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Sunday, April 05, 2015

Why Saudi Arabia and Israel oppose Iran nuclear deal

Erdogan to visit Iran despite tensions: presidency . Reuters April 5, 2015 4:41 AM     . ˠ ➕ ✕ . . Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Ankara . View photo Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in … . ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will visit Tehran for high level meetings on Tuesday, despite recent tensions over the Saudi-led bombing operation in Yemen. The visit has been on the cards for some time but some Iranian lawmakers had called for it to be scrapped last week after Erdogan publicly backed Saudi Arabia's operation against Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen and criticized Tehran for trying to "dominate the region." Erdogan, accompanied by a delegation of Turkish ministers, will make the trip, meeting both President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, according to a statement posted on the Turkish presidential website on Saturday. Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency carried the news early on Sunday morning. "During the visit bilateral relations will be addressed in all their dimensions, and there will also be an exchange of views on regional and international issues," the statement read. The two countries have strong economic ties, with sanctions-hit Iran being the second-largest gas supplier to energy-strapped Turkey, providing it with 10 billion cubic meters per year. However diplomatic relations have suffered in recent years, with particularly sharp disagreements over how to resolve the civil war in neighboring Syria. (Reporting by Sam Wilkin in Dubai and Jonny Hogg in Ankara, writing by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Hugh Lawson) --------------------------- The depth of the sectarian war unleashed in Yemen shows itself in almost every Gulf Arab official statement and in the official press. The Saudis take it as read that Iranian forces are actually present in Yemen to assist the Shia Houthis. There are Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon with the Houthis. Iran is itself behind the Houthi uprising. One Kuwaiti journalist calls the Houthi rebels “rats”. As usual in Arab wars, real evidence has gone out of the window. Another journalist, the editor-in-chief of the Kuwaiti Arab Times, Ahmed al-Jarallah, concluded a political tribute to King Salman of Saudi Arabia with the observation that “leaders of the (Saudi) coalition for virtue and stability in Yemen and the region made their point through their offensive against the tunnel and vice of conspiracy where the bats of extremism, enmity and division incubate”. “Rats” and “incubation” – that’s the kind of language sectarian wars also produce. No-one in the wealthy Gulf states has asked if Saudi Arabia is entering the Yemen war simply because it does not want another Shia state on its border – after the Americans “liberated” Iraq and installed a Shia government in Baghdad. Saudi generals talk of massive casualties among the Houthis – they still say they have not killed civilians, even though they use the tired phrase “collateral damage” in their denials. No-one challenges the boasts of its victory – or dares to mention that this extraordinary coalition is a Sunni force fighting Shia. READ MORE: ADEN'S CENTRAL DISTRICTS FALL DESPITE SAUDI AIR CAMPAIGN At a Syrian refugee conference in Kuwait this week, the Saudis were lauded for their generosity in pledging $60m for homeless and destitute Syrians out of a total of $3.8bn of promised aid world wide. No-one was ungenerous enough to mention that the Saudis bought $67bn worth of weapons from the US in 2011-12. A Houthi fighter stands guard as he secures the site of a demonstration by fellow Houthis (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah) A Houthi fighter stands guard as he secures the site of a demonstration by fellow Houthis (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah) With that kind of money you might be able to buy up most of the protagonists in the Syrian war and get them to agree on a ceasefire. But this is the figure that makes sense of the Yemen war. That, and the fact that Pakistan is part of this extraordinary coalition. Pakistan is a nuclear power – “Saudi Arabia’s nuclear bomb outside Saudi Arabia”, as one conference delegate bleakly put it in Kuwait. There are 8,000 Pakistani troops based in the Saudi kingdom. And Pakistan is one of the most corrupt and unstable nations in South-west Asia. Bringing Pakistan – widely believed to have shipped second-hand weapons to anti-government rebels in Syria via Saudi Arabia – into the Yemen conflict is not adding oil to the fire. It’s adding fire to the oil. Iran has maintained a diplomatic silence. When Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal accused Iran of supporting the destabilisation of Yemen, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian warned that the Saudi attack was a “strategic mistake”, a comparatively mild reaction. Perhaps that is what you expected to hear when the Iranian minister’s nation was still trying to persuade the Americans to lift sanctions against Tehran. Or perhaps he actually meant what he said, which means that the Saudis may find it to have been easier starting a war in Yemen than ending one. But outside the Gulf, there are sectarian Sunni-Shia conflicts in Iraq, Syria, even marginally in Lebanon. A Yemeni boy inspects his family's house, which was destroyed by an airstrike allegedly carried out by a Saudi-led coalition against a Houthi rebels in Sanaía, Yemen (Yahya Arhab/EPA) A Yemeni boy inspects his family's house, which was destroyed by an airstrike allegedly carried out by a Saudi-led coalition against a Houthi rebels in Sanaía, Yemen (Yahya Arhab/EPA) The leader of the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, scored a point in his own country when he asked why the Saudis were prepared to fight the Houthis with their huge forces but had never raised the sword to fight for the Palestinians. Saudis are being told to regard their country’s struggle as a decision even more important than Saudi Arabia’s appeal to the US to send troops to the land of the Two Holy Mosques in 1990 – a view Osama bin Laden might have disagreed with. What is less clear, however, is where Washington stands amid all this rhetorical froth in the Gulf and real dead bodies in Yemen. There have been reports in the Arab states that US drone attacks have been made as part of the coalition’s battle in Yemen, that American intelligence has been pin-pointing targets for the Saudis (with the usual civilian casualties). There was a time when America’s war in Yemen seemed to be just part of the whole War on Terror fandango throughout the Middle East. Not any more. In pictures: Top 10 countries where most executions were carried out in 2014 And what of Israel? In Kuwait, Arabs privately agreed that Saudi fears of Iran’s nuclear potential suited Israel very well – although there has been no evidence in the Gulf that Israel heartily supported the Saudis to the point of sending them a message of approval over the Yemen assault. But with the US an ally of both countries, this would be unnecessary. What we now have to learn is what the Saudis will do when – not if – things go wrong. Ask the Pakistanis to send part of their vast army into the cauldron? Or ask their Egyptian allies to earn their pocket money from Riyadh by sending their soldiers to the land which the greatest of all Egyptian presidents once retreated from with deep regret: a man called Gamel Abdul Nasser. World | Sun Apr 5, 2015 9:01pm EDT Related: World, Yemen Saudi request for help in Yemen puts Pakistani PM in a bind ISLAMABAD | By Katharine Houreld (Reuters) - Pakistan's parliament begins debating a Saudi plea for military help in Yemen on Monday, a request that pits Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's staunch Saudi allies against a war-weary Pakistani public. C Since Saudi Arabia, the Gulf's main Sunni Muslim power, asked Sunni-majority Pakistan to join a Saudi-led military coalition that began conducting air strikes last month against largely Shi'ite Houthi forces in Yemen, Sharif has hedged his bets. He has said repeatedly he will defend any threat to Saudi Arabia's "territorial integrity" without defining what action such a threat might provoke. "They're looking to satisfy Saudi expectations at a minimal level," said Arif Rafiq, a Washington-based adjunct scholar with the Middle East Institute. "They're unlikely to be part of any meaningful action inside Yemen. Maybe they will reinforce the (Saudi) border." Sharif owes the Saudis. Endemic tax dodging means Pakistan needs regular injections of foreign cash to avoid economic meltdown. Last year, the Saudis gave Pakistan $1.5 billion. Saudi Arabia also sheltered Sharif after he was overthrown in a 1999 military coup. But joining the Saudi-led coalition could inflame a sectarian conflict at home where around a fifth of the population is Shi'ite and attacks on Shi'ites are increasing, further destabilizing the nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people. Pakistani intervention would probably also anger Shi'ite power Iran, which shares a long and porous border in a region roiling with its own separatist insurgency. Pakistan's other main borders are with arch enemy India and Afghanistan, where Pakistan troops are already conducting anti-Taliban operations. The Iranian foreign minister will visit Pakistan this week. NOT SAUDI'S HANDMAIDEN Pakistani public opinion is also largely against intervention in any Saudi-led action in Yemen. "It must be remembered that Pakistan is not Saudi Arabia's handmaiden, doing its bidding at the flick of a wrist," said a Friday editorial in English daily The Express Tribune. Many analysts say the military, which has ruled Pakistan for over half its existence since independence, has the final call. So far, the generals have been silent. Pakistan has nearly 1.5 million active soldiers and reserves, but around a third of those are tied up with operations along the Afghan border. The bulk of the remaining forces face off with nuclear-armed India. Others are executing the government's new counter-terrorism plan. Even though Saudi Arabia is a "special friend" of both the government and the military, Pakistani intervention in Yemen might be unwise, said retired Major General Mahmud Ali Durrani, a former national security adviser. "If it was to defend Saudi Arabia against aggression, in spite of our commitments, I think we would stretch to sending troops," he said. "To send our troops to a third country - I think that would be foolhardy. "Either way, it is an absolutely terrible choice to be made for Pakistan." (Editing by Nick Macfie and Ian Geoghegan) ================================ Why Saudi Arabia and Israel oppose Iran nuclear deal Al Jazeera spoke with four analysts about how the newly minted agreement could impact regional politics. Al Jazeera | 03 Apr 2015 09:32 GMT | Politics, Middle East 'There is a strong chance that Saudi Arabia will seek new alliances, given the decline of US influence' [Reuters] Iran, the United States and five other world powers have sealed a breakthrough framework agreement outlining limits on Iran's nuclear programme, despite attempts by Israel and Saudi Arabia to thwart the deal. Al Jazeera spoke with four analysts about why Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, along with Israel, are upset about the agreement. Mansour al-Bogami, Saudi researcher A nuclear deal with Tehran, from the Saudi perspective, means two things: Iran will have the ability to improve its economic standing, and the capability to create a nuclear weapon - since the deal will only take effect for a relatively short period of time, 15 years, and will not destroy Iran's technical capabilities to maintain a nuclear programme. Both results would strengthen Iran and its allies in the region. “ The Saudis believe that trimming Iran's regional influence would increase the chances of a better nuclear deal in the future. This context of an increasing Iranian influence that thrives on weak central governments and sectarian instability - as seen in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen - is what ISIL capitalises on in its recruitment drive, according to the Saudi view. The immediate Saudi reaction to the deal will likely include attempts to revive the dual structure of the regional order: Saudi versus Iran, which existed until the Arab uprisings in 2011 led to the formation of a third camp comprised of Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood. This camp and Saudi Arabia both exhausted their resources while competing for regional influence, ultimately benefiting Iran. An indicator of the return to the old regional order is the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. This military campaign has two goals: neutralising non-state actors, which means strengthening the central government, and combating sectarian-inspired conflicts and regional instability. Saudi's new rulers wish to transform the political equation from a balance between the state and non-state actors into a balance between a government and an opposition, both from within the state's framework. In such a situation, both Iran and ISIL would become much less effective. The Saudis believe that trimming Iran's regional influence would increase the chances of a better nuclear deal in the future, as there may always be modifications and alterations to the deal signed this week. In the medium as well as the long run, Saudi officials have said their country would work to acquire deterrent capabilities, which means developing its own nuclear programme. There is a strong chance that Saudi Arabia will seek new alliances, given the decline of US influence and the unreliability of American assurances - and Saudi Arabia, instead of the Americans, would become the first line of defence against its enemies. Indeed, Saudi is undertaking a process of realigning the geopolitical map of the Middle East - but the time that this process will take remains to be seen. Nasser Ahmed Bin Ghaith, United Arab Emirates researcher There are mixed reactions in the Gulf towards the Iranian nuclear deal. Those who support a deal - any deal - argue it would prevent the region from sliding into a destructive nuclear arms race that would deplete everybody. But others say the deal will have a number of negative consequences for the Gulf. The secretive nature of the talks made many uncomfortable about the outcome, as did the absence of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members. Wisdom has it that if you do not have enough cards on the negotiating table, you may not get everything you want, but if you are not even present, you will certainly get nothing. “ A compromise between negotiating parties would stipulate mutual concessions, and the question remains: Beyond the lifting of economic sanctions, what would Iran want in return for ending its nuclear programme?” In Geneva, everybody concerned was present except for the Gulf states, which would be directly impacted by any kind of agreement in their backyard. Additionally, any deal between Iran and the US would likely not be favourable to the GCC states. A compromise between negotiating parties would stipulate mutual concessions, and the question remains: Beyond the lifting of economic sanctions, what would Iran want in return for ending its nuclear programme? The US surely does not want to see a more powerful Iranian hegemony in the region, but at the same time, it does not appear to mind some kind of Iranian influence in the region. Iran has been seeking to reclaim its previous role as the region's police. It is clear that a western recognition of Iranian regional influence would come at the expense of the Gulf states, given that they are the weakest link in the regional chain of influence. In the post-deal reality, there would be three regional powers: Iran, Turkey and Israel. From an economic perspective, any agreement between Iran and the West would certainly lead to the lifting of sanctions on Iranian oil exports that are estimated at between one and 1.5 million barrels a day. This would further flood the already saturated oil market with cheap Iranian oil, bringing prices even further down. If this persisted, it would have adverse economic consequences on the Gulf states, which are already financially overstretched. In light of these shifting realities, the Gulf Arab states may be wise to make a number of changes to preserve their long-term interests, including to abandon their military and security alliance with US in favour of their own joint military cooperation. The Gulf states should also build strategic partnerships with the regional powers of Pakistan and Turkey, who share the Gulf nations' fears of Iranian ambitions in the region. Finally, the Gulf states would need to improve internal GCC relations; indeed, their cooperation in the Yemen air campaign has shown that these states can not only work together on regional threats and initiate major actions, but also have the potential to become a major regional player capable of countering US-backed Iranian hegemony. Seif Da'na, sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Only in the miniature Israeli world of the Game of Thrones - a world of imagination - might Iran, whose GDP is about two percent of that of the US, possibly constitute a threat to the most powerful empire in history. In the real world, such a threat would not exist even if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inflated the numbers of Iran's centrifuges 32 times, contradicted and ignored his own government's intelligence assessments, and used the hitherto common imperial tactic of psychopathologising Iran and Arab resistance leaders. On March 29, Israel's Ynetnews reported that "Iran has tentatively agreed to limit centrifuges used to enrich uranium to 6,000 - or even less". Thus, applauding Netanyahu's magical 190,000 number in the US Congress must seem foolish today. Al Jazeera's publication of leaked "Spy Cables" also revealed that Israel's Mossad contradicted Netanyahu on Iran's nuclear programme. “ Even dismantling Iran's civilian programme entirely does not satisfy Netanyahu's appetite; it is the Iranian 'policies', 'behaviour' and 'state' that he wants eliminated. An Iranian nuclear bomb - one that belongs to the world of imagination, according to most experts - does not even constitute a threat to Israel, let alone the US. A newly released US document from a 1987 assessment of Israel's nuclear weapons capabilities by the US Pentagon stated that Israel was experimenting with coding, "which will enable them to make hydrogen bombs", described as "a thousand times more powerful than atom bombs". That was the US assessment of Israel's programme 28 years ago. It is not surprising, then, that US President Barack Obama is not fooled by Netanyahu's absurd account. A careful reading of Netanyahu's speech reveals that it is Iran's competitive regional status and rising power that concerns him the most, not the fantasy of an existential threat. It is the regional balance of power, not the bomb. Even dismantling Iran's civilian programme entirely does not satisfy Netanyahu's appetite; it is the Iranian "policies", "behaviour" and "state" that he wants eliminated. According to experts with Israel's Institute for National Security Studies, the nuclear deal is dangerous because it could "widen the existing disputes between the Israeli government and the US administration". Israeli strategic experts argued in the most recent Hertzliya's Conference that the US is "the most important political and security asset that Israel has in the international sphere". Neither Iran nor the US is interested in military confrontation and both have much to gain from an agreement. But since this deal will constitute a building block towards diplomatically resolving other regional conflicts involving Iran and the US, all sides have been negotiating with their eyes on the future. For all forces involved, winning and losing are not etched in stone. Saudi Arabia and Israel can be either losers or winners. If they really do not want a bomb, they are winners. If they want Iran to stop being Iran - if they seek nothing less than Iran's destruction - they will definitely lose. Jonathan Cook, journalist The fear in Israel is that Iran's development of any nuclear technology will move it closer to becoming a nuclear threshold state, capable of developing a bomb at short notice should its interests be threatened. Netanyahu has spoken endlessly of a supposed genocidal intent from Iran's Shia leaders, invoking imagery of an impending second Holocaust of the Jewish people. But the real problem for Israel is that a nuclear Iran endangers its decades-old strategy of establishing itself as an unrivalled military power in the Middle East. That status depends on Israel being able to threaten large states like Iran into submission, contain them militarily and prevent them from spreading their influence beyond their own borders. Israel's monopoly on nuclear arms in the region - with an arsenal of as many as 200 warheads, entirely unmonitored by the international community - has secured its position as the region's hegemon. But all of that was placed in jeopardy by the Iran talks. “ With a nuclear-armed Iran, Israel would also be severely limited in its ability to strike against Tehran's regional allies, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, possibly the single most formidable foe Israel faces. Iran's leaders only need to look to neighbouring Iraq to draw conclusions about how important a nuclear deterrent is. Israel destroyed Baghdad's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, and the US invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003. A nuclear-armed Iran - or even one that was days or weeks from developing a bomb, with the facilities hidden deep underground - would be off-limits to any such serious military attack. With a nuclear-armed Iran, Israel would also be severely limited in its ability to strike against Tehran's regional allies, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, possibly the single most formidable foe Israel faces. Israel has been regularly targeting attempts by Iran and the crumbling Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to transfer weapons to Hezbollah and to fortify their joint positions, including next to the Golan, against Sunni Islamist groups trying to overthrow Assad. Effectively, Israel has been playing off the forces vying for power in Syria to keep them all exhausted by the fighting. Israeli air strikes in Syria designed to weaken Iranian influence - such as the one in January that killed a dozen senior Hezbollah and Iranian commanders - would be unthinkable if Tehran had a bomb. Israel would have to resign itself to the fact that having powerful military forces just across the border, united under the umbrella of an Iranian bomb, would be a match for Israel's own army. As a result, Israel would face its own Cold War in the Middle East, with the ultimate threat of mutually assured destruction should either side try to push unilateral measures too far. But Israel's fears extend further. Until now, Israel has faced no serious competition over its strategic alliance with Washington, and especially the Pentagon. The special relationship is rooted in Israel's nuclear arsenal and the military might it wields in the Middle East as a consequence. Israel's nuclear weapons, developed in the late 1960s over the White House's opposition, burrowed into the heart of the US security establishment. Israel exchanged its so-called "Sampson Option" - the threat of inflicting nuclear annihilation - for access to US intelligence, aid and arms programmes that provide it with an unchallengeable military edge. But were Iran also to become a nuclear state, that special relationship might quickly erode. Washington policymakers would have to take into account not just Israel's strategic concerns, but Iran's too. In fact, given Iran's control over access to much of the Gulf's oil, an Iranian nuclear weapon might cement Tehran's position as Washington's most privileged partner in the region. Rival military power centres in the Middle East would transform the White House and Pentagon's assessment of US strategic interests in the region. The consequences would likely be felt most acutely by Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. While Iran would be able to intensify its support for Palestinian resistance groups such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad, Israel would have limited options for a response. With the constant danger that tensions between Israel on the one side and Lebanese and Palestinian resistance movements on the other might escalate into a nuclear standoff with Iran, the US would have a much greater incentive to force Israel to solve its conflict with the Palestinians, something it resolutely opposed till now. Source: Al Jazeera

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