A Win-Win Solution for the Negotiations over Iran’s Nuclear Program – as reported by Irith Jawetz who participated at the UN in Vienna Compound July 15th Meeting .
However you cut it ISIS or ISIL (the second S for Syria, the L for the Levant) – this is a Sunni anti-Western and anti-Shiia organization that was sprung originally on the World by the Saudi Wahhabism. Call it Al-Qaeda or Al-Qaeda alikes – these are Sunni anti-colonial fanatics who believe that all of Western Asia Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, that were formed after the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, are basically one State or Arab Nation of Sunni Islam. To them the Shiia reform movement was actually another foreign intrusion. They understand the fact that the area was divided by colonial western powers for reasons of oil. To them all Western Asian oil is Arab and they claim it now.
The US never acknowledged this self determination will of the Sunni Muslims as we in the West believe in human rights as an ethic that is beyond religion, but supported by Nationalism based on Democracy that can accept diversity of religions as long as they adhere in common to a Wahhabi style of a capitalist economy. The Arabs say – all this is rubbish. ISIS or ISIL want just one Muslim-Sunni State based on religion and the Sharia Laws Wahhabi-style. For now the aspirations of ISIS/ISIL end at the borders of Jordan and Saudi Arabia – perhaps also leaving out all of the Gulf States.
Syria Bombs Iraq, US Doesn’t (It Says).
By William Boardman, Reader Supported News
25 June 2014
US lines up to ally with Iran and Syria in support of Iraq.
In the current round of fighting, it seems the first international aerial bombing of Iraq was carried out June 23 by the Syrian Air Force, acting at the behest of the Iranian government in support of the Iraqi government, which the U.S. government has sort of pledged to support, just as soon as the Iraqi government purges itself to U.S. satisfaction, which may or may not please the governments of Iran and Syria to which the U.S. government has pledged clear opposition.
The Syrian attack apparently went unreported in almost all media. All the same, this escalation marked a widening of the ongoing war in Iraq and Syria, which already involves, at a minimum, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United States (as well as Israel and Lebanon), either overtly or covertly.
Syrian bombing of Iraq continued on June 24, this time reported by The Wall Street Journal (alone at first), which referred to the earlier attacks:
The Syrian Air Force comprises mostly Russian and French planes
Syrian bombs reportedly killed at least 50 people and wounded at least 132 others when they hit targets including the municipal building, a market, and a bank in Al Rutba, a town of about 55,000 in western Iraq, captured by ISIS forces June 21. Al Rutba (also Ar Rutba or Al Rutbah) is strategically located on the prime east-west highway across vast and mostly desert Anbar Province. It is about 90 miles from both the Syrian and Jordanian borders, and more than 120 miles from Baghdad.
U.S. forces occupied Al Rutba during most of 2003-2009.
In December 2013, a complex ISIS suicide attack on Iraqi military forces in Al Rutba killed at least 18 officers, including two commanders. Even though the current ISIS offensive has apparently surprised many – including the U.S. government – it’s part of a long campaign, as documented in The Long War Journal in December 2013:
Another purported bombing target, Al Qaim, is located about 100 miles to the northeast, on the Euphrates River and the Syrian border. The city of about 250,000 was reportedly the site of Iraq’s Uranium refining complex during the 1980s. Americans bombed the city and destroyed the complex during the 1991 Gulf War.
For most of 2003-2006, Al Qaim was occupied by American forces, who used it as a base for raids into Syria (tactics reminiscent of Viet Nam, where U.S. forces covertly raided Cambodia). When an Iraqi general there turned himself in to Americans in 2003, in an effort to free his two sons, Americans eventually tortured the general to death, without releasing his sons.
Al Qaim was scene of fierce fighting during last Iraq War
In 2005, insurgents took Al Qaim from the Iraqi forces left in charge by the Americans. American Marines were unable to fully re-take the city in the face of fierce resistance. American bombing of Al Qaim in August killed at least 47 people. Late in the year, a sign outside the city reportedly said, “Welcome to the Islamic Republic of Qaim.”
Forces of ISIS took control of Al Qaim on June 21.
The American denial of drone strikes on Al Qaim is explained by RT (Russian Television) this way:
The Iraqi Air Force has bombed the Iraqi city of Baiji, about 130 miles north of Baghdad, on the Tigris River. Americans bombed the city in 1991, destroying most of its oil refinery, which was quickly rebuilt. Americans occupied Baiji for most of 2003-2009, putting down significant resistance in 2003.
ISIS and Iraqi forces have been fighting for control of the Baiji oil refinery since June 11. With ISIS in control by June 20, the Baghdad government over 100 miles away decided to start bombing. The United Nations has reported that the Iraq death toll for June is already the highest in years, with more than 1,000 killed, most of them civilians.
Juan Cole explains in informed layman words the present RESET in US policy towards Iran and predicts ways of the Second Iraq-Iran War. For Oil Prices this is good news but we think it should favor the Alternatives as well.
The Second Iran-Iraq War and the American Switch
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment
13 June 14
ran has decided to intervene directly in Iraq and has already sent fighters to the front, according to the Wall Street Journal, based on Iranian sources. It is alleged that Iranian special forces have helped the Iraqi army push back in Tikrit, the birth place of Saddam Hussein that was overrun earlier this week by ISIS, which captured the city’s police force. These reports come on the heels of President Hassan Rouhani’s pledge on Thursday that Iran would not stand by and allow terrorists to take over Iraq. The hyper-Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters are closing in on a major Shiite shrine in Samarra and have pledge to take Baghdad, the capital, itself.
Iran has allegedly supplied small numbers of advisers and even hired Afghan fighters to the Syrian regime, and encouraged Lebanon’s Hizbullah to intervene in Syria to prevent the fall of Homs to Sunni extremists. These Iranian interventions in Syria did shore up the al-Assad regime and reverse rebel momentum. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps may believe it can use the same tactics to roll back ISIS in Iraq. Iran is largely Shiite and has a Shiite religious ideology as the basis of the state. Iraq is 60% Shiite and the ruling government since 2005 has come from that community. Sunni Arabs in Iraq are probably only 17% or so, but had been the elite for most of Iraq’s medieval and modern history, until George W. Bush overthrew the predominantly Sunni Saddam Hussein regime and allowed the Shiites to come to power.
Iraqi Shiites predominate in Baghdad and parts south. Shiites are more like traditional Catholics in venerating members of the holy family and attending at their shrines. Contemporary Salafi Sunni Islam is more like the militant brand of Protestantism of the late 1500s that denounced intermediaries between God and the individual and actually attacked and destroyed shrines to saints and other holy figures, where pleas for intercession were made. The shrine in Samarra is associated with the 12th in the line of vicars of the Prophet Muhammad, called Imams in Shi’ism, Muhammad al-Mahdi, a direct descendant of the Prophet himself. Shiites have a special emphasis on a millenarian expectation that the Twelfth Imam will soon return to restore justice to the world (rather as Christians believe in the return of Christ). When the Samarra shrine was damaged by Sunni militants in 2006, it threw Iraq into civil war, in which 3000 civilians were being killed every month. Baghdad was ethnically cleansed by 2008 of most of its Sunnis, becoming a largely Shiite capital. ISIS wants to reverse that process. Baghdad was founded by the Abbasid caliphate, who claimed to be vicars of the Prophet, in 762 AD and is a symbol of the glories of early Islam. ISIS leaders are threatening also to destroy the shrine of Ali in Najaf and the shrine of Husain in Karbala (Najaf for Shiites is the equivalent of the Basilica of St. Peter for Catholics).
The specter of Iranian troops on Iraqi soil can only recall the first Iran-Iraq War.
From September of 1980, when Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army invaded Iran’s oil-rich Khuzistan Province, until summer 1988 when Ayatollah Khomeini finally accepted an armistice, Iran and Iraq fought one of the Middle East’s longest and bloodiest wars. Its trench warfare and hidden naval encounters recalled the horrors of World War I, as did the Iraqi Baath government’s deployment of mustard gas against Iranian soldiers at the front and sarin gas against Kurdish civilians suspected of pro-Iranian sentiments.
The Reagan administration in the United States largely backed Iraq from 1983, when Reagan dispatched then Searle CEO Donald Rumsfeld to shake Saddam’s hand. This, despite Iraq being the clear aggressor and despite Reagan’s full knowledge of Iraqi use of chemical weapons, about which George Schultz at the State Department loudly complained until he was shushed. Then, having his marching orders straight, Schultz had the US ambassador to the UN deep-six any UN Security Council resolution condemning Iraq for the chemical weapons deployment. The US navy fought an behind the scenes war against Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf, becoming a de facto appendage of the Baath military.
Just because the Reagan administration was so Machiavellian, it also gave some minor support Iran in the war. Reagan stole anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry from the Pentagon storehouses and illegally sold them to Khomeini despite Iran being on the US terrorism watch list. He then had Iran pressure the Shiite militiamen in Lebanon to release American hostages. Reagan sent the money received from Iran to death squads in Nicaragua fighting the people’s revolution there against a brutal American-installed dictatorship. This money was sent to Nicaragua in defiance of the Boland Amendment passed by Congress forbidding US monies to go there. Ollie North, whom you see prevaricating on Fox News these days, was a bag man for the operation.
They may as well have broken into the National Archives Nick Cage style, broken out the original copy of the constitution, and put it through a shredder several times in a row till small confetti pieces were all that were left.
It is unclear how many people Saddam’s bloody war killed off. A quarter of a million on each side seems plausible. So many young men were part of a “missing generation” that the Iranian regime had to let women into the workforce and universities in very large numbers despite its preference for them to remain home and secluded. In Iraq, there were many widows, and some were forced to become low-status second wives, or single heads of household, or, among Shiites, temporary wives. Iraq depleted its currency reserves in the war and went into debt with Kuwait among others, then in 1990 invaded and tried to annex Kuwait. Saddam dealt with his creditors the way organized crime might deal with its.
In the looming second Iran-Iraq War, the US will be de facto allied with Iran against the would-be al-Qaeda affiliate (ISIS was rejected by core al-Qaeda for viciously attacking other militant vigilante Sunni fundamentalists in turf wars in Syria). The position of the US is therefore 180 degrees away from what it was under Reagan.
In fact, since ISIS is allegedly bankrolled by private Salafi businessmen in Kuwait and elsewhere in the Oil Gulf, the US is on the opposite side of all its former allies of the 1980s. In some ways, some of the alleged stagnation of US policy in the Middle East may derive from a de facto US switch to the Iranian side on most issues, at the same time that US rhetoric supports Iran’s enemies in Syria and elsewhere in the region.
It is possible that a US-Iran alliance against al-Qaeda-like groups in Iraq and Syria could clarify their budding new relationship and lead to a tectonic shift in US policy in the Middle East. The Indeed, Reuters says Iranian officials are offering the possibility of security cooperation with the us. One things seems clear. Without Iran, the US is unlikely to be able to roll by al-Qaeda affiliates and would-be affiliates in the Fertile Crescent, who ultimately could pose a danger to US interests.
MENAFN – AFP – 13/06/2014
(MENAFN – AFP) Global oil prices surged to fresh nine-month high points on Friday as traders eyed worsening violence in OPEC’s second biggest crude exporter Iraq.
Brent crude for July delivery soared to 114.69 per barrel in morning deals, touching the highest level since September 2013. It later stood at 113.57 in London afternoon deals, up 55 cents from Thursday, as traders booked profits.
US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for July added 42 cents to 106.95 a barrel.
“Prices are still being driven up by the events in Iraq, where militants from the Sunni terrorist group ISIL have seized further territory and are now said to be just a few kilometres away from the capital, Baghdad,” said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch.
“The US is now considering air strikes by way of supporting the Iraqi armed forces in their fight against the ISIL. The Iraqi government increasingly appears to be losing control of the country.”
- Jihadists near Baghdad -
The Iraqi government bolstered Baghdad’s defences on Friday as jihadists pushed towards the capital and President Barack Obama said he was exploring all options to save Iraq’s security forces from collapse.
Predominantly Shiite Muslim Iran will combat the “violence and terrorism” of Sunni extremists who have launched an anti-government offensive in neighbouring Iraq, President Hassan Rouhani warned.
“This is an extremist, terrorist group that is acting savagely,” Rouhani said, without elaborating on what steps Tehran would take to thwart a bid by fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to push toward Baghdad after seizing several cities and towns to the north.
The International Energy Agency meanwhile cautioned that oil supplies from Iraq may not be at immediate risk.
Iraq is the second biggest oil exporter in the 12-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) after kingpin Saudi Arabia.
- IEA plays down impact -
“Concerning as the latest events in Iraq may be, they might not for now, if the conflict does not spread further, put additional Iraqi oil supplies immediately at risk,” the Paris-based IEA said in its monthly oil market report on Friday.
It pointed out that Iraq’s relatively small output from the north of the country has been off the market since March due to violence while output from the south has been on the rise and production has hit a 30-year high.
However the IEA, the energy monitoring and policy arm of the OECD group of advanced nations, pointed to the long-term importance of Iraq for the global energy market.
It calculated that “roughly 60 percent of the growth in OPEC crude production capacity for the rest of this decade will come from Iraq”.
The 12-nation oil cartel, which pumps one third of the world’s crude, earlier this week decided to hold their collective production target at 30 million barrels per day (bpd), where it has stood since late 2011, as they said the oil market was stable.
Oil producing nations have expressed their satisfaction with prices above 100 a barrel — where they have been for most of this year — as it brings them in sufficient revenue while appearing not to crimp growth in consuming nations.
Militants’ Advance In Iraq Agitates Oil Markets
When Sunni militants began seizing broad swathes of territory across northern Iraq last week, global oil markets shrugged it off. After all, instability in Iraq is nothing new.
But that all changed on Wednesday, when the insurgents swept into the oil refinery town of Baiji, says Robert McNally, president of the Rapidan Group, an energy consulting firm. The price of oil climbed nearly 4 percent in just a few short days.
“This jaw-dropping blitz assault … and the threat it posed to the Baiji refinery, the Baiji electrical power plant, and really the stability of Iraq itself, just caused the market to panic,” McNally says.
Insurgents surrounded the refinery, but were not able to seize it. For now, it remains under government control, guarded by Iraqi special forces. The refinery is the largest in Iraq, but it’s used only for domestic purposes.
The real concern for the global markets — and the entire global economy — is about securing the flow of crude oil out of Iraq’s main oil fields. They are clustered around the city of Basra, in the far south of the country at the tip of the Persian Gulf. It’s a relatively long way from militant positions now.
But Amrita Sen, chief oil market analyst with Energy Aspects in London, says that distance doesn’t provide much relief, for two reasons.
“One, the militants are progressing towards the south very, very quickly,” Sen says. “And two, the Iraqi army’s complete inability to stop them … The fear factor is huge in the market at the moment.”
There’s also concern the Sunni militants’ all-out charge through Iraq could spark widespread sectarian violence, possibly pulling in regional players, says McNally.
“The specter now is one of a sort of broad fragmentation and disintegration in Iraq, which eventually could spill over to the south and to Iraq’s oil exports,” he says.
Jim Burkhard, head of global oil market research at IHS, says militants don’t have to occupy the oil fields; they can simply launch small attacks on the pipelines, much as they’ve done on export pipelines in the northern city of Kirkuk. But Burkhard says global oil markets would feel the pinch if anything happened to Iraqi exports.
“This summer we estimate the world will have about 2 to 2.5 million barrels per day of spare crude oil production capacity,” he says. “That’s the oil markets’ shock absorber. That’s how much we have to call on in case there’s a disruption. … Iraq exports about 2.5 million barrels per day, so that’s why the market is particularly sensitive to these fast-moving developments in Iraq right now.”
Iraq has the potential to double the amount of oil it exports each day, but the industry has been plagued with problems despite investment from western companies. Burkhard says the escalating violence not only adds to Iraq’s woes, it’s part of a broader geopolitical story that’s unfolding.
“The situation between Russia and Ukraine is not settled … Libya is in a very desperate situation right now; oil production is just a trickle,” Burkhard says. “There’s also concerns about Nigeria and Venezuala as well.”
President Obama said on Friday that if there are disruptions in Iraq’s oil supply, other producers in the Gulf are able to pick up the slack. But that will do little to calm market jitters that are driving up prices.
Gas Pipelines originating in Russia are obviously not life supporting umbilical cords for Europe: Most European Foreign Ministers meet in Vienna May 5-6, 2014 and we bet that a main subject they talk about is how to jump-start needed changes that support old policies.
Kiev Struggles to Break Russia’s Grip on Gas Flow.
CHASLOVTSY, Ukraine — As Ukraine tries to contain a pro-Russian insurgency convulsing its eastern region, a perhaps more significant struggle for the country hinges on what happens beneath the ground here in a placid woodland in the far west, on the border with Slovakia.
This is where about $20 billion worth of Russian natural gas flows each year through huge underground pipelines to enter Europe after a nearly 3,000-mile journey from Siberia. It is also, the pro-European government in Kiev believes, where Ukraine has a chance to finally break free from the grip of Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy behemoth.
In an effort to do this, Ukraine has for more than a year been pushing hard to start so-called reverse-flow deliveries of gas from Europe via Slovakia to Ukraine, thus blunting repeated Russian threats to turn off the gas tap.
An agreement signed last week between Slovak and Ukrainian pipeline operators opened the way for modest reverse-flow deliveries of gas from Europe, where prices are much lower than those demanded by Gazprom for its direct sales to Ukraine.
But the deal, brokered by the European Union and nudged along by the White House, fell so far short of what Ukraine had been lobbying for that it left a nagging question: Why has it been so difficult to prod tiny Slovakia, a European Union member, to get a technically simple and, for Ukraine and for the credibility of the 28-nation bloc, vitally important venture off the ground?
Some cite legal and technical obstacles, others politics and fear of crossing the Kremlin, but all agree that a major obstacle has been the power and reach of Gazprom, which serves as a potent tool for advancing Russia’s economic and geopolitical interests, and is ultimately beholden to President Vladimir V. Putin.
Gazprom not only dominates the gas business across the former Soviet Union, but also enjoys considerable clout inside the European Union, which gets roughly a third of its gas imports from Russia and is itself vulnerable to Russian pressure.
All the same, a fog of mystery surrounds the reluctance of Slovakia to open up its gas transit corridor — through which Russia pumps a large portion of its gas to Europe — for large reverse-flow deliveries to Ukraine.
Built during the Soviet era to link Siberian gas fields with European markets, Slovak pipelines, according to Ukrainian officials and experts, could move up to 30 billion cubic meters of gas from Europe to Ukraine a year — more than all the gas Ukraine is expected to import from Russia this year.
Instead, the majority state-owned Slovak company that runs the system, Eustream, has offered only a small, long-disused subsidiary pipeline that still needs engineering work before it can carry gas to Ukraine. Once the work is finished in October, Eustream will provide just a tenth of the gas Ukraine has been looking for from Europe. The company says that small amount can be increased sharply later.
Here in Chaslovtsy, in southwestern Ukraine, where technicians from Ukraine’s pipeline company, Ukrtransgaz, and Gazprom monitor the flow of Russian gas into Slovakia, the Ukrainian head of the facility, Vitaly Lukita, said he wondered if gas would ever flow the other way.
“We are all ready here, but I don’t know why the Slovaks are taking so long,” Mr. Lukita said. “Everyone has been talking about this for a very long time, but nothing has happened.”
Andriy Kobolev, the board chairman of Naftogaz, Ukraine’s state gas company, said he was particularly mystified by the recalcitrance of Eustream because in 2011 the company had put forward the idea of using spare capacity in its trunk pipelines for reverse-flow supplies to Ukraine.
He said the Slovaks had rejected this option in recent negotiations, citing secret contracts with Gazprom. He added that he did not know what the problem was exactly, because he had not been allowed to see the contracts.
Eustream executives declined repeated requests for interviews. Vahram Chuguryan, the company’s spokesman, declined to comment on the apparent change of heart or on whether it was related to an ownership shuffle in early 2013, when a group of wealthy Czech and Slovak businesspeople purchased a 49 percent stake in Eustream. At the time, Czech news media speculated that they were acting as a stalking horse for Gazprom.
Daniel Castvaj, a spokesman for Energeticky a Prumyslovy Holding, the company that made the purchase, denied Ukrainian assertions that Eustream has sought to limit reverse-flow deliveries to Ukraine, describing these as “not only untrue but nonsensical” since the pipeline operator, which makes its money off transit fees, has a strong commercial interest in boosting flows regardless of direction.
He said he was unaware of any 2011 offer by Eustream to use the trunk transit system to deliver gas to Ukraine, but added that such an option has always been technically and legally impossible “without the consent of Gazprom,” which has not been given.
European Union officials, frustrated by months of haggling and worried about possible legal problems raised by Gazprom’s contracts with Slovakia, hailed last week’s modest deal as offering at least an end to the logjam. José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, described it as a “breakthrough” but also called it a “first step,” signaling hope that Slovakia may, over time, allow more substantial reverse-flow deliveries to Ukraine.
Ukraine’s dependence on Gazprom to heat homes and power factories — it buys more than half its supplies from Russia — has not only left the country vulnerable to sudden price changes, which fluctuate depending on whether Moscow wants to punish or favor the authorities in Kiev, but has also helped fuel the rampant corruption that has addled successive Ukrainian governments.
When Gazprom raised the price of gas to Ukraine by 80 percent last month and threatened to cut off supplies if Kiev did not pay up, Ukraine’s interim prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, blasted Moscow for “aggression against Ukraine.”
“Apart from the Russian Army and guns, they decided to use one of the most efficient tools, which are political and economic pressure,” he said.
By pushing to buy the bulk of its gas from Europe instead of from Gazprom and murky middlemen endorsed by Gazprom, Ukraine hopes to protect what it sees as a dangerously exposed flank from Russian attack.
The best-known of those middlemen, the Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash, was detained in Austria in April and has been fighting extradition to the United States.
“Imagine where you’d be today if you were able to tell Russia: Keep your gas,” Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. told Ukrainian legislators during a visit to Kiev last month. “It would be a very different world you’d be facing today.”
Nearly all the gas Washington and Brussels would like to get moving into Ukraine from Europe originally came from Russia, which pumps gas westward across Ukraine, into Slovakia and then on to customers in Germany and elsewhere. Once the gas is sold, however, Gazprom ceases to be its owner and loses its power to set the terms of its sale.
Russia is currently demanding $485 per thousand cubic meters for the gas Ukraine buys directly — instead of the price of $268 it offered the Ukrainian government under President Viktor F. Yanukovych before his ouster — while “Russian” gas sold via Europe, which should be more expensive because of additional transit fees, costs at least $100 per unit less.
Russia denies using gas as a political weapon and says all Ukraine needs to do to secure a stable supply at a reasonable price is pay its bills on time and clear its debts, which Gazprom said total $3.5 billion.
Ukraine has already started taking reverse-flow deliveries from Poland and Hungary. But the quantities, around 2 billion cubic meters last year, have been too small to make much of a difference. Only Slovakia has the pipeline capacity to change the balance of forces.
“We have been struggling for a long time to convince them to find a solution,” said Mr. Kobolev, the Ukrainian gas chief. “We have now identified the problem, which was obvious from the beginning — restrictions placed by Gazprom.”
Ukraine’s energy minister, Yuri Prodan, dismissed Gazprom’s legal and technical arguments as a red herring. “I think the problem is political. We don’t see any real objective obstacles to what we have been proposing,” he said.
Opposition politicians in Slovakia, noting that 51 percent of Eustream belongs to the Slovak state, attribute the pipeline company’s stand to the country’s prime minister, Robert Fico, a center-left leader who has sometimes seemed more in sync with Moscow’s views than those of the European Union.
“Fico thinks that it is necessary to be very nice and polite to Mr. Putin,” Mikulas Dzurinda, a former prime minister of Slovakia, said in a telephone interview. “This is the heritage of old communists in a new era: The big guys are still in Moscow,” he said.
At a news conference in April, Mr. Fico insisted that Slovakia was “really ready” to help assist reverse-flow deliveries to Ukraine. But he added, “We naturally protect our own interests” and will not risk punishment by Gazprom for moves that violate Slovakia’s own deals with the Russian energy giant.
Slovakia depends on Gazprom for around 60 percent of its gas supplies and worries that upsetting the Russian company would lead to higher prices for itself or even cuts in supplies.
Alexander Medvedev, the head of Gazprom’s export arm, said he had no problem in principle with reverse-flow supplies to Ukraine but said such arrangements “require the agreement of all parties involved,” including Gazprom.
“Normally, you can’t arrange a physical reverse flow without a new pipeline,” he added, indicating Gazprom’s opposition to the use of existing Slovak pipelines.
Watching over workers in Chaslovtsy as they laid new underground pipes, Ivan Shayuk, a Ukrainian engineer for Ukrtransgaz, shook his head when asked why the scheme was taking so long.
“What is the problem? The problem is simple — Putin,” he said.
Hana de Goeij contributed reporting from Prague, and Alison Smale from Berlin.
A version of this article appears in print on May 5, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Kiev Struggles to Break Russia’s Grip on Gas Flow.
comment from: orbit7er
Here is another piece of the farce being pushed by the plutocratic elite in denial of the realities of Peak Oil and Climate Change. To ship…
And you know – the comment is right – it is those that refuse to let Europe move away from the use of gas that keep watch the umbilical cord to Russia is not broken. This umbilical cord to an unpredictable Russia is the undoing of the EU, and EU member-States that stand up for to hang on this umbilical cord are the un-doers of Europe.
(a) “A Pipeline that Splits Europe” by Veronika Eschbacher, in the venerable and historic Wiener Zeitung, and
(b) “How Russia wants to Renew its Might via Gas” by Guenther Strobl in the respected Business pages of Der Standard
Both articles give the facts about the Austrian National Oil Company OEMV, that is in the process of planing with the Russian Gazprom to build a new pipeline – “The Southern Stream” – that will shoot directly under the Black Sea, from Russia’s Caucasus near Socchi, to Bulgaria’s port at Varna. Then from there go directly through Serbia and Hungar to Austria – the town of Baumgarten on the border with Slovakia. The achievement here is that this line does not touvh the Ukraine, Moldova, Poland or Rumania which are inclined to be most reluctant to stay under the Russian boot.
So where in this is the Austria of the very active young Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz who is laboring at finding an amicable solution in the conflict between The Ukraine and Russia?
Will an Austrian Government that listens to its own Oil Company be so influenced by it that it works against the better interests in Europe – that try to distance themselves from too close relationship with Russia and understand that Energy Independence in Europe means independence of imports of gas – specially if this gas originates in Russia – pipeline A or Pipeline B – there is no inherent difference in this?
The media has yet to explain this, and the politicians running in Austria for the European Parliament have yet to mention it. Absolutely – not a single politician in Austria has yet had the courage to say that OEMV is not the source of Foreign policy or the guru of futurology and sustainability for Austria, the EU … for Europe.
May 5, 2014, at the Wirtschaftsmuseum (the Economy Museum) at Vogelsanggassee 36, 1050 Vienna, Austria, a panel chaired by Dr. Patrick Horvath, included the Editor of the Wiener Zeitung, Mr. Reinhard Goeweil and titled “EU-Elections 2014 – The Role of the Media” gave me the opportunity to raise the importance of the OEMV in Austrian Government policy and the fact that the media just does not point it out. Dr. Horvath, PhD in Social Studies of Communication, is Head of the Union of Scientists dealing with Economic Policy (WIWIPOL) and the panel included as well Mr. Wolfgang Greif (a last minute addition) – Head of the Europe Section at the Employees and the Employers involved in Company Boards and wrote the book on the subject fighting for the right of the Employees to get information about their Companies; Professor Fritz Hausjell of the Vienna University Faculty of Journalism; and Mr. Wolfgang Mitterlehner – Head of Communication at the Viennese Workers’ Union Central Office.
Professor Hausjell pointed out that the Wienner Zeitung is the best provider of information among the Austrian Media and this is something I argue as well, so it made it easier for me to formulate my question by starting with my own congratulation with the paper’s editor right there on the panel. In effect, founded in 1703 under the name “Vienna Diarium” the WZ is worldwide the oldest newspaper still in print(!) (it appears now 5 times a week with Friday and Sunday excluded and carries the official announcements of use in legal Austria); Mr. Goeweil is editor since 2009 and by background a writer on economics.
As excited as I was by the paper’s expose last weekend of the “Southern Stream” pipeline plans intended to keep the Russian gas flowing to Europe under conditions that exclude the Ukraine, Moldova, and Rumania, while using Russian friendly Serbia, and safeguarding the position of Slavic Slovakia – a multibillion project that might become active by 2017, but can kill all development of Renewable Energy in Europe right now, I realized that further involvement in the subject, even by a paper like WZ, will not come as long as even the good people of that paper take for granted the oil lobby arguments that there is not possible to replace the gas because there is not enough sun, wind, hydro-power etc. If nothing else, the Fossil and Nuclear lobbies have numbed the inquisitiveness of even the good media in the EU States, like they did in the US. Why not bring Jigar Shah over here and have him talk of CLIMATE WEALTH? Why are not more active businesses that stand to flourish ? Are we the only ones to still say YES WE CAN?
And Vienna is again the Center of Europe!
May 5-6, 2014 the Council of Europe is meeting in Vienna. 30 Foreign Ministers, including those of Russia and the Ukraine, are meeting here under the chairmanship of Mr. Thorbjorn Jagland, the second most popular politician of Norway and a person that has held all possible political positions in Norway and many in all of Europe who is trying to manage the States of all of Europe with the help of the resourceful Austrian Sebastian Kurz.
Norway is not part of the EU and is an outside gas supplier to the EU. Interesting that Mr. Kurz started his meetings on Sunday with meeting first the current Norwegian Foreign Minister – was this a line-up on gas policy? Is that what the New York Times had in mind when publishing their article? Is it all about lining up interests with Russia and Norway so gas continues to flow in those pipelines and The Ukraine pushed aside, isolated and neutralized?
We shall see and so far as Europe is concerned, we will keep a close eye on these developments because in them we see
May 25, 2014 – Elections to the European Parliament that will lead to a President of the EU. But what to do about a European Energy Policy at a time the Austrian OEMV wants to help Russia’s Gazprom build a pipeline to bypass The Ukraine and force Europe to be slaves to Gas for years to come?
PLEASE VOTE NEVERTHELESS !
WE ALL KNOW THAT THE FOLLOWING IS TRUE BUT BY NOT VOTING AT ALL YOU DO NOT ACHIEVE A THING BEYOND ASSURING THAT DECISIONS WILL BE TAKEN WITHOUT ANY CONSIDERATION TO WHAT YOU HAVE IN MIND. IF YOU VOTE YOU MIGHT OPEN THE DOOR FOR WHAT YOU NEED.
This is the eighth elections to the European Parliament – and perhaps the forst really important election as it will lead to the establishment of the FIRST PRESIDENT of the EU.
There are many subjects of first line importance that will have to be decided by the new Parliament but some of the most important topics are not mentioned in the election campaigns – this because they might be too controversial for the constituencies.
We will deal here just with one such topic – the need for an European energy policy that is not based on imports of gas.The insecurity of Russian supplies ought to teach Brussels that best energy policy is one of efficiency in the use of energy and supplies that are local and from Renewable Energy sources. If this lesson is not forthcoming in days of constraints applied who is full enough to believe in promisses that such policies will be made posible in a calmer future – if this ever comes?
Russian gas supplies ‘not guaranteed’, EU commissioner warns.
The EUobserver May 2, 2014.
BRUSSELS – A first mediation attempt by the EU between Russia and Ukraine on their gas price dispute on Friday (2 May) in Warsaw ended with no results other than the willingness to meet again.
“It is with concern that we see the security of supply for end consumers in EU and non-EU states like Ukraine is not guaranteed,” EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger told press after the meeting.
The energy ministers of Ukraine and Russia, for the first time at a table since the annexation of Crimea and the Russia-backed separatist movements in eastern Ukraine, decided to hold separate press points rather than join Oettinger in a common press conference.
Still, when asked about the atmosphere in the meeting, Oettinger responded that “we are all adults” and emphasised the willingness of both sides to meet again mid-May.
“The European Commission will stabilize Naftogaz [Ukraine's state-owned gas company] and Ukraine and will be a fair mediator for justified and fair gas prices,” Oettinger said.
At the core of the current dispute is how much Ukraine owes and has to pay for current and future gas deliveries from Russia: 485 US dollars per cubic meter of gas as Gazprom demands or roughly half of it, the price Kiev used to pay before the political turmoil that started late last year.
For the Russian side, the price is “clear, set in the contract signed until 2019″ and any negotiations are “odd”.
Russian energy minister Alexander Novak told press after the meeting that Ukraine has not paid for any gas it imported in the last quarter of 2013 and the first three months of this year.
“There is a 16 May deadline when an invoice will be issued to pay for the gas by 31 May and to prepay for the consumption in June. If by June these payments are not made, Gazprom will have the possibility to restrict supplies to Ukraine,” Novak said.
He added that European supplies should not be affected as they are paid for until September 2014. Any disruptions in gas flows to the EU during this time should only be blamed on Ukraine, if it “illegally” taps these supplies or diverts them to storage.
Novak also questioned plans by the EU to reverse the flow of gas and supply Ukraine with Russian gas via Slovakia.
“If such contracts are executed, we’ll look at them very attentively and reserve our right to address courts and institutions of arbitration,” he said.
As for Ukraine, its energy minister Yuriy Prodan said the doubling of the gas price by Russia was “discriminatory” and “abusive” and that Kiev will take the matter to the international court of arbitration in Stockholm.
“It is possible that in arbitration we can change the volume of our debt to Gazprom, possibly no debt at all,” Prodan said.
He insisted that “Ukraine is a reliable partner, a transit country and it will fulfil all its obligations to its European partners.”
Ukraine is the main transit country for Russian gas supplies to EU countries, with previous price disputes having translated into gas cuts at the height of cold winters, leaving citizens in Bulgaria and Slovakia in the cold.
The situation has since improved, with increased reserves and the capacity to reverse the gas flow from less-dependent EU countries to the ones totally relying on Russian imports.
But with pro-Russian separatists shooting down two Ukrainian helicopters and with Russian President Vladimir Putin declaring a Geneva peace deal “no longer valid”, the chances of a solution to the gas dispute are low.
Related — Ukraine signs gas deal with Slovakia.
Above is a fine description of the situation when all what Brussels is ready to talk about is the supply of new gas to old pipelines – “in reverse.” we find this ridiculous because we did not hear of any of the parties running in the elections for the European Parliament saying in full light that Energy Policy is not a synonim for Gas Policy. Where is the call for investment in a long term solution that makes the gas unneeded? YES, THEY CAN – AND IT IS POSSIBLE TO DO IT!
In Austria we follow this topic closely by monitoring the position of the top people in the various parties – and even having picked up in private this topic with them – we found something that until today I used to call a Chicken’s attitude.
I said that “until today” and this because my eyes opened up when the papers today wrote about -
The First leg is to follow the route: Bergowaja near Sochi in Russia – all the length of the Black Sea to Varna in Bulgaria -Pleven in Bulgaria – Subotica on the Serbian/Hungarian border – to Baumgarten in Lower Austria.
The idea is to bypass the Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania. This is an answer the Russians think to apply to their relations with their pesky Ukrainian neighbors, and Austria is playing the European partner in this scheme. With OEMV having strong connections to the Austrian political system – voila – the reason the Austrian parties are not keen to do more then just speak with low voice about true ENERGY INDEPENDENCE. I find this very disturbing, and though I do not want to be the first to point fingers – suffice to say that this might undermine many good positions Austria has in its attempt to help solve in a logic way the Ukraine/Russian controversy – something that becomes impossible if the government ends up speaking for the National Oil Company.
In a rather conspicuous propaganda stunt, Hamas, the terror group ruling Gaza, foisted a new billboard showing the heads of its Islamist leadership, along with the leaders of Turkey and Qatar, with a caption that implies their help has been recruited to wrest Jerusalem from Israeli control.
The billboard shows Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, alongside previous and current Qatari leaders Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The billboard reads ”Jerusalem is Waiting for Men,” along with a photo of the Dome of the Rock.
The massive banner was photographed in Gaza by the Palestinian News Agency, and flagged on Thursday by blogger Elder of Ziyon.
The blogger wrote that the sign also implies two other messages.
First, the belittling of leaders of other Arab countries, especially Egypt, where Hamas gained under the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, and is now being shunned after that group, its political “big brother,” was expelled last year.
And, second, that Hamas, which played second fiddle to Islamic Jihad in last month’s shelling of Israel, is the stronger of the two groups and will be on the winning team to, one day, take Jerusalem.
An Egyptian entrepreneur said he resents his country’s hostility to Israel which prevents him from openly conducting any business with the Jewish state, Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported late last week.
“It is very unfortunate that we cannot be pragmatic and say this particular country has good quality and inexpensive commodities and we are going to import from it because it is in our interest,” said the unnamed Egyptian, who still does business with Israel on the down low. “After all these years an Israeli commodity on, say, the shelf of a supermarket would not be picked up except by a few people — if we assume that any supermarket would at all dare to carry, say, Israeli fruit juice.”
Like most Egyptian businessmen who work with Israelis, he insisted on remaining anonymous for fear of being “stigmatized as dealing with the enemy,” he told Al-Ahram.
“I really don’t understand; we have a peace deal and we cannot do business, it has been 35 years since this peace treaty was signed and still it is a big issue if someone said let us do business with Israel or let us benefit of their agricultural expertise,” he said.
Trade between Israel and Egypt dropped after President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011, but government officials in Cairo say the fall was possibly a result of the subsequent political turmoil, according to the report.
Despite any current animosity Egypt may harbor toward Israel, an independent economic source told Al-Ahram that Egyptian authorities are considering all options in dealing with the country’s current severe energy shortages, not excluding the import of natural gas from Israel.
“Cooperation in natural gas has been very stable for many years despite the suspension and trade dispute that occurred after the 25 January Revolution removed Mubarak — but this is the case with trade cooperation in general, limited and stable,” said a government official.
March 24, April 6, April 22, 2014 – New York City events with historic Jewish music from places like Istanbul and Bessarabia (now Moldova) – about effort to preserve lost cultures in places of strife.
On Israel Radio Persian and Radio Farda, President Peres says “Iraniane Gerami, Novruzetan Piruz Bad,” or “Iranian citizens, wherever you are, Happy Nowruz.” “Let us have a year of science and of peace, without war and threats. Happy Nowruz!”
March 20, 2014 10:43 am
by Joshua Levitt, The Algemeiner.
Israeli President Shimon Peres delivering a festive greeting for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on March 20, 2014. Photo: Screenshot.
Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thursday spoke to the people of Iran by delivering a festive greeting for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, through interviews with Persian language radio stations, Israel Radio Persian and Radio Farda, and via his YouTube channel.
Beginning with the traditional Persian greeting, Peres said, “Iraniane Gerami, Novruzetan Piruz Bad,” or “Iranian citizens, wherever you are, Happy Nowruz.”
“The Jewish people and the Persian people, the Iranian people have a very long history and we’re going to have a long future,” he said in the radio address. “We are old cultures, we learn history, we make history and we respect history. We have a heritage of values; we are not just business peoples but two nations that respect culture, that respect human dignity. We call to live in peace and understanding.”
Ending the message he said, “Let us have a year of science and of peace, without war and threats. Happy Nowruz!”
In the interviews he granted to the Persian-language outlets, Peres spoke about his experiences and memories of his visits to Iran during the time of the Shah, when relations and diplomacy between the countries were different.
He said,”I don’t have a special message for the people of Iran because it is the same message as the people of Israel: Let’s forget wars, let our young people build a new future. Let’s talk to each other, directly, without prejudices. We still have a great deal to do to make the world better, let’s march together to this goal.”
When asked about the future relations between the two countries, Peres said, “I think Israel will become the contributing member of the Middle East, I think our children and Arab children, Druze, Christians, everybody will go to the same universities and their major challenge will be the new ideas, the new discoveries.”
“I do believe that the young generation of Iran, like the young generation all over the world will choose to live in peace, in cooperation,” he said. “Instead of fighting, let’s compete in scientific endeavor. In competition everybody wins, in war everybody loses.”
IRAN PULSE, Al-Monitor
Summary? Print In a telephone interview with Al-Monitor, Masoumeh Ebtekar, the head of Iran’s Environmental Protection Organization, said that many of the plans to address Tehran’s pollution were not implemented under the previous administration.
Author Mehrnaz Samimi Posted March 2, 2014.
Iran’s environment VP to Al-Monitor: ‘We lost eight years’
Tehran, the overpopulated and heavily polluted capital city of Iran, is in constant struggle with environmental issues. Among the most drastic and dangerous issues is the city’s ever-present pollution, which worsens in winter, causing schools and offices to close on some days, and prompting officials to caution residents — in particular children, the elderly and sick — to refrain from leaving their homes.
President Hassan Rouhani has invested his hopes in Masoumeh Ebtekar to resolve these issues. Ebtekar, 53, was the first woman to become a Cabinet member and a vice president after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Ebtekar, who spent part of her childhood in the United States and attended an American school in Tehran afterward, became a well-known face during the hostage crisis. Due to her fluency in English, she was the spokeswoman and translator for the hostage-takers.
Weakness has a cost beyond the first issue when you create expectations and flee implementation. The Washington Post seems to step away from traditional Jounalistic neutrality writing – “Iran fantasy, Syria farce.”
The Post reports: “The U.N. Security Council on Saturday unanimously approved a resolution demanding that Syria immediately halt attacks on civilians and allow unfettered humanitarian access to besieged areas and across neighboring borders, threatening unspecified ‘further steps’ if the government does not comply. The action marked the first time Russia has agreed to a binding resolution against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime since the conflict in his country began nearly three years ago. China, which vetoed three previous resolutions along with Russia, joined in approving the measure.” This is a cruel joke, and for Russia which has supported Bashar al-Assad, a cynical one.
Mind you — to reach this empty gesture took “lengthy negotiations over the past week.” In order to accommodate the Russians, in fact, the agreement had to be as tough on the rebels as it was on Assad. (“To secure Russia’s agreement, sponsors of the resolution agreed to include specific demands for opposition fighters to cease their own violations of human rights international law, to condemn terrorism and to drop a demand that government violators be referred for prosecution to the International Criminal Court.”) The last is an abomination; if ever a pack of murderers should be prosecuted for war crimes it is Assad and his cohorts.
So now the message to rogue states is: If you use WMD’s against your own people, you might have to very sloooowly give part of your treasure trove back. And if you continue to kill thousands by other means, you need not worry about prosecution for war crimes. The complete lack of seriousness – geopolitical and moral — is quite striking:
What happened to Power’s doctrine that the United States should use force to stop mass human rights atrocities? You need more than words, she acknowledges but actions now can be just words. No, really: “‘A resolution is just words. It is implementation that matters, and that’s what we are starting to measure right now.’ Language committing the council to further actions, she said, is a ‘significant hook, a significant commitment by the parties on the Security Council.’” You wonder if even she can believe such double talk.
And in calling for further political negotiations, this following the failed Geneva talks, the Obama administration itself signals that it has lost touch with reality. Reality, of course, does not include the fantasy that a decade of war is “ending.” It does not permit the United States to shrug its shoulders and declare it merely wants to “nation build at home.” And reality means that when you dawdle for three years, do not take swift and forceful action to back nonjihadi rebels and do not exact a price for use of WMD’s, the country will descend into chaos, sending a stream of refugees pouring into surrounding countries.
Even more troubling than the lack of a Syria policy that could pass the laugh test is the impression this certainly makes with the mullahs in Tehran. They by now consider the United States to be gullible and all too eager to make a deal that will mask Iran’s status as a nuclear threshold state. Seeing the Syrian sideshow must convince Iranian negotiators that any fig leaf will do for the United States to end remaining sanctions.
Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams this week warned that we should be wary of just such a deal with Tehran. In a press call he explained, “My biggest worry is that the administration is desperately committed to the appearance of a foreign policy success and that they will therefore agree to a deal and claim that it’s a great deal, but it will not actually do much to retrain and limit the Iranian program.” If that wasn’t obvious before, surely our farcical approach to Syria would leave little doubt that the United States is unwilling to back up what it says with hard power. We seem to be systematically undercutting what credibility we have, first with the interim deal and now with our feckless approach to Syria. Abrams worries, “The more immediate problem is, there’s very strong Iranian rhetoric now suggesting that any terms like those that, for example, [Iran experts] seem to me to be talking about would be acceptable to Iran, and Iran may think that it is seeing a weakened P5-plus-1 unity, it is seeing a weakened American determination to maintain the sanctions, in which case we’re in for, at the very least, an extremely tough negotiation and, at worse, no deal.”
So there you have it. “Smart diplomacy” detached from a willingness to use U.S. power (economic and military) serves as a green light for rogue regimes to continue their bad behavior. To the extent there are any “moderates” in Iran (I personally think the notion is absurd, but let’s assume so for purposes of discussion), then our weakness only undercuts them and enhances the stature of so-called hard-liners. (“I think that you need to show that bad behavior on the part of the Iranians will hurt Iran. I don’t think that, for example, weakening our position so that we give gifts to the so-called moderate [President Hassan] Rouhani or the so-called moderate [Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif, who just visited the tomb of Imad Mughniyeh. I don’t think that’s the way to do it. I think the way to do it is to show that we have a united front at least of the E.U.-3 plus the United States and that Iranian refusal to compromise will be punished by very heavy additional sanctions.”)
All of this suggests the administration, having lost its credibility, will find it difficult to get it back, which in turn will make the situations in Syria and Iran worse. It should also serve as a reminder to opponents on the right and left of a muscular foreign policy that refusal to confront real dangers when they are manageable results in fewer options and greater threats to U.S. security down the road. This is no way for a super power to behave.
A Hindu Sees The Light in Between the Muslims Fighting Each Other in Syria – and he is obviously right – it is not nice! Neither is the US above blame – in effect it is with US acts that the spread of Islamicism in its various forms took place. Could one now hope for India and China Diplomacy? We add – Could the Saudis come out of the Israeli Closet?
Syrian rebels or international terrorists?
Vijay Prashad* – The Hindu
*Vijay Prashad is the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon.
With Bashar Assad arguing that this is a war against terrorism, and the rebels arguing that this is a war against authoritarianism, no agreement can come of the peace talks on Syria.
Geneva 2’s mood mirrored the sound of mortar and despair on the ground in Syria. Not much of substance came of the former, as the U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi tiredly indicated that diplomacy continued despite the lack of a breakthrough. He hoped that the United States and the Russians would pressure their clients to remain at the table, from where, for three weeks, little of value has emerged. No agreement can come of these peace talks for at least two reasons. First, the government of Bashar Assad and the rebel coalition do not agree on the interpretation of the conflict. Mr. Assad argues that this is a war against terrorism (Al-Qaeda), while the rebels argue that this is a war against authoritarianism (the Assad government). Second, the rebels themselves are deeply fractured, with the Islamists in Syria who are doing the brunt of the fighting indisposed to any peace talks.
Mr. Brahimi hoped that humanitarian relief would be the glue to hold the two sides together. Residents in the old city of Homs and in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Yarmouk in Damascus have been under siege for two years. It was hoped that safe passage could be provided for food and medicine, but this was not accomplished. U.N. and Islamic Red Cross workers bravely avoided snipers and shells to transport food and medicines to the Syrians; children among them stared at fresh fruit, unsure of what to do with it. Absent momentum from Geneva, the options for a regional solution are back on the table.
Role for India, China?
In 2012, Egypt convened the Syria Contact Group that comprised Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — unlikely partners. Pressure from the U.S. and Russia at that time closed down the Group. Today, the regional partners seek an exit from their exaggerated postures over Syria, but there is no diplomatic space for them to act. It falls to powers that are untainted by the war, perhaps China and India, to call for a meeting — a Beijing or New Delhi summit — to craft a serious agenda to pressure all sides to a ceasefire and a credible political process.
The war is now fought less on the ground and more over its interpretation. Expectations of a hasty collapse of the government withdraw as the Syrian Army takes Jarajir, along the Lebanon border. Islamists groups continue to fight against each other in the north, weakening their firepower as the Syrian army watches from the sidelines. The emboldened Syrian government has now stepped up its rhetoric about this war being essentially one against terrorists with affiliation to al-Qaeda. Ears that once rejected this narrative in the West and Turkey are now increasingly sympathetic to it. As the Islamists suffocate the rebellion, it becomes hard to champion them against the government. Focus has moved away from the prisons and barrel bombs of the government to the executions and social policies of the Islamists.
A year ago, the West and Turkey would have scoffed at talk of terrorism as the fantasy of the Assad government. The West and the Gulf Arabs had opened their coffers to the rebels, knowing full well that they were incubating the growth of the Islamist factions at the expense of the secular opposition. Turkey’s government of Recep Tayyip Erdog?an micromanaged the opposition, provided bases in Turkey and allowed well-armed fighters to slip across the border into Syria. By early 2012, it had become a common sight to see well-armed Islamist fighters in the streets of Antakya and in the refugee camps in Hatay Province. The seeds of what was to come — the entry of al-Qaeda into Syria — was set by an opportunistic and poorly conceived policy by Erdog?an’s government. It did not help that his otherwise well-spoken and highly-regarded Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutog?lu began to refer to Syria’s Alawites (Mr. Assad’s community) as Nusayri, a derogatory sectarian term. Turkey joined U.S., Europe and Gulf Arab calls for Mr. Assad’s departure well before the numbers of those dead climbed above the thousands. Nervousness about the spread of al-Qaeda to Syria has made the rebels’ patrons edge closer to the Damascus narrative. The U.S. government wishes to arm the Iraqi government with Hellfire missiles and drones to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq’s Anbar Province. Britain has said that any fighter who comes back from Syria will be arrested (last week, a Sussex man — Abu Suleiman al-Britani — conducted a suicide operation in Aleppo). The Saudi Royal Court decreed that any Saudi found to have waged jihad abroad could spend up to 20 years in prison.
General Mansour al-Turki of the Saudi Interior Ministry said: “We are trying to stop everyone who wants to go to Syria, but we can’t stop leaks.” The Turkish Armed Forces fired on an ISIS convoy on January 28 inside Syria, and told the government in a report prepared jointly with the Turkish National Intelligence agency that al-Qaeda had made credible threats on Turkey.
Mr. Erdog?an hastened to Tehran to meet the new Iranian leadership — their public comments were on trade, but their private meetings were all on Syria and the need to combat the rise of terrorism. What Mr. Assad had warned about in 2012 came to pass — for whatever reason — and led to a loss of confidence among the rebels’ patrons for their future. Even al-Qaeda’s putative leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has sought to distance himself from ISIS. These signs indicate that on Syria, the “terrorism narrative” has come to dominate over the “authoritarian regime narrative.”
The fractious Syrian opposition that came to Geneva does not represent the main columns of rebel fighters on the ground. These are mainly Islamists — with the al-Qaeda wing represented by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, and the rest represented by the Islamic Front. They have no appetite for negotiation. Mr. Abu Omar of the Islamic Front said that Syria’s future would be created “here on the ground of heroism, and signed with blood on the frontlines, not in hollow conferences attended by those who don’t even represent themselves.” A U.S. intelligence official told me that when the U.S. went into Afghanistan in 2001, “We smashed the mercury and watched it spread out slowly in the area.” Al-Qaeda was not demolished in Kandahar and Tora Bora. Its hardened cadre slipped across to Pakistan and then onwards to their homelands. There they regrouped, reviving the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, al-Qaeda in Yemen, Ansar al-Sharia, Ansar Dine, and ISIS. The latter slipped into Syria from an Iraq broken by the U.S. occupation and the sectarian governance of the current government. There they worked with Jabhat al-Nusra and fought alongside other Islamist currents such as Ahrar ash-Sham. It was inevitable that these battle-tested Islamists would overrun the peaceful protesters and the defectors from the Syrian Army — the Free Syrian Army (FSA) — who scattered to the wind in 2012.
The FSA troops either joined up with the Islamists, continued to fight in small detachments, or linger precariously as twice defectors who are now homeless. The barbarism of the ISIS pushed other Islamists — with Gulf Arab support — to form the Islamic Front. The hope was that this group would run ISIS back to Iraq and remove the stigma of “al-Qaeda” from the Syrian rebellion. The problem is that one of the constituents of the Islamic Front — Jabhat al-Nusra, arguably the most effective of its fighting forces — sees itself as the Syrian franchise of al-Qaeda and has largely abjured the fight against ISIS. Another problem is that the in-fighting on the ground seems to have tapered off — one of the Islamist groups, Suqour al-Sham signed a truce with ISIS and pledged to work together.
By early 2014, these groups found their supply lines cut off. Iraq’s attack on ISIS began to seal the porous border that runs through the Great Syrian Desert. Jordan had already tried to close its border since early 2013, having arrested over a hundred fighters who have tried to cross into Syria. Lebanon’s border has become almost inaccessible for the rebels as the Syrian Army takes the roadway that runs along the boundary line. Last year, Turkey closed the Azaz crossing once it was taken over by the radical Islamists.
On January 20, the rebels attacked the Turkish post at Cilvegözü-Bab al-Hawa, killing 16. This is what spurred the Turkish Army to attack the ISIS convoy a week later.
As the Islamists saw their supply lines closed off, the U.S. announced that it would restart its aid to the rebel fighters. On February 5, the Syrian Coalition chief Ahmad Jabra told Future TV that his rebels would get “advanced weapons” — likely from the U.S. The FSA announced the formation of the Southern Front – with assistance from the West — to revive the dormant fight in Syria’s south-west. All this took place during Geneva 2, signalling confusion in U.S. policy. Does Washington still want to overthrow the Syrian government? Would it live with an Islamist government on Israel’s borders? Or, perhaps, the U.S. is eager for a stalemate, as pointed out by former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel, “The rebels lack the organization and weapons to defeat Assad. The regime lacks the loyal manpower to suppress the rebellion. Both sides’ external allies are ready to supply enough money and arms to fuel the stalemate for the foreseeable future.” This is a cruel strategy.
It offers no hope of peace for the Syrian people.
Road ahead for Syria group:
A senior military official in West Asia told me that one of the most overlooked aspects of West Asia and North Africa is that the military leaderships of each country maintain close contacts with each other. During Turkey’s war against the Kurdish rebellion in its eastern provinces, the military coordinated their operations with the Syrian armed forces. These links have been maintained. When it became clear that Mr. Erdog?an’s exaggerated hopes for Syria failed, and with the growth of the Islamists on Turkey’s borders and the Kurds in Syria having declared their independence, the Turkish military exerted its views. The Iraqi armed forces had already begun their operations against ISIS. Additionally, Egypt’s new Field Marshal Sisi overthrew the government of Mohamed Morsi when the latter encouraged jihadis to go to Syria. This was anathema to the Egyptian military who acted for this and other reasons to depose Mr. Morsi. The military view of the political situation leans naturally toward the terrorism narrative.
It appears now that the regional states are no longer agreed that their primary mission is the removal of Mr. Assad.This view — shared by the militaries — is evident in the political leadership in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey.With Egypt, these three states would be the core of a rejuvenated Syria Contact Group.
The 2012 group also had Saudi Arabia, which might be enjoined to come back to the table if they see that their outside allies — notably the U.S. — are averse to a policy that would mean Jabhat al-Nusra in power in Damascus.
Without Saudi Arabia, and perhaps even Qatar, the Syria Contact Group would be less effective.
If the Syria Contact Group is to re-emerge, it would need to be incubated by pressure from China and India, two countries that are sympathetic to multipolar regionalism.
Thus far, neither China nor India has taken an active role in the Syrian conflict, content to work within the United Nations and to make statements as part of the BRICS group.
But the failure of the U.S. and Russia and the paralysis of the U.N. alongside the continued brutality in Syria require an alternative path to be opened up.
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have indicated willingness for a dialogue — China and India need to offer them the table.
Do ‘Syria,’ ‘Iraq’ and ‘Lebanon’ Still Exist?
based on the original article by Jonathan Spyer that was posted by the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and that we re-post with a series of changes that are mainly of editorial nature.
For almost a century, the Middle East has been defined by the nation-states that emerged following the Allied Europeans – British and French – victory in World War I which was the end of the Ottoman Empire, and followed later by the unraveling of the resulting colonial era. Since then, strategic analyses of the region have concentrated on the relations between these states, created by bureaucratic lines drawn by the interim colonial powers, and diplomatic efforts have generally attempted to maintain their stability and the integrity of these borders. As a result, the current map of the Middle East has remained largely unchanged over more than nine decades.
But these actually never made sense and do so much less now. The old maps do not reflect the reality on the ground, and the region is now defined not by rivalry between nation-states, but by sectarian divisions that are spilling across the old borders and rendering them irrelevant. Today, there is a single sectarian war underway across the Middle East, one that threatens to engulf the entire region.
This war has a number of fronts, some more intense and active than others, but it is everywhere defined by sectarian conflict – especially the divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims. It is most intense in the area encompassing the current states of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon; but has also spread further afield—to Bahrain, northern Yemen, and to some degree Kuwait and eastern Saudi Arabia.
The core power on the Shia side is the Islamic Republic of Iran, the world’s leading state that accepts terror as a means to implement its plans. Iran was the founding patron of Hezbollah, which even before 9/11 had killed more Americans than any terror group in the world. The Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Maliki government and assorted Shia militias in Iraq, the Houthi rebels in northern Yemen, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are all allies or proxies of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is capable of rendering substantial assistance to its friends through the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – a powerful military and economic force that possesses substantial expertise and experience in building proxy organizations and engaging in political and paramilitary warfare.
On the Sunni side, the dominant power is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has been wary of Tehran, but also has struggled since 9/11 – on and off - against the Islamists of Al Qaeda. Its allies include various groups among the Syrian rebels, the March 14 movement in Lebanon, the military regime in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, and sometimes Turkey. The Saudis, however, are at something of a disadvantage. They possess no parallel to the IRGC, and have problematic relations with the extreme Sunni jihadists of al-Qaeda, who have played a prominent role in the fighting on all three major fronts and who are an outgrowth of the Saudi Wahabbi movement – the kind of Islam on which the Saudi throne is based. (Here we have a clear different approach to the issue then we found in the original article – that seemed to be over friendly to the Saudis – possibly because of the way Washington is siding with the Saudis.)
How did this situation come about? Is there evidence of a clear linkage between the various forces on the respective sides? Why is this conflict so extreme in certain countries—like Syria and Iraq—where it appears to be leading to the breakup of these states? How dangerous are these changes for the West?
Focusing on the areas of most intense conflict—Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon—can help us answer these questions.
This war is a result of the confluence of a number of circumstances. First, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are all home to a host of different sectarian and ethnic communities. The stark divisions that exist in these societies have never been resolved. In Syria and Iraq, they were suppressed for decades by brutal dictatorial regimes. The Assad regime in Syria and Saddam Hussein’s in Iraq – were family dictatorships based on minority sectarian communities – the Alawis in Syria, and the Arab Sunnis in Iraq – while claiming to rule in the name of pan-Arab nationalism. In service of this ideology, the Syrian and Iraqi regimes ruthlessly put down ethnic and sectarian separatism in all its forms; in particular, Shia Islamism in Iraq, Sunni Islamism in Syria, and the Kurdish national movement in both countries. All were treated without mercy.
Lebanon, by contrast, is a far weaker state, which was ruled by a power-sharing arrangement between ethnic and religious groups that collapsed into civil war in 1975. The issues underlying that war were never resolved; instead, between 1990 and 2005 the Syrian army presence in Lebanon ended all discussion of basic issues of national identity. (Here we must add something the original article has completely left untackled – the fact that in Lebanon the French colonial power has sponsored a Christian – mainly Maronite – minority and allowed for its governing over the Sunni and Shia parts of the population in a prearranged structure that fell apart with the influx of Sunni Palestinian refugees. These refugees ended up being supported by the Shia backed Hezbollah and eventually got attacked from the outside by the Israelis). Lebanon thus developed a different dynamics that is still tripartite in its Arab make up. Lebanon’s Maronite families with their French backing did not become dictators like in the cases of Iraq and Syria.
Over the last decade, the once ironclad structures of dictatorship and suppression that kept ethnic and sectarian tensions from erupting, have weakened or disappeared.
The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq destroyed the Saddam Hussein regime. A sectarian Shia government, based on the Shia Arab majority and conditionally accepted by the Kurds, took its place. In Syria, a brutal civil war has severely curtailed the power of the Assad regime, which now rules only about 40 percent of the country’s territory. The Sunni Arab majority and the Kurdish minority have carved out autonomous sectarian enclaves in the 60 percent that remains.
Western hopes that a non-sectarian identity would take hold in the areas formerly ruled by Saddam and the Assads are persistent but proven illusory. Remarks about Iraq made by then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in 2004 sum up these hopes and the tendency to self-delusion that often accompanies them. “What has been impressive to me so far,” Rice said, is that Iraqis—whether Kurds or Shia or Sunni or the many other ethnic groups in Iraq—have demonstrated that they really want to live as one in a unified Iraq…. I think particularly the Kurds have shown a propensity to want to bridge differences that were historic differences in many ways that were fueled by Saddam Hussein and his regime… What I have found interesting and I think important is the degree to which the leaders of the Shia and Kurdish and Sunni communities have continually expressed their desires to live in a unified Iraq.
This faith is expressed also by the Obama Administration, and as a result, it has continued to support the Shia-dominated government in Iraq, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It sees Maliki’s opposition to Sunni insurgents in western Anbar province as an elected government’s opposition to extremist rebels. This fails to take into account the sectarian nature of the Maliki government itself, and the discriminatory policies he has pursued against the Sunnis of western Iraq.
The reemergence of sectarian conflict so evident in Iraq has also emerged in Syria and is, in turn, showed up in neighboring Lebanon.
Lebanon was first drawn into the Syrian conflict as a result of the significant and highly effective intervention in Syria in support of the Assad regime by Iran’s Lebanon-based terrorist army, Hezbollah. This quickly led to retaliation against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon by elements among Syria’s Sunni rebels. Supporters of the Sunni rebels have succeeded in attacking Hezbollah’s Dahiyeh compound in south Beirut five times. The bombing on January 2, 2014, was carried out by a young Lebanese member of an organization called ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) named Qutaiba Muhammad al-Satem; ISIS are Islamic extremists who have been operating as a branch of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria.
While Hezbollah’s decision to intervene on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria and the subsequent Sunni reaction is partially the result of the divided nature of Lebanon, and Syria, and their unresolved questions of national identity, larger regional conflicts, also of a sectarian nature, are a driving force behind the violence.
Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian civil war came not as a result of automatic sentiments of solidarity, but because Hezbollah forms part of a regional alliance headed by Iran, to which the Assad regime also belongs. When Assad found himself in trouble, Hezbollah was mobilized to assist him. On the opposing side, the Syrian rebels have benefited from the support and patronage of Iran’s rival, Saudi Arabia, and other states along the Arabian peninsula, including the United Arab Emirates.
This rivalry is long standing and not just rooted in theological differences. It is about power. Iran is controlled by a revolutionary regime whose goal is to become the hegemonic force in the Middle East. Although the Iranians certainly regard the Saudis as an enemy and as unfit custodians of Islam’s most holy sites, Tehran’s main goal is to assert control over Arabian Gulf energy supplies, replacing the U.S. as guarantor of resources upon which world is dependent. Tehran understands that the real source of power in the region is the Gulf itself, with its enormous reserves of oil and natural gas that are essential to the global economy. To achieve its goals, Iran must tempt or coerce the Gulf monarchies away from U.S. protection and toward an alliance with Tehran, and ironically, American perceived weakness in the face of Tehran’s nuclear pursuit makes that all the more possible.
Riyadh has emerged as the principle opponent to Iran’s regional ambitions, mainly because the former guarantor of the current regional order, the United States, has chosen to leave the field. Until 2011, the Middle East appeared to be locked into a kind of cold war, in which the Iranians, along with their allies and proxies, sought to overturn the U.S.-dominated regional order, which was based on U.S. alliances with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. Events over the last five years, however, have created the impression that the U.S. no longer wishes to play this role: America failed to back its longtime Egyptian ally, Hosni Mubarak, when he faced domestic unrest in early 2011. It failed to support the rebel forces fighting the Iran-backed Assad regime. And it failed to back Bahrain against an Iran-supported uprising in the same year. Now, the U.S. appears to be seeking a general rapprochement with Iran.
As a result of all this, Saudi Arabia has begun to take a far more active role in the region. Riyadh and its Gulf allies have certainly helped to finance and stabilize Egypt after the military removed Muhammad Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government from power. It began to take a leading role in supporting the Syrian rebels. It has well-documented relations with the anti-Syrian March 14 movement in Lebanon. In December 2013, the Saudis pledged $3 billion to the official Lebanese army. They also support anti-Maliki elements in Iraq. In addition, they are seeking to create an alliance among the other Gulf states in order to oppose Iranian ambitions, with some success.
But all of the above will not work for the Saudis unless they also stretch out a friendly hand to Israel and do a “SADAT” – that is – backing the right of Israel provided it settles with the Palestinians and do this in a pro-active way by showing their readiness to bankroll a solution of the Palestinian conflict. We say this is the cheapest way for the Saudis to wrestle the region from the Iranians – but we found no such conclusion in the original article. This might be too revolutionary for the conventional mindset that believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just another Middle East intractable conflict like the one in the article. The trick is to see how an opportunity is created when trying to go about two seemingly intractable problems in tandem!
The original article follows instead by saying - “increasingly violent rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, intensified by American withdrawal from the region, has helped turn a conflict that was once cold into an increasingly hot cross-border sectarian war.”
There is considerable evidence of links between Iran and Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, and their respective allies in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, on the other.
On the Iranian side, Tehran no longer makes any serious attempt to deny the enormous assistance they have given the Assad regime in Syria. Indeed, the Iranians have effectively mobilized all their available regional assets in order to preserve it. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Qods Force, Qassem Suleimani, went to Syria himself in order to coordinate these efforts. Perhaps most notably, in mid-2012 the Iranians began training a new light infantry force for Assad. Called the National Defense Force, it was necessary because Assad was unable to use much of his own army, which consisted of Sunni conscripts whose loyalty was unreliable. Iran has even sent its own IRGC fighters to fight in Syria; a fact revealed by footage taken by an Iranian cameraman who was later killed by the rebels, the testimony of Syrian defectors, and the capture of a number of IRGC men in August 2012.
In April 2013, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was summoned to Iran and instructed to deploy his own fighters in Syria. Up to 10,000 of them are now on the ground in Syria at any given time, and they played a crucial role in retaking the strategic town of Qusayr in August 2013. Hezbollah fighters are also taking a prominent role in the battle for the Qalamun area near the Lebanese border, as well as the fighting around Damascus.
Iranian financial donations have also been vital in keeping the regime alive. In January 2013, Iran announced a “credit facility” agreement with Syria that extended a $1 billion line of credit to Assad. Later the same year, an additional credit line of $3.6 billion was announced.
Iraq has also played a vital role in supporting Assad, mainly by allowing Iran to use Iraqi territory and airspace to transfer weapons to Syrian forces. At first glance, this appears to be a strange policy. Relations between Iraq and Syria prior to the civil war were not good, with Maliki openly accusing Assad of supporting Sunni insurgents. But this has now changed. Indeed, Maliki has openly supported Assad since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. This reflects his increasing closeness to Iran, which helped ensure Maliki’s emergence as prime minister after the 2010 elections and pressured Assad to support him as well. Relations between Iraq, Iran, and Syria have only improved since.
In addition to government support, Iraqi Shia militias are now fighting in Syria on behalf of Assad. The Abu Fadl al-Abbas Brigades, Ktaeb Hezbollah, and the Ahl al-Haq group all have forces in Syria. They are playing an important role, given that one of Assad’s major weaknesses is his lack of reliably loyal soldiers. The eruption of violence in Iraq’s western Anbar province has further cemented this alliance, since the insurgency is a direct result of advances made by Sunni jihadis in Syria.
As a result of all this, the Iranian-led side of the regional conflict has emerged as a tightly organized alliance, capable of acting in a coordinated way, pooling its resources for a common goal, and fighting effectively from western Iraq all the way to the Mediterranean.
The Sunni side of the conflict is more chaotic and disjointed. Saudi Arabia is its main financier, but it lacks an equivalent to the Qods force and the IRGC, who are world leaders in subversion and irregular warfare.
Only the most extreme jihadi elements appear capable of clear coordination across borders. For example, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as its name suggests, is active in both countries and controls a contiguous area stretching from the western Anbar province in Iraq to the eastern Raqqa province in Syria. ISIS regards itself as a franchise of al-Qaeda, although it does not take orders directly from the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. Another al-Qaeda group, Jabhat al-Nusra, is active in Syria. In Lebanon, a third branch of al-Qaeda, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, has played a role in the attacks on Hezbollah. In addition, both the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra are active in Lebanon.
But there are also less extreme groups opposing the Syrian-Iranian axis. Saudi Arabia has backed the March 14 movement, which is the main Sunni opposition party in Lebanon, as well as providing financial support to the Lebanese army. In Syria, the Saudis have fostered the Islamic Front, an alliance of eight Islamist groups unconnected to al-Qaeda. It includes some of the strongest rebel brigades, such as Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Islam, and Liwa al-Tawhid. It is now emerging as the key bloc among the rebels. The Saudis also dominate the Syrian opposition in exile, with Ahmed Jarba, who has close links to Riyadh, recently reelected chairman of the Syrian National Coalition.
There are no indications that the Saudis are backing Sunni insurgents in Iraq, but the larger Sunni community is certainly looking to Riyadh for help. Relations between Saudi Arabia and the current Iraqi government are very bad. The border between the two countries is closed except during the Hajj pilgrimage, there is no Saudi embassy in Baghdad, and commercial relations are kept at a minimum. Some of the Sunni tribes in western Anbar have close links to the Saudis. While they are hostile to al-Qaeda, they are also opposed to the Maliki government, which they regard as a sectarian Shia regime.
There is a third element to this regional conflict that is something of a wild card: The Kurds. A non-Arab people who have long sought an independent state, the Kurds have succeeded in creating a flourishing autonomous zone in northern Iraq that enjoys most of the elements of de facto sovereignty. Since July 2012, another Kurdish autonomous zone has been established in northeast Syria. These two areas occupy a contiguous land mass, but are not politically united. The Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq is controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Party, led by Massoud Barzani, while the autonomous zone in northeast Syria is controlled by the PYD (Democratic Union Party), which is the Syrian branch of the Turkish-based leftist PKK movement.
These movements are rivals, and each sees itself as the appropriate leader of the Kurds. But while there is tension between them, each appears to be securely in control of its respective areas. The Kurds do not enjoy the support of any state in the region, and both the Iranians and the Saudis regard Kurdish national aspirations with suspicion. Nonetheless, the Kurds have managed to accumulate sufficient organizational and military strength to ensure the survival of their self-governing enclaves.
All these factors indicate that two rival alliances are clashing for hegemony over the region. There are myriad practical links between the various combatants, and their activities have long since spilled across the borders of the various states involved in the fighting; as indicated by the presence of Iranian fighters, ISIS, and Hezbollah in Syria; Syrian rebels in Lebanon; and many other examples. Iran is the leader of one side, Saudi Arabia is the main backer of the other, while the Kurds are concerned with maintaining their areas of control and are trying to stay out of the conflict.
The most significant result of the analysis is that the continued existence of Syria and Iraq as unified states is now in question. Practically speaking, Syria has already split into three areas, each controlled by one of the three elements listed above. Iraq has also effectively split into Kurdish and Arab zones, with Sunni and Shia groups fighting over the latter.
In many ways, Lebanon ceased to function as a unified state some time ago; since Hezbollah essentially functions as a de facto mini-state of its own. The Lebanese Sunnis lack a military tradition and have proved helpless in the face of Iran’s support for Hezbollah. But now, the emergence of the Syrian rebels and the growing popularity of Islamism among the Sunni underclass may be altering this balance. This appears to be borne out by the recent surge in Sunni violence against Hezbollah, which is the result of an attempt by Syrian jihadis and other rebels—in concert with their local allies—to bring the war to Lebanon.
Taken together, this indicates that a massive paradigm shift is underway in much of the Middle East. The eclipse of Arab nationalist dictatorships in Iraq and Syria, the historical failure to develop a unified national identity in these states, their mixed ethnic and sectarian makeup, and the U.S.’s withdrawal from its dominant position in the region—with the resulting emergence of a Saudi-Iranian rivalry—have all combined to produce an extraordinary result: A region-wide sectarian war is now taking place in the areas still officially referred to as Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
For the West, as in the region itself, this has very serious implications. Dealing with it effectively will required an equally massive paradigm shift in strategic thinking on the Middle East, one that is capable of dispensing with previous illusions and admitting that sovereign borders once regarded as sacrosanct are swiftly becoming meaningless.
There are new borders taking shape, defined by sectarian divisions that the West ignores at its peril. Despite fantasies of withdrawing from the region, the security of global energy supplies and the maintenance of regional stability are still essential to Western interests. The West has as large a stake in the outcome of this sectarian conflict as the regional players involved. If it cannot adapt to the new Middle East that is swiftly taking shape, it will find itself on the losing side.
392 megawatt Concentrating Solar Plant is delivering renewable energy to the California grid – it is the largest plant of its kind in the world: Ideal for Deserts. BrightSource Energy partners are NRG Solar and Google: it was started as Luz International in Israel.
Posted: 14 Feb 2014
It has been a long, controversial and expensive road for BrightSource Energy, but their 392 megawatt concentrating solar plant is now finally delivering renewable energy to the California grid and it is the largest plant of its kind in the world.
Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System (ISEGS), which is comprised of 350,000 garage door-sized mirrors that reflect sunlight onto boilers atop 40 foot towers, is jointly owned by NRG Solar, Google and BrightSource Energy –
In addition to offsetting roughly 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year, the massive solar facility located roughly 50 miles northwest of Needles, California, will deliver solar power to roughly 140,000 homes via California utility companies PG&E and Southern California Edison.
Despite this enormous boost for solar energy, BrightSource Energy has taken a lot of heat from environmentalists and social activists for their five square mile solar project in the Mojave desert.
It took months to resolve the issue of relocating desert tortoises that call the desert home, to make way for thousands of concentrating mirrors, and Native Americans complained that the project destroys sites that are sacred to them.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the towers, which reach temperatures of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, have scorched an astonishing number of birds.
The paper also notes that the energy produced at Ivanpah will cost four times as much as natural gas and boasts a smaller generation capacity to land ratio than conventional plants. In other words, CSP projects like ISEGS require more land than fossil fuel plants.
Despite these downsides, the $2.2 billion plant will produce one third of all solar thermal energy in the United States, and potentially pave the way for similar projects to take flight as well.
Camels Had No Business in Genesis.
There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place.
Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.
These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories “do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium,” said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, “but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period.”
Dr. Mizrahi likened the practice to a historical account of medieval events that veers off to a description of “how people in the Middle Ages used semitrailers in order to transport goods from one European kingdom to another.”
For two archaeologists at Tel Aviv University, the anachronisms were motivation to dig for camel bones at an ancient copper smelting camp in the Aravah Valley in Israel and in Wadi Finan in Jordan. They sought evidence of when domesticated camels were first introduced into the land of Israel and the surrounding region.
The archaeologists, Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen, used radiocarbon dating to pinpoint the earliest known domesticated camels in Israel to the last third of the 10th century B.C. — centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the kingdom of David, according to the Bible. Some bones in deeper sediments, they said, probably belonged to wild camels that people hunted for their meat. Dr. Sapir-Hen could identify a domesticated animal by signs in leg bones that it had carried heavy loads.
The findings were published recently in the journal Tel Aviv and in a news release from Tel Aviv University. The archaeologists said that the origin of the domesticated camel was probably in the Arabian Peninsula, which borders the Aravah Valley. Egyptians exploited the copper resources there and probably had a hand in introducing the camels. Earlier, people in the region relied on mules and donkeys as their beasts of burden.
“The introduction of the camel to our region was a very important economic and social development,” Dr. Ben-Yosef said in a telephone interview. “The camel enabled long-distance trade for the first time, all the way to India, and perfume trade with Arabia. It’s unlikely that mules and donkeys could have traversed the distance from one desert oasis to the next.”
Dr. Mizrahi, a professor of Hebrew culture studies at Tel Aviv University who was not directly involved in the research, said that by the seventh century B.C. camels had become widely employed in trade and travel in Israel and through the Middle East, from Africa as far as India. The camel’s influence on biblical research was profound, if confusing, for that happened to be the time that the patriarchal stories were committed to writing and eventually canonized as part of the Hebrew Bible.
“One should be careful not to rush to the conclusion that the new archaeological findings automatically deny any historical value from the biblical stories,” Dr. Mizrahi said in an email. “Rather, they established that these traditions were indeed reformulated in relatively late periods after camels had been integrated into the Near Eastern economic system. But this does not mean that these very traditions cannot capture other details that have an older historical background.”
Moreover, for anyone who grew up with Sunday school images of the Three Wise Men from the East arriving astride camels at the manger in Bethlehem, whatever uncertainties there may be of that story, at least one thing is clear: By then the camel in the service of human life was no longer an anachronism.