Christian Le Miere: An exercise in deterrence

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By Christian Le Miere, Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security

Although the Shangri-La Dialogue will hold much of the Institute’s – and international – attention over the coming week, the IISS will remain active on other issues.

Yesterday, the IISS’ Bahrain office held the NATO Gulf Strategic Dialogue, bringing together a range of practitioners and academics, and in just under a week the Geo-Economics and Strategy Programme will run a seminar on Oil, Gas and Maritime Security.

The timing of these two sessions is not entirely coincidental. Just last week, the US Navy wrapped up its second annual two-week International Mine Counter-Measures Exercise (IMCMEX). Involving participants from 41 different countries, the exercises are essentially a form of deterrent diplomacy.

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The future of oil

The increase in US oil and natural gas production could have a dramatic effect on world energy markets, according to Dr Pierre Noel, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Senior Fellow for Economic and Energy Security at IISS–Asia.

Dr Noel appeared on CNN yesterday to discuss the future of the global oil market, the effect of sanctions against Iran, and new figures released by the International Energy Agency indicating increased oil and gas production in the United States.

‘US unconventional liquid supply is growing by a million barrels a day each year, which has the potential to revive the growth of non-OPEC supplies,’ he explained. The effect on future oil prices however is unclear, and ‘depends on the supply–demand balance, and it is very difficult to know what’s ahead of us’, he said.

‘Demand is growing rapidly in emerging economies: China, India but also Southeast Asia – so you may actually need this rise in unconventional supply, especially if other parts of the supply picture disappoint.’ US and EU sanctions against Iran, for example, might also make this unconventional supply a necessity.

Dr Noel discussed the effect the sanctions might have on the Iranian presidential elections in June. He explained that the latest round of sanctions were ‘working’ – meaning that the situation was getting harder for the Iranian population – but that this would not necessarily mean the public would choose a leader more open to engaging with the West. ‘The risk that I see politically is that a larger and larger share of the population will actually reward a politician tempted by a hardening of the Iranian position, rather than a softening,’ he said.

He also discussed the security impact that a hard-line Iranian position would have on the region,  explaining that Iran’s neighbours were worried about the connection between Iran and the crisis in Syria. ‘I think the governments in this part of the world see the future as a very risky one geopolitically,’ he added.

Watch the video.

For more on this topic, watch the IISS’s May 15 panel discussion on the future of the Middle East oil environment, and read the IISS Strategic Comment on the United States’ falling need for foreign oil.


Iran’s Syria policy hurts its regional popularity

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By Dina Esfandiary, Research Associate, Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme and Islam Al Tayeb, Research Analyst, IISS-Middle East

These days, there are not many things that Arabs agree on. In fact, it may be fair to say they agree to disagree more often than not when it comes to regional policy. But Iran, once the darling of the Arab Street, is finding both popular and government opinion turning against it. And at the heart of the matter lies official Iranian attitude towards sectarianism and the Syrian uprising.

For years, Iran, and especially Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, enjoyed the unwavering support of the Arab general public, especially following the 2006 war in Lebanon. Many perceived Iran as the outspoken guardian of the Muslim world; a country that had the guts to oppose compromise in the Arab-Israeli peace process and support Hizbullah in its struggle against Israel. But this is no longer the case, and Iran knows it.

So the Iranian regime is trying to regain some positive influence. It’s partly why Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was in Amman, Jordan, recently to meet Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and King Abdullah II. Jordan’s government welcomed the opportunity to discuss Syria with their Iranian counterparts. But the response was different in Parliament: Bassam al-Manaseer, chairman of the Arab and Foreign Relations Committee of the Jordanian Parliament, called the visit ‘unwelcomed’ and expressed his concerns over ‘suspicious’ Iranian activities in the region.

Read the full article in the Atlantic


Rafsanjani, the accidental reformist

Rafsanjani with Khomenei and Khamenei in background

By Mona Moussavi, Editorial assistant

This year’s Iranian presidential election race got a lot more interesting last Saturday when former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani registered his candidacy just minutes before the deadline.

The move transforms the race to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who cannot stand in June’s poll after serving two full terms. Rafsanjani has a turbulent relationship with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. And despite being a conservative, he is attractive to reformers as a relative moderate in contemporary Iran.

Attention is now on Khamenei to see how he responds. The more than 600 candidates who have registered to run must all be vetted by the Guardian Council. Khamenei holds sway over the council, which comprises six clergymen directly appointed by the supreme leader, and six jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary (himself appointed by the supreme leader).

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Israeli air strikes add to fog of Syrian war

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By Emile Hokayem, Senior Fellow for Regional Security, IISS-Middle East

Israel’s recent air strikes on Syria were intended as a warning to both Syria and Iran, and to stop weapons falling into Hizbullah’s hands – but they have increased the likelihood of a regional conflict.

Last week, the Israeli air force struck two targets inside Syrian territory. The first seems to have been a shipment of surface-to-surface missiles destined for the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah (the Fateh-110 is more accurate than anything Hizbullah is known to currently possess, and with a 300-kilometre range has much of Israel within its reach). The second was a major research centre and important storage facility near Damascus, which is administered by units of the elite Republican Guard. Israel had already struck this installation – the Centre of Scientific Studies and Research in Jamraya – in January, allegedly destroying shipments of anti-aircraft missiles destined for Hizbullah.

These strikes add to an already complex political and military landscape in Syria. The Assad regime has deployed its full arsenal of conventional capabilities against the Syrian rebels – and may have even used chemical weapons on a small scale. The rebels are consolidating their hold over much of Syria, but remain too ill-equipped and poorly organised to win the struggle on the battlefield.

The rise of Islamist and jihadi factions has further complicated the picture: better organised and funded, they often spearhead rebel attacks on key regime facilities across the country. They may eventually seize some of the regime’s advanced weaponry.

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Bushehr quake revives nuclear safety fears

Bushehr nuclear reactor Photo Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran

Bushehr nuclear reactor. Photo: Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran

By Michael Elleman, Senior Fellow for Regional Security Cooperation, IISS-Middle East

Gulf leaders have long been concerned that a serious accident at the Iranian nuclear power plant at Bushehr could expose their citizens to radiation. Bushehr’s location in an area of high seismic activity adds to public anxiety over the reactor’s safety. And on Tuesday, nerves were rattled when a magnitude 6.3 earthquake centred less than 100 kilometres from Bushehr killed at least 37 people, injured hundreds and destroyed homes. The quake was felt across the Gulf in Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain.

Officials tried to reassure observers. ‘The earthquake in no way affected the normal situation at the reactor,’ the Russian company that built the Bushehr reactor, Atomstroyexport, told news agency RIA Novosti. ‘Personnel continue to work in the normal regime and radiation levels are fully within the norm.’ Mahmoud Jafari, a project manager at the plant, insisted to Iranian state media that the quake ‘didn’t create any complications’.

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Controversy in the pipeline

Iran-Pakistan Pipeline Photo Office of the Iranian President

By Dr Pierre Noel, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Senior Fellow for Economic and Energy Security

Last week, the presidents of Iran and Pakistan inaugurated the final leg of a controversial pipeline enabling Iran to export gas to energy-hungry Pakistan. The US, which has long opposed the much-delayed project, is warning that if it ‘actually goes forward’ the pipeline could breach the sanctions regime against Iran’s nuclear programme and trigger US sanctions against Pakistan.

China’s partial funding of the pipeline complicates the geopolitical implications of the deal.

Lengthy power blackouts are a regular occurrence in Pakistan, causing street protests and undermining the economy. By December 2014, Iran and Pakistan hope to start delivering 21.5 million cubic metres of gas per day to Pakistan from Iran’s giant offshore South Pars field in the Persian Gulf. Islamabad plans to use Iranian gas to generate about 20% of its electricity.

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