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UNITED STATES – IRAN US military pressure increasing in the Persian Gulf – Asia
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US military pressure increasing in the Persian Gulf
by Maurizio d’Orlando
Some 12 US warships transited through the Suez Canal a few days ago. Three naval squadrons are currently in the region. Forces appear to be in position for a possible attack against Iran’s nuclear sites. Late July and early August could provide a window of opportunity for action. Iran threatens chaos in Saudi Arabia if it is attacked. Economic factors are determining the timing of the crisis.

Milan (AsiaNews) – After 387 bunker buster bombs were shipped to the US base in Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, whose great potential AsiaNews had already revealed last April (see Maurizio d’Orlando, “Winds of war and economic crisis behind the attacks on the Pope,” in AsiaNews, 14 April 2010), 12 US warships, as well as one Israeli corvette, have crossed the Suez Canal, this according to Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds-al-Arabi, confirmed by the newspapers Jerusalem Post and Haaretz.

The Debka online news agency, usually well connected with Israel’s secret services Mossad, also confirmed increased activity in the Persian Gulf. According to Debka, three Israeli nuclear-armed subs are believed to be currently operating off the coast of Iran. The German-built submarines are considered technologically top of their class.

Coming from the Mediterranean, the USS Harry S Truman aircraft carrier also transited through the Suez Canal, this according to an article published in Zerohedge (Tyler Durden, “12 American Warships, Including One Aircraft Carrier, And One Israeli Corvette, Cross Suez Canal On Way To Red Sea And Beyond,” in Zerohedge, 19 June 2010).

Thus, three naval squadrons with fighter planes are in position in the region, plus planes deployed at the US airbase at Diego Garcia. Preparations thus are complete for a possible attack against sites where, according to the United States and Israel, Iran is building its first nuclear bomb. If war does break out, the best period would be the end of July and early August.

Iran has always claimed that its uranium enrichment installations are for the civilian production of energy. Over the years, Tehran has allowed inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the United Nations to visit those installations to verify that they are not being used for military purposes.

Recently, on 16 May, Iran agreed to a plan put forward by Brazil and Turkey (see “Tehran accepts an agreement on enriched uranium with Turkey and Brazil,” in AsiaNews, 17 May 2010) for uranium to be enriched outside Iran, in Turkey, to guarantee that the material would not be used for military purpose, a move not welcomed by Israel.

Every threat leads to a counter threat

For its part, Iran’s PressTV news network published an article in English that quotes from a letter written by a member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud (see “Prince warns S. Arabia of apocalypse,” in PressTV, 9 June 2010), that was published by Cairo-based Arabic-language Wagze news agency.

The prince, who has lived in Egypt for years after falling out with Saudi Arabia’s reining family, warns the dynasty and its members that they are at risk because they are hated by the population. A coup could remove them from power, putting their lives in great danger. He urges them to leave and, in a somewhat dramatic tone, find refuge abroad before people “cut off our heads in streets.”

Most people living in the kingdom’s oil-rich regions are Shia, like in Iran. Shia Islam and the Wahhabi-oriented Sunni Islam backed by the Saudi dynasty are not exactly on friendly terms.

The publication of the story based on the prince’s letter shows what strategy Iran might adopt in case of an attack. It suggests that Tehran might try to cause havoc in its neighbour, Saudi Arabia, and thus put at risk the latter’s oil exports. In that case, the effects on oil prices would be huge since the desert kingdom is the world’s largest oil producer. Even so, it is still unclear how serious Iran’s threat to the Saudi royal family really is.

However, the letter also contains another element. “Do not fool yourself by relying on the United States or Britain or Israel,” the prince tells his family, “because they will not survive the loss”. What this actually means is unclear. Does he mean economic loss, military loss? Perhaps this obscure passage is a warning the Iranian network attributes to the prince in order to hint that Tehran might call for a ‘Jihad’, a holy war to urge the masses to rise up in Muslim countries and for Islamist cells to launch terrorist attacks.

Here too it is unclear how a hypothetical Iranian appeal to Islamic solidarity might unfold in the case of an attack and a terrorist counterattack.

Based on our evaluation of the threats and counter threats, the danger of a conflict is likely to be at its highest in late July and early August and this for various reasons.

First, the deployment of the US-Israeli military forces will be done by that time.

Second, leaders at the G8-G20 summits in late June in Toronto will have a venue where they conduct high-level consultations, a necessary preliminary step before any political-military action is taken.

For its part, Iran has to wait for the necessary provocation that can raise tensions, i.e. the arrival of a flotilla to break the naval blockade of Gaza to bring “humanitarian” aid.

The weight of US debt

The main factors behind the timing of this political-military crisis are economic in nature.

The first one is that US budget estimates for 2010 should be released in mid-September. Usually, rumours about them already abound by August. This year, this will not be necessary because it is already clear that Obama’s “economic stimulus”, as advised by Keynesian economists like Paul Krugman, has not only failed to increase employment, but that it has, through higher government spending, punched a huge hole in the US federal deficit, certainly more than 10 per cent of the GDP.

In order to hide the economic and social fiasco (with real unemployment at 22 per cent of the active workforce), a foreign threat and a military and political emergency are needed, but they must come before tax and employment data are released in order to achieve a minimum degree of credibility and be picked up by big information media.

A second factor that is often left out of the equation is that the United States (and others) not only has a huge public debt crisis but that it also has a huge private debt, affecting families and companies.

US private debt stands at US$ 50 trillion or 330 per cent the US GDP. On the long run, this cannot be sustained; it has to come down in real terms through deflation or hyperinflation.

Financial leverage must be cut and properties bought wholly or partially on debt must be liquidated. We might expect a repeat of the subprime crisis of September 2007. The difference this time will be that, instead of insolvent subprime debtors, the crisis is more likely to hit the more solvent private debt holders.

Mid-September will also see a mass of commercial mortgages and quality debts come due, but quite a few holders will have a hard time getting them renewed. A foreign threat will come in handy if it occurs right before the collapse in the real value of property, stocks and bonds, which would otherwise pose a threat to the traditional two-party system of the United States.

Iran’s governing regime also needs an external threat to hold onto power. Increasingly, a new generation of Iranians is putting pressure on the system, unable and unwilling to tolerate the regime’s corruption and technological backwardness. The inability to find a job and the isolation from the rest of the world are particularly heavy burdens to bear.

Unlike their parents, young Iranians did not participate in the Islamic revolution against the Shah, an event remembered also and perhaps especially as an uprising against US economic and cultural imperialism. They do not really know what anti-Americanism is and thus view the struggle against the “Great Satan” as tired old rhetoric used for domestic consumption. For the regime, it therefore becomes imperative not to lower its guard, but rather keep the threat level high through concrete steps.

Indeed, both sides appear to follow the rationale that led to the Falklands War when Argentinian generals were in charge of a country on the brink of economic bankruptcy and the British establishment was still facing tough domestic choices in order to restructure the country’s economy in the wake of Britain’s long movement away from empire.

A foreign threat or a war overseas are one of the oldest and most tested political tools to close ranks at home. However, today’s social, political and economic instability are global in scope. It is hard to imagine how an intervention could be surgically limited to a specific context, especially if that context is the Persian Gulf. Lighting a match and throwing it in to start a fire could quickly get out of hand and blow up the world’s powder keg.

The Barbarian in a Suit

The Barbarian in a Suit

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Avigdor LiebermanThe French philosopher Simone Weil once observed that barbarism should be “considered as a permanent and universal human characteristic which becomes more or less pronounced according to the play of circumstances.” Historically, there is no doubt of the accuracy of this statement. As the 20th century so aptly demonstrated, civilization is a very fragile state. And with weaponry getting ever more destructive the fragility of our civilization and the potent potential of barbarism increases proportionately. So, in the 20th century we had two world wars, a large number of smaller ones, the Holocaust, ethnic cleansing on a grand scale, and a “cold war” kept from getting hot by the fear of nuclear cataclysm. One can only say that humanity is very lucky there is anything like civilization left and, obviously, we have continued to push our luck, so to speak, in the first decade of the 21st century.

One other way of measuring the precarious nature of our civilization is by observing how many “barbarians in suits” lead our nation states. You can point all the fingers on both hands at those so called “rogue state” leaders, but any objective observer would have to conclude they have nothing on men like George W. Bush, Dick Chaney and Donald Rumsfeld. For sheer body counts these American “leaders” are right up with the worst of them. It is most unfortunate that Barack Obama and a majority of the Democrat party seem determined to slip and slide down a similar bloody road.

I mention these American notables so as not to be accused of ignoring my own national breed of “barbarians in suits” as I turn my attention to another particularly ugly example, Avigdor Lieberman of Israel. I suspect that the idea of a Jewish barbarian was unthinkable before the rise of Zionism. But since that ideology has managed to tie Judaism (or what is left of it) to an obsessively ethnocentric nation state all the requirements for modern Jewish barbarians are in place and, sure enough, up they pop. There was Begin, Ben Gurion, Sharon and many more who have indulged in terrorism, ethnic cleansing and assorted massacre. Now we have Avigdor Lieberman.

Lieberman is Israel’s Foreign Minister, as well as deputy Prime Minister, so he usually is seen wearing a suit. But he is a barbarian nonetheless. His particular style of barbarism is racism. For instance, on June 22, 2010 Lieberman put forth a “blueprint for the resolution of the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict” that demands the ethnic cleansing of Israeli Arabs. It is to be noted here that there are other non-racist “blueprints” on the table that can resolve this conflict. The most important one is that put forth by the Arab League (often referred to as the Saudi Plan) as early as 2002. This would normalize relations with Israel in return for the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Unfortunately, Israel has turned its nose up to this proposal. Instead we are offered the Lieberman alternative.

What Lieberman wants to do is strip Israel’s 1.3 million Palestinian citizens of their citizenship, and force them to become citizens of a future Palestinian “state.” He puts this in terms of “land swaps” which implies that part of present day Israel will be shifted over into a future Palestine in exchange for the West Bank territory now occupied by Israeli “settlers.” But I think this is a ploy. The Israelis are presently “settling” on two fronts. They are expanding on the West Bank (and this process will accelerate after September 2010) and they are expanding the Jewish population in the Galilee and other areas of Israel proper where the residents are now mostly Palestinian. My feeling is that if Lieberman’s plan is adopted Arab Israelis would find themselves in variations of the same crowded bantustans now being created for the West Bank Palestinians.

Why should anyone take Lieberman’s uncivilized racist proposal seriously? The answer to this is suggested by Michael Warshcawski, founder of the Alternative Information Center, a joint Israeli-Palestinian advocacy organization. Warshcawski explains that Israel is now more isolated than anytime in the past and the resulting pressure has narrowed the options of its ruling elite. That elite “knows that the only solution to the conflict acceptable to the international community is an end to the occupation” and the realization of a two-state solution. However, “none of them, not even Ehud Barak [head of the Labor Party] are ready to accept this….” Instead, most of the country’s leaders are of the same mind as Lieberman. That is, Israel should “push ahead” and create a pure Jewish state by absorbing a good part of the West Bank and confining the Palestinians, including those who are now Israeli citizens, to bantustans. This means abandoning the so-called peace process and accepting whatever international repercussions come along. Israel’s present Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is likely in favor of some variant on the Lieberman plan. Netanyahu sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a zero-sum game. Thus, if you give credence to a Palestinian state you de-legitimize the Israeli state. For an outside observer this is, of course, nonsense. But that is how Netanyahu sees it.

So what Israel’s leadership wants–and have always wanted since the founding of the Zionist state–is a pure Jewish state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river. Ben Gurion accomplished but half of that task and the Netanyahu-Lieberman team believes that it is within grabbing distance of finishing the job. If you don’t like this policy direction you are just an anti-Semite. This is the mentality and the policy of barbarians. Actually, the Israelis have been behaving like little barbarians for a long while but in such a way that the rest of the world has been able to turn a blind eye. Now, Israel’s elite is pondering the possibility of going overtly public and so becoming, recognizably, big barbarians.

It is something of a relief to learn that the Israeli leadership is considering coming out of the closet. Just be done with it and let the world know that you are barbarians and elected ones at that. Just like Bush, Chaney and Rumsfeld who, after all, were so fond of the Israelis. Also, it will be very much easier to organize civil society against outed barbarians than closeted ones. So, “los locos dicen las verdades.” It is time for the fools to speak the truth about themselves.

United Nations World Drug Report 2010 and Iran | Payvand.com

United Nations World Drug Report 2010 and Iran

world-drug-report-2010-iran-iIn 2009, the UN Member States decided to make further and decisive progress, within a decade, in controlling illicit drug supply and demand.

Many illicit drug markets have reached global dimensions and require control strategies on a comparable scale. In that context, there is a need to better understand these transnational markets and the manner in which they operate.

Opiate seizures continue to increase. This applies to both opium and heroin seizures. Morphine seizures, in contrast, declined in 2008. The largest seizures continue to be reported from the countries neighboring Afghanistan, notably the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan.

drug-report-2010

World Drug Report 2010

Heroin
Heroin is the most widely consumed illicit opiate in the world. It is derived from opium, which itself can have an illicit use. Of the opium that is not converted into heroin, two thirds is consumed in just five countries: the Islamic Republic of Iran (42%), Afghanistan (7%), Pakistan (7%), India (6%) and the Russian Federation (5%)

heroin-usage-2008In contrast to its high opium consumption levels and despite its proximity to the world’s largest heroin producer, official reports indicate that heroin consumption is relatively low in the Islamic Republic of Iran (14 metric ton for an estimated 391,000 users).

Demand for opium
A large volume of opium is consumed in the Islamic Republic of Iran, approximately 450 mt (metric ton), according to UNODC estimates.

opium-usage-2008

The highest volumes of morphine and opium seizures were reported by Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran, Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors. In 2008, Pakistan (7.3 mt) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (9 mt) seized a combined 16.3 mt of morphine, a staggering 95% of global morphine seizures.

opium-heroin-market-2008

In contrast, Afghanistan only seized 479 kg that same year. Most Iranian and Pakistani morphine seizures occurred close to the Afghan border, perhaps suggesting that if large scale processing is taking place outside Afghanistan, it is staying close to the source. Both Pakistan (27 mt) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (573 mt) effected more than 90% of global opium seizures, but demand for the substance is high in both countries while that of morphine is negligible.

global-flow-interdiction-2008

From Afghanistan
Of the estimated 380 mt of heroin produced in Afghanistan, approximately 5 mt stay in the country for local consumption or is seized by local law enforcement. The remaining 375 mt are exported to the world via routes flowing into and through the neighboring countries of Pakistan (150 mt), the Islamic Republic of Iran (105 mt) and the Central Asian countries of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan (95 mt) towards their final destinations in Europe, the Russian Federation and Asia.

asian-origin--heroin-flows

In addition to heroin, Afghanistan also exports some 1,000 mt of opium annually to its immediate neighbors (the Islamic Republic of Iran, Pakistan and Central Asia) and further to a global market of some 4 million opium consumers – most of which are in Asia

Flow interception (seizures)
Interception rates vary widely between regions; however, estimated global interception rates are approximately 20% of the total heroin flow worldwide in 2008. The Islamic Republic of Iran leads all countries with 23% of all heroin interceptions. Turkey comes next with 16%, followed by the United States and China, which come in third and fourth with 9 and 8% respectively.

opium-heroin-seizures-2008

Routes and volumes
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s eastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan is 1,845 km long and consists of mainly mountainous or harsh desert terrain. There are obvious challenges to achieving even partial control over this area, although 12,000 anti-narcotics police and border guards are reportedly deployed at these long borders. 60 The Balkan route begins in Afghanistan’s southern and western provinces, with shipments destined for both the Afghan-Iran border and the Afghan-Pakistan border.

drug-trafficking-map-iran

Most of the heroin flow moves through the Iran-Afghan border. Every year, approximately 105 mt of heroin are smuggled from the Afghan provinces of Nimroz, Hirat and Farah into eastern Islamic Republic of Iran. Possibly due to increased law enforcement efforts at that border, Afghan traffickers are thought to increasingly rely on the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran route, estimated to handle an additional 35 mt of heroin. To do this, they must first cross into the Pakistani province of Balochistan and veer east into the Islamic Republic of Iran. Once in the Islamic Republic of Iran, only two borders separate Afghan opiates from mainland Europe.

In all, approximately 1,000 mt of opium and 140 mt of heroin flow into the Islamic Republic of Iran via these borders. Most of the heroin, around 30% (105-110 mt) of Afghanistan’s total production, continues to move west/south-west into the Islamic Republic of Iran towards Turkey and further to Europe.

Some of the identified routes running through the Caucasus are:

1. Islamic Republic of Iran – Azerbaijan – Georgia – Black Sea – Ukraine and/or Bulgaria;

2. Islamic Republic of Iran – Caspian Sea – Russian Federation/Caucasus – Black Sea – Ukraine and/or Bulgaria;

3. Afghanistan – Central Asia – Caspian Sea – Azerbaijan/Caucasus.

Prices
One kg of heroin is worth around US$2,000- 2,500 in Afghanistan, but rises to US$3,000 on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and to US$5,000 on the Iran-Afghanistan border. It increases yet again by around 60%, to approximately US$8,000, at the Iran-Turkey border. Based on the estimated flows via this route, Iranian crime groups organizing heroin trafficking from the Afghanistan-Iran border to the Turkey-Iran border stand to pocket some US$450-600 million per year.

opium-prices-iran

In addition to heroin, raw opium (some 1,000 mt in 2008) also flows from Afghanistan to the Islamic Republic of Iran via the above-mentioned routes to feed an established Iranian market. An estimated total of 450 mt65 of opium is consumed each year in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The annual street value of opium consumed in that country is around US$900,000.

Transit Country
The term ‘transit country’ may not adequately apply to the Islamic Republic of Iran, given the ravages of opiates in the country. There are around 1 million opiate users in the Islamic Republic of Iran and approximately 14 mt of heroin and 450 mt of opium are consumed in-country. The Islamic Republic of Iran appears to have one of the highest rates of heroin addiction per capita in the world:

Consumption
20% of Iranians aged 15 to 60 are involved in illicit drug use, and 9% – 16% inject drugs. But the lethality of heroin is even more direct on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s borders where 3,500 casualties among the border guards are a reminder of the risks taken by law enforcement officials to stem this deadly flow.

opium-heroin-usage-2008

Methamphetamine
The starting material used in the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine in the Islamic Republic of Iran is most likely domestically diverted pseudoephedrine. Since 2006, the first year such reporting was required by the INCB, the Islamic Republic of Iran has reported notable increases in its annual legitimate requirement of the chemical. In just four years, the demand grew to give the Islamic Republic of Iran the fourth highest legitimate requirement in the world.

iran-methamphetamine

Not only does this increase the likelihood of domestic diversion, but it also makes the country an attractive target for precursor diversion by transnational organized crime groups. That this may be more than a realistic concern is evidenced by recent reports of two stopped shipments of pseudoephedrine totaling 11 mt, both destined for Ethiopia.

More Statistics
Globally, UNODC estimates that between 155 and 250 million people, or 3.5% to 5.7% of the population aged 15-64, had used illicit substances at least once in the previous year.

Every year from 1996 to 2008, the Islamic Republic of Iran accounted for more than two thirds of annual global opium seizures. For six consecutive years, increasing quantities of opium were seized in this country (from 73 mt in 2002 to 561 mt in 2008), setting the trend for the global total. According to preliminary data, in 2009 seizures stabilized, standing at 579 mt.

global-drug-useage

Source: unodc.org