Archive for August, 2008:
In this highly informative article, Iran Diplomacy analyzes “Tehran and Moscow in Medvedev’s era”. The conclusions, listed below, are very interesting, in as far as they show that some elements in Iran are becoming concerned about Iran’s over reliance on Russia.
Amongst other things, the article concludes:
The conditions are now prepared for making changes in Iran-Russia relations. Therefore, we must allow for the following issues in future of bilateral ties:
1. Russia is not enough for Iran. Any attempt to expand ties with Russia must take relations with West into consideration.
2. In Medvedev’s age, Russia will move towards nationalism, since Medvedev has more nationalistic tendencies compared with Putin.
3. Medvedev is not after confrontation with the United States and the European Union. But if that happens for any reason, he may be ready to get closer to China, Iran and India.
4. In areas such as energy market (especially gas) and Middle East (Iraq and Lebanon) and the Muslim World, Russia tends to increase cooperation with Iran. Iran is also interested in expanding bilateral ties in areas such as defense aerospace technology, and regional collaboration in the Caspian Sea and Shanghai Pact.
5. It is likely that because of his professional background as Gazprom’s chairman, Medvedev shows interest in accessing Iran’s market.
By: Meir Javedanfar
Many in the West and Israel believe Iran’s nuclear program will be Ahmadinejad’s priority on this trip.
In reality, he will achieve very little in this field, because the Turkish don’t have enough leverage with Tehran or the EU to force any major changes.
One area which I believe will be his priority, and a realistic one, is energy export.
What should worry the Israeli and the US government is that the recent Russian assault on Georgia has made Iran even more attractive as a energy supplier, for 2 reasons:
1. BP has just shut down a oil and gas pipeline which runs through Georgia. That has damaged the credibility and stability of the Ceyhan-Baku-Tbilisi line, which avoided Russian territory.
2. With Moscow flexing its muscles in such a brutal manner, less countries will now be willing to become dependent on it for energy purposes. This is compounded by the fact that the Russians are not shy to shut gas or oil supplies as a tool to force clients to change their foreign and domestic policy, as was the case with Ukraine and the Czech republic.
This leaves Iran as the other alternative. Iran has the gas resources (2nd largest in the world), and Turkey has the proximity and the required route to Europe, and wants to become a major energy transfer route as this brings more income from oil companies and adds to Turkey’s strategic importance. It also wants to move away from Russia as a energy supplier.
Meanwhile, the Iranian government is a very enthusiastic exporter, especially in the energy sector, for two reasons. One is it needs the extra income, and two, this sector can be a useful foreign policy tool which Iran can use to promote its interests.
Therefore, the combination of Iran’s gas resources and enthusiasm to export, plus Turkey’s ambitions make them a powerful alternative, which many European countries may find more suitable to Russia.
This will make the already difficult task of isolating Iran, even more cumbersome. And Tehran has Moscow to thank, again.
By: Meir Javedanfar
In yesterday’s commentary piece for the London Guardian, Alexandros Petersen, program director of the Caspian Europe Center writes:
“A European democracy is under full-scale attack from Russia, and EU and Nato leaders are either wringing their hands or sitting on them. The continuing conflict in Georgia is not really about the small south-Caucasus country. By opening up a three-front offensive on Georgia, Moscow is deliberately testing Europe’s mettle”.
In Tehran the view is different. As I noted in a recent analysis for PJM Media, some Iranian strategists see the conflict as a Georgian provocation, and the fact that the US backs Tbilisi, worries them.
These concerns were reflected in an article published in Tabnak, owned by former Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezai. In an interview with Dr. Mehdi Senai, a politics lecturer at Tehran University, he says that Tehran’s nuclear program, and the international approach to resolve the dispute surrounding it, may become part of a wider agreement between the U.S. and Russia after the end of the conflict. “Russia’s capacity to confront the U.S. is limited”, warns Dr Senai.
His other concern is that if Russia comes out politically weaker from this conflict, a weakened Kremlin, seeking a deal over Georgia, could give the U.S. the green light to launch a military operation against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “In the dealings between international powers [i.e., Russia and the U.S.], Iran has to be very careful”, said Senai.
These are very logical concerns.
However for now, Russia’s military accomplishments in Georgia have most probably led to a big sigh of relief in Tehran. With its new military victory, which Russia will want to translate into more political leverage, it will be even more difficult to force the Kremlin to back tougher sanctions against Iran.
But, all could change if Russia invades Tbilisi and tries to overthrow the democratically elected administration there. Such an act could inflame international opinion, and infuriate EU and Washington. Thus Russia’s military accomplishment in doing so could bring the opposite political results, meaning isolation, and serious deterioration in relations with the US. In such a scenario, as part of its efforts to come out of isolation and to bolster its position, the Russians may place the Iranian nuclear program back on the negotiation table, again.
In terms of its goal to become self sufficient in its nuclear program, Iran is making notable strides forwards. However Iran’s noted over reliance on Russia shows that the opposite is happening in Tehran’s quest to achieve its 1979 revolutionary goal of establishing an independent political entity, free of influence from East or West.
By: Meir Javedanfar
President Bashar Al Assad of Syria seems to be trying to reinvent himself as a Middle East statesman. He has mended relations with France recently, a smart move which has brought him back to the European fold. This is very important for Syria, strategically and economically, as Syria wants to increase tourism from and agriculture export to the EU. This also has also taken some pressure of him when it comes to the question of his support for Hezbollah and Hamas.
Now he is trying to capitalize on his new position to act as a negotiator between the West and Iran, over Tehran’s nuclear program. The Turkish won’t like that, as they have been trying to fill this role over the last number of months. Nevertheless, Assad’s good offices in Tehran can not be ignored,
For now, he also faces serious challenges. The recent assassination of General Suleyman, who was a very senior officer in his military establishment, has shown that there are gaping holes in his security services. This comes at the heels of the assassination of Imad Mughniya, which was another high profile security embarrassment for him.
The question is, how does the old guard view Assad’s overtures? Most probably with skepticism. This is why despite the peace talks with Israel, no one should expect Assad to severe his ties with Iran any time soon. His Tehran connections give him leverage, politically and economically, which no one is willing to replace at the moment. Not willing to lose an important element in its balance of power with the West and Israel, Damascus is likely to maintain, if not strengthen its relations with Tehran, especially in the economic sphere. With Syria earning only 20% of its income from oil, as opposed to 70% in 2000, this is one area which is becoming a critical issue for its rulers.
According to today’s International Herald Tribune, “Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric, said Friday that he would divide his Mahdi army militia in two: one elite unit of fighters and a group that would work on community and religious programs”.
It now seems more than ever that Al Sadr is following the model of Hezbollah. This is a very smart move by the young cleric. It is very possible that he was encouraged to do this while studying to become an Ayatollah in Iran, under Ayatollah Shahroudi.
This move will serve Al Sadr well. Establishing a social network will mean increasing the group’s influence in every day life of Shiites, thus giving Al Sadr more credibility and political leverage. In fact, it is possible that when it comes to services such as health, his social charities will be moe efficient than what the government offers, due to less bureacracy, and the fact that he alone would be in charge of receiving funds and distributing them. This is in contrast to sectarian based squabbles over budget allocation in the Iraqi government.With increasing calls in the US to reduce military and financial aid to Iraq, Al Sadr has chosen the right time to increase his influence.
Nevertheless, he has a long way to go, as according to reports, there are criminals amongst his group who have used the Mahdi army to demand extortion and have made life more difficult for Shiites. However if successful, the Shiites followers of Al Sadr will closely be following the success of the Kurds in northern Iraq, who are leading the country in terms of relative stability and economic progress.
By: Meir Javedanfar
Due to its abundance of gas and oil resources, not many countries believe that Iran truly needs nuclear power for energy purposes. However, when one looks at the energy situation in Iran, it becomes evident that there is in fact a dire need.
Iran’s total electricity production capacity stands at 33,000 megawatts (MW). 75% is from natural gas, 18 percent from oil, and 7 percent from hydroelectric power. Meanwhile, due to the fast rate of industrialization and population growth, demand for electricity is growing at 8% a year.
This year Iran has witnessed a severe drought. The citizens of the scenic city of Esfahan (described as the Florence of the East), were shocked to see that the Zayande rood river, which runs through the city centre, has completely dried up. Similar scenes were reported from other major sources of water.
According to some forecasts, Iran’s water problems are only going to get worst in the future. This has meant that instead of producing 6,500 megawatts, Iran hydro electric infrastructure has only produced 1500, thus creating a significant shortage.
There have also been sever problems with other sources of energy such as oil and gas, due to decaying infrastructure, which has been caused by sanctions and bad management.
This has meant that Tehran, a city of 14 million inhabitants, has been plunged into darkness for at least two hours a day, over the last six months. This is why Iranian newspapers carry daily schedules about which neighborhood will have its electricity cut and at what time. Similar problems have been reported in other parts of the country.
The last time there were power cuts in Iran was during the war against Iraq, and for a limited time afterwards. This makes the hot summer days for many Iranians unbearable. It also causes significant damage to the economy.
Iran’s requirement for nuclear energy is justified. Nuclear power would enable the Iranian government to make up the energy shortage, using an efficient technology. Also, it would enable it to export gas at higher price thus earning more income, instead of using it at home for domestic energy purposes.
The recent incentives package from the EU would have allowed Iran to have access to modern technical support and equipment from the West, which would have enabled it to use nuclear technology for the production of energy. However, Iran’s rejection of its demand for a temporary suspension of uranium enrichment, and the doubts surrounding Iran’s nuclear intentions have made much needed improvements in Iran’s energy sector very difficult.
For now it seems that Iran’s genuine energy concerns are hostage to the balance of power struggle between the Iranian government and the West.
In a surprising turnaround, the Russian government has now requested that Iran is given more time to produce a response to the package of incentives offered by the 5+1 groups.
This is surprising because the Russians, as part of the 5+1 group, were involved in giving the government of president Ahmadinejad the original 2 weeks deadline, in mid July.
The question to ask is why has Russia decided to split from the group, by providing its own conditions?
First and foremost, it could be because the Russians don’t believe that Iran is close to making a nuclear bomb. If they were, it is very unlikely that they would allow Tehran to stall the international community in such a way. A nuclear Iran would create much instability in the region, something which would hurt Russia’s own security and interests. One hopes that they are right, although many intelligence agencies doubt this. Even the IAEA is not sure that Iran’s nuclear program is purely for civilian purposes.
Secondly, the new economically emboldened Russia, “living on crazy money”, as one Russian Economic professor put it, is vying to reclaim its position in the global balance of power, against the US. Moscow feels very threatened by US plans to build a missile shield in central Europe. In fact Russia is considering deploying strategic bombers or station tactical missiles in its close ally Belarus to counter this. Moscow hopes that by creating its own stance, it will have more control over the Iranian nuclear negotiations, thus giving president Medvedev more leverage to use against Washington.
Last but not least, there is the question of economics. Russia has one of the world’s largest gas reserves. It has recently signed a cooperation memorandum with Iran, which ahs the world’s second largest gas reserves. This is a huge win for Moscow, something which it would be unwilling to lose.
What is needed is for the EU and US to try and bring Russia back into the fold. Iran’s refusal to accept the EU incentives has given more voice to those who say that negotiations with Iran are a waste of time. Should Russia allow Iran to distance itself from addressing the core issue of negotiations (ie. Suspension of Uranium enrichment), it will embolden conservatives in Iran, especially president Ahmadinejad.
It could also bring the world closer to the 2 worst options: living with a nuclear Iran, or going to war against it. This is the wrong move at the wrong time by Moscow. The North Korean nuclear program was stopped because Russia acted in unison with the US, as part of the six party talks. The same approach and level of responsibility is needed from Russia, as a member of 5+1 countries who have the important task of dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.
Jul. 26, 2008
MEIR JAVEDANFAR , THE JERUSALEM POST
In Iran, much like the rest of the world, possessions are used as status symbols by the wealthy. Among other things, the rich judge each other by what car the other person drives, in which neighborhood of Teheran they live, which hotel they stay during their shopping trips to Dubai and what cellphone they use.
The same applies to politicians, many of whom during the reign of Ali Rafsanjani and Muhammad Khatami abused their positions to amass huge fortunes. No government expenses were spared to purchase the latest BMW or Mercedes Benz for them. Meanwhile, others managed to buy government property in Iran’s scenic Caspian Sea coast for a fraction of the market price. The children of such politicians, who are sarcastically called agha zadeh (children of nobles), are known to have benefited handsomely from their fathers’ corruption. Their friends don’t seem to mind. The parties thrown by these agha zadehs are famous in northern Teheran for their abundance of alcoholic drinks, dance music and beautiful girls.
Such abuse of status has created much animosity in Iran. In a country where the gap between the rich and poor is widening, some politicians, especially young conservative war veterans, who include Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have decided to do the opposite. They live in simple houses and drive bottom-of-the-range cars. Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, is one of them. His status symbol is his beaten up, Korean-made KIA Pride, which is one of the cheapest cars assembled and sold in Iran.
JALILI AND Ahmadinejad belong to a generation of conservative war veterans who see the Iranian nuclear program not only as an important tool to confront the West, but also as a status symbol to take on their internal rivals from the reformist and pragmatist camps. In fact, in many cases, their internal goals and motivations exceed those of their external concerns.
The election of Ahmadinejad in June 2005 was hailed as a victory for the non-clergy conservatives. For the first time, Iran had a president who unlike his predecessors had fought in the war, was well educated and had worked his way up from lowly administrative positions. He was the man who the conservatives hoped would dismantle Rafsanjani’s multimillion dollar empire and would send the flashy agha zadehs packing. Ahmadinejad was the man they hoped would reverse the inflation and unemployment problems created by Rafsanjani and made worse during Khatami’s reign.
Three years after entering office, Ahmadinejad has failed to deliver on all of his promises. The nuclear program is all that he has left. His old friend Jalili, as the general secretary of the Supreme National Security Council has the ear of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and is Ahmadinejad’s point man in the nuclear program. Jalili and Ahmadinejad believe that by not negotiating with the West, they will weaken Iran’s pragmatists and reformists, who are concerned about Iran becoming more isolated. This way Ahmadinejad hopes his chances of reelection next year will increase.
For now Khamenei, Iran’s ultimate decision-maker, seems to back the advice of Jalili. Judging by reports from the July 22 edition of Jomhuriye Eslami newspaper, which is considered to be Khamenei’s mouthpiece in Iran, Teheran is going to turn down the EU’s recent incentives package.
Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s legal right to produce energy, are being sacrificed by the government’s uncompromising stance, and not just by the actions of the West, as some Iranian officials claim. Khamenei, who is a pragmatic politician must realize that people like Jalili are only after the political welfare of conservatives. His advice could have long lasting damaging impact on the welfare of the regime and Iranians, as refusal to accept the EU incentives package will make it easier for the West to impose tougher sanctions or even justify an attack.
Compromise is not a dirty word. The people of Iran have compromised and sacrificed enough through a bloody revolution, and even a bloodier war against Saddam Hussein’s invading army. Its time for the government to follow suit. Instead of listening to the advice of inexperienced and belligerent conservatives such as Jalili, Khamenei should send him home, in his Pride.
The writer is the coauthor of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran. He also runs the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company- his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in Jerusalem Post. To read click here
Meir Javedanfar is the co-author of “The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran.” He runs Middle East Economic and Political Analysis (Meepas)