Theocracies tend to project their power and influence in the strangest ways. From local mystic rituals to get the natives onside, to subtle proselytising, to overt attempts to convert what my children would describe as “randomers”.
When I was a little boy, Ireland was a theocracy. We sent priests and nuns out to convert “randomers” and on Good Friday, the holiest day on the calendar and possibly the most boring day in the entire year, everything was closed, TV was awful and many of my mates were taken on sanctimonious pilgrimages by the grannies to do the stations.
It was as if we’d crucified the man himself and had to repent there and then. I hated it – all that crucifix-kissing and the total absence of joy. In fact, it was the most un-Irish of all days. That much was clear even to a six-year-old.
Thankfully, this country isn’t a theocracy any more (although there are some relics of the past still clinging on), and Ireland on Good Friday has ceased to resemble an ecclesiastical post-apocalypse wasteland.
However, this Easter, a proper theocracy is making the news. That theocracy is Iran.
The nuclear deal it signed in Switzerland last Thursday will have enormous ramifications for the politics of the Middle East and, via the price of petrol, significant consequences for the global economy. This is significant news.
Just to put it in context, when Israel and Saudi Arabia are on the same side opposing something, you know it is a big deal. For the past few years, there has been an odd alliance of the pro-settler Israeli right wing and the Taliban-financing extreme Wahhabi mullahs who run Saudi Arabia. How could this be?
Israel and Saudi Arabia are united by a mutual loathing of Iran. The Israelis hate Iran because (a) Iran constantly threatens to destroy Israel, even though it has not got the means to do this, and (b) Iran finances and arms Hezbollah in south Lebanon and has an on-off relationship with Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank. These days, Hamas is closer to Qatar than Iran, but that could change.
Iran also supports the Assad regime in Syria, and is pretty much the dominant external influence in Iraq.
For Saudi Arabia, the issue is sectarian. The Saudis, as Sunni Muslims, see themselves as the real leaders of Islam in the region.
The Iranians, on the other hand, are Shia; and the Saudis see them as a major threat to Saudi hegemony. The military action in Yemen, which kicked off this week led by the Saudis, is not about Yemen, but is about limiting Iranian influence in the region.
Therefore, anything that brings Iran in from the cold – such as the end of sanctions announced on Friday in return for the end to Iran’s nuclear program – can only strengthen Iran’s economy, and this scares Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Those two countries take the view that if a weakened Iran, enfeebled by years of sanctions can have so much influence in the region, what type of influence will a strengthened Iran have?
Iran is, after all, Russia’s ally in the region, but America and Obama are betting on something much bigger. It seems to me that, after the disastrous occupation of Iraq, the US no longer has the stomach for policing the region.
If it wants to control Sunni groups such as Isis, it needs Iran to be on its side on the ground.
The risk for Saudi and Israel is that this détente will not neuter Iran’s regional ambitions, but bolster them.
The US is gambling that a normalised Iran with an improving economy will become easier to deal with. The operating model for Obama is the 1973 visit of Richard Nixon to China, where the normalising of relations between the US and China pushed China onto a more capitalist road.
If this were to happen, the US would have an ally in the region that has influence in the Shia Muslim world, as opposed to having only Sunni Muslim allies like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Turkey.
For Iran, the commercial prize is enormous.
It holds the world’s fourth-largest proved crude oil reserves and the world’s second-largest natural gas reserves. Despite these abundant reserves, Iran’s oil production has substantially declined over the past few years and the growth of natural gas production has slowed. Sanctions have profoundly affected Iran’s energy sector.
A Russian friend of mine who does business in Iran – the Russians have been Iran’s friends since 1979 – described to me the hassle his company gets every week because it trades with Iran.
Because Iran could not get its hands on the latest technology in the oil business, it produces far less than it should, and of course it can’t export oil.
Despite this, Iran ranks among the world’s top ten oil producers and top five natural gas producers. Iran produced 3.2 million barrels per day (bbl/d) of petroleum and other liquids in 2013, and more than 5.6 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of dry natural gas in 2012.
I spend quite a bit of time in the Gulf, and have witnessed that the fear of Shia Iran in the Sunni emirates is heightened by proximity – it is just across the sea. You will not get a straight answer from anyone about Iran, but it is very clear that the United Arab Emirates is on the side of Saudi Arabia, and that there is a sense of betrayal among the Gulf states which has been triggered by the US’s latest moves.
When you are atop the glittering skyscrapers edging the beaches of Dubai, you look out at the Straits of Hormuz towards the south-eastern coast of Iran. This is the most important route for oil exports from Iran and other Persian Gulf countries.
At its narrowest point, the strait is 21 miles wide, yet an estimated 17 million bbl/d of crude oil and oil products flowed through it in 2013 (roughly one-third of all seaborne traded oil and almost 20 per cent of oil produced globally).
It is not hard to see what’s at stake with the opening of Iran.
Despite recent high prices, Iran’s oil production is collapsing because of sanctions. According to the IMF, Iran’s oil and natural gas export revenue was $118 billion in 2012, dropped by 47 per cent to $63 billion in 2013, and kept falling last year. Iran’s natural gas exports have actually increased slightly over the past few years, but it only exports a small amount.
Imagine what opening western markets will do to Iran’s economy. Imagine what this massive new supply will do to oil prices. It is highly likely that oil prices will remain low for some time because of Iran’s nuclear deal, but only if economics alone determines its price. But we know that it doesn’t; politics does.
As we focus on Jerusalem today and celebrate Jesus Christ, a prophet admired by both Muslims and Jews, the big question is whether a stronger Iran means a safer Middle East. What do you think?
Ireland was never a theocracy, thats a slur. It was a liberal democracy strongly influenced by Catholicism.
And given the opposition to Iran, from the wealthy Emirati states and the nutty US neo cons, Iran is in from the cold until the next Republican win in the US, whereupon it gets bombed.
You’re ignoring the biggest threat to ME peace. as long as an expansionist Israel is left free to terrorise the occupied Palestinians as well as launching occasional wars and bombing runs against Lebanon & Syria, the region will not see peace. A stronger Iran is largely irrelevant to the issue. It’s aid to Hezbollah is really the only deterrent it has to the Israelis and its absurb to try match Iran’s foreign policy to the unending belligerence & warmongering of the Western powers in the region.
“It is highly likely that oil prices will remain low for some time because of Iran’s nuclear deal, but only if economics alone determines its price. But we know that it dosen’t; politics does” Thank god you fired your ghost writer. “As we focus on Jerusalem today and celebrate Jesus Christ, a prophet admired by both Muslims and Jews, the big question is whether a stronger Iran means a safer Middle East. What do you think?” Of course it does. It would act as a real deterrent to Israel. For example; Iran hasn’t invaded anyone in 214 years as for… Read more »
Jew haters everywhere will applaud the Muslim in Chief and John Ketchup Kerry for allowing these unstustworthy throwbacks to continue to enrich weapons grade uranium in underground centerfuges. I for one dont trust the totally corrupt Iranian mullah regime of terror. I think Isreal should bomb the centrifuges that exist there right now. Iran, Tehran, is not a legetimate government on any level.
Its news to me that Jesus is a prophet admired by the Jews. Jews of the time asked for a murderer called Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be crucified.
As for those funny muslims, they believe he did not die on the cross, that he came down from it just in time, survived and sent some other lad up there, who got killed. Gas fellas those Muslims.
The question is. Will Iran sell its oil in currencies other than the US Petro dollar. Because of its threat to do so were the reasons sanctions were applied. The US dare not attack Iran as it did every other challenger to it dollar hegemony. Both Libya and Iraq were destroyed for this and their leaders killed. Iran is protected by Russia/China. The international significance of the lifting of sanctions is yet to be seen. The real reason is obscured by the smoke of propaganda. Perhaps the destruction of the US currency will be delayed a little longer. The US… Read more »
Israel and the Saudis are united in opposition to Arab nationalism. In the case of the Saudis specifically secular Arab nationalism. In the case of Israel any independent Arab nations. In either case, independent secular Arab nations will be unlikely to support the tyrannical Saudi monarchy or the expansionist and genocidal Israeli state. The combined US intelligence estimates of Iranian nuclear capacity and policy has for the past two decades been that Iran has no nuclear weapons programs, nor any policy to develop them. What goes on in the US Congress and the Knesset and in the Western media cartel… Read more »
An interesting questions comes to the fore after reading David’s article: ‘whether a stronger Iran means a safer Middle East’. David is spot on when he notices that politics rather than economics determine oil prices. So in order to answer David’s question one has to ask oneself another question: who is are the winners and losers from the US-Iran deal? Well, the two obvious losers are Israel and Saudi Arabia, the less obvious is Russia (and their lesser allies), at least short term. Saudi Arabia put much effort to keep low oil prices (although we do not know what is… Read more »
It’s funny how people would dismiss as total speculation specific deals between governments and specific laws without any knowledge about it. To assess it as a total speculation you would need to know something about German constitution, German international treaties or German laws regarding or declarations of Chancellor Merkel regarding Polish Western territories on various CDU meetings. Come back to me Adam with some intelligent comment when you actually know something about it. As to the link, well of course it is a speculation and maybe Henry Kissinger is getting senile. But when the former National Security Advisor says something… Read more »
John Kerry is NOT a Henry Kissinger. Kerry got the job because Hillary Clinton became a PR disaster, after the Libyan and IS mess. A new face was provide an indicator that things had changed. Kerry has been searched for months for a policy success. His sanctimonious tendency is enduring a long dry spell of vindication. If he gets this he can continue along his ways through another tow years of blunders. Iran should be desperate for a deal. Actually it isn’t. It has the support of India and Russia, even if it gets no deal. Because both India and… Read more »
I do look at your blog from time to time and in my opinion describing Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara as ‘another brave freedom fighter’ is – I am looking for a word that is not antagonizing – premature (that he was a freedom fighter, not that he was not brave). Although he might have been brave, he was probably more cruel than brave, killing children prisoners like Ariel Lima. So my worry is that if you get Che Guevara character so wrong (setting up concentration camps and freedom fight?), maybe it is rash to dismiss something as sheer speculation. You say… Read more »
Ireland is in fact more of a Theocracy now that it was decades ago when the RC supposedly, but didnt, ruled Ireland. Now instead of priests reading people from the altar, we have Secular High Priests and High Priestesses deciding how people should think, act and talk. New geneders are to be added on, the Constitution changed and so called Hunabn Rights Organisations are little more than fronts for the Labour Party Agenda. The Irish Times has become little more than Labour’s Propoganda paper.
TThere is another point about Iran that makes them different in the mid east. It is often not mentioned, ignored or glossed over.
Iranians are not Semites. They are Indo European. As such they think of themselves as different to the inhabitants of the Middle East. They say they are definitely NOT Arabic!!
This by itself sets them apart not withstanding religious beliefs.
I terms of discussions of world events and religious influnces it should not be forgotten the Greece and Russia both celebrate the Greek Orthodox Christian Church.
OPEC: Iran officials in Beijing to discuss oil: Reuters cited sources who said an Iranian delegation is in Beijing this week to push for more oil sales and discuss Chinese oil and gas investments in Iran. The article noted China is Iran’s largest trade partner and oil client, having bought roughly half of Iran’s total crude exports since 2012. Chinese firms have stalled or scaled back activities in Iran since around 2010, fearful that sanctions from Washington would hurt their businesses in the US. Iran nuclear deal primes market for rising oil exports: The FT highlighted concerns that the nuclear… Read more »
That being the case, the current stock market has – by far – the highest p/e ratio in history and is therefore – by far – the most over-valued in history. I just wish highly visible market participants like Julian Robertson or Marc Faber or Peter Schiff would reiterate the facts I just presented. Because currently EVERYONE who is using the commonly cited comparison metrics is using fraudulent numbers.
Off topic but are we in for a crash landing?
There is so much very good information by many contributors and some in the article itself. I have to say this first of all. I learned a lot in the comments about India supporting Iran. I had not thought that and need to follow that up. I also learned a lot in the comments by Tony Brogan (I think) on China and how much oil it was buying from Iran. And I think it was David who said that even with the sanctions etc. Iran still stands in the top ten oil exporters. That really did surprise me. What a… Read more »
Recently I watched some you tube videos by Ruth R. Wisse. They are very good and google them under “wisse antisemitism”. Please consider doing this if you wish to understand what is happening in today’s world. Politically I am not the same as Wisse but I take things of value from many people and she is very good indeed. I am also Reading an interview article with a Bill Kristol. I think he is a NeoCon This raises a quandary that present superficial lefts cannot comprehend. For me I do hate the NeoCons but in this interview I am listening… Read more »
There is nothing positive about Iran “coming in out of the cold”…unless and until they shed their 600AD ideologies. The student uprisings a few years ago highlighted a desire to join the rest of us in the modern world, politically, socially, equality etc… this isn’t rocket science….why the hell do they need a nuclear program when they’re sitting on so much oil. And people can complain about Israel all they want, but what they’ve accomplished in 68yrs of existence is amazing…the rest of the middle east should have been taking notes. I love your articles David, but you’re a little… Read more »
“It was as if we’d crucified the man himself and had to repent there and then. I hated it – all that crucifix-kissing and the total absence of joy. In fact, it was the most un-Irish of all days. That much was clear even to a six-year-old.” I think you are wrong when you say it was the most un-irish of all days. Whether we like it or not catholicism is ingrained in irish culture and history. Yes we went overboard on it when we got independance and gave it too much power. But you cannot now say that it… Read more »