The Goat Will Crush The Ram (Daniel 8)

How a US-Iran nuclear deal might transform the balance of power in the Middle East

sunni shia

The silver-haired man with a deceptively mild manner stood before a map as deferential officers briefed him on their offensive.

Afterwards, General Qassem Suleimani embarked on a triumphant tour of front-line positions, receiving the kisses of grateful soldiers.

As usual, his uniform lacked any badges of rank or gold braid, for Gen Suleimani sees no need to advertise his status as Iran’s most celebrated military commander and the leader of the elite “Quds Force” of the Revolutionary Guard.

For months, this stocky 59-year-old, who shuns a general’s uniform for simple sand-coloured fatigues and a white “keffiyeh”, has been the hidden mastermind of Iraq’s counter-offensive against Isil.

His presence in Baghdad has often been the stuff of rumour, but last week Gen Suleimani stepped out of the shadows and – with a suitable show of modesty – basked in the acclaim of his troops. The occasion was a series of battlefield victories outside the city of Tikrit, which seems close to being recaptured from the terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).

Oddly enough, Gen Suleimani’s sudden appearance in Iraq had something to do with another high profile event on the other side of the world. In Washington last Tuesday, Benjamin Netanyahu stood before Congress and summoned all his authority as Israel’s prime minister to condemn an emerging agreement between America and Iran designed to tie down the latter’s nuclear programme.

What invisible thread joined these two implacable foes, the Iranian general and the Israeli leader? In brief, Mr Netanyahu fears that an impending nuclear deal will unleash Iran’s ambitions to subvert, influence and undermine a raft of countries across the Middle East – ambitions that are symbolised by Gen Suleimani, who serves as their human spearpoint.

Iran, for its part, wants to deliver an emphatic message: even if its diplomats compromise over the nuclear programme in the interests of ridding the country of sanctions, Gen Suleimani and his comrades will ensure that the Shia Islamic Republic remains a rising power, determined to reshape the entire Middle East in its own image. As the general himself told the official media in Tehran: “Today we see signs of the Islamic Revolution being exported throughout the region – from Bahrain to Iraq and from Syria to Yemen and North Africa.”

And that is precisely what Mr Netanyahu and the Sunni rulers of the Gulf most fear. They believe that a nuclear deal between Iran and America would herald a fundamental change in the balance of power in the Middle East. In particular, they think that an agreement to settle the nuclear issue would implicitly convey American acceptance of Iran’s domination of swathes of the region.

Already, Iranian tentacles spread far and wide. In Lebanon, the Islamic Republic has more direct influence than any other foreign power, thanks to its umbilical relationship with Hizbollah, the radical Shia movement. In Syria, Gen Suleimani has quietly masterminded Bashar al-Assad’s struggle to stay in power, deploying thousands of troops from the Revolutionary Guard and Hizbollah. In Iraq, Gen Suleimani is commanding the struggle on the ground against Isil, reinforcing his country’s ironclad alliance with the Shia-led government in Baghdad.

And in Yemen, Shia rebels have taken over the capital, Sana’a, with the benefit of Iranian weapons and support. All this has led Iranian officials to boast that four Arab capitals – Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana’a – are under their de facto control.

If this could take place in the teeth of sanctions and Iran’s bitter rivalry with America, then what might happen if a nuclear deal sweeps away the embargo and brings the superpower’s enmity to an end?

“The nuclear issue is only a symptom of the real disease,” says Jonathan Eyal, the head of security studies at the Royal United Services Institute. “The real issue is the balance of power in the region and Iran’s place in the Middle East. The Arab monarchies look at this in very binary and existential terms.”

For all their formal enmity with the “Zionist entity”, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf rulers now share Israel’s fears. All of them suspect that Iran will make tactical concessions over its nuclear programme in order to receive a free pass from America to stir yet more turmoil in the Middle East.

But are these concerns justified? The first question is whether a nuclear deal really is imminent. America negotiates with Iran on the nuclear issue as a member of the “P5 plus 1” – a contact group consisting of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany. All the parties have set a deadline of March 24 for a political agreement on the nuclear programme, with another three months to fill in technical details.

And the signs are that significant progress has indeed been made.

Once, years or even decades would pass without any formal contact between America and Iran. Last week alone, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, held three days of talks with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Afterwards, Mr Zarif said: “We are not far from knowing how that agreement will look.” He added: “We believe that we are very close.” Privately, diplomats who are part of the talks voice pleasant surprise over the progress towards settling the thorniest questions. In particular, Iran and America are understood to be close to agreeing a compromise over Tehran’s ability to enrich uranium.

This issue has been at the heart of the dispute for over a decade for the simple reason that enrichment technology could be used to make fuel for power stations – which Iran insists is the only goal – or the fissile core of a nuclear weapon. Under the likely compromise, Iran would get rid of enough centrifuges to ensure that its scientists would be a year away from enriching sufficient weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear bomb.

Not good enough, say Mr Netanyahu and the Arab powers. They shiver at the thought of Iran being permanently 12 months away from the wherewithal for a nuclear bomb, particularly as the limitations on centrifuges would probably expire after a decade or so.

Yet the biggest outstanding issue – which could still derail an agreement – concerns the sanctions regime. Iran wants all sanctions to go the moment a deal is signed, something that would provide an instant bonanza of tens of billions of dollars of unfrozen assets.

America, meanwhile, insists on a staged relaxation of sanctions, conditional on Iran keeping its side of the bargain.

But whatever way you look at it, an agreement would eventually sweep away the sanctions and pour billions of dollars of extra oil revenues into Iran’s coffers. If money is power, then the Islamic Republic’s leaders will end up with a great deal more of both.

Privately, Arab diplomats say that President Barack Obama is concerned only about his legacy. He wants to bury the hatchet with Iran – and he will not have to think about the country again after he leaves the White House in January 2017. The countries of the region, meanwhile, will have to live alongside Iran for the rest of time.

But there are good reasons to believe that Israel and Saudi Arabia – those unlikely partners in fretting and worry – have fundamentally misjudged the situation. In particular, they wildly exaggerate Iran’s power.The Islamic Republic is in the throes of economic collapse, inflicted as much by incompetence and corruption as by sanctions.

Even if all the embargoes and restrictions were lifted tomorrow, experience suggests that Iran’s state-dominated economy would remain hobbled by the ineptitude of the country’s rulers.

Meanwhile, it is far from clear that Gen Suleimani’s adventures have done anything to serve Iran’s national interest. In Syria, he has cast countless lives – along with billions of dollars that Tehran can ill afford – into the bottomless pit represented by a flailing and bloodstained regime. By propping up President Assad, Gen Suleimani has prolonged Syria’s civil war and, with bitter irony, created the ideal conditions for Isil to thrive.

Today, the general’s men are fighting to suppress the very threat which their supposedly brilliant commander helped to conjure into being.

In Iraq, meanwhile, Gen Suleimani has thrown Iran’s weight behind the most virulently sectarian Shia militias, thereby helping to deepen the alienation of the Sunni minority and, once again, create the best possible conditions for Isil. This alleged military genius – the modest martial hero of state media portrayal – has, in reality, presided over a ruinous policy that has substantially increased the threat to Iran.

So the fears of a resurgent Iran are probably misconceived. But that matters little, for the reality is that they are genuine and deeply felt. And the sombre consequence is that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states will probably respond to a nuclear agreement by escalating their own proxy wars against Iran, fought on the distant battlefields of Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

“The paradoxical effect of a nuclear deal will be more turmoil,” says Mr Eyal. “Peace in our time will mean turmoil for our time.”

The Bowls Of Wrath Draw Closer (Revelation 16)

The world is facing a growing threat of nuclear war


THE ECONOMIST
MAR. 7, 2015, 1:08 PM

Within the next few weeks, after years of stalling and evasion, Iran may at last agree to curb its nuclear programme.

In exchange for relief from sanctions it will accept, in principle, that it should allow intrusive inspections and limit how much uranium will cascade through its centrifuges.

After 2025 Iran will gradually be allowed to expand its efforts. It insists these are peaceful, but the world is convinced they are designed to produce a nuclear weapon.

In a barnstorming speech to America’s Congress on March 3rd, Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, fulminated against the prospect of such a deal. Because it is temporary and leaves much of the Iranian programme intact, he said, it merely “paves Iran’s path to the bomb”. Determined and malevolent, a nuclear Iran would put the world under the shadow of nuclear war.

Mr Netanyahu is wrong about the deal. It is the best on offer and much better than no deal at all, which would lead to stalemate, cheating and, eventually, the dash to the very bomb he fears. But he is right to worry about nuclear war–and not just because of Iran.

Twenty-five years after the Soviet collapse, the world is entering a new nuclear age. Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear-weapons powers (America, Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry.

Thanks in part to Mr Netanyahu’s efforts, Iran commands worldwide attention. Unfortunately, the rest of the nuclear-weapons agenda is bedevilled by complacency and neglect.

The fallout from Prague

Worst of all is the instability. During much of the cold war the two superpowers, anxious to avoid Armageddon, were willing to tolerate the status quo. Today the ground is shifting under everyone’s feet.Some countries want nuclear weapons to prop up a tottering state. Pakistan insists its weapons are safe, but the outside world cannot shake the fear that they may fall into the hands of Islamist terrorists, or even religious zealots within its own armed forces. When history catches up with North Korea’s Kim dynasty, as sooner or later it must, nobody knows what will happen to its nukes–whether they might be inherited, sold, eliminated or, in a last futile gesture, detonated.Others want nuclear weapons not to freeze the status quo, but to change it. Russia has started to wield nuclear threats as an offensive weapon in its strategy of intimidation. Its military exercises routinely stage dummy nuclear attacks on such capitals as Warsaw and Stockholm. Mr Putin’s speeches contain veiled nuclear threats. Dmitry Kiselev, one of the Kremlin’s mouthpieces, has declared with relish that Russian nuclear forces could turn America into “radioactive ash”.

Just rhetoric, you may say. But the murder of Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader, on the Kremlin’s doorstep on February 27th was only the latest sign that Mr Putin’s Russia is heading into the geopolitical badlands (see page 33). Resentful, nationalistic and violent, it wants to rewrite the Western norms that underpin the status quo.

First in Georgia and now in Ukraine, Russia has shown it will escalate to extremes to assert its hold over its neighbours and convince the West that intervention is pointless. Even if Mr Putin is bluffing about nuclear weapons (and there is no reason to think he is), any nationalist leader who comes after him could be even more dangerous.

Towards midnight

China poses a more distant threat, but an unignorable one. Although Sino-American relations hardly look like the cold war, China seems destined to challenge the United States for supremacy in large parts of Asia; its military spending is growing by 10% or more a year. Nuclear expansion is designed to give China a chance to retaliate using a “second strike”, should America attempt to destroy its arsenal.

Yet the two barely talk about nuclear contingencies–and a crisis over, say, Taiwan could escalate alarmingly. In addition Japan, seeing China’s conventional military strength, may feel it can no longer rely on America for protection. If so, Japan and South Korea could go for the bomb–creating, with North Korea, another petrifying regional stand-off.

What to do? The most urgent need is to revitalise nuclear diplomacy. One priority is to defend the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which slows the spread of weapons by reassuring countries that their neighbours are not developing nukes. It was essential that Iran stayed in the treaty (unlike North Korea, which left).

The danger is that, like Iran, signatories will see enrichment and reprocessing as preparation for a bomb of their own–leading their neighbours to enrich in turn. That calls for a collective effort to discourage enrichment and reprocessing, and for America to shore up its allies’ confidence.
You don’t have to like the other side to get things done. Arms control became a vital part of Soviet-American relations. So it could between China and America, and between America and Putin’s Russia. Foes such as India and Pakistan can foster stability simply by talking. The worst time to get to know your adversary is during a stand-off.

In 1960 Albert Wohlstetter, an American nuclear strategist, wrote that, “We must contemplate some extremely unpleasant possibilities, just because we want to avoid them.” So too today, the essential first step in confronting the growing nuclear threat is to stare it full in the face.

Iranian Horn Tries To Take Over Iraqi Horn (Daniel 8:3)

Iran promoting terrorism, taking over Iraq: KSA

IransProxyWar-X
RIYADH: GHAZANFAR ALI KHAN
Published — Friday 6 March 2015

Iran’s belligerent policies, which are hampering all plans for restoring peace and security in the Middle East, came under fire during talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and the foreign ministers of the GCC states on Thursday.
Kerry also called on Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and discussed key regional issues, including the Iranian nuclear negotiations.
Kerry’s talks with King Salman mainly focused on bilateral and regional issues, including an emerging nuclear deal with Iran, Syria and Iran’s role in Iraq.
On the Iranian nuclear negotiations, Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal categorically stated that Kerry had given full assurances that the US would continue to monitor Iran’s “destabilizing” actions and behavior.
Referring to the Iranian nuclear negotiations, Prince Saud said that the Kingdom extended support to the negotiations between Iran and P+5 bloc of countries. “But, the Kingdom also supports a strong international inspection to ensure that Iran is not seeking to manufacture or possess nuclear weapons,” said Prince Saud, while renewing his support for peaceful use of nuclear energy by Iran or any other country of the region.
He also reminded Kerry that the GCC leaders had voiced their concerns time and again about Tehran’s covert support to the Syrian regime. He accused Iran of meddling in the affairs of the Arab world, saying that “Tehran today promotes terrorism (and) it occupies lands … these are not the features of a country that seeks to improve its relations with its neighbors.”
Prince Saud made these remarks, while addressing a joint press conference with Kerry at the Riyadh Airbase.
Calling his talks with Kerry “fruitful, constructive and transparent,” Prince Saud said that he discussed several regional issues with the US secretary of state, including Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya and the Middle East peace process.
Kerry, who also met the GCC foreign ministers on Thursday, briefed them about the nuclear talks with Iran and discussed ways to bring peace and stability to Yemen.
Speaking alongside Kerry at the press conference, Prince Saud gave a detailed account of the problems posed by Iran. He said that the involvement of Iran in the push being made by Iraqi forces alongside militias to retake the Iraqi city of Tikrit from the Islamic State was a prime example of what worries Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
Prince Saud, in clear terms, said that “Iran was taking over Iraq.” 
The foreign minister also called on the US-led coalition conducting airstrikes against the IS in Syria and Iraq to fight the militants on the ground. “Saudi Arabia, which is part of the coalition, stresses the need to provide military means and support required to face this challenge on the ground,” said Prince Saud.
He reiterated the Kingdom’s support to the legitimate government of Yemen led by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. “The Saudi support to Hadi is in line with the support and policies expressed by the GCC, the Arab League and the UN Security Council,” he said.
The foreign minister also expressed his strong concerns over the Middle East peace process, which is not making any headway.
Prince Saud renewed the call for an independent Palestinian state. The two leaders touched on the prospects of reviving peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. Prince Saud, however, lamented that all efforts to revive the negotiations are failing. “It is mainly because of Israel’s policy of stubbornness and procrastination,” said the prince.
Asked about the regional turmoil for which Syrian regime is greatly responsible, Kerry said: “Military pressure may be needed to oust Syria’s President Bashar Assad … He has lost any semblance of legitimacy, but we have no higher priority than disrupting and defeating the IS and other terror networks.”
On the question of Iranian nuclear negotiations, Kerry said Washington was not seeking a “grand bargain” with Iran that would involve wider political and security cooperation with Iran, and insisted that a nuclear deal with Iran would address security concerns of Gulf countries.
Kerry’s visit to Saudi Arabia follows three days of talks this week with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Switzerland aimed at persuading Iran to restrain its nuclear enrichment program.

On Yemen, Kerry stated that the US supports “the peace process led by the UN” and within the framework of the GCC initiative for Yemen. The UN-mediated talks, that have failed to progress substantially of late, are aimed at breaking the political stalemate between the Houthis and the legitimate faction led by Yemeni President Hadi, he added.

Kerry also conveyed to King Salman the greetings of US President Barack Obama. On his part, the king sent his greetings to the US president. The audience was attended by Prince Saud; Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif and Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
On the American side, the talks were attended by US Ambassador to the Kingdom Joseph W. Westphal, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Kurt Ted, US State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki and other high-ranking American officials.

Save The Oil (Revelation 6:6)

Oil rose in volatile trade on Thursday but analysts said the gains may not hold in the face of a strong dollar and the U.S. commitment to forge a nuclear deal with Iran.

Agencies
Without new bullish factors apparent in U.S. trading hours, the market stayed afloat on buying from those convinced it had hit bottom since the June-January selloff that had knocked 60 percent off crude prices, analysts said.
The front-month contract in benchmark Brent crude was up 25 cents at $60.80 a barrel by 11:55 a.m. EST (1655 GMT), after rallying more than $1 earlier.
U.S. crude’s front-month fell 14 cents to $51.39, after rising to $52.40 earlier.
“The fundamentals dictate that prices should be lower, but market bulls and bottom pickers continue to discount bearish news and embrace anything that’s even remotely bullish,” said Dominick Chirichella, senior partner at the Energy Management Institute in New York.
A deteriorating security situation led Libya’s state oil company to declare force majeure on 11 of its oilfields on Wednesday. Output from Libya is at about a quarter of highs seen before the country’s 2011 civil war.
Those bullish factors ran contrary to the spike in the dollar and the U.S. decision to press ahead with its nuclear negotiations with Tehran.
The dollar jumped to 11-1/2 year lows against the euro after European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi left the door open for asset purchases beyond September 2016. A stronger dollar is regarded a negative for oil as it weakens demand for crude from buyers holding other currencies.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said a nuclear deal with Tehran would address security concerns of Gulf Arab countries, although Washington was not seeking a “grand bargain” with Iran, a reference to wider political and security cooperation.
On Monday, oil tumbled, with Brent falling 5 percent, on fear that a quick nuclear deal for Tehran could lift U.S. and other Western government sanctions against the OPEC nation and flood the market with new oil exports.
Weaker-than-expected U.S. jobless claims and factory orders and a drop in nonfarm productivity were other negatives for oil.

The Ten Nuclear Horns (Daniel 7)

Analysis: US, Sunni states talk about regional ‘nuclear umbrella
kerry-in-saudi-arabia
The Jerusalem Post

Coinciding with the snap visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to Saudi Arabia this week, the US military is considering deploying one of its THAAD defense systems in the region.

Both moves are intended to lessen concerns expressed in the Gulf countries about Iran’s nuclear program and its increasing interventions in conflicts across the Middle East. Tehran’s direct and indirect involvement by its Shi’ite proxies is evident in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Syria.

THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) is an American anti-ballistic missile system. It is designed to intercept and “kill” medium- and long-range incoming ballistic missiles, including those which are carrying nuclear warheads.

In a sense, the idea to deploy THAAD in order to defend the Gulf emirates and Saudi Arabia from Iran practically means to offer them a “nuclear umbrella.”

It is also intended to minimize the chance that they would rush to develop nuclear weapons as an ultimate shield against Iran. One of the fears of the international community – Israel included – is that a nuclear Iran will trigger a nuclear race in the Middle East.

In the past, after concluding one of his negotiation rounds with his Iranian counterpart, Kerry would also travel to inform the Israeli prime minister of the situation. But this time he skipped the Jewish state, signaling the Obama administration’s anger with Benjamin Netanyahu’s collusion with the Republican Congress this week.

Over the years, some US administrations entertained the notion of signing a defense treaty with Israel, which would also place Israel under the US nuclear umbrella. But the idea, which was favored by prime minister David Ben-Gurion, was never seriously deliberated.

Eventually, according to foreign reports, it was Ben-Gurion who made the decision to make Israel a nuclear power and thus rely on its own nuclear umbrella.

Thirty years later, Israel, in a joint venture with the US, developed, produced and deployed its own equivalent to THAAD – the Arrow 2 and soon Arrow 3 anti-ballistic systems that are supposed to intercept and shoot long-range Iranian missiles with conventional, and in case it might have them in the future, nuclear warheads.

The possible of a regional nuclear arms race, remote as it may be seen at the moment, is especially worrisome when it comes to Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom has special strategic relations with Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons.

In the past, it was reported – though never officially confirmed – that Saudi Arabia partially financed Pakistan’s nuclear program. According to these reports, Pakistan in return promised to sell or deploy some of its nuclear bombs to Saudi Arabia should the regime of the House of Saud fear for the survival of the monarchy.

The idea to send THAAD to the Middle East, as well as to the Korean Peninsula, was raised on Wednesday by Gen. Vincent Brooks, head of US Army Pacific Command, who emphasized that no decision had been yet made. But, he added, “the need is there in those two places.”

The US Army has four operational THAAD batteries, and a fifth one is scheduled to undergo tests and training this year.

The United Arab Emirates already bought one THAAD system from manufacturer Martin Lockheed in 2011 for nearly $2 billion, but it will take more than a year until it will be fully operational.

The company hopes to sign two more such deals with Qatar and Saudi Arabia in the near future.

During his meetings with the local leaders, Kerry tried to assure them that the US is fully committed to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons.

“Nothing will be different the day after this agreement, if we reach one, with respect to any other issues that challenge us in this region, except we will have taken steps to guarantee that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon,” Kerry told reporters.