The Devil we know. Robert Baer. 2009


Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden often are classified as Takfiris.  Takfiris demands are impracticable. They propose turning back to seventh-century Arabia, living under nomadic tribal customs that were never meant to adapt to the twenty-first century.

Iran saw that the Kurds sit abide the most strategic areas of the world-a crossroads between Iraq and Europe, between the Arab peninsula and the Caucasus, between Iran and Europe. Iran also saw the Kurds as a convenient proxy to stir up problems in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, inciting them when it served Iran’s interests. It didn’t matter in the least to Tehran that the Kurds were overwhelmingly Sunni, just as long as they were a thorn in their neighbors’ side.

Iran’s lines of power and authority are almost impossible to follow. They seem to change between morning and night. But again, real executive authority doesn’t reside with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but rather with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. He governs more Iike a twelfth-century pope than an American president. But what he definitely is not is a totalitarian fascist like Adolf Hitler. Iran is not a totalitarian state. It has checks and balances, and Khamenei rules by a consensus obscure even to insiders.

There’s another side to Iran that makes it difficult for Americans to understand the country. Iranians look at geography differently from way we do. When we look at a map of Iran and Turkey we see a bold, fixed border separating the two countries. An Iranian may see that same line, but he also sees the Royal   Road, the ancient trade route that ran from Iran, across Mesopotamia and Anatolia. To East of China and Central Asia, he’s reminded of the Khorasan Highway, the trade route that linked Persia with the East. These are historic corridors of commerce and corridors of invasion, and today they’re corridors of energy.

Unlike Washington, Iran views its vital interests through the prism of history – history we either never knew or have chosen to ignore. Iranians are still driven by ancient conflicts and grievances, ones dating back to the Achemenid empire of the Fifth and sixth centuries a.c., the Crusades, the Persian-Ottoman wars..

Today’s Iran sees the West through the prism of the Crusades, NATO as the modern-day Crusaders alliance and it seesTurkey as NATO’s foothold in the Middle East.

Not surprisingly, Turkey discovered that Iran was arming the PKK. The Turks chose to ignore it, deciding they couldn’t risk confronting Iran and losing it as a source of gas. Putting its anger aside, Turkey went ahead and signed a 10 billion-cubic-meters natural gas deal with Iran, to extend over twenty-five years. Turkey also signed a parallel deal to buy gas from the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan, which would transit through Iran. In 2001, again over strong, public U.S. protests, Iran and Turkey signed a deal to invest $3.5 billion in Iran’s South Pars megafield. South Pars/North Dome gas condensate field, which sits in the Persian Gulf is the biggest gas field in the world. With South Pars’s 1900 trillion cubic feet of gas, Turkey knew ,that the field could keep up with its and Europe’s need for gas.

Iran and Turkey are two friendly countries,” Turkey’s prime minister said in Late 2007 and “Turkey will continue to import gas from Iran”. “U.S. and Israeli opposition to importing gas From Iran is not important,” the prime minister declared, “because they cannot meet Turkey’s need for energy, and Turkey must fulfill its needs from Russia and Iran.” Economics trumped politics.

In 1996, for instance, Iran’s National Security Council voted in an emergency meeting to invade Afghanistan and capture Heratto stop the Taliban from marching on Iran’s border. Ultimately, the Taliban threat subsided Iran didn’t need to invade, but the vote was evidence of Iran’s commitment to keep that part of Afghanistan at least neutral.

There are other energy corridors Iran has its eye on. Azerbaijan, its plentiful oil and its strategic location on the western shore-of the Caspian Sea, is the main energy link between Caspian oil and the Mediterranean. One million barrels a day of Azeri crude is exported via a pipeline that crosses Georgia and Turkey. In April 2008, an official from the National Iranian Oil Company said that by 2020 Caspian sea export would reach 4.65 million barrels of oil a day. Iranian official made a point of saying that the export route west through Georgia and Turkey doesn’t have the capacity to handle this much oil. He offered Iran as a second route – a pipeline crossing Iran from the Caspian to the Gulf. “The countries in the region should not ignore Iran as an attractive option” he said, “for access to international markets and a reliable partner.” If Caspian littoral state ignore  Iran’s offer, Iran always has the option of sabotage, or fomenting civil unrest to get its way. Azerbaijan is a predominantly Shia country, and as it did in Lebanon and Kurdistan, Iran recruited proxies to spread its influence. It created an Azeri Hezbollah. Iran has yet to attract a wide following there, or anything matching the armed groups it has in other parts of the

World – it had to go slowly because of Russian complaints – but the Iranians are confident that, given the need, a handful of proxies could disable Azerbaijan’s pipeline with a couple of pounds of explosive.

But the real prize among world energy corridors, of course, is the Strait of Hormuz. About 20 percent of the world’s daily consumption passes through the Strait of Hormuz . If it were closed, the price of oil would instantly skyrocket to several hundred dollars a barrel.

It helps to remind ourselves once more that Iranians don’t think like us. Their cognitive framework drives them to empire, and at the same time it informs their sense of justice and fairness. History which we in the West pay less and less attention to, still plays a defining role for all Iranians.

Insights into what the Iranians really want are rare. Former Iranian president Rafsanjani discussed the issue once and said that 1) Iran would fight any war necessary for the security of the clerical regime. There is no doubt that this meant with terrorisms, war if needed.  2) In the longer term, Iran is committed to undermining the unipolar world of the one remaining superpower, the United States. An alliance to offset this would be with China. Rafsanjani said he personally would like to see an opening up of Iran’s fields to China and Iran’s relying on Chinese arms. 3) finally Clerical regime wants to turn Iran into a ‘citadel of Islam’ to help oppressed Muslims worldwide. They want to control Mecca and Medina, Islam’s two holy cities.

A sense of unfairness pierces the core of the Iranians’ basic beliefs. Not only is justice a guiding principle in itself, it is a manifestation of God as well. It’s a defining precept of Khomeini’s revolution. But Justice, for Mr. Shariati, is elevated to the rank of a theological principle, part of an Iranian’s cosmological view. It is as simple as “God equals justice.” So not only can a believing Muslim not tolerate tyranny in his own country, he cannot tolerate it anywhere. Again, we see in Iran a hydride seeding justice. Iran has a divine obligation to render justice, to overthrow the grotesquely corrupt regimes of the Gulf. It’s very similar to  America’s ‘manifest destiny’ or even our commitment to spreading democracy and free trade.

Grand values like this are never attainable, and indeed Iran has fallen far short, but nonetheless they drive the Iranians at a very basic level.

Above all, in the way the Iranian regime has cast the conflict, the United States represents injustice. The longer we prop up failing regimes in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and the longer we don’t force the Israelis to comply with UN Resolution 242, the longer the Iranian regime can count on the support of the Iranian people.

If we ignore their words and focus on their actions, Iran and its proxy Hezbollah are rational actors. They’re willing to talk to the West. They’re willing to set bounds. They have fixed, reasonable demands.

Engaging Iran would also slow or put a stop to its drift toward Russia and China. Those two countries have been arming Iran for years, and America’s continuing to isolate Iran only pushes it closer to them. If we do nothing, Russia and China will sell Iran even more sophisticated submarines, surface-to-air missiles, and tanks, all of which sharply increase the price of a settlement.

With Russia and Iran being the number-one and number-two producers of natural gas, they could easily form a monopoly that would decide whether Europe goes to bed cold or warm. And none of this is to mention that China and Russia are happy to continue helping Iran develop a nuclear Weapon.

So what do Iranians want?

Internal security: Sunni (9%) and Kurds (7% of population) are its Achilles’ heel. Iran wants US to stop supporting three separatist groups (party for free life of Kursdistan, Mujahidin-e Khalp (based in Iraq) Jundallah ( Iranian Baluch group))

Iraq: Iran wants to be part of it and has interest in stability in Iraq.

Energy: Iran wants better price for oil, modern technology and alternative energy source for the day it runs out of oil (nuclear power plants). Iran does not want to undermine energy market, push price up and get Western country into depression. Iran wants order in oil market – not chaos.

An Iranian Empire: will continue in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, the gulf, Gaza. It is the protectors of shia as well as Palestinians. Iran is not pushing for sunni-shia civil war and will not attempt to create a Shia Islamic republics in country where it exerts influence.

Control of Mecca: Shia is seen a second class muslims. Will suggest co-administration of both city along with Saudi-Arabia.

Recognition/Equality: above all Iranians want to to be treated fairly.It want to be recognized for what it is: a stable country, in stable borders, the most powerful country in the Gulf, OPEC second largest producer, a regional economic power and a major influence in Islam. It wants a fair international system: why does the world ignore UN resolution 242 which calls for Israel to withdraw to its pre-june 5 1967 borders? Why Iran under IAEA inspection regime and not Israel?

Détente between US and Iran should be a step-by-step process.

1.Guarantee Iranian internal security: no more call for regime change in Iran by US. Stable iran will make its leadership less paranoid, less susceptible to listening to radical factions, less prone to confrontation with the West. More stable equals more rationality.

2. Join patrol US/Iran in the Gulf. Hotline between Tehran and Washington.

3. Ease the embargo on Iran: this would allow western oil companies to invest.

4. Grant Iran a role in Iraq and Afghanistan: in Basra and Heart where it has interest, Iran is certainly best placed to bring stability.

5. UN resolution 242: in return for support to UNR 242, Iran should stop support to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. This would convince Iran that the international system was impartial.

6. Incorporate Hezbollah’s militia into to the Lebanese army. Hezbollah will never willingly disarm but under Iranian Guidance it would be more likely to accept peaceful solution.

7. Mecca: West has little interest to get involved in this and we should not stand in the way.  We should join with Iran in eliminating Takfiri groups.

8. Put Middle East nuclear arms under international control, including Israel.