There is more to Iran than meets the eye

Updated: 2012-02-03 08:06

By Op Rana (China Daily)

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There is more to Iran than meets the eye

The Arab League has withdrawn its observer mission from Syria because the violence in the country has not subsided. The West puts the blame squarely on the Bashar al-Assad government.

Syria has been in the headlines for some time now, the focus being on Bashar al-Assad after the fall of Muammar Gadhafi in Libya. It has shared the headlines, though, with the global financial crisis, which refuses to go away, and the eurozone and United States debt crises, which are an extension of the financial crisis.

Iran, in the meanwhile, has been in the news because of its nuclear program, which it claims is for peaceful civilian purposes and not for developing nuclear weapons, but the West will have none of it. To all intents and purposes, the Syrian crisis should be seen as a logical extension of the crisis created over Iran's nuclear program by the West, which makes the Western pressure on Syria a proxy war against Iran.

Iran's so-called nuclear issue is not of recent making. Nor is the reason - the good old black gold - despite the hoopla created by the West to the contrary.

The Middle East produces most of the petroleum, fueling the world economy, though there are other large oil exporters such as Russia, Venezuela and Nigeria. Oil, however, can be officially traded only in US dollar terms and that too at the London or New York oil exchanges. And therein lies the problem.

Some Middle East countries, especially Iran and Iraq (when Saddam Hussein was in power) understood and derided the Western stranglehold over them. To loosen this stranglehold, Iran announced in mid-2004 that it would set up an "Iranian oil bourse" to compete with the London and New York oil exchanges. The implications of an Iranian bourse succeeding in selling oil in non-dollar terms would have been profound on the financial world, especially on the hegemony of the greenback.

Washington understood that but preferred putting Iran off the radar for the time being, that is, not subjecting it to the same treatment as Iraq. The idea was to first deal with Iraq and then zero in on Iran. Now that the US is ensured of getting Iraq's oil, it is time for Iran to "fall in line". After all, the US consumes close to a quarter of the world's oil and has to ensure its steady supply to run its economy.

Syria fits into this jigsaw puzzle because it is considered close to Iran, for the Alawite minority dominates the Syrian government. The Alawites are a sect of Shi'ite Islam - and Shi'ites are in overwhelming majority in Iran. The ties between Iran and Syria are indeed strong. Their influence extends further west to Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, where Palestinians have been subjected to greater suffering just because Hamas is in power. The condition of Palestinians in the West Bank, ruled by Fatah, is not much better, though.

All this may appear too complicated to fathom. But Palestinians complete the jigsaw puzzle. Iran has the second largest natural gas reserves and the third largest oil reserves in the world, and vociferously backs the rights of the Palestinians to establish their own state. Like Iraq, Iran too is one of the oldest civilizations and home to people who value their freedom and dignity.

But Iranians' freedom to deal with their affairs to the best of their ability has been put to serious question by the presence of American, French and British warships and aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. Of course, Iran is being blamed for igniting the crisis by threatening to block the Gulf of Hormuz through which a majority of the oil tankers from and to the Middle East pass. But the situation we see in the Gulf today is certainly not only of Iran's making.

The US-led West has implemented its alternative plan by imposing more sanctions on the pretext of thwarting Iran's nuclear designs - when the real motive is to suffocate Iran. Had Iran buckled under pressure, the Syrian government would have collapsed under its own weight. Or, if the Syrian government had collapsed by now, Iran would have been easier to deal with.

Since neither of the two has happened, a US-led attack on Iran now seems threateningly possible - more so, because Israel has already read the riot act to Iran. The West doesn't want to believe Iran even after it has invited the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its nuclear facilities. Perhaps the West wants nothing less than complete submission from Iran, and only an attack on the country can ensure that.

Once Iran is attacked, the Palestinians will be pushed farther away from the picture. The sufferings of Iranians and Syrians will become mere news clips, just like those about their Iraqi and Afghan counterparts have become. And the West will be patting itself on the back for yet another "humanitarian and democratic mission".

The US doesn't buy Iranian oil. The European Union has decided to do the same and the rest of the world has been told to follow suit. Any bank transacting oil deals with Iran will now be blacklisted in the financial market.

This will make things extremely difficult for countries like China, Japan and India, which import a major part of their oil from Iran.

Therefore, it is important that they find ways to secure their supplies from Iran. India has proposed something unique: to pay for Iranian oil in gold. As novel as it may sound, the idea is simply unsustainable.

As an alternative, however, Iranian oil can be exchanged for the Chinese yuan, Japanese yen or the Indian rupee by three of Iran's largest oil importers. And for that to happen, at least China and India (and hopefully, Japan and South Korea) have to join hands and send out a clear signal to the West that they don't want another war in the Middle East. And they can count on Russia's support for that.

The author is a senior editor with China Daily.

(China Daily 02/03/2012 page9)