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The Iran Nuclear Deal: Obligation or Opportunity?

by John Brian Shannon

It’s always helpful to look at a country’s actions over the past 200 years to help understand what its intentions may be here and now, and in the future.

The burgeoning but relatively isolated country of Iran hasn’t militarily attacked another country for over 200 years, and it was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq that militarily attacked Iran in September 1980 — a conflict that finally ended in August 1988 with 1 million casualties and an economic cost of $680 million to $1 trillion dollars — with no clear winner and no benefit to either country.

After all that blood and treasure, no benefit to either country(!) although via the UN-sponsored peace accord and as a penalty to Iraq for starting the war, Iran gained access to the Shatt al-Arab waterway which runs into the Persian Gulf.

Since 2000, Iran has purportedly financed organizations (some listed as terrorist organizations, and others not) throughout the Middle East and most recently in Syria, Iraq, and perhaps Lebanon, in an attempt to exert some control on the various forces operating around their region. (Every country uses various methods to control what happens in its own region, so no news there)

But nothing captures the world’s attention like the Iran nuclear deal.

U.S. President Donald Trump says the deal is a bad one for the West and shouldn’t have been signed and wants to walk away from the deal, reserving the right to act unilaterally if he feels the country is a danger to the U.S.A. or its Middle East allies.

Last week, France’s President Emmanuel Macron flew to Washington to meet with the U.S. President to convince him to stay in the deal or to embrace a ‘third way’ which means renegotiating some of the agreement to better suit U.S. concerns.

Iran barely signed the previous agreement… so it will be interesting to see how the U.S. can get everything it wants from a renegotiated deal while still obtaining Iran’s signature to a new agreement. A deal isn’t a deal unless both sides sign on the dotted line.


Why Would the U.S. Care About Iran? (and Syria, for that matter)

From a strategic perspective, there isn’t a country in the world that could be less important to the security of the United States than Iran, and the same goes for Syria.

Neither country has the kind of military that could threaten America, nor could they project their power anywhere near the North American continent.

Unless the United States is actively working for Israel — a country which has an irrational fear of Iran (again, Iran hasn’t invaded any other country for over 200 years) and is willing to spend billions or even another trillion dollars to wage another Iraq War-style conflict against Iran, there’s no reason for the U.S. to have any dealings with Iran whatsoever.

Iran is a regional power at best, and will remain so for approximately the next 30-years as it hasn’t the capacity to be anything else.

If the United States is actively working for Saudi Arabia — a country that views Iran as an unwelcome competitor in the race to dominate the region, the same advice applies. Why should the U.S. spend multi-billions and sacrifice thousands of young soldiers to satisfy the Saudi ambition to be the local hegemon?

It’s not like Iran is withholding oil deliveries. On the contrary, Iranian oil is easily obtainable with a phone call — the country is highly motivated to sell every drop of oil due to high spending on social programmes by the Iranian government that are funded by oil revenue.

And Iran’s crude oil is rated either #2 (sweet) or #3 (semi-sweet) which means it’s in high demand around the world. Global oil producers have already pumped all of their #2 sweet crude out of the ground years ago; only Iran and Venezuela have significant reserves of sweet crude in the 21st-century.

As for oil refineries, they need Iran’s (or Venezuela’s) #2 sweet crude oil to blend with the oil supplied by their producers which is almost always #4 (sour) or #4.75 (very sour) like the Canadian oil sands product.

Most refineries won’t accept sour crude oil unless there is plenty of #2 or #3 sweet crude blended into the sour crude. It’s just too toxic to refine ‘sour’ as it requires a much more stringent maintenance protocol, meaning the refinery needs to shut down and go into ‘maintenance mode’ more often. That downtime represents a significant loss of revenue for oil refineries.

Therefore, as long as Iran continues to ship huge quantities of sweet crude, the United States should be facilitating that oil business instead of trying to curtail it.


The EU View of Iran is a Mature View

Say what you want about the Europeans, but they don’t allow themselves to be used by countries like Israel that have an irrational fear of Iran and want to use the United States and the EU to keep the Iranians ‘down’ and in their ‘proper’ place and thereby become the regional superpower, or countries like Saudi Arabia that want to use the United States and the EU to keep the Iranians ‘down’ and in their ‘proper’ place and thereby become the regional superpower.

To oversimplify the EU view; As long as Iran’s sweet crude continues to flow (it is) and as long as Iran isn’t actively invading any other country (it isn’t) then there’s no reason to use some imagined breach of the Iranian nuclear deal to launch another trillion dollar war in the Middle East. And, as always, the EU continues to refuse to allow itself to be used by regional powers such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In the final analysis, the EU’s position on the Iranian nuclear deal is the most enlightened of all and it is the view the United States should support.

Syria: With the US and Russia Fighting Terrorists in Syria, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

by John Brian Shannon | September 12, 2015

We explore three different scenarios in the fight to defeat ISIS and other terror groups operating in Syria.

Now that Russia has entered the frame, it may change the Syrian crisis for the better, or it may trigger concern by some nations already in the fight, or by regional nations that must deal with the consequences of the Syrian civil war.

What could possibly go wrong?

ISIS forces 100,000 Syrian Refugees to Turkey in 48 hours on September 23/24, 2014.

“The war has killed 250,000 people and driven half of Syria’s 23 million people from their homes. Some have traveled to European countries, creating a refugee crisis there.” — Reuters (File photo)

1. Israel vs. Russia inside Syrian territory

Israel. That’s what could go wrong. It’s not the only thing that could go wrong in this dangerous situation but it would be irresponsible to overlook that particular potential for catastrophe.

The state of Israel could decide that its best interest would be served by inducing the Russian military to leave Syria by bombing the Russian airfield, supply depot, and barracks which are presently under construction near Latakia, Syria.

And to prevent retaliation by Russian naval forces, Israel would need to destroy any Russian Navy vessels in the Mediterranean or tied up at any of Syria’s ports. It would be unthinkable from a military standpoint to neutralize the Russian airfield/barracks and not destroy the Russian naval component.

That would lead to a wider war, one that would have Israel calling the United States instantly. Geopolitics could change in the space of 15 minutes.

If you don’t think that’s very likely, people who know their history will recall how quickly the world changed when Japanese aircraft bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Two hours of bombing that dramatically changed world history.

For its time, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a massive effort and was seen in Japan as a major success against the United States. Indeed, most of the U.S. Pacific Fleet was parked dockside with their sailors enjoying shore leave. Consequently, many ships were either sunk or damaged although few casualties occurred as the dockyards were largely empty at the time of the attack.

Just as few foresaw the attack on Pearl Harbor, few are of the opinion that Israel would launch a preemptive attack against Syria’s ally Russia, taking out the Russian airfield in Latakia, Syria or those Russian vessels docked in Tartus, Syria or sailing in the eastern Mediterranean.

It’s not like Israel hasn’t attacked ships or aircraft from other nations in the past.

The USS Liberty incident stands as proof of Israel’s willingness to attack foreign vessels that might be in a position to attack Israel, regardless of how unlikely an attack may be.

The USS Liberty was a U.S. Navy supply and communications ship of no significant size nor capability, a WWII relic that posed no real threat to Israel. Yet, because it appeared in the sea during a time of conflict between Israel and Egypt, it was neutralized by a combined force of Israeli fighter jets, fighter bomber jets, and torpedo boats on June 8, 1967, because in the opinion of the relevant Israeli military commanders, the Liberty represented a threat.

If you’re of the opinion that Israel won’t act against something they perceive as a threat, then history says you’re wrong.

The opinions of observers who say there’s no threat to Israel posed by the Russian airbase, or of increased Russian Navy activity in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, or of increased Russian troop numbers in Syria, are irrelevant.

The only relevant opinions are those who press bomb-release buttons in Israeli bomber-jets.

2. The U.S. vs. Russia inside Syrian territory

As recently as Friday, the Foreign Minister of Russia, Mr. Sergei Lavrov, asked the U.S. to cooperate with Russia in Syria, saying on Friday that “we are always in favour of military people talking to each other in a professional way” as one-military-to-another operating in the same country it is “important for the avoidance of undesired, unintended incidents”.

Russia called on Friday for military-to-military cooperation with the United States to avert “unintended incidents” as it stages navy exercises off the coast of Syria, where U.S. officials believe Moscow is building up forces to protect President Bashar al-Assad.

The United States is using Syrian air space to lead a campaign of air strikes against Islamic State, and a greater Russian presence raises the prospect of the Cold War superpower foes encountering each other on the battlefield.

John Kerry the U.S. Secretary of State said, “We would welcome constructive efforts by Russia against ISIS, but that cannot be a function of continued support to the Assad regime. The most productive thing that they can do is to stop aiding the Assad regime.” — Reuters

3. The U.S. and Israel vs. Syria and Russia inside Syrian territory

Only a few dedicated think-tank fellows are missing sleep over that one.

But in a war zone, events happen in seconds and then the politicians race to catch up with what has happened during the night.

It’s at least conceivable that the U.S. or Israel decide to show their colours to Syria or Russia and a number of fighter jets are shot down in less than a minute — even before a telephone call can be placed between the various politicians to resolve the issue, and by then the initial attack and the guaranteed-to-be-devastating-counter-attack is already over.

A parallel situation could occur at sea with any number of ships being attacked and counterattacking within seconds of the first shot being fired.

Many ships could be sunk in the space of 15 minutes (which is about the same amount of time it takes to properly brief a decision-maker/politician) on the many events that are occurring simultaneously.

If there aren’t clear communication links between the various forces fighting ISIS in Syria, and if each group follows different rules of engagement, it’s a recipe for disaster

If the ultimate goal is ‘a world war over Syria’ we’re running headlong towards it.

It’s an insult to the intelligence of people everywhere that any nation would refuse to participate in and abide by the standard communications and rules of conduct in conflict zones, especially when so much is at stake.

Secretary of State for the United States, John Kerry, and his State Department spokesman John Kirby, risk far too much for too little. Risking a wider conflict in an attempt to belittle the Russians is feckless at best and criminally irresponsible at worst.

Without a proper communications plan, there’s no doubt that an incident between the various military units operating in Syria will occur at some point.

Lives will be lost. Of that, there’s no doubt. Citizens of one or more countries will become enraged and demand a response, and consequently the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about (a.k.a. the so-called war economy) will be back to full production again!

An astonishing lack of diplomacy enabled the Syrian crisis to occur and now we’re willfully blocking standard communication plans. What next?

Let us hope that superior minds overturn this seemingly deliberate march towards conflict between superpower U.S.A. (perhaps with Israeli involvement) on the one hand, vs. Syria and Russia (a former superpower but still extremely powerful) with Iran and China assisting.

It’s the worst B-movie script that I’ve seen. And we’re on course towards catastrophe if the present script is allowed to continue…

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End of an era: King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

by John Brian Shannon | January 28, 2015

The world in which the young Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was raised was about as far removed from today’s world of 30-second sound bites and instant gratification as one can imagine.

The former King of Saudi Arabia, who passed away on January 23, 2015 at the age of 90 years, was a witness to profound changes during his life.

A novelty in 1925 was the telephone, a communications device that only the wealthy and the privileged could enjoy.

The telephone, a novelty in 1925 that only the privileged could enjoy.

The year of Abdullah’s birth (1925) was a time before passenger airliners and before the widespread use of instant communication technology such as telephones and television.

In 1925 the Empire State Building wasn’t yet an architect’s dream, and the outrageous act of driving from New York to LA was considered a crazy stunt for people with too much time on their hands, trying to get their picture in the local newspaper.

The world was recovering from World War I which wasn’t called by that moniker back then. It was referred to as The Great War and spoken of in sombre tones, so fresh it was in people’s minds.

The stock market crash of 1929 hadn’t yet occurred, nor the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II, scheduled passenger aircraft, the Cold War, the creation of NASA (let alone landing on the Moon), nor did the modern-day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia exist — a country which was founded and adopted its constitution on September 23, 1932 when Abdullah was a boy of 7 years of age.

At the time of Abdullah’s birth, the state of Israel hadn’t yet been created and wouldn’t be for 23 years. The only people in the Levant were Bedouin tribes who had freely roamed Palestine for hundreds of years.

Some of those places are now countries with names like Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Syria.

Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Commander of Saudi Arabian National Guard.

Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard.

The Arab-Israeli Six-Day War occurred when Abdullah was 42 years old and the Commander of the Saudi National Guard.

Perhaps seeing the futility of war explains Abdullah’s genuine attempt to forge a fair and legitimate peace accord with Israel. As Crown Prince, Abdullah proposed a reasonable peace accord (to Arial Sharon, then Prime Minister of Israel) known as the Arab Peace Initiative.

In March 2002 Abdullah (in his capacity as the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia) presented the Arab League with his comprehensive proposal to end the Arab–Israeli conflict.

Crown Prince Abdullah’s Arab Peace Initiative was unanimously endorsed by the Arab League

A brief synopsis of the Arab Peace Initiative follows:

(a) Complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the 4 June 1967 line and the territories still occupied in southern Lebanon;

(b) Attain a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be agreed upon in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution No 194.

(c) Accept the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since 4 June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

In return the Arab states will do the following:

(a) Consider the Arab–Israeli conflict over, sign a peace agreement with Israel, and achieve peace for all states in the region;

(b) Establish normal relations with Israel within the framework of this comprehensive peace

Making his case to the Arab League in March of 2002, (then Crown Prince) Abdullah concluded his speech by saying;

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in an undated photo.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

In spite of all that has happened and what still may happen, the primary issue in the heart and mind of every person in our Arab Islamic nation is the restoration of legitimate rights in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon….

We believe in taking up arms in self-defence and to deter aggression. But we also believe in peace when it is based on justice and equity, and when it brings an end to conflict.

Only within the context of true peace can normal relations flourish between the people of the region and allow the region to pursue development rather than war.

In light of the above, and with your backing and that of the Almighty, I propose that the Arab summit put forward a clear and unanimous initiative addressed to the United Nations security council based on two basic issues:

…normal relations and security for Israel in exchange for full withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories,

…recognition of an independent Palestinian state with al-Quds al-Sharif as its capital, and the return of refugees. — excerpt from a 2002 speech to the Arab League, by Abdullah who was at the time, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (Retrieved from Wikipedia)

King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue

King Abdullah meets with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican to discuss improving relations between Islam and Catholicism.

King Abdullah meets with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican to discuss improved relations between Islam and Catholicism.

Another one of Abdullah’s major initiatives was the creation of the KAICIID Dialogue Centre (King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue) in Vienna, Austria.

Every religion is represented at the Centre and the Vatican has Founding Observer status with calls by many for the Vatican to assume full membership in KAICIID.

The opening ceremony was attended by Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo and hundreds of religious leaders.

Prince Saud said he hoped the center would “bring peace and understanding between the various religions. Religion has been the basis for many conflicts.”

The center, launched by Saudi Arabia as an international organization with multifaith oversight, aims to help religions contribute to solving problems such as conflicts, prejudice and health crises rather than be misused to worsen them.

“The prime purpose is to empower the active work of those in the field, whether in the field of dialogue, of social activism or of conflict resolution,” said Jerusalem-based Rabbi David Rosen, representing Judaism on the nine-seat board of directors. — Arab News

King Abdullah spent billions on new universities

Another of Abdullah’s major successes relate to his strong belief in higher and accessible education for Saudi citizens.

For students who travel abroad to study, each receives a stipend from the Saudi government of $1600/mo. to insure that Saudi students would never find themselves in a position (via a lack of personal finances) to place a burden on any foreign university or nation.

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)

Abdullah created the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) which is a showpiece university with links and academic exchanges to the world’s leading universities and itself is a stunning architectural accomplishment.

This was accomplished in spite of certain sects that display a very anti-technology bias, who live in the Kingdom in large numbers.

Click here to visit the KAUST photogallery.

King Abdullah creates the Muslim world’s first all-female university

Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) Image courtesy of pnu project com

Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) Image courtesy of pnuproject.com

And in an Islamic-world first, Abdullah created the only all-female university in the world; Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU).

All on-site administration staff are women and all programmes are tailored to meet the needs of female students.

Not only is  a stunning, multi-billion dollar site, it is completely self-contained with it’s own above-ground transit system, police/security, babysitting, Hospital, and other services for women — and it is powered completely by renewable energy.

Click here to view a stunning interactive overview of the campus.

King Abdullah’s Social Reforms

Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

Abdullah’s domestic policy could best be described as ‘brave, but steady reform’ within the extremely conservative nation.

We must always remember that the same people who chant ‘Death to America’ also chanted ‘Death to Abdullah’ when he moved to allow municipal elections (to be held later this year) and to allow women to drive cars (still a work in progress).

The rulers of Saudi Arabia want women to be able to drive cars, but nobody wants to die in an anti-women-driver terrorist attack. And who could blame them; Would you want to die in a terrorist attack, even for that noble cause?

Even Saudi women aren’t willing to die to gain that right. And certainly not Western women, who rail against this sexist construct at least ten-times-louder-and-more-often than their Saudi counterparts.

Here is a secret fact known only to those who’ve visited the Kingdom: Many women (especially teens with their father’s permission and borrowed ID) dress as men and drive around town (but obviously, not to the lingerie store) to run their errands.

The majority of people try not to notice the thin disguise and understand these women are merely trying to protect themselves from attack by a deranged, extremist male person.

The problem of course, is that they are uninsured drivers. And when accidents happen (and they do) it can become a comical event, with the father breathlessly showing up to explain to police how it was that he crashed the car — but had to leave the crash scene for a time.

(The old: “Officer, my father had to jog home to take his heart medications because of the scare of the car crash. I’m on my cellphone giving him directions on how to find his way here.”)

Some police go along with the charade and wait for the father (or brother) to show up and name the father (or brother) as the driver involved in the crash — but other times the police arrest everyone and charge them with lying to police. And entire families have had their insurance policy cancelled.

A story to laugh about with your grandkids if you get a ‘good cop’ — or an event which traumatizes an entire family if the Haia police catch you.

The Haia are the ‘morality police’ who are in charge of keeping ‘decency’ in the society and sometimes the Haia police will charge traffic police officers with ‘undermining society’ for knowingly going along with such charades. (Unfortunately, those helpful officers often get fired in such cases)

Probably just one more reason why Abdullah cracked down on extremists in his country during his time as reigning monarch. The single most successful nation in the world (as judged by numbers of terrorists captured, convicted and sentenced) the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia often sentences terrorists to lifetime imprisonment for people who plan terrorist acts — or beheading for those who actually commit terrorist acts in Saudi Arabia.

Hey, if you don’t want to do the time, or put your neck on the line, don’t do the terrorist crime. Pretty simple.

Saudi Arabian Relations with the United States

President Barack Obama King Abdullah

President Barack Obama and King Abdullah

Abdullah, while a strong defender of Islam and of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, also saw the wisdom of continued businesslike relations with the United States.

At home, Abdullah was forced to defend his reforms — even as some in the West attacked him for moving too slowly.

When extremists from both sides of the political spectrum are attacking you with equal fervor, you know you’re doing it right!

U.S. President Barack Obama saluted the late king’s commitment to close U.S.-Saudi ties.

“As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions,” Obama said in a statement. — Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Through very challenging times and in only 10 years — Abdullah of Saudi Arabia moved his country ahead by 25 years. By any standard, Abdullah was a friend to his people, to his own religion and other religions, and to this world.