ISIS Destabilizes Iraqi Oil (Rev 6:6)

  

ISIS is making the biggest threat to oil prices even worse

The Telegraph
ANDREW CRITCHLOW, THE TELEGRAPH
MAY 30, 2015, 10:30 AM 25,153 22

Thick black smoke rising from the could be seen as a dirty smudge on the horizon as far away as Baghdad after fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) set fire to the enormous processing plant just over 100 miles north of the capital last week.

The decision to torch the refinery, which once produced around a third of Iraq’s domestic fuel supplies, was made as the insurgents prepared to pull out of Baiji, which they captured last June in a victory that sent shock waves across world oil markets.

A year on from the start of the siege and a shaky alliance of the Middle East’s major Arab powers, with the limited support of the reluctant US government, has failed to contain the expansion of Isil.
The problem for the US and the rest of the industrialised world is that the Middle East controls 60pc of proven oil reserves and with it the keys to the global economy. Should Isil capture a major oil field in Iraq, or overwhelming the government, the consequences for energy markets and the financial system would be potentially catastrophic.

Many of the countries most threatened by the onslaught of the extremist group, which has grown out of the chaos of Syria but was initially dismissed as a wider threat to regional stability, will gather at the end of this week in Vienna for the meetings of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) .

Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Iraq – which together account for two thirds of the cartel’s production – are all now affected by the inexorable march of the Isil jihadists but appear powerless to prevent it due to the widening sectarian schism between the Sunni and Shia Muslims across the region in the wake of the Arab spring uprisings five years ago.

Oil ministers gathering to decide on production levels at Opec’s secretariat building in Vienna will normally stay clear of wider geopolitical issues during their deliberations in the Austrian capital. However, the threat posed by Isil and its brutal brand of Islamist extremism is likely to force politics onto the agenda. It certainly can no longer be ignored.

According to Daniel Yergin, the energy expert and vice-chairman of IHS, the business information provider, the biggest threat to oil prices is the political chaos that threatens to engulf the Middle East, combined with the West’s reluctance to intervene.

Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Yergin argued that the price of a barrel of oil could skyrocket to levels above $100 per barrel if Isil is allowed to press deeper into Iraq, the second-largest producer in the cartel after Saudi Arabia.

“Isil presents a whole new reality for the region, which just isn’t reflected in the oil market at the moment,” said Mr Yergin. “It’s an increasingly grave situation for most of Opec and the Middle East. At some point the security issues will start to come back into the price of oil.”

Up to this point, oil markets have shrugged off the risk of a major supply disruption caused by the worsening security situation. Traders have remained focused on the market fundamentals that almost 2m barrels per day (bpd) of excess oil capacity will be more than enough to absorb any supply-driven shock. A rally in the price of Brent crude – a global benchmark – which began in January and saw prices push close to $70 per barrel has lost momentum amid signs that higher prices could revive drilling in the US.

Just over six months ago when Opec’s 12 oil ministers last met in Vienna the cartel decided to continue pumping oil at a level of around 30m bpd, which effectively fired the first shots in an oil price war against shale drillers in North America, and Russia.

After almost a decade of oil prices ticking along at above $100 per barrel during which the group ignored the shale revolution taking place in the US, Opec decided to act last November. Under massive pressure from its most powerful member Saudi Arabia, the cartel allowed market forces to drag down oil prices. Initially, the strategy worked.

Within a month, oil prices had fallen to multi-year lows below $50 per barrel, sharply lower than the $115 year-high achieved last June when concern over the civil war in Syria caused a spike in prices. The sudden downturn in prices immediately had the desired effect on oil producers outside the Opec cartel.

In the US, oil companies began to shut down drilling rigs at a record rate. According to Baker Hughes, rig numbers have fallen for 24 straight weeks to 659 rigs as of last week compared with a record 1,609 rigs operating last October. In high-cost production areas such as the North Sea the impact of Opec’s decision to allow oil prices to fall naturally has shaken the industry to its core.

In his last budget of the Coalition government, George Osborne was forced to offer North Sea oil companies tax breaks to soften the blow of lower prices, while hundreds of jobs have been lost in Aberdeen.

“Opec has embarked on a strategy of leaving the oil price to the market and is willing it seems to allow the economics of supply and demand to take effect,” said Mr Yergin. “What is so startling is that geopolitics has been stripped out of the oil price for now but sooner or later it will be factored back in.”

Oil prices have gained roughly 30pc since the beginning of the year to trade at around $65 per barrel, with major banks and trading houses. However, traders have so far ignored the risks posed by Isil now to oil supplies, or the danger of a major terrorist attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Goldman Sachs has instead forecast that prices could again fall to $45 per barrel by October as US shale drilling picks up.

According to Mr Yergin this analysis ignores the dire political situation in the Middle East and the US government’s reluctance to acknowledge the danger to the wider global economy. Many of these analysts have focused on the continuing glut of new oil supplies from Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Both nations appear to be fighting for greater market share by filling the gap that is opening up in the oil market as higher cost production is shut down.

Swing producer Saudi Arabia is now pumping more than 10.3m bpd of crude, a record for the kingdom which maintains the capacity to produce up to 12m bpd if required. Despite the encroachment of Isil, which now controls the country’s largest province, Iraq has also dramatically increased its oil production over the past six months.

Iraq is poised to lift its exports by as much as 800,000 bpd to around 3.75m bpd next month as the government in Baghdad desperately tries to increase its revenues, which have been crippled by falling prices. In either case, a major terrorist attack on oil export facilities would shatter confidence and the notion that $100 oil is a thing of the past.

Although most of Iraq’s major oil fields are located in the south of the country, which are Shia Muslim heartlands, the failure of the Iraqi army to deal with the threat of Isil is a sign of their vulnerability to isolated attacks. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is in a virtual state of lockdown after the bombing by Isil militants of a Shia mosque in the oil-rich Eastern Province. The brutal attack, which appeared designed to provoke sectarian unrest in the kingdom, killed 21 worshippers and injured 80 others.

Saudi authorities have stepped up security at the country’s vast oil installations. The kingdom, which accounts for 12pc of global oil supply, is effectively under siege. To the north, jihadists threaten its borders from Iraq and Syria. In the south it launches air strikes against Iranian backed Houthi rebels in Yemen but has so far failed to defeat the tribes, which have continued to make territorial gains.

To add to the problems facing Saudi Arabia’s new ruler, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, his kingdom is also facing insurgency from the so-called Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula terrorist group which is intent on destabilising the regime.

Against this cataclysmic backdrop of bombs falling in Sana’a and with Isil literally at the gates of the major Iraqi city of Ramadi, many US energy and security experts were shocked to hear President Barack Obama ignore the danger in a recent keynote speech in which he pinpointed global warming as an equally big risk for Americans.

“Climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security,” warned Mr Obama in a speech that many have criticised as symptomatic of the administration’s desire to disengage from the region which still provides a significant share of its oil.

Despite the growing focus on climate change and the campaign to limit fossil fuel production, Isil will be a bigger concern for the majority of oil ministers around Opec’s table next week.

The Obama administration’s reluctance to intervene marks the end of a US policy to protect the region’s oil which has remained in existence since President Franklin D Roosevelt first met with modern day Saudi Arabia’s founder King Abdulaziz in 1945. It was this commitment that drew America into the first Gulf War in 1991 and again in 2003 when it decided to bring down the curtain on Saddam Hussein’s regime.

However, Mr Obama’s lack of a viable alternative foreign policy for the region has put world energy markets at risk.

“How US national and foreign policy will integrate itself again with the region is unclear,” said Mr Yergin.

Washington’s determination to pursue a nuclear deal with Iran has arguably destabilised the region by placing Riyadh and Tehran on a collision course . Saudis are dismayed that Iranian military advisers are aiding the assault to recapture Ramadi, a city in Iraq’s Anbar Province which US forces fought so hard to secure 10 years ago.

Although Opec makes it a rule to stay away from politics, tensions between its 12 members are never far from the surface when they gather in Vienna. The organisation is one of the only remaining inter-governmental settings outside the United Nations where senior Saudi and Iranian officials can sit down together, which makes next week’s gathering potential dynamite.

Iran opposed Saudi Arabia last November when the kingdom’s oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, insisted that the group should stand on the side lines and allow market forces to drive down the oil price in order to render high-cost oil such as US shale unprofitable. Years of sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy and eroded its oil industry, which has added to pressure on the regime to agree to a nuclear deal with America under any terms. However, Iran needs oil prices above $100 per barrel in order to support its Shia Muslim allies, including the Houthis fighting Saudi Arabia in Yemen, in the wider Middle East.

Insiders say Saudi Arabia will get its way once again in Vienna and expect Opec to agree to “roll over” their production settings. With vast foreign currency reserves Riyadh and its Arab allies in the Persian Gulf can weather the storm better than Iran, while the continuation of lower oil prices will limit Tehran’s ability to support Saudi’s enemies in Yemen.

The danger is that Isil has other plans.

Save The Oil, Shiite Oil (Revelation 6:6)

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Here’s why Iran and Iraq should worry OPEC

Stephen Sedgwick | @steve_sedgwick
Tuesday, 12 May 2015 | 6:01 AM ET

Oil Iraq OPEC

Atef Hassan | Reuters

Caveat emptor! The big Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) summer pow-wow is only 24 days away now and ceteris paribus we should see a continuation of the status quo. Right that’s enough Latin, the only languages that really count at the meeting will be Arabic, Farsi, Kurdish and money, namely petrodollars.

As far as I can see, this one is about how Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq solve a growing problem of how you cap OPEC production – and thereby falling prices – at a time when Baghdad and Tehran are desperate to up output.

Despite the rally from the mid-$40 region, OPEC could be hundreds of billions light in terms of revenues this year causing some to once again trot out the old, tired and inaccurate line that OPEC is losing its importance in world energy supply.

I even read a report under the headline ‘OPEC going broke…’ Really?

Well no-one is doubting that the loose alliance is fractured, sometimes dysfunctional and limited in its adherence to stated production levels but going broke and irrelevant? Dream on.

What is clear though is that some countries desperately need the petro-dollars that would come from increased production. Iran and Iraq are not only near the top of that list but also have the capacity to ratchet up their levels, albeit with the caveat in Iran’s case of completing nuclear talks.

Bernstein Research has just put out a briefing on the importance of Iraqi and Iranian production ahead of the OPEC meeting on 5th June and amid the reams of statistics I pulled out a few. And if you think it’s only Saudi Arabia that matters then look again at these numbers on Iran and Iraq:-

Iran has 1 percent of global population but an estimated 157 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves.

The Iranian number equates to 9.5 percent of world total and is fourth largest amongst all countries after Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Canada.

Iran also has the second-largest proven gas reserves at 1,193 trillion cubic feet – 17 percent of the world’s resources and 35 percent of OPEC’s.

And the Iraqi numbers are not to be sniffed at either:-

Iraq comes close with 144 billion barrels of proved crude oil reserves.

The Iraqi figure equates to 9 percent of the world total and is fifth largest globally.

Iraq is the second-largest OPEC producer currently, producing 3.4 million barrels per day, equating to 4.3 percent of the world total.

To put this in context, Bernstein’s report says there are roughly 1,6 trillion barrels of proven oil reserves in the world.

So Iran and Iraq are potentially the major players who could upset not only OPEC equilibrium with their challenge to number one producer Saudi but have the ability to put the skids under the big rally in oil off the March lows.

Follow Steve on Twitter: @steve_sedgwick

Nuclear Ban Conference = FAIL (Rev 16)

vanunu-iran-israeli-nukes-cartoon

Middle East nuclear weapons ban proposal stumbles at U.N.

Tue May 12, 2015 1:50am BST

By Louis Charbonneau
Western officials said Arab proposals drafted by Egypt for a major nuclear non-proliferation conference at United Nations headquarters in New York could torpedo the process and push Israel to walk away
Israel neither confirms nor denies the widespread assumption that it controls the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal. Israel, which has never joined the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), agreed to take part in NPT meetings Monday as an observer, ending a 20-year absence.
The head of Egypt’s delegation, Assistant Foreign Minister Hashim Badr, rejected any suggestion that Cairo was a spoiler and insisted that he wanted to move the process forward, not kill it.
“Egypt has come to New York to secure a conference (on banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East), we want a conference,” Badr said in an interview. “This is a key issue for Egypt for a long time, for decades, since 1974-75.” 
Egypt, in a proposal officially backed by all Arab countries and outlined in a “working paper” submitted by Arab delegations, called for Jaakko Laajava, the U.N. coordinator for organising the conference, to be dismissed. The 2010 NPT review meeting had called for a Middle East conference in 2012, but it never took place.
Egypt’s proposal said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should convene a conference on a regional ban of weapons of mass destruction within 180 days after the NPT conference ends on May 22 and demanded that Israel immediately join the NPT as a non-nuclear arms state.
Despite the official backing of Arab delegations, several diplomats, including two Arabs, told Reuters that Saudi Arabia, Iraq and United Arab Emirates have reservations about Egypt’s proposal. “Egypt wants to be in charge,” a diplomat said.
Israel’s delegation declined to comment on the proposal.
The Jewish state has said it would consider inspections and controls under the NPT only if was at peace with its Arab neighbours and Iran.
Washington and Israel say it is Iran’s nuclear programme that threatens the region. Iran says its programme is peaceful. It is negotiating with world powers to curb it in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
Finnish diplomat Laajava managed to get Israel, Arab states and Iran to attend a preparatory session in the Swiss city of Glion in October 2013. Western officials cite that as progress.
Washington has not given up hope. “We have seen significant progress in the regional consultations that have taken place,” a U.S. official said.
Arab delegates said Israel was not serious about a conference on banning weapons of mass destruction. Israel has conditioned its participation on an agenda being agreed in advance and says it wants to discuss regional security, conventional weapons and the Middle East peace process.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Grant McCool and Ken Wills)

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.

Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Was Just A Short Delay Of The Prophecy (Rev 16)

NPT spoof

 

BY RAMESH THAKUR

In contrast to the total and scandalous failure of its 2005 predecessor, the Eighth Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference of May 2010 was a modest success.
By the end of 2012, as reported in my Centre’s inaugural “Nuclear Weapons: The State of Play” report, much of this sense of optimism had evaporated. By the end of 2014, as our followup report “Nuclear Weapons: The State of Play 2015″ documents, the fading optimism has given way to pessimism.
North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in early 2013 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is yet to enter into force.
Cyber threats to nuclear weapons systems have intensified, outer space remains at risk of nuclearization, and the upsurge of geopolitical tensions over the crisis in Ukraine produced flawed conclusions about the folly of giving up nuclear weapons on the one hand, and open reminders about Russia’s substantial nuclear arsenal, on the other.
As part of the Global Attitudes survey conducted by the U.S. Pew Research Center from March 17 to June 5, 2014, a total of 48,643 respondents in 44 countries were asked which one of the following five poses the gravest threat to the world: nuclear weapons, inequality, religious-ethnic hatred, environmental pollution, or AIDS and other diseases?
No Latin American country has nuclear weapons The continent’s anti-nuclear commitment was reinforced by the negotiation of the regional nuclear-weapon-free zone in 1967 under the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which consolidates and deepens the NPT prohibitions on getting the bomb.
Since then virtually the entire Southern Hemisphere has embraced additional comparable zones in the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and Africa.
Consequently looking out at the world from our vantage point, we see no security upsides by way of benefits from nuclear weapons; only risks.
Indeed it helps to conceptualize the nuclear weapons challenge in the language of risks. Originally many countries acquired the bomb in order to help manage national security risks.
As the four famous strategic heavyweights of Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, William Perry and George Shultz — all card-carrying realists — have argued in a series of five influential articles in The Wall Street Journal between 2007 and 2013, the risks of nuclear proliferation and terrorism posed by the existence of nuclear weapons far outweigh their modest contributions to security since the end of the Cold War.
Viewed through this lens, the nuclear risks agenda has four components:
• Risk management.
We must ensure that existing weapons stockpiles are not used; that all nuclear weapons and materials are secured against theft and leakage to rogue actors like terrorist groups; and that all nuclear reactors and plants have fail-safe safety measures in place with respect to designs, controls, disposal and accident response systems.
• Risk reduction.
This means strengthening the stability-enhancing features of deterrence, such as robust command and control systems and deployment on submarines. As part of this, it would help if Russia and the U.S. took their approximately 1,800 warheads off high-alert, ready to launch within minutes of threats being supposedly detected.
If other countries abandoned interest in things like tactical nuclear weapons that have to be deployed on the forward edges of potential battlefields and require some pre-delegation of authority to use to battlefield commanders. Because any use of nuclear weapons could be catastrophic for planet Earth, the decision must be restricted to the highest political and military authorities.
• Risk minimization• .
There is no national security objectives that Russia and the U.S. could not meet with a total arsenal of under 500 nuclear warheads each deployed in the air (a few), on land (some), and at sea (most). And if all the others froze their arsenals at current levels, this would give us a global stockpile of 2,000 bombs instead of the current total of nearly 16,400.
Ratifying and bringing into force the CTBT, concluding a new fissile material cutoff treaty, banning the nuclear weaponization of outer space, respecting one another’s sensitivities on missile defense programs and conventional military imbalances etc. would all contribute to minimizing risks of reversals and setbacks.
None of these steps would jeopardize the national security of any of the nuclear-armed states; each would enhance regional and international security modestly; all in combination would greatly strengthen global security.
• Risk elimination.
Successive blue ribbon international commissions, from the Canberra Commission through the Tokyo Forum, Blix Commission, and Evans-Kawaguchi Commission, have emphatically reaffirmed three core propositions.
The only guarantee of zero nuclear weapons risk, therefore, is to move to zero nuclear weapons possession by a carefully managed process.

The Shia Horn Must Rise

Iran’s nightmare of Sunni militancy

sunni shia

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, has called for Muslim unity many times in recent months. He told Iranian hajj officials last week that the “ummah shouldn’t practice hostility toward each other, but should support each other over important global issues.”However genuine this hope, there is growing concern in Tehran, reflected in parliament and in the media, over Sunni militancy. The nightmare is encirclement, with Baluchi unrest in eastern Iran growing just as ISIS gains strength to the west in Iraq and Syria.

Last week, Ebrahim Rahimpour, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for Asia and Pacific Affairs, headed to Pakistan. His visit was intended to carry forward the two countries’ agreement of last year to cooperate against crime and security threats.

But the trip was hastily arranged and followed clashes along the 900 km Iran-Pakistan border that lower-level contacts had failed to stop. The facts are far from clear, but it appears Iranian and Pakistani forces exchanged mortar fire on Oct. 25-26, a week after Iranian forces crossed the border and, according to the Pakistanis, killed one and wounded three border guards.

]Iran has alleged for some time that Pakistani security has failed to combat Baluchi militants using Pakistan as a base for operations in Iran. A few days before Iran’s cross-border action, militants killed at least four Iranian soldiers or border guards and, according to Akbar Naseri, an Iranian parliamentary deputy quoted by the Mehr news agency, Tehran warned it would act if Pakistan did not.

While no one is suggesting that Iran and Pakistan are about to go to war, clashes between the two countries’ armed forces are a dangerous development, especially as ISIS stirs popular tensions between Sunni and Shiites.

The root of the problem lies in the challenges both states face in managing the Baluchis, an ethnic group numbering over 10 million who straddle Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan and Pakistan’s Baluchistan, poor provinces with widespread drug smuggling.

But matters take on a different dimension for mainly Shiite Iran since the Baluchis are, alongside the Kurds, one of the country’s two main Sunni minorities. Iran’s Sunnis allege discrimination in government employment and investment, and begrudge the absence of a Sunni mosque in Tehran and the common naming of buildings and streets in Sunni provinces after Shiite leaders.

Militant Baluchi groups, mixing separatist rhetoric with Al-Qaeda practices including beheadings, have carried out a low-level insurgency for some time. Last year Tehran last year executed 16 members of Jundallah, the most active faction, and declared their rebellion over. But a new group, Jaish al-Adl, began attacking Iranian security forces, kidnapping five border guards in February, of whom four were released after negotiations through Abdul-Hamid Esmaeel-Zehi, the main Sunni religious leader in the province.

Iran suspected the kidnapped guards were held inside Pakistan. As usual, the Pakistanis denied their side of the border was being used as a base and have continued these denials in the latest upsurge in violence. One official even suggested violence within Iran resulted from Baluchi resentment against religious discrimination.

This is certainly no time for the Pakistani authorities to be seen as ‘soft’ on Shiite Iran. Pakistan is wary of ISIS influence after several Pakistani Taliban commanders have declared their loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIS, and in the latest example of sectarian violence, eight Shiites were taken from a bus and gunned down in Quetta on Oct. 23 in Pakistani Baluchistan.

But any Pakistani equivocation, real or imagined, fuels the arguments of those in Tehran who want a strong stand and who dismiss President Hassan Rouhani’s promises to address the grievances of ethnic and religious minorities.

Whatever the political arguments in Tehran, Iranian security favors ‘strategic depth,’ whereby border provinces are heavily militarized to create a buffer. Such an approach can fuel resentment as much as improve short-term security.

In broader geopolitical terms, Iran has been adept in maintaining relations with both India and Pakistan, who themselves have recently clashed in disputed Kashmir with some 17 people killed since September.

Struggling to develop its substantial gas reserves in the face of U.S. sanctions, Tehran has long seen both Pakistan and India as lucrative potential markets. Even though India in 2009 pulled out of Iran’s ‘peace pipeline’ to supply gas to the sub-continent, it remains an important buyer of Iranian oil and is investing in Iran’s Chababar port, in Sistan-Baluchistan, partly to facilitate its trade with Afghanistan. And while Pakistan has put its leg of the pipeline on hold since 2012 due to U.S. pressure, it may reconsider this in the face of chronic domestic energy shortages.

But geopolitics and energy planning are more predictable and manageable than Shiite-Sunni rivalries. The Iranian public has been alarmed by the proximity of ISIS fighters, who are within striking distance of the border, especially in Iraq’s Diyala province. The need to soothe Iranians’ anxiety presumably explains October’s media pictures of Qassem Soleimani, the usually discrete commander of the Al-Quds special operations force, helping organize Kurdish resistance in Iraq against ISIS.

While ISIS has limited appeal for Kurds, given their Sufism and nationalism, even this may be cold comfort for Tehran. If ISIS continues to stir Kurdish separatism in Iraq and Syria, this could well encourage similar aspirations among Iran’s own restive 7-8 million Kurds. All in all, Ayatollah Khamenei’s Muslim unity looks a distant prospect.

Gareth Smyth has reported from the Middle East since 1992, and was the chief Iran correspondent of The Financial Times in 2003-07. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.