end of the original sanctions now in play, Washington’s neocons and allies are down, but certainly not on the run. What is their greatest fear? That peace and prosperity will break out? In the meantime, what will be the impact on Iran – the country that is the clear winner in all of this?

CrossTalking with Hillary Leverett, Ghoncheh Tazmini, and Ali Fathollah-Neja

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