India has key first-mover edge on China in Iran

India doubling down on Iran’s Chabahar port project as strategic counter to China’s Belt and Road gains trade traction

By FM SHAKIL

When China clinched a massive $400 billion bilateral investment pact with Iran, few noted that India was already well-engaged.

By the end of May, India will begin full-scale operations in its first foreign port venture at Iran’s Chabahar. That is facility that opens on the Gulf of Oman that will aim to facilitate more South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East trade while bypassing Pakistan.

India’s US$500 million investment represents a clear and potent commercial challenge to China’s massive port investment in neighboring Pakistan’s Gwadar. Gwadar is a key component of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The 10-year lease agreement, a deal first clinched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Tehran in 2016, has until now been hobbled by US sanctions imposed under the Donald Trump administration.  

Indian suppliers and engineers, some with interests in the US, were reluctant to deliver essential machinery and services to Iran on fears they could somehow be sanctioned, despite clear exemptions on Chabahar in Trump’s sanction order. That led to certain speculation that China may take over the project from India.

New Delhi has doubled down and accelerated the project with the shift from Trump to Biden. It is banking like others on a new breakthrough on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement and a broader US-Iran warming trend.

Aerial view of Iran’s Chabahar port. Image: Twitter

India has supplied two large cargo-moving cranes. It will deliver two more in the coming weeks before the facility’s expected ceremonial opening.

New Delhi is already promoting the port’s potential humanitarian role, noting it was used to send emergency shipments of wheat to Afghanistan during the Covid-19 crisis and pesticide to Iran to deal with a recent locust infestation.

Pakistan is getting worried about losing regional trade

India’s renewed commitment to Iran via Chabahar is already setting alarm bells ringing in neighboring Pakistan, which is already losing regional trade mainly from Afghanistan to Iran despite US sanctions.

India and Pakistan recently announced a renewed commitment to an existing 2003 ceasefire over contested Kashmir. That move that should allow both to focus more on economic linkages than strategic rivalry.

Chabahar has seen limited operations since 2019, a result of US restrictions imposed on Iran’s energy exports. The port handled a mere 123 vessels with 1.8 million tons of bulk and general cargo from February 2019 to January 2021. It is well below its operating capacity, according to reports.

That’s set to change. New Delhi ultimately aims to link Chabahar to its International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). It is a project initially proposed by India, Russia and Iran in 2000 and later joined by 10 other Central Asian nations.

Some see the INSTC as a less-monied rival to China’s BRI. Belt-Road-Initiative has invested heavily in Pakistan’s road, power and trade infrastructure. And including huge multi-billion dollar investments at Gwadar port some critics have likened to a debt trap.

Security concerns sparked by armed groups in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, where Gwadar is situated, have hindered progress on various BRI projects and pushed Pakistan to recently ramp up security at the Beijing-invested port.

From India to Europe – cheaper and faster

INSTC envisions a 7,200 kilometer-long, multimode network comprised of shipping, rail and road links. It is connecting India’s Mumbai with Europe via Moscow and Central Asia. Initial estimates suggest INSTC could cut current carriage costs by about 30% and travel times by half.

That means more trade and port activity for Iran and less for Pakistan. Last year Iran has already usurped 70% of Pakistan’s recent transport business at Karachi port.

Landlocked Afghanistan has traditionally relied on Pakistan as its gateway to international shipping routes. However, recent trends indicate that as much as 70% of Afghan transit trade is now handled by Iran.

If India presses ahead as planned with INSTC, Pakistan would be the ultimate loser as Afghan and Central Asian transport business diverts increasingly to Chabahar and away from Karachi and Gwadar.

“Iran had already started working on a 600-kilometer-long railway line connecting Chabahar port to Zahedan, the provincial capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province close to the Afghan border,” he said.

India has already lined up $1.6 billion for the project to facilitate the movement of goods to and from Afghanistan via Iran. India also plans to invest $2 billion to develop supporting infrastructure including the Chabahar-Hajigak railway line in Afghanistan.

Many Afghan traders are plugging into Chabahar

Many Afghan traders still rely on traditional transit routes through Pakistan. However, many are plugging into Chabahar’s comparative cost-effectiveness and speed in handling transit cargo, analysts say. The same is true for Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other landlocked Central Asian countries looking for alternatives to Pakistani ports.      

Pakistan-Afghanistan trade has recently fallen from around $2.5 billion to $1 billion annually due to wide-ranging differences over the now expired transit agreement.

“Afghans want Pakistan to allow Afghan wheelers to enter into Indian border areas through Wagah for transportation of Afghan export goods and on return upload import consignments from India,”

“Pakistan on the other hand argues that the APTTA is a bilateral arrangement between Pakistan and Afghanistan and not a trilateral agreement to facilitate mutual trade between India and Afghanistan,”.

Chabahar is Iran’s only oceanic port and so far consists of Shahid Kalantari and Shahid Beheshti terminals. Each of which has five berth facilities. The port is located in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province. It is about 120 kilometers southwest of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, where the China-funded Gwadar port is situated.

In May 2016, India, Iran and Afghanistan signed a trilateral agreement for the strategically-located Chabahar to give New Delhi access to Kabul and Central Asia without having to travel through Pakistan.

Chabahar is regional project unlike Gwadar which is China oriented

The original plan committed at least $21 billion to the so-called Chabahar–Hajigak corridor, which then included $85 million for Chabahar port development, a $150 million credit line to Iran, an $8 billion India-Iran MoU for Indian industrial investment in a Chabahar special economic zone, and $11 billion for the Hajigak iron and steel mining project awarded to seven Indian companies in central Afghanistan.

Unlike Chabahar, which is designed more to serve the economic and trade interests of the wider region, Gwadar is more tilted toward Beijing’s ambitions, analysts and traders say.

Gwadar port’s planned capacity will accommodate a massive 300 to 400 million tons of cargo annually, comparable to the combined annual capacity of all Indian ports. It also dwarfs the 10-12 million tons of cargo handling capacity now planned for Chabahar.

In another comparison, the largest US port at Long Beach, California, handles 80 million tons of cargo, about a quarter of what Gwadar could handle upon completion of a project that is designed largely to receive and move China’s, not the region’s, trade.

Declassified – An alternative to the Suez Canal

In 1963, the United States developed a plan to build a canal from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba through Israel. It would become an alternative to the Suez Canal. To dig the channel, it was planned to arrange a series of nuclear explosions in the Negev desert. The project was not implemented due to fears of a negative reaction from neighboring Arab countries. Historian Alex Wellerstein recalled the idea of ​​more than half a century ago in connection with the blocking of the Suez Canal by a grounded container ship

In the 1960s, the United States considered the creation of an artificial waterway that could serve as an alternative to the Suez Canal. It was assumed that the watercourse will pass through the territory of Israel. The American memorandum of 1963 with the corresponding project was declassified in 1996. Now historian Alex Wellerstein remembered about him, having posted a post on his Twitter.

The scientist noted that for the implementation of the plan, it would be required to use 520 atomic bombs

The memorandum was prepared by the Livermore National Laboratory. E. Lawrence (laboratory of the US Department of Energy) and envisaged the use of nuclear charges to create a channel. Explosives were given priority over the traditional method of digging, which was deemed too costly. Wellerstein calculated that for every mile (1.6 km) of the trench, four 2 megaton charges would be needed.

The length of the canal through Israel was supposed to be more than 250 km.

“Such a canal will become a valuable alternative to the Suez Canal and is likely to make a great contribution to economic development,” the memorandum said.

The document provided for several route options. One of them connected the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba through the Negev Desert in Israel. Further, the ships would fall into the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. As noted by the experts of the Livermore Laboratory, the canal would pass through an almost uninhabited desert area. This, in their conclusion, made it possible to build the canal with the help of nuclear explosions.

Google Maps / Insider
The technological capabilities of that time made it possible to implement such a plan.

The main obstacle to the launch of the project lay in the political plane. The drafters of the memorandum expressed concern that “the Arab countries surrounding Israel will categorically object to the construction of such a channel.”

According to Forbes, a similar canal digging method was intended to be used in Central America.

Wellerstein recalled the plans of the United States almost 60 years ago in connection with a new state of emergency in the Suez Canal. On March 23, 2021, a huge container ship Ever Given ran aground and completely blocked traffic. According to initial assessments of the situation, work on unblocking the shipping route should have taken no more than two or three days. However, the problem turned out to be more serious. Most likely, the ship will be removed from the shallows within a few weeks, which will lead to economic difficulties, because the ships will have to go around Africa. At the moment, work is underway around the container ship to deepen the bottom. Special tugs are trying unsuccessfully to pull the stranded vessel from the shallows.

“A modest proposal to rectify the situation with the Suez Canal,” Wellerstein commented on his tweet outlining the main provisions of the memorandum. “If I were Elon Musk , legions of fans would applaud me right now.”

The 160 km long Suez Canal was opened for shipping in 1869.

During the First and Second World Wars, traffic on it was regulated by the British. In 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced the nationalization of the canal. In response, the United States, Great Britain and France tried to impose international control of the Suez Canal on Cairo, removing it from Egyptian sovereignty and ensuring that the channel is exploited in the interests of large foreign monopolies. This led to the Suez Crisis, causing the canal to collapse and shut down until the following year.

The Suez Canal was closed again in 1967 after the Six Day War. Subsequently, Soviet specialists took part in mine clearance after the Yom Kippur War in 1973. The canal was reopened for shipping in 1975.

Iran and China Sign ‘Historic’ 25-Year $400 Billion Strategic Partnership Agreement

The signing ceremony came after years of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations. Chinese President Xi Jinping first proposing a draft version of a comprehensive agreement with Tehran during his 2016 visit to Iran

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi signed the highly anticipated Iran-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership agreement after more than five years of grueling talks.

The comprehensive agreement, signed in Tehran on Saturday, consists of 20 articles, and although details of the pact have yet to be provided, local media indicates that it likely covers everything from political and cultural ties to “security and defence” and “regional and international” cooperation.

The deal reportedly envisions increasing bilateral trade over 10-fold to $600 billion per year. It promises Iran Chinese investment of as much as $400 billion. Mainly into the Middle Eastern nation’s oil, gas, petrochemicals, renewable energy and nuclear energy infrastructure. Tehran is committing to becoming a major reliable source of energy for Beijing.

Bringing Iran into the grasp of Belt and Road infrastructure scheme

The accord also brings Iran into the grasp of Beijing’s Belt and Road infrastructure scheme. An ambitious scheme worth the equivalent of over $1 trillion. It is aiming to link China to Europe and Africa via a series of new land- and sea-based infrastructure projects across dozens of nations.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani praised the signing of the agreement. He expressed gratitude to Beijing for its support for Tehran in the international arena in the face of unilateral US sanctions, including insofar as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal is concerned.

Rouhani went on to suggest that the US military presence in West Asia is the root cause of regional instability. He stressed the importance of collective efforts by regional parties to ensure regional security. Also including via Iran’s proposed Hormuz Peace Initiative mechanism.

Foreign Minister Zarif called the agreement a “historic 25-year strategic roadmap.” Then said he and Foreign Minister Wang had an “excellent exchange on expansion of global, regional and bilateral cooperation in the context of our comprehensive strategic partnership.”

“The nail in the coffin ending US imperialist hegemony over West Asia”

Wang echoed the Iranian officials’ sentiments, saying “relations between the two countries have now reached the level of strategic partnership.” Also that “China seeks to comprehensively improve relations with Iran.”

The foreign minister added that China’s ties with Tehran “will not be affected by the current situation, but will be permanent and strategic,” noting that “unlike some countries,” Iran “does not change its position because of a phone call.”

Independent investigative journalist Ben Norton called the deal “huge.” He characterized it as “the nail in the coffin ending US imperialist hegemony over West Asia.”

Bloomberg described the inking of the deal as a “challenge” to the Biden administration. As the latter works to “rally allies” against Beijing. “Iran’s closer integration with China may help shore up its economy against the impact of [US sanctions]. It is sending a clear signal to the Biden administration of Tehran’s intentions.”

A draft version of the agreement is thought to have been leaked by the New York Times last year. It is envisioning security cooperation, intelligence sharing, joint drills, and dramatically expanded economic ties. Tehran did not confirm the authenticity of the leaked document at the time. However it admitted that it was indeed negotiating a major 25-year strategic partnership agreement with Beijing.

After the Biden administration made clear that it would not lift sanctions and return to the nuclear deal unless Iran dramatically reduced its uranium enrichment activities, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced that “the post-US era” had begun.

Will China’s bruited $400 bn. investment in Iran make Beijing an oil Gulf power?

By Niranjan Jose

he relationship between China and Iran has been in the spotlight recently. A huge, 25-year deal is reportedly being considered that would see $400 billion of Chinese investment in Iranian energy and transport infrastructure. The deal is the latest effort by Beijing to expand from a regional hegemon into a global power through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which aims to reshape regional economic topographies in its favour.

Beijing has ostensibly undertaken to make such a massive investment in key sectors of Iran’s economy in return for an assured supply of Iranian fuel for the next 25 years. The proposed investment is the biggest China has ever pledged to any country as a part of the BRI and envisages huge expenditure in building Iran’s oil and gas and infrastructure, at $280bn and $120bn respectivel

According to the information available, China is to spend $120bn to develop Iran’s transport network starting with the 2,300 kilometre road that will connect Tehran to Urumqi in Xinjiang Province. This route will be paved with the Urumqi-Gwadar connection built under the “New Silk Road” in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

When completed, the road link will have an ambitious plan to connect with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and thereafter via Turkey into Europe.

Beijing also plans to deploy over 5,000 Chinese security personnel to protect its investments in Iran. It is among the top three arms suppliers to the Iranians, according to SIPRI data, exporting weapons worth about $270 million to Tehran between 2008 and 2018.

The first trilateral naval exercise between China, Russia and Iran was held in the Gulf of Oman in December last year. Strategically, all three nations are empowered by the common perception of an enemy in Washington and fears of US military interventionism.

Iran seeks to expand its military influence in the region by obtaining Chinese weapons and expertise, while China seeks to develop Iran as a lucrative arms market and a strategic bulwark against US forces in Asia.

The top economic advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is Ali Agha Mohammadi who appeared recently on state television to address the need for a financial helping hand.

He said that to remain a player in the energy sector, Tehran needs to boost its oil output to at least 8.5 million barrels per day, and for that it needs China. As Iran’s biggest trading partner, China overtook the European Union in 2010, with about one-third of Tehran’s overall international trade being conducted with Beijing.

Iran’s oil industry was more dependent on China as a trading partner, despite sanctions implemented by the US and the UN in 2010. Only 5 percent of Iran’s overall oil exports went to China in 2000; however, by 2011 that had increased to 25 percent.

China has also become a major investor in Iran’s oil and gas industry, as the US and international sanctions have limited Tehran’s access to international finance and the innovations needed to develop its declining energy industry. In 2012, at the height of restrictive economic sanctions, China imported 54 percent of Iran’s oil output by alternative financial structures, including barter.

There are plenty of motives for China and Iran to collaborate as their economies are complementary.

China is the world’s largest oil importer, and Iran wants clients ready to counter US sanctions. Moreover, Iran needs modernized technology in areas such as rail and 5G networks, where Chinese companies have strengths.

Tehran has increasingly turned to Beijing for support in its long-running conflict with the US. China has also been vocal in its support for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, vowing to uphold it even after Washington withdrew from the pact.

Iran is situated at the crucial nexus of the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia, as well as the critical trading networks that run through the region. Beijing has identified Iran as a link along the BRI, connecting Xinjiang with the Middle East.

Relations between Beijing and Tehran, which date back to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s “Pivot to the East“ policy, have blossomed under Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is pushing China’s ambitious initiative.

The alliance developed over four decades across three phases: military cooperation during the 1980/88 Iran-Iraq War; energy cooperation in the 1990s as China developed quickly; and oil deals which defied sanctions. The “maximum pressure” policy and sanctions imposed on Iran by the Donald Trump administration has failed.

Far from isolating Tehran, as intended, the exertion of significant economic pressure on the Iranian regime has pushed it further into the arms of Beijing. China is criticized by Western policy observers for its so-called “debt diplomacy”, the strategy of indebtedness through aggressive investment packages to an economically vulnerable country.

This acts as leverage for important property acquisitions; one of the most prominent examples is the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka, which the government had to lease to China for 99 years after it struggled to repay Chinese loans.

Beijing is utilizing Tehran’s rising vulnerability intensified by the health and economic crises due to Covid-19. The latest cyber-attacks on its atomic and maritime facilities have also driven Tehran into the arms of China.

After all, the growing superpower provides an insatiable energy demand, military and industrial infrastructure, huge spending and a possible global diplomatic shield, with its veto at the UN Security Council.

All are needed desperately by Iran. The agreement is not only seen by both nations as mutually advantageous, but also as a possible tool to challenge US hegemony in the Middle East.

China sees seamless possibilities in its strategic partnership with Iran, with a low-cost supply of oil, abundant mineral resources and an untapped market. Beijing’s Iran strategy is affected by its increasing footprint in the Persian Gulf, where it cautiously develops a position centred on highly diverse ties with regional powers, along with its global confrontation with the US.

The State Department in Washington has already threatened to target Chinese companies if they make investments in Iran which defy US sanctions.

Nevertheless, China is already in a trade and technological war with the US and seems determined to go ahead with its partnership with Iran. Beijing continued to buy Iranian oil over the past year even after the US sanctions’ waivers expired in May 2019, albeit in smaller volume.

With the US swamped by exhausting wars in the Middle East in recent years, China has steadily increased its political, commercial and even military operations in the region.

Its motives are clear, though varied; it aims to promote its goals, such as a growing need for oil supplies and destinations for surplus labour and capital.

China is mindful that none of the major powers returned unscathed from wars in the Middle East and are confronting a very challenging variety of obstacles.

The broad political fissures in the region render it impossible for outsiders not to take sides in the numerous conflicts. This presents a challenge to China, which seeks to be a partner for everyone, Iran, Israel and Arab states alike, in order to reap the advantages of its global involvement.

Even if just a portion of what is envisaged under the planned Sino-Iranian deal comes to life, it presents a deadly threat to the campaign against Tehran by the Trump administration.

China’s investments in Iran allow it to exert its influence on Iranian foreign policy, and will enable China to do three things: allow China to diversify its energy needs without overly relying on Russian energy; elevate its claim to offer an alternative to the “Washington consensus” by defying US sanctions against Iran and continuing to trade with Tehran; allow China to control India’s access to Central Asia by enhancing Beijing’s relationship with Iran.

Originally published at juancole.com


Niranjan Jose is a law student at the National Law University Odisha (NLUO), India.

Former OPCW Chief Says His Office Was Bugged While USA Pushed Iraq War

Caitlin Johnstone

In an important new interview with The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté, the first Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has revealed new insights into the way the US exerted control over the Organisation in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion and the suspicious way pro-US narratives appear to be dominating controversies in the supposedly impartial OPCW to this day.

The most significant piece of new information revealed in this interview with the acclaimed former OPCW chief José Bustani is his assertion that while the US was orchestrating his 2002 ouster due to the risk he posed of derailing the Iraq war agenda with successful negotiations, his office was packed with hidden surveillance equipment and that his American head of security vanished immediately after this was discovered.

After noticing suspicious phenomena and leaks coming out of his office, Bustani reports that he sent for a trusted security expert from outside the Organisation to investigate over the weekend.

“The fact was that the wall behind my desk, the wall behind the desk of the Director-General was full of equipment, listening equipment,” Bustani reported. “He broke the whole wall and removed everything, and there were bugs in the drawer, my desk, phone. I was shocked I must say. But he did it immediately. It took him the whole of Saturday, half of the Sunday, he took it [away], he removed everything and nobody realized except me and my wife. On Monday when people came to my office, they were shocked with the way the wall was. It was a big hole.”

“And interesting thing is — and I never said this before — is that I had then a person that was the head of the security of the Organization,” Bustani said. “He used to be an American. He had a large office full of equipment. I called him, the Monday after that happened, I called his office to check with him how come he didn’t know, he was in charge of security of the building, how come he didn’t know that there was such bugging equipment behind me. And he wasn’t there. And I was told that he was traveling to Germany, and I asked then, ‘Who allowed him to go to Germany? I am his direct boss. He was my subordinate, he was directly subordinate to me.’ Nobody could say anything. So I said ‘As soon as he returns tell him I want to have a word with him.’ This was the Monday. You will not believe it Aaron, but on Tuesday as I got to the OPCW I am told that I should go up to the head of security office and when I got there the office was empty, and this person disappeared and never showed up again. Never showed up again.”

This is a major revelation. When you’ve got an American infiltrator covertly surveilling a foreign official to advance US foreign policy agendas, what you have is a US spy. We don’t know what agency that spy would have worked for, but what Bustani is describing is US espionage targeting an international watchdog organisation.

Bustani gave additional insights into the ongoing OPCW scandal surrounding the extremely suspicious practices that were implemented in the investigation of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria in 2018 which preceded airstrikes against the Assad government by the US, UK and France. He stated emphatically that as Director-General he would “never” have allowed the Douma investigation team to be replaced with a “core team” who never went there or permitted a team of inspectors to meet with US officials during an active investigation, as reportedly happened after the Douma incident.

“This would have never happened if I were Director-General,” Bustani said when asked if he’d have allowed a US delegation to lobby them to come to a specified conclusion in their investigation. “The Inspectors know themselves that they cannot. They cannot. They are not supposed to meet with delegations on issues like inspections in particular. I don’t know how it happened, maybe they were forced to or they were led to by… I don’t know how it in practice happened because if I were Director-General this would never happen.”

“Absolutely not,” Bustani said when asked if he’d have permitted a team of investigators to be replaced mid-investigation with another team who never visited the crime scene. “It would have never happened to me, unless there was a serious violation of the code of conduct on the part of the inspectors. Which fortunately never, never happened.”
Bustani said he knew the whistleblowers who sparked the OPCW scandal from his time at the Organisation, and decried the way they are being smeared, silenced and their anonymity removed for simply voicing objections to an investigation’s methodology in the interest of protecting the OPCW’s legitimacy. He voiced a great fondness for the Organisation and a grave concern for the suspicious abnormalities in its investigative practices involving the United States, and he expressed shock at the way the US, UK and France recently blocked him from offering comments to the UN about those concerns.
Maté pointed out that one highly suspect common denominator in both the current OPCW scandal and Bustani’s 2002 ouster is John Bolton. As US ambassador Bolton is known to have been actively involved in arranging Bustani’s removal as Director-General to such an aggressive extent that he reportedly threatened Bustani’s children, and Bolton’s stint as Trump’s National Security Advisor began immediately before the 2018 airstrikes on Syria after the Douma incident. Bolton claims to have played a role in planning those airstrikes and was active at the highest levels of the US government’s executive branch throughout the entirety of the OPCW Douma investigation.

The mountains of evidence that the US has been meddling in an investigation of an incident which led to an act of war by the United States and its allies keeps stacking higher. The way the US power alliance has been actively suppressing and avoiding that evidence is appalling, and the way the mass media have refused to report on this fact is even more so.


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Originally Published by Caitlin Johnstone

Oman Has a Good Reason for Dragging Its Feet About Normalising Ties With Israel

by Ekaterina Blinova

26.09.2020

Oman has a lot to lose if it decides formally to normalise ties with Israel, argues Pakistani political analyst and author Sabtain Ahmed Dar, shedding light on Muscat’s longstanding special relations with Tehran, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq’s foreign policy priorities and the sultanate’s role as the Muslim world’s peace broker

After the Sultanate of Oman openly praised the conclusion of peace pacts between Israel and the monarchies of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) officially signed at the White House on 15 September, the Israeli and Arab media started speculating that the sultanate may very soon follow in the footsteps of Abu-Dhabi and Manama.

Sputnik: Will Oman be the next to normalise relations with Israel or does it fear to harm its longstanding special relations with Iran?

Sabtain Ahmed DarFirst, it is important to lay a methodological foundation through which we would understand the variables attached to this phenomenon. Oman is known for its quiet diplomacy since a couple of decades, the prime reason for this phenomenon can be understood through the prism of two main factors; one is the Arab-Israel conflict and the second is war on terrorism since the dawn of 21st century. Oman is the only country in the Arab world that has not indulged itself into an armed conflict with Israel and it also falls at the lowest in the global terrorism index, or in other words, a country which still remains unaffected by terrorism. So the monarchy and the neutrality of Oman in regional geopolitics of the Middle East provide all the tools for Israel to diplomatically influence Muscat for their vested interests in the region.

Secondly, Oman’s and Israel’s ties date back to 1994 when Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin visited Muscat and was greeted by Sultan of Oman Qaboos bin Said al Said. In 1995, a few days after Rabin was assassinated, then-acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres hosted foreign minister of Oman Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah in Jerusalem and in January 1996, Israel and Oman signed an agreement on the reciprocal opening of trade representative offices. It was these offices that would lay the foundation for possible future diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv. However, when the second intifada took place in October, 2000 their relations got frozen. It is to be noted here that Oman lies just at the south of Pakistan and shares territorial waters, Pakistan’s arch-rival India was also provided access to Iranian Chahbahar port in 2016 through the good offices in Muscat where India’s ally Israel played a significant role. 

Thirdly, in January, 2017 President Donald Trump along with his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner initiated a long awaited Middle East Plan. The author [Sabtain Ahmed Dar] wrote an analysis on the deal of the century in 2018 which explicitly states that it is resulting in a divide in between the Muslim world where Iran through its defiance and deterrence model would never recognise Israel and there is a possibility that the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) may implode because of Israel’s strategy of keeping a permanent divide between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In this scenario, Oman’s role of neutrality becomes not only significant for its divide in between Saudi Arabia and Iran but also to all those Muslim states that do not recognise Israel. This is the strategic area for Israel where Mossad’s chief Yossi Cohen has been playing the game since 2017. If we just take an account of his foreign tours in the Muslim world since January 2020, he had already met representatives of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt.

So far Omani recognition of the state of Israel remains speculative but an unnamed journalist, who is close to the foreign office in Muscat, told the author [Sabtain Ahmed Dar] on condition of anonymity on 17 September that “Mossad chief Yossi Cohen is in constant contact with the king of the sultanate, Haitham Bin Tariq Al Said, formal ties between the two countries”. If Oman recognises Israel, it would mean only one thing and that is that it has made its strategic role in the region its priority rather than its ideological one in reshaping the New World Order where the civilisation is about to witness a possible shift of power from Pax-Americana to Pax-Judaica.

Having said that, this step remains a brave task for the new Sultan, Haitham bin Tariq. But if he continued with Israel’s recognition, as a consequence of this, Oman will immediately sever its ties not only with strategic partner Iran but also with its northern ally Pakistan including all of those who are not willing to recognise Israel. Oman can also lose its mediation and reciprocation in the Yemen conflict to settle issues between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, after the UAE-Israel deal, there were reports saying that the UAE Navy is jointly establishing an intelligence headquarter in partnership with Israel on Socotra Island. This is perceived as a threat by Iran and Pakistan because Israel would have the ability to monitor the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea. So in every case, in the grand scheme of the Middle East chessboard where the United States is also playing a critical role for Tel Aviv, Israel is in a win-win situation as long as the Muslims do not do something about their divided house.

Sputnik: What’s actually behind Omani-Iranian special relations? When did it originate? Why is Oman interested in remaining a neutral broker between Iran and other Gulf States?

Sabtain Ahmed Dar: Both Iran and Oman currently have strong diplomatic and financial ties dating back to the Pahlavi era. It reached its maturity during the brutal Dhofar Rebellion (1962-1976) in Oman; Mohammad Reza Shah dramatically intervened in support of the Omani government and saved the sultanate from implosion. To this day Omani officials recall and offer gratitude to Iran even though Khomeini and Khamenei’s Iran is totally different from Pahlavi’s.

Today in the international system both states are members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77. From July 2012 to October 2013, all Iranian interests in the United Kingdom were maintained by the Omani embassy in London as a protecting power. Additionally, Oman’s role of neutrality has allowed them to play on both sides in multilateralism. Iran–US secret talks under the Obama administration were mainly arranged by Oman. Talks were conducted over the nuclear issues, Iranian involvement in Syria conflict and threats to close the Strait of Hormuz etc.

In May 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Oman to make sure the channel would be kept open because it served American-Israeli interests of engaging Iran though Oman. When Hassan Rouhani was elected as the president of Iran, the final secret meeting was held with the US under chief US nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman. After the deal was struck, regarding Muscat’s role, President Hassan Rouhani said that Muscat not only hosted a number of significant meetings, but also “played a critical role in getting these talks off the ground in the first place”.

Since 2018, in the context of the deal of the century Oman has yet again taken centre stage but this time its own test is on the line whether it would recognise Israel. If Oman moved with the recognition of Israel, its image as an honest broker in the regional conflicts would be completely marginalised and those nations who are not willing to recognise Israel would not trust Oman’s conduct in diplomacy anymore.

Sputnik: Was Haitham bin Tariq’s decision to reshuffle the Omani government and replace Foreign Affairs Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah who earlier put the solution of the Palestinian question above possible normalisation with the Jewish state a harbinger of changes in Omani-Israeli relations?

Sabtain Ahmed Dar: The reforms in Oman under Haitham bin Tariq are an attempt to uphold the pact that he made in February to “undertake necessary measures to restructure the state’s administrative apparatus.” Apparently, it is clear that the new Sultan has been doing just that. Oman’s Sultan is restructuring his administration through 28 royal decrees issued on 18 August.

The changes will have no effect on Oman-Israel relations rather it came as part and parcel of efforts to resolve the sultanate’s looming crisis, including increased unemployment, financial deficit, and maintaining a foreign policy of Ibadi neutrality amid regional conflicts based on sectarianism.

It is to be noted here that there is a possibility that the Sultan’s reshuffling of his government has directly to do with his “early castling” over the sultanate’s statecraft as the key royals are dropped from 28 to just 19.

Yusuf bin Alawi, who had served as the minister for foreign affairs since 1997 is a veteran diplomat since 1970s. He was replaced with Badr bin Hamad Al Busaidi. The new foreign minister Al Busaidi had served as the secretary-general of the ministry of foreign affairs since 2000. Moreover, Oman’s relations with its traditional ally in great power politics, the United States, and its national security policies are unlikely to change under the new Sultan. One of the foremost reasons for this is that foreign minister Al Busaidi has long-standing and powerful connections in Washington and throughout the United States as well as Europe, especially in the United Kingdom. Thus, Haitham bin Tariq will be more concerned to offset political and security pressure from the Gulf giants – Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE and continued strong American ties.


Sabtain Ahmed Dar is a Pakistani political analyst and a visiting fellow to several think tanks, an author of two theses: “The Clash of Islam and Zionism” and “Pakistan and Global Game for a New World Order”. He writes for several online journals covering Middle East and Asian geopolitics.


Originally published by Sputniknews

WHICH TARGET AFTER SYRIA?

19 years of “war without end”

President George W. Bush decided to radically transform the Pentagon’s missions, as Colonel Ralph Peters explained in the Army magazine Parameters on September 13, 2001. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appointed Admiral Arthur Cebrowski to train future officers. Cebrowski spent three years touring military universities so that today all general officers have taken his courses. His thoughts were popularized for the general public by his deputy, Thomas Barnett.

The areas affected by the US war will be given over to “chaos”. This concept is to be understood in the sense of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, i.e. as the absence of political structures capable of protecting citizens from their own violence (“Man is a wolf to man”). And not in the biblical sense of making a clean slate before the creation of a new order.

This war is an adaptation of the US Armed Forces to the era of globalization, to the transition from productive capitalism to financial capitalism. “War is a Racket,” as Smedley Butler, America’s most decorated general, used to say before World War II [1]. From now on, friends and enemies will no longer count; war will allow for the simple management of natural resources.

This form of war involves many crimes against humanity (including ethnic cleansing) that the US Armed Forces cannot commit. Secretary Donald Rumsfeld therefore hired private armies (including Blackwater) and developed terrorist organizations while pretending to fight them.

The Bush and Obama administrations followed this strategy: to destroy the state structures of entire regions of the world. The US war is no longer about winning, but about lasting (the “war without end”). President Donald Trump and his first National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn, have questioned this development without being able to change it. Today, the Rumsfeld/Cebrowski thinkers pursue their goals not so much through the Defence Secretariat as through NATO.

After President Bush launched the “never-ending war” in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), there was strong contestation among Washington’s political elites about the arguments that had justified the invasion of Iraq and the disorder there. This was the Baker-Hamilton Commission (2006). The war never stopped in Afghanistan or Iraq, but it took five years for President Obama to open new theatres of operation: Libya (2011), Syria (2012) and Yemen (2015).

Two external actors interfered with this plan.
 In 2010-11, the United Kingdom launched the “Arab Spring”, an operation modeled on the “Arab Revolt” of 1915, which allowed Lawrence of Arabia to put the Wahhabi in power on the Arabian Peninsula. This time it was a question of placing the Muslim Brotherhood in power with the help not of the Pentagon, but of the US State Department and NATO.
 In 2014, Russia intervened in Syria, whose state had not collapsed and which it helped to resist. Since then, the British – who had tried to change the regime there during the “Arab Spring” (2011-early 2012) – and then the Americans – who were seeking to overthrow not the regime, but the state (mid-2012 to the present) – have had to withdraw. Russia, pursuing the dream of Tsarina Catherine, is today fighting against chaos, for stability – that is to say, for the defence of state structures and respect for borders.

Colonel Ralph Peters, who in 2001 revealed the Pentagon’s new strategy, published Admiral Cebrowski’s map of objectives in 2006. It showed that only Israel and Jordan would not be affected. All other countries in the “Broader Middle East” (i.e., from Morocco to Pakistan) would gradually be stateless and all major countries (including Saudi Arabia and Turkey) would disappear.

Noting that its best ally, the United States, was planning to cut its territory in two in order to create a “free Kurdistan”, Turkey unsuccessfully tried to get closer to China, and then adopted the theory of Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu: “Zero problems with its neighbours”. It distanced itself from Israel and began to negotiate peace with Cyprus, Greece, Armenia, Iraq etc. It also distanced itself from Israel. Despite the territorial dispute over Hatay, it created a common market with Syria. However, in 2011, when Libya was already isolated, France convinced Turkey that it could escape partition if it joined NATO’s ambitions. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a political Islamist of the Millî Görüş, joined the Muslim Brotherhood, of which he was not a member, hoping to recoup the fruits of the ’Arab Spring’ for his own benefit. Turkey turned against one of its main clients, Libya, and then against one of its main partners, Syria.

In 2013, the Pentagon adapted the “endless war” to the realities on the ground. Robin Wright published two corrective maps in the New York Times. The first dealt with the division of Libya, the second with the creation of a “Kurdistan” affecting only Syria and Iraq and sparing the eastern half of Turkey and Iran. It also announced the creation of a “Sunnistan” straddling Iraq and Syria, dividing Saudi Arabia into five and Yemen into two. This last operation began in 2015.

The Turkish General Staff was very happy with this correction and prepared for the events. It concluded agreements with Qatar (2017), Kuwait (2018) and Sudan (2017) to set up military bases and surround the Saudi kingdom. In 2019 it financed an international press campaign against the “Sultan” and a coup d’état in Sudan. At the same time, Turkey supported the new project of “Kurdistan” sparing its territory and participated in the creation of “Sunnistan” by Daesh under the name of “Caliphate”. However, the Russian intervention in Syria and the Iranian intervention in Iraq brought this project to a halt.

In 2017, regional president Massoud Barzani organised a referendum for independence in Iraqi Kurdistan. Immediately, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran understood that the Pentagon, returning to its original plan, was preparing to create a “free Kurdistan” by cutting up their respective territories. They coalesced to defeat it. In 2019, the PKK/PYG announced that it was preparing for the independence of the Syrian ’Rojava’. Without waiting, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran once again joined forces. Turkey invaded the “Rojava”, chasing the PKK/YPG, without much reaction from the Syrian and Russian armies.

In 2019, the Turkish General Staff became convinced that the Pentagon, having temporarily renounced destroying Syria because of the Russian presence, was now preparing to destroy the Turkish state. In order to postpone the deadline, it tried to reactivate the “endless war” in Libya, then to threaten the members of NATO with the worst calamities: the European Union with migratory subversion and the United States with a war with Russia. To do this, it opened its border with Greece to migrants and attacked the Russian and Syrian armies in Idleb where they bombed the Al Qaeda and Daesh jihadists who had taken refuge there. This is the episode we are living through today.

The Moscow Additional Protocol

The Turkish army caused Russian and Syrian casualties in February 2020, while President Erdoğan made numerous phone calls to his Russian counterpart, Putin, to lower the tension he was causing with one hand.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged to curb the Pentagon’s appetites if Turkey helped the Pentagon restart the “endless war” in Libya. This country is divided into a thousand tribes that clash around two main leaders, both CIA agents, the president of the Presidential Council, Fayez el-Sarraj, and the commander of the National Army, Khalifa Haftar.

Last week, the UN Secretary General’s special envoy to Libya, Professor Ghassan Salame, was asked to resign for “health reasons”. He complied, not without expressing his bad mood at a press conference. An axis has been set up to support al-Sarraj by the Muslim Brotherhood around Qatar and Turkey. A second coalition was born around Haftar with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, but also Saudi Arabia and Syria.

It is the great return of the latter on the international scene. Syria is the culmination of nine years of victorious resistance to the Brotherhood and the United States. Two Libyan and Syrian embassies were opened with great pomp and circumstance on 4 March, in Damascus and Benghazi.

Moreover, the European Union, after having solemnly condemned the “Turkish blackmail of refugees”, sent the President of the Commission to observe the flow of refugees at the Greek-Turkish border and the President of the Council to survey President Erdoğan in Ankara. The latter confirmed that an arrangement was possible if the Union undertook to defend the ’territorial integrity’ of Turkey.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talk during a meeting in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS

With keen pleasure, the Kremlin has staged the surrender of Turkey: the Turkish delegation is standing, contrary to the habit where chairs are provided for guests; behind it, a statue of Empress Catherine the Great recalls that Russia was already present in Syria in the 18th century. Finally, Presidents Erdoğan and Putin are seated in front of a pendulum commemorating the Russian victory over the Ottoman Empire.

It was thus on this basis that President Vladimir Putin received President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the Kremlin on March 5. A first, restricted, three-hour meeting was devoted to relations with the United States. Russia would have committed itself to protect Turkey from a possible partition on the condition that it signs and applies an Additional Protocol to the Memorandum on Stabilization of the Situation in the Idlib De-Escalation Area [2]. A second meeting, also of three hours duration but open to ministers and advisers, was devoted to the drafting of this text. It provides for the creation of a 12-kilometre-wide security corridor around the M4 motorway, jointly monitored by the two parties. To put it plainly: Turkey is backing away north of the reopened motorway and losing the town of Jisr-el-Chogour, a stronghold of the jihadists. Above all, it must at last apply the Sochi memorandum, which provides for support only for the Syrian armed opposition, which is supposed to be democratic and not Islamist, and for combating the jihadists. However, this “democratic armed opposition” is nothing more than a chimera imagined by British propaganda. In fact, Turkey will either have to kill the jihadists itself, or continue and complete their transfer from Idleb (Syria) to Djerba (Tunisia) and then Tripoli (Libya) as it began to do in January.

In addition, on March 7, President Putin contacted former President Nazerbayev to explore with him the possibility of deploying Kazakh “blue chapkas” in Syria under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). This option had already been considered in 2012. Kazakh soldiers have the advantage of being Muslims and not orthodox.

The option of attacking Saudi Arabia rather than Turkey from now on has been activated by the Pentagon, it is believed to be known in Riyadh, although President Trump is imposing delirious arms orders on it in exchange for its protection. The dissection of Saudi Arabia had been envisaged by the Pentagon as early as 2002 [3].

Missiles were fired this week against the royal palace in Riyadh. Prince Mohamed ben Salmane (known as “MBS”, 34 years old) had his uncle, Prince Ahmed (70 years old), and his former competitor and ex-heir prince, Prince Mohamed ben Nayef (60 years old), as well as various other princes and generals arrested. The Shia province of Qatif, where several cities have already been razed to the ground, has been isolated. Official explanations of succession disputes and coronavirus are not enough [4].

Notes:

[1] “I had 33 years and 4 months of active service, and during that time I spent most of my time as a big shot for business, for Wall Street, and for bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster in the service of capitalism. I helped secure Mexico, especially the city of Tampico, for the American oil companies in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a suitable place for the men of the National City Bank to make a profit. I helped rape half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the American bank Brown Brothers from 1902 to 1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the benefit of American sugar companies in 1916. I delivered Honduras to American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927, I helped the Standard Oil company do business in peace.” Smedley Butler in War Is a Racket, Feral House (1935)

[2] “Additional Protocol to the Memorandum on Stabilization of the Situation in the Idlib De-Escalation Area”, Voltaire Network, 5 March 2020.

[3] “Taking Saudi out of Arabia“, Powerpoint by Laurent Murawiec for a meeting of the Defence Policy Board (July 10, 2002).

[4] “Two Saudi Royal Princes Held, Accused of Plotting a Coup”, Bradley Hope, Wall Street Journal; “Detaining Relatives, Saudi Prince Clamps Down”, David Kirkpatrick & Ben Hubbard, The New Yok Times, March 7, 2020.


By Thierry Meyssan
Source: Voltaire Network]