Saturday 24 November 2012

Tehran on charm offensive in Gaza and Amman

Ambassador Moslehzadeh and the Jaafar ibn Abi Taleb Mausoleum

The Islamic Republic of Iran, home to the world’s largest Shiite population, took two steps forward this week to keep the predominantly Sunnite Arab world on the back foot.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad telephoned Hamas Movement’s prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, to acclaim “the victory of the Resistance” in its eight-day clash with Israel.
Israel launched its air blitz on Gaza -- which it says was aimed at ending rocket fire from Palestinian militants -- with the killing of a Hamas military leader last week.
A total of 162 Gazans and six Israelis were killed during the flare-up in which Gaza militants fired about 1,300 Iranian-made rockets and missiles at Israeli targets, while Israeli warplanes launched approximately the same number of air strikes on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Gaza watchers believe Iran proved to be a key player in the Gaza battle. “Her Fajr-5 missile was the star of the face-off.”
Ahmadinejad told Haniyeh Iran stands by the Palestinian people, to which the Hamas leader replied the victory belongs to the Muslim world.
As an Egypt-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was taking hold on Wednesday night, Iran made a very public overture to Jordan in what is perceived as another move to extend its influence in the region.
Iran’s ambassador in Amman, Dr. Mostafa Moslehzadeh, said late Wednesday Tehran is ready to supply Jordan with oil and energy for the next 30 years in exchange for Jordanian goods and “religious tourism” by Shiites in the kingdom.
Moslehzadeh made the barter offer during the Fil-Sameem (“In Essence”) program aired on Jordan's private Josat TV channel.
His comments came after a decision by the Jordanian government earlier this month to cut fuel subsidies sparked mass and sometimes violent popular protests, including surprising calls for King Abdullah II to step down.
Since the lifting of subsidies, the price of domestic gas has risen by more than 50%. Diesel and kerosene prices, meanwhile, have increased by a third.
Last year, Saudi Arabia gave Jordan a last-minute $1.4 billion cash handout to keep Jordan afloat, but it withheld aid this year, officials have said.
According to Scott Lasensky, a senior research associate at the United States Institute for Peace’s Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention, oil has always been an important consideration in Jordan’s Arab relations.
“Since the 1980s, not only was Iraq one of the largest players in Jordan’s economy, but also Saddam [Hussein] singlehandedly guaranteed most of Jordan’s energy needs at below-market prices. Oil lay at the heart of Jordan’s late 1990s trade boom with Iraq…
“Baghdad was a generous benefactor. Jordan now has a major stake in either restoring or replacing that munificence. In a bid for greater influence with Amman, Iraq sold oil to Jordan at below market prices after the UN Oil-for-Food Program was established in Iraq; in 2000, with prices around $30 a barrel, Jordan received Iraqi oil at $9.50 a barrel. Moreover, Iraq allowed Jordan, a country without domestic energy resources, to pay for the subsidized oil with consumer goods…
“Exports to Iraq reached $420 million in 2001, nearly a quarter of Jordan’s exports.
“The system amounted to an annual grant, in real terms, of approximately $400–600 million a year. According to some estimates, the benefit was even higher—$500 million to $1 billion annually.
“In the post-Saddam era, Jordan was able to secure its oil needs on-and-off from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates…”
But the generosity of the Gulf Arab oil-producers has waned and post-Saddam Iraq is now under Iran’s thumb.
In its coverage today of Moslehzadeh’s remarks, Saudi Arabia’s leading daily Asharq Alawsat says, “Observers believe the Iranian offer was timed to coincide with the delay in Gulf aid to Jordan. Jordanian official circles presume the aid – which Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour has estimated at $1 billion -- won’t be coming at all.”
Asharq Alawsat quotes its unnamed sources as saying, “Jordan is unlikely to take up any Iranian offer. The one made [by Moslehzadeh] is akin to a political tradeoff – oil in exchange for religious tourism and political stands a propos the Syria crisis mirroring Iran’s.”
The Saudi daily says there are “several ancient sites in Jordan that are important to Muslims generally and Shiites in particular. Among the latter is the Mausoleum of Jaafar ibn Abi Taleb, the brother of Imam Ali and the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad. The mausoleum is in the town of al-Mazar al-Janoubi near Karak, south of the capital Amman.”