Iran ‘The prize’

With the 14 July 2015 agreement between Iran and the P5 + 1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) on Iran’s nuclear energy programme, enormous investment opportunities for multinational corporations open up in Iran and significant strategic changes in the Middle East may be in the offing. The deal should lead to the removal of US and European Union sanctions on Iran in early 2016 and give Iran access to over $100bn frozen in overseas banks. Sanctions have cost Iran $160bn in oil sales in three years. The US has imposed sanctions on Iran since 1979; these may be removed. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was furious at the deal, calling it a ‘stunning, historical mistake’ that will make the world a ‘more dangerous place’. Saudi Arabia threatened to develop its own nuclear industry. Saudi Arabia and Israel fear an economically strong Iran which the removal of sanctions could bring. They also fear that their strategic significance to imperialism will be downgraded and that the advantages that have come with it will be reduced.

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Iran: A change in tactics / FRFI 236 Dec 2013/Jan 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 236 December 2013/January 2014

The interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear industry announced on 24 November 2013 indicates a change in US tactics towards Iran and the Middle East. If the Iranian government believes that by making concessions to the P5 plus one (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), imperialism will accept an independent Iran, this would be a mistake. The US, Britain and France will continue to try to force Iran into becoming a client state that accepts US hegemony in the Middle East.

When the US threatened to bomb Syria in August this was also a threat to attack Iran. With its decision not to overtly attack Syria and to accept the Russian plan to decommission Syria’s chemical weapons and production facilities, the US showed that it does not intend to fight another war in the Middle East – not at the moment anyway. US failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the costs of the wars, public disapproval of another war and divisions in the US and European ruling classes have produced a change in US tactics.

Secret meetings between senior US and Iranian officials began in March 2013 – formal diplomatic relations between the two countries had ended with the 1979 revolution. The outlines of a deal on Iran’s nuclear energy were presented in early November, but France objected to the exclusion from the proposed agreement of Iran’s planned construction of a heavy water reactor at Arak. A heavy water reactor was used by North Korea to manufacture its nuclear bomb. The interim agreement is for six months. Iran has agreed to suspend construction of the Arak plant, to keep uranium enrichment to 5% or below, to neutralise or dilute uranium enriched up to 20% (enrichment up to 90% is required for a nuclear weapon), to freeze enrichment capacity and to accept intrusive inspection. In return Iran will get access to $3.5bn of its assets frozen in international bank accounts and be able to trade in petrochemicals, gold, other precious metals and aircraft parts. The agreement is reckoned to be worth $7bn to Iran. Iranian officials said that the agreement recognised Iran’s right to enrich uranium, but US Secretary of State John Kerry insists that it does not.

The imperialists believe sanctions have worked by forcing Iran to make concessions and that they can be used to extract more from the Iranian state. European Union and US sanctions on Iranian oil and gas exports remain. Iran seeks tens of billions of its dollars frozen in foreign banks and to increase energy exports.

Sanctions have begun to harm the Iranian economy. Before sanctions were imposed, Iran exported 2.5m barrels of oil per day, exports are now 800,000 barrels per day. Iran’s GDP has shrunk by 5.4%, the Iranian rial has halved in exchange rate against the US dollar, inflation is officially over 40% but could be twice this rate. 40% of Iranians live below the poverty line and youth unemployment, in a country where a third of its 75 million people are under 30, is officially 28.3%. Malnutrition is growing, there are shortages of medicines and factories have closed. The budget deficit has risen to $28bn with declining revenues, and public sector wages could go unpaid.

Given this economic and social crisis, sections of the Iranian ruling class are seeking to compromise with imperialism; others will seek an alliance with it. Iran has the world’s fourth largest oil reserves and largest gas reserves. The government will use access to its oil and gas to bargain the sanctions away. Before the interim agreement, an advisor to the oil minister said that US and European firms would be invited to invest in Iran. He explained Iran is seeking $100bn investment in three years, with details to be revealed in London in March 2014. After the agreement the oil minister said he had met with representatives of European oil companies and ‘indirectly’ with US companies with a view to inviting them back to Iran. Among the European companies approached will be Shell, Total, Eni and Statoil. Any US or European investment in Iran would require sanctions to be removed.

US investment in Iran would ensure that Iranian oil was priced in dollars and European investment would reduce its dependence on imports from Russia (see FRFI 235, October/November 2013). Iran needs advanced technology to increase its potential exports and reserves.

The Israeli and Saudi Arabian governments, dismayed that the US did not bomb Syria, are furious with the agreement and view it as a challenge to their strategic position for imperialism in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia presents itself as the guardian of Sunni interests against Shia-led Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu described the agreement as a ‘historic mistake’. However, for Israel, Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni-led Gulf Cooperation Countries there is no other effective guarantor of their security and status than US military might.

Israel will not attack Iran without US backing. However, there will be more covert attacks on Iran, such as the bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut on 19 November, which killed over 20 people, and more encouragement of sectarian strife between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Trevor Rayne


Iran under pressure

During October 2012 the US and Israel held a three week joint missile and air defence exercise with 4,500 soldiers, making it the largest joint military exercise between the two nations. On 2 November The Independent reported the British government to be considering stationing warplanes adjacent to the Persian Gulf to prevent Iran from blocking the Strait of Hormuz, through which passes 35% of the world’s seaborne oil. British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said that European countries must be ‘prepared, if necessary, to take a bigger role in relation to North Africa and the Middle East...Europe, as a whole, needs to do more.’ The Royal Navy maintains ten ships, including a nuclear submarine, in the Persian Gulf region. Hammond was issuing a threat to the peoples of the Middle East, North Africa and Iran, in particular, not to challenge imperialist domination of the region.

In October the European Union imposed new sanctions on Iran, including a ban on Iranian gas exports, a freeze on transactions with Iranian banks and prohibitions on a range of exports to Iran. Britain, France and Germany are leading the EU sanctions campaign and claim they are demanding that Iran negotiate its nuclear energy programme. The EU and US sanctions are hurting Iranian people: oil exports have halved since July 2012 and are a third of what they were a year ago. This has driven the Iranian rial currency down against the US dollar, it dropped 30% in a week, which in turn has fuelled inflation. There is also a shortage of medicines, including for treating cancer and other life-threatening diseases; some six million people are believed to be affected.

In early October there were street protests against the Iranian government and the Tehran bazaar went on strike. Police have shut down currency shops and confiscated hard currency and gold coins to try and prevent speculation against the rial, but an illegal market in dollars is growing. Tensions are surfacing among Iran’s ruling circles: on 4 November 77 parliamentarians signed a petition summoning President Ahmadinejad to answer questions on the economy.

The US and European ruling classes would prefer to remove the Iranian regime by sanctions rather than all out war, which is unpredictable and potentially devastating for the region and the world economy. However, recent developments demonstrate that the covert war already underway could escalate quickly into a regional conflagration. At the end of October two Iranian warships docked at Port Sudan on Sudan’s Red Sea coast. This was one week after the Sudanese government accused Israel of sending eight warplanes to bomb an arms factory in the capital Khartoum. Iranian made Fajr-5 rockets are being fired from Gaza at Israel. Iran then announced that it had developed a drone that can take off vertically without a runway.

On 16 November 2012 the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran was now equipped to increase production of enriched uranium. The purpose of such reports and their presentation in the bourgeois media is to suggest that Iran already has a nuclear weapons programme, which it does not have. Surveys show the majority of US people do believe that Iran has a nuclear weapons programme. Former Labour foreign secretary David Miliband co-authored an article in the Financial Times entitled ‘Iran can be disarmed if we learn the lessons of the cold war’ (13 April 2012). Such propaganda is intended to prepare the public for war. We must get Britain out of the Middle East and North Africa.

Trevor Rayne

Iran: a dangerous game / FRFI 227 June/July 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012

A leading correspondent for Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper said, ‘[Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu is playing poker for all of us. We shouldn’t call out his cards.’ He proceeded to say that Israel’s threat of a military strike on Iran was a ‘loaded gun that the made the international community impose a diplomatic and economic siege on Iran’.

The correspondent was responding to criticisms of the Israeli government from senior Israeli military figures. The former heads of Mossad (foreign secret service), the Israeli military intelligence and the internal intelligence agency, Shin Bet, have all condemned the Israeli threat to attack Iran. Contradicting his Prime Minister, who portrays the Iranian leadership as fanatical, the current head of Israel’s armed forces said that he did not believe that Iran would build a nuclear weapon and described the Iranian leadership as ‘very rational’.

Whether Netanyahu is bluffing or not, the US has stationed two aircraft carrier battle fleets in the Persian Gulf and despite 17 US agencies reporting that Iran has not enriched uranium beyond 20% purity, below the 90% required for weapons development, US President Obama repeats: ‘all options are on the table’, this is Iran’s ‘last chance’, there are ‘red lines’ which Iran must not cross or there will be war. Israel has not mounted a major military offensive without US approval since Suez in 1956 and is unlikely to do so now.

The US, Israel and the six Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) members, led by Saudi Arabia, seek to enfeeble Iran, which they view as challenging their regional dominance. The GCC backing for the forces opposed to the Syrian government also targets Iran, Syria’s ally. In April the GCC condemned as ‘provocative’ Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s visit to one of three islands close to the Strait of Hormuz. These islands were taken by Iran in 1971, when British forces withdrew from the region. Possession is disputed by the United Arab Emirates, a GCC country. They are strategically vital: approximately 40% of the world’s ship-transported oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz. At the end of April the Saudi foreign minister said that the Gulf States would increase their co-ordination of foreign policy, directed against Iran, and conduct joint military manoeuvres.

What the former and current Israeli military chiefs understand is that whether Netanyahu is bluffing or not, real danger is at hand – and it is not just from Israel.

Russia has put its forces near the Caspian Sea on alert for a US-Israeli attack on Iran. Russia views Iran as an ally. Israel is reported to have gained access to air bases in Azerbaijan that could be used to attack Iran.

Even though the European Union embargo on Iranian oil does not come into full effect until July, sanctions are beginning to hurt Iran: oil production is estimated to have fallen to a ten-year low, Iran is offering easy credit terms to induce buyers, the national currency has depreciated by 30% since December and inflation is officially 21.8%, but could actually be double this.

Talks on Iran’s nuclear programme with the P5+1 (US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) resumed in Baghdad on 23 May, with no agreement achieved other than to meet again in Moscow on 18 June. The US and Britain will maintain pressure on Iran, whatever it may offer as guarantees over its uranium enrichment in exchange for the easing of sanctions. For the imperialists the objective is regime change in Iran and, as with Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, Iran’s nuclear programme serves as pretext for attacking it.

Hands off Iran!

Trevor Rayne

Iran: threat after threat /FRFI 226 Apr/May 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 226 April/May 2012

Israel says it will not notify the US before striking Iran’s nuclear facilities. Rival US Republican Party presidential candidates vie to utter the most bellicose statements. President Obama says the US will ‘use all elements of American power’ to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapon and British Foreign Secretary Hague said ruling out military force against Iran would be ‘irresponsible’. The air is thick with threats; danger is at hand.

Israel’s threats serve to pressurise other countries to impose harsher sanctions on Iran and to distract from its attacks on Gaza and settlement expansion programme. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Cooperation Council countries urge the US to attack Iran, while supporting fundamentalist groups in Libya, Syria and Iraq. Destabilising Syria is tied to the US and European objective of regime change in Iran. Imperialism is turning the Middle East and North Africa into a battle zone where local proxies are mobilised to try and subordinate the region.

The US has stationed two aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and the US Air Force has sent plans for attacking Iran to the US President. On 15 February Iran told the European Union that it was willing to resume talks on its nuclear programme but also announced that it had increased the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges. On 17 February two Iranian warships passed through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean, for only the second time since the 1979 revolution. They docked in the Syrian port of Tartus. Tartus is being renovated by Russia and is staffed by Russian naval personnel. By the end of 2012 it will berth heavy Russian warships. Russian President Putin said, ‘Russia is worried about the growing threat of a strike on Iran ... If it happens, the consequences will be truly catastrophic. The real scale is impossible to imagine.’ Brazil’s foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, told the UN that an attack on Iran by Israel or the US would be ‘contrary to international law’ – a statement ignored by the millionaires’ media.

Interviewed by the Daily Telegraph Hague said that, ‘If [the Iranians] obtain nuclear weapons capability, other nations across the Middle East will want to develop nuclear weapons’ and he warned of a ‘new cold war’. What hypocrisy: one Middle Eastern nation, Israel, already has nuclear weapons and arms sales to the Middle East increased 17% between 2002-2006 and 2007-2011, with the US and Britain the biggest arms suppliers. On 20 February Parliament debated a motion put by Conservative MP John Baron opposing an attack on Iran. Malcolm Rifkind, Conservative chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, proposed an amendment leaving ‘all options on the table’ for dealing with Iran. This was passed with cross-party agreement with just six MPs voting against. The great majority of Labour MPs voted for the amendment.

The full range of sanctions passed by the US and EU against Iran will not come into effect until July. Within Iran sanctions are already having an impact: the price of rice has doubled in recent months, inflation is officially 22.5% and youth unemployment 26%. However, one Iranian official described the sanctions as a ‘strategic blunder’. Iran possesses the world’s third largest oil reserves and second largest natural gas reserves. Sanctions could remove 2.5 million barrels of Iranian oil a day from world markets, if successful. Oil prices have risen 12% in two months on fears of what sanctions and threats against Iran could lead to. Higher oil prices compensate Iran for reduced sales. China buys 22% of Iran’s oil and India 12%. Both countries have said that they will not join the anti-Iranian camp and that they will continue buying Iranian oil. What will the US and EU do? Impose sanctions on Chinese banks? (Granma International 22 January 2012).

In April the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany will resume talks with Iran – which denies that it is building a nuclear weapon. The imperialists may continue fabricating evidence of Iranian nuclear intentions, rather than reach a deal, in their determination to force regime change. The role of socialists in Britain must be first and foremost to oppose the machinations of the British ruling class. Hands off Iran!

Trevor Rayne