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Posts from the ‘Middle East’ Category

Summer Pursuits: Iran

Part 2: Iran’s Nuclear Deal: Road to Peace or Road to War?

The long protracted Iranian deal over nuclear development restrictions coupled with sanction lifting between Iran and the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely the US, China, France, the UK, Russia plus Germany (G5+1), has been reached. It was announced on the 14th July 2015 to the world by both the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and US President Barack Obama to jubilation in Tehran and sharp criticism in the US and unsurprisingly Israel.

Basically, the nuclear deal reduces the number of Iranian centrifuges by 66%. It places bans on uranium enrichment at key facilities, and limits further research and development (CNN, 2015). More complicated and where difficulties are sure to arise are with the inspections of nuclear facilities and military bases, Iran needs to agree to them beforehand, and if conditions are violated economic sanctions, which are to be lifted as part of the deal, will be reapplied.

The potentially contentious issue of inspections and access to military bases, reminiscent of the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq before the 2003 US-led invasion, was predicated by a remark from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to senior Iranian politicians, one whom relayed the story to an FT journalist, recalling when Iraq attacked Iran in 1984 they were unprepared and had to scrounge missiles from other countries like Libya and this has not been forgotten by the Iranian leadership.

It is why any future granting any inspections to its military sites, under the nuclear agreement, would be a major achievement for Iran and Group 5+1 for garnering the most co-operation since the 1979 revolution changed Iran’s relationship with the West.

Yet achieving agreements to access each military base, research or nuclear facility will remain a point of contention whether as not Iran can bear to open its military and industrial secrets to scrutiny, and reliving a past humiliation under the gaze of the Great Satan (FT, 1980’s War, 2015). The country wants to both defend itself and develop its capabilities against its perceived enemies to avoid annihilation or invasion as befell its neighbours, Iraq and Afghanistan, remains potent.

Therefore, credit is due to the Group 5+1 group to achieve these concessions under the announced deal with Iran, the negotiations were headed by US Senator John Kerry and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif with presidential backing. However, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gets the final say on entry to the military bases.

What wider issues will make him allow inspectors in and the deal to remain intact including lifting trading sanctions?

This has much to do with the large young population wanting to take part in the wider world as seen in the democracy demonstrations in recent years, especially after the 2011 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Economist magazine’s front cover for 18th-24th July 2015, “Hiyatollah” showing Ayatollah Ali Khamenei giving a peace sign, wearing a CND badge and sunglasses is an irreverent poke at the difficulties ahead yet reflecting the opportunity that is presented, certainly initially, with this historic deal (Economist, 2015).

Predictably Israel is concerned, and understandably, as they face a threat of annihilation from Iran and its satellite groups of Hezbollah and Hamas, and their support of the Assad Regime in Syria along with Russia too (see summer pursuits part.1).Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tweet of the deal being,” a historic mistake” underscores the frustration as its announcement.

Saudi Arabia has misgivings too as Iran is a religious and regional political rival with vast oil supplies, the proxy war in Yemen is a manifestation of these tensions. The US Congress in both houses and parties will fight this deal all the way through its approval stages. In the US memories remain fraught of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979-81 and trust of Iranian motives is low. It will take some real progress on inspections to convince the US that Iranian motives are genuine and have changed to participatory state from pariah.

Where’s the hope and motivation then to make these changes in behaviour?

The Theocracy and its Republican Guard Corps (IRGC) have more to lose than regional wars as the burgeoning young population want to experience not only more democracy but also its lifestyle, media and fashions. Many Iranians, although not all, has a different revolutionary zeal from 1979 which created the Sh’ite regime, one of pleasure and for shared experience and travelling to the West. An article in the FT magazine on the 30/31st May 2015 highlights my thoughts of a country looking to move away from theocracy, if theocrats and IRGC allow it (FT Magazine, 2015).

Its economy needs investment for its infrastructure especially its oil and energy sectors and to provide the opportunities it requires after years of crippling sanctions. Iran certainly has the cultural and historical heritage to have a burgeoning tourist industry. Iranian oil and its effects on production levels and global prices will affect the global oil and gas industries and have wider economic impacts on inflation and global demand in the months ahead after this historic deal.

Unhelpfully, the regime will spend some of the proceeds of sanction lifting on supporting its armed satellite forces which will then be lost to the ravages of war in places like Syria until a peace of sorts, inevitably involving Iran’s co-operation, for the containment of ISIS occurs and elsewhere where its influence is present (see summer pursuits part.1). This is a bullet worth biting to achieve a bigger benefit.

The shortcomings of the regime remain yet not to give this an opportunity to flourish would just lead to further regional tensions and wars which would hamstring and hold back (or even utterly destroy) a large chunk of the Iranian population keen to break out of its pariah status. Further wider regional benefits would follow if the deal can remain intact and normal diplomacy and trade was achieved.

I think President Rouhani and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei know this and keeping their theocracy intact as much as possible in the long run is better than losing it through changes in demographics and the ravages of time. For the EU and the US it’s an export market in a world of low or lowering growth prospects (e.g. China).

For President Obama this will be his foreign policy legacy if it holds, for Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East –let’s see and hope for the best for a better behaved Iran.


Note: The August blog-will look at UK construction, housing, and infrastructure prospects with a comment on architecture.

Further reading and references:

Cable News Network; (2015); “Landmark Deal Reached on Iran Nuclear Program”, by J. Mullen & N. Robertson, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Website accessed 19th July 2015:

Economist Newspaper; (2015); “Hiyatollah!,” Front Cover, The Economist Newspaper Limited, London UK. Website accessed 22nd July 2015:

Economist Newspaper; (2015);“ Hiyatollah! The nuclear deal with Iran is better than the alternatives—war or no deal at all”, Leader, The Economist Newspaper Limited, London UK. Website accessed 22nd July 2015:

Financial Times; (2015); “Hurdle in Iran Nuclear Talks Harks Back to 1980s war with Iraq”, by Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Financial Times Ltd, London UK. Website accessed 25th June 2015:

Financial Times; (2015); “An Iran Deal That is both Historic and Imperfect,” by Editorial, Financial Times Ltd, London UK. Website accessed 25th June 2015:

FT Magazine; (2015);“Iran’s Generation Normal’, by Roula Khalaf, Financial Times Ltd, London UK. Website accessed 22nd July 2015:


Summer Pursuits: Syrian Kurds

Part 1: Opening Corridors and Pathways to Peace in the Middle East: Territorial Gains In Syria & Nuclear Agreement Reached In Iran.

With a disaster in Tunisia creating yet more despair.

On Monday 15th June the Syrian Kurdish YPG led forces captured the strategic town of Tel Abayd long held by the jihadi forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) aided by US-led coalition airstrikes. I heard about this on the Tuesday 16th from a Kurdish source viewing the victory as a game changer in the territorial battles in Syria and a step towards self-rule for Kurds or in the fullness of time a Kurdish state.

The YPG (People’s Protection Units), appear to western observers as being the best ground force opposing ISIS in Syria. They secured coalition backing when they won Kobane in 2014 and continuing successes should strengthen their position in future political developments in Syria which concerns some Arabs and Turks alike. The YPG is primarily a military group that co-operates with the YPD (the Kurdish Democratic Union) which is a Syrian Kurdish political party. The YPG/YPD has historic links to Turkey’s Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). A group still considered by Turkey, also intriguingly, the EU and US as a terrorist group.

In opposition to the Kurds there’s the myriad of groupings of ISIS and al Qa’eda affiliates such as al Nursa, plus the Assad regime and their allies such as Iranian backed Lebanese based Shi’ite Hezbollah involved in the multi-ethnic, multi-factional war raging in Syria and much of Iraq. Sadly, its causes and influences are spreading further across the Islamic world where recent tragic events in Tunisia bear brutal witness with 38 tourists shot on the beach front, 30 of whom were British (Telegraph, 2015).

Tunisia was recovering from its political struggles of the 2011 Arab Spring which has been its only success story to date. Its government and economy will now need help after the attack in Sousse and in March 2015 at the Bardo Museum in Tunis (Guardian, 2015). Assistance from international agencies to support its tourist industry and develop its security apparatus should be seen as important in winning both the military and political aspects of the wider regional conflicts. It’s international aid worth giving otherwise the terrorists win.

The Kurdish corridor forming in Northern Syria, covering the cantons of Cizire, Tal Abyad, Kobane and the smaller still separated Efrin by IS controlled Jarablus, is “a shift in dynamics that is permanent,” considers Michael Stephens of the Royal United Services in regard to future talks (FT,2015). Unfortunately, there’s more territorial conflict to follow before future talks can begin.

Both my source and news reports speculate that Kurdish forces may push to secure the towns of Jarablus and Azaz, mixed Arab-Kurdish areas west of Kobane, hopefully linking up with Kurdish canton Efrin. More ambitiously pushing south to engage with IS in their stronghold of Raqqa. What’s better required would be a broader well-backed force of the YPG and Syrian Arabs with support from Turkey, gaining local support as it advances with continue air support from the coalition to subdue ISIS forces and pacify local factions (of Islamist rebels) creating an enduring resolution on the ground.

Towards this end will require conclusive negotiations between the various factions against ISIS and the Assad Regime. Leading to and encouraging bold and conciliatory talks with the Assad Regime/Hezbollah to create something akin to that achieved in Bosnia-Herzegovina after the 1992-95 civil war with the Daytona agreement.

It’s a tall order, of course, but worth pursuing as Bosnia at the time was considered an intractable mess. The maps are even being to resemble each other (Economist, 2015; Wikipedia, 2015).

Interestingly with ISIS controlling fuel supply routes north-to-south and fuel prices rising sharply petrol smuggling thrives amongst rival factions. The Syrian Kurdish forces get supplied from Kurdistan in Northern Iraq along routes under their control or through southern Turkey. This trade and movement of fuel contains a kernel of hope that if deals can be struck for fuel needs. Then by other trade incentives, can co-operation and mutual trust be mustered over time to quell the violence and allow economic activity to recover and lives rebuilt?

Finally, with the Kurdish corridor running along Turkey’s southern border unnerving President Erdogan enough to say he would,” never allow the establishment of a Kurdish state in northern Syria,” highlights Turkey’s concerns over Kurdish self-rule or a state for themselves (Economist, 2015). The Kurdish corridor helps stop supply and communication lines for foreign jihadi forces coming in to Syria from Turkey.

Kurds accuse Mr Erdogan of tacitly supporting IS, although the jihadists are a concern for Turkey too who support other rebel groups in the fight against the Assad regime in Syria along with Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Turkey needs to build an alliance with someone to protect its porous borders from mass infiltration. Who they choose is vital to quell the hatred and pacify local populations to build a pathway to peace.

If it holds, the Kurdish corridor in northern Syria could be a building block for future negotiations for Kurdish autonomy perhaps in a Balkanised Syria.

In a wider geo-political context the nuclear restricting -sanction lifting deal between Iran and the grouping of the US, China, UK, France, Russia and Germany raises both hopes and fears from all sides for a change in the behaviour and prospects for Iran as a regional powerbroker to use its influence in Syria to gain a wider peace although the pathway here remains pitted with potholes and boulders-please read summer pursuits 2 for further comment and further reading links.


References and further reading-

Economist; (2015); “Drawing in the Neighbours”, The Economist Newspaper Ltd, London, UK. Website accessed 18th July 2015:

Financial Times Ltd; (2015); “YPG’s Tel Abyad victory changes the game for Syria’s Kurds”, by E. Solomon, G. Dyer and P. Zalewski, Financial Times Ltd, London, UK. Website accessed: 17th June 2015.

Guardian News and Media Ltd; (2015); “The Guardian view on the killings in Tunisia: the Arab spring’s only success needs support,” by Editorial; Guardian News and Media Ltd, London, UK. Website accessed: 18th July 2015:

Telegraph Media Group Limited; (2015); “Tunisia attack: Only one weapon was ‘used to kill the terror attack victims’ – as it happened July 1”, Telegraph Media Group Ltd, London, UK. Website accessed: 18th July 2015:

Wikipedia; (2015); “Daytona Agreement”, Wikipedia Foundation Inc. Website accessed 18th July 2015:


Down and Up the Markets Go, Eurozone Sucks and Middle East Blows

Where are we headed is the question?

Will oil be the issue of 2015 or Eurozone deflation?

There’s been some volatility in recent months for financial markets were the VIX index, referred to as the fear index for markets, showed larger peaks appearing as investor concerns rose over issues like the ending of QE in the US, weak Eurozone demand or Russian actions over the Ukraine and more over.
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Will the Cradle of Civilisation Ever Recover its Illustrious Past: US Starts Bombing Iraq to Rid the Region of the Islamic State.

Once again the US Air Force has commenced a bombing campaign in Iraq. This time in support of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting in north western Iraq against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (now simply called IS). The RAF sent Tornado fighter bombers to conduct surveillance missions with a combat role now beginning.
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How To Do It and How Not: Peaceful Separation or A Changed Union for The UK Opposed to Chaos in The Middle East and Despicable Actions in Ukraine.

The friendly Commonwealth Games are underway in Glasgow. The Test Series between former British colony and now Commonwealth partner India continues in Southampton in Hampshire. The Golf Open and Wimbledon Tennis Championships are already past. The UK is enjoying some pleasant summer weather along with economic growth and GDP finally back above 2008 levels (though not per capita).
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