We all know that the Russian Federation has been one of the true resolver of the Iranian nuclear issue, also within the negotiations that led the P5+1 to define the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran.
For Russia, the nuclear deal expands the economy, as well as the strategic rayonnement of an ally, namely Iran, which is necessary for Russia both in the Middle East and in the complex oil price system to resolve a question of life or death for it: the increase in crude oil prices.
Not to mention that – in the new equilibrium resulting from the war in Syria – Russia supports the Shi’ite Republic insofar as the United States support Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
It is worth recalling that it was the Lebanese Shi’ite Imam, Mussa Sadr – kidnapped in Rome, probably by Libyan agents – to decide the Syrian Alawites belonging to the Shi’ite universe.
Nevertheless, with caution and attention, Russia does not take part in the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran – hoping, on the contrary, to witness “a decrease of tensions between the two countries” and supporting all measures which can restore some sort of relations between the two Islamic nations.
However, is Russia a true ally for Iran?
From the viewpoint of the current war in Syria, Russia militarily supports Bashar el Assad, who is a staunch ally of Iran.
The problem, however, is that the Russian Federation has no strategic interest in increasing tensions in the Middle East, which could cause a “domino effect” that would be very dangerous for Russian interests, as well as for its military and intelligence apparatus.
Especially for the linkage between Ukraine and the Russian-Alawite actions in Syria.
The costs of actions in Syria may lead to a decrease of the Russian engagement in another key area, namely Ukraine, while this country is essential to protect and manage Russia’ s oil and gas system, which reaches up to its primary market, namely Europe.
Hence, if the Greater Middle East flares up, considering the Syrian crisis, the Shi’ite Houthi insurgency in Yemen, the gradual destabilization of the Shi’ite areas inside the Saudi Kingdom and the de facto closure of the sea routes south of Suez, then the overstretching of Russian military engagement would create severe economic and strategic problems that would be hard to solve for Russia.
Conversely, the real keystone of the Russian system in the region could be Israel, placed at the centre of regional tensions, very efficient at militarily level, distant both from Iran and Saudi Arabia, and now alien to the US geopolitics in the region, as well as capable of managing a long war of attrition both with Shi’ites and Sunnis.
And also capable of threatening fully credible retaliations.
We cannot make peace nor waging a war, throughout the Middle East, without creating a strategic correlation with Israel.
The Palestinian movements of the 1970s and 1980s, as well as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and pre-Bashar Syria, knew this all too well.
At the time, the solution was a long low-intensity war with the use of Palestinian terrorism against targets both in the Jewish State and, above all, in the territory of its traditional allies.
Terrorism is a poor war which destroys the “enemy” peoples’ morale, but does not cause excessive damage to the military structures and facilities of the target country.
On the contrary, the case of ISIS/Daesh is different: a territorial jihad which is the background, – as hoped by Al Baghdadi – of the Sunni Islamic States after their destabilization and after the wiping out of the “takfiri” (apostate) rulers.
Hence, in Syria, we are currently witnessing a real war along its borders because, after Al-Qaeda’s terrorism and the unsuccessful “Arab springs”, the region has no significant external strategic protection.
Not even Iran now wants a real war along its borders, since it has every interest in taking full advantage of the new economic and political climate emerged, especially with Europe, after the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan.
Therefore a “regional cold war” between Shi’ites and Sunnis in the Middle East is likely, once clarified to which sphere of influence Syria, or what will remain of it, belongs.
However, how is the management of the P5+1 agreement with Iran progressing, which is the keystone of the whole Middle East current system?
At economic level, the Iranian government has set some productive sectors in which the Iranian-Russian trade will be enhanced.
According to the plans of the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, the funds given back to Iran and the increasing trade with the European Union, the United States, Russia and China will create the capital needed for the final economic takeoff of the country.
The productive sectors of Iranian-Russian trade regard the nuclear sector, armaments, natural gas and oil, of which a price correlation is envisaged between the Russian and the Iranian products.
The geoeconomic tripartite relationship foreseen by Iran is the one with Russia, Iraq and Venezuela, while Russia proposes coordination with OPEC, as a whole, so as to proceed to an acceptable oil price increase per barrel.
After signing the JCPOA, Russia and Iran have also decided to increase their economic exchanges from 1.5 billion US dollars in 2013 to 15 billion US dollars within the next five years.
This means that the Iranian ruling class is trying to rebalance and offset the economic opening to the West with an almost equivalent expansion of trade with Russia.
Moreover, the Russian Federation is also planning to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in the nuclear sector, while it already supports the Iranian nuclear industry – and it will support it ever more in the future.
The “stance” of Ali Akbar Velayati, a close aide of Rahbar Khamenei for foreign policy, also defines that the future of the stabilization of the area stretching from Central Asia to the Maghreb region and the Middle East, through the Caucasus, will be permanently guaranteed only by a tripartite agreement between China, Russia and Iran.
Europe is currently swinging between a useless and a ridiculous strategic stance and the United States have now made it clear to everyone that they are walking out of the Middle East – indeed, there is no effective alternative to this new geopolitical project.
The agreement envisaged by the Iranian leader is designed to eradicate the jihad, enlarge the area of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and to enable China to secure its great project of a new “Silk Road”, the so-called One Belt One Road which was announced by Xi Jinping in October 2013.
Europe, which still delights in useless and expensive “peace operations”, which maintain and exacerbate conflicts rather than solving them, will have an Eastern border controlled by this Sino-Russian-Iranian axis.
In this new area, the European Union will have no say in the matter, while – after the disasters made – the United States are walking out of the Middle East so as to focus on the project of a new “cold war” along the Euro-Russian border.
A strange strategic nonsense, probably useful to keep some grip on the geopolitical void that the European Union is today and to avoid the territorial, economic and military continuity that the Russian analysts, linked to the Eurasian project, are proposing to the now meaningless Europe.
Moreover, in 1991, Iraq openly infringed the rules of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it had previously adhered.
Khomeini, just risen to power, declared that nuclear energy was “satanic”, but then he had to change his mind.
In the lack of advanced conventional weapons, of well-trained forces and of an effective grip of the Shi’ite regime on much of the population, the only solution was nuclear weapons, which had been started by the Shah.
Meanwhile, pending the Implementation Day of January 16, 2016, as many as 593 individuals and companies connected to Iran’s project for uranium enrichment have been “pardoned” by both the United States and the European Union, including many Iranian transport companies, some banks, individual experts of nuclear technologies and many companies located outside the Shi’ite Republic.
The reason for this is Iran’s compliance with the Agreement, parallel to the JCPOA, on the release of four prisoners held in its jails.
Iran’s behaviour is what is defined as a “win-win” strategy in the mathematical game theory: you always win regardless of the game strategy.
Hence, faced with Iran’s quick recovery of over 120 billion US dollars already frozen in foreign banks, each small-scale calculation shall be relinquished by the Shi’ite regime.
This means that Iran will be increasingly interested in putting an end to the Syrian game, after quickly annihilating Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate, which is the maximum strategic threat to Iran that would be blocked every channel with Iraq, Syria and the Mediterranean, in particular.
This is also the problem of China, which cannot complete its operation of “New Silk Road” to Europe without eliminating ISIS/Daesh.
And it is also the problem of the Jewish State, which has no interest in having, almost along its borders, a territorial jihad which could also set fire to the Palestinian radicalism inside and outside Israel.
On the other hand, it remains to be seen whether and to what extent, in the coming months, the Shi’ite State will still need the Lebanese Hezbollah along the border with Israel or whether it will use them – as happens today – for its proxy wars to be managed without getting too much involved and soiling its hands.
It is easy to predict, for the “Party of God”, a future very similar to that of the North-American marines, and it is very likely for them to be present in Central Asia, in the predominantly Shi’ite areas of Saudi Arabia, in the Maghreb region and, in the future, even in Libya.
However, at least 35% of the new funds recovered after the lifting of sanctions on Iran will serve to acquire new weapons, both Russian and Chinese one, as well as to allow the geopolitical shift of its nuclear threat from the territory of the Shi’ite Republic to that of a traditional ally, namely North Korea.
Yemen will host an Iranian nuclear power plant; after the current disaster, Syria will assign parts of its territory to Iran for its nuclear-conventional operations and nothing prevents Iraq from accepting the presence of Iran’s “forbidden” weapon systems on its territory.
Hence new weapons, instead of the old nuclear power, which does not allow a reasonable threshold for its use or for the credibility of a threat.
The current strategic thinking is not interested in the old game, typical of the “cold war”, of the nuclear escalation which, as such, deters the opponent.
The Iranian leaders’ current doctrine is to have useful weapons – a real deterrent, which can be used in the reality of regional clashes.
It comes to mind the old Soviet strategy manual written by General Shaposhnikov, in which he defined the use of nuclear weapons in full continuity with conventional weapons. It was just a problem of tactical usefulness.
Therefore, after signing the JCPOA, Iran has chosen the credible and immediate threat instead of an old geopolitics of nuclear confrontation which becomes impossible through the gradual equalization of arsenals.
Incidentally, if the nuclear threat becomes possible in continuity with a conventional clash, it will be good for the European and Italian decision-makers to rethink many of the clauses of the old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Italy signed in 1970 and still believes to be the “cornerstone” of its foreign policy.
The five-year conference of May 2015 on the review of the Treaty ended with no results, while in 1998 even Italy threatened to withdraw from the NPT if the legitimate nuclear powers did not guarantee our security and safety.
It would be worth remembering that no one guarantees anybody’ security and safety: the Italian political theorist, Nicolò Machiavelli, used to remind us of the fact that “States’ own weapons” can make them safe, and he liked to repeat that States “cannot be maintained with words”.
In addition, after signing the P5+1 non-proliferation agreement, Iran will become a legitimate regional power and thus an important mediator and broker of future regional conflicts.
And we must clarify how and to what extent we could later ensure the Israeli security and safety if a new August war, like the one which broke out between the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Israeli armed forces in 2006, happened.
If the Jewish State collapses, the whole jihad will unite. It will definitely win in the Arab States still considered “moderate” and it will dangerously get close to Europe, without any control or supervision, thus knocking on its doors.
As it happened on September 11, 1683, when the Polish cavalry defeated the Ottomans in Kahlenberg, at the gates of Vienna.
Today Sobieski’s Polish cavalry is no longer there.
Indeed, the ideology of multiculturalism, of “submission” – as the French writer Houellebecq called it in his novel – no longer allows the battle of ideas or the preparation of the real battle.
Hence, without a reliable centre of gravity for us in the Middle East, breaking the jihad’s line of continuity and enabling the European Union to remain safe within its borders – because Islamist terrorism can turn into an open war – there will no security and safety in the European landmass or in the Mediterranean basin.
Therefore we can think of a new negotiation of the P5+1 “contact group” on Iran’s missile system, allowing limited conventional weapons. We can also think of freezing Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions and then relying on a strategic tripartite relationship between Russia, China and EU-NATO.
A tripartite relationship which should rebalance the strategic potential of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and possibly Iraq, thus keeping the nuclear confrontation between Pakistan and India under control.
As we have already said, the United States have focused on their action for regionalizing the Russian Federation, which is not in Europe’s interest. They will also operate in Central Asia to control the Chinese power projection.
Neither Iran nor China are focused on a short-term perspective but, as happened before World War II, today the West seems to be inebriated with quick fixes to be sold to the media for purely cosmetic geopolitical reasons.
Therefore, both in Italy and in the rest of Europe, we should think of a less naive policy, more sensitive to old and new threats, which are changing shape and position.
Giancarlo Elia Valori * (@GEliaValori)
* Presidente della merchant bank “La centrale Finanziaria Generale S.p.A.”
– Presidente della “Cattedra sugli studi della pace, la sicurezza e lo sviluppo internazionale presso la Facoltà di relazioni internazionali della Peking University, nonché “professore straordinario” di economia e politica internazionale nello stesso Ateneo
– Honorable dell’Académie des Sciences dell’Institut de France