Alternative to Russian gas

Why US-Iran talks are good for Israel


Alternative to Russian gas
by Prof. Mark Katz

The recent Russian intervention in Georgia has made an American rapprochement with Iran highly desirable for the United States. Israel has long opposed such a rapprochement, but this would also serve its interests too. Here’s why.


Europe has become increasingly dependent on Russia for natural gas supplies, and this dependence is only likely to increase. This would not be undesirable, except that Moscow has shown a proclivity for cutting back or halting gas shipments to states with which it has disagreements. To prevent Russia from acquiring leverage over Europe through greater control over its gas imports, the United States and many European governments have sought alternative gas supplies.

Iran has enormous natural gas reserves. Iran could also serve as an alternative pipeline route for Azeri and Turkmen gas for transshipment through Turkey to reach Europe. But Iranian-American hostility has resulted in Washington acting to block American and discourage other Western investment in this Iranian gas pipeline option in favor of a route through the South Caucasus.

Continued Azeri-Armenian hostility, though, prevents pipelines being constructed from Azerbaijan through Armenia to Turkey. This has left Georgia as the sole available route for a gas pipeline from Azerbaijan (and possibly Turkmenistan) to Turkey and Europe that bypasses both Russia and Iran.

But Russia's successful intervention in Georgia casts doubt on whether Georgia can serve as an alternative to Russia as a pipeline route. The ease with which Russian forces took control of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia demonstrated how readily Moscow could disrupt pipelines through Georgia. There is also the possibility that Moscow could wait until a gas pipeline through Georgia is built, and then take over both the country and all pipelines through it. This would not just frustrate Europe's efforts to reduce dependence on Russia for gas, but actually increase it. Just the possibility that this could occur may prevent the proposed Georgian gas pipeline.

How is Europe going to react to this problem? Will Europe see dependence on Russia for its gas imports as inevitable and henceforward adjust its behavior so as not to antagonize Moscow? Or will Europe attempt to limits its dependence on Russia through seeking yet other suppliers and supply routes?

Past West European behavior suggests that Europe will do the latter. During the Cold War, when growing West European economies needed more gas but North Africa was seen as an unreliable supplier, Western Europe began to import gas from the Soviet Union. Further, it did this despite American objections at a time when Western Europe was dependent on the United States for protection against a possible Soviet attack.

Europe is now less dependent on the United States for security but increasingly dependent on the importation of gas. Europe, then, can be expected to do now what it did during the Cold War when it needed more gas and doubted the reliability of its existing suppliers: find alternative suppliers.

Sooner or later, though, Europe is likely to seek to import gas from Iran, especially since: 1) the Iranians have already indicated their willingness to sell it to Europe; 2) Russia cannot interfere as easily in Iran as it can in Georgia; and 3) Iran can also serve as a transit route for gas from Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

As Western Europe's behavior with regard to gas imports from the Soviet Union during the Cold War demonstrated, Europe is likely to buy gas from Iran despite opposition from America (and, of course, Israel). If Europe is determined to buy Iranian gas, then the US will face two choices: either it can attempt to prevent Europe from doing so, or it can work with Europe by attempting to normalize US-Iranian relations.

Attempting to prevent Europe from buying Iranian gas is highly inadvisable since not only are such efforts likely to fail, but will only result in worsening EU-US relations. Nor will doing this result in Iran moderating its behavior toward Israel, since it is doubtful that Europe is going to let Israeli opposition stand in the way of furthering its efforts to reduce dependence on Russia for gas. Further, an American effort to prevent Europe from buying Iranian gas would prevent the US from being able to exploit the increasing differences between Russia and Iran that can be expected to emerge, especially if Tehran is willing to serve as a transit corridor for Azeri and Turkmen gas.

An US-Iranian rapprochement, by contrast, would help preserve EU-US relations as well as allow the United States to benefit from the Russian-Iranian differences that would arise from this. But would Iran moderate its behavior toward Israel for the sake of rapprochement with the United States, especially if an Iranian-European rapprochement seems likely even if Iranian-American hostility remains?

There is reason to believe that it would. For while Europe can provide Iran with much needed cash, Europe is neither willing nor able to provide Iran with help on its security problems to the extent that America can. And Iran has some very serious security problems, including an increasingly active Sunni opposition inside Iran, the likelihood that a resurgent Taliban will renew its hostility toward Iran, the possible spillover into Iran from the renewed sectarian conflict in Iraq that may well result as the American presence there declines, and the growing Russian hostility toward Iran that can be expected to result from Tehran competing with it as a gas exporter.

Tehran has little incentive to change its behavior toward Israel if US-Iran hostility continues at a time when American intervention in Iran appears highly unlikely. By contrast, Washington has a far better chance of moderating Iranian behavior toward Israel as a condition for providing Tehran with assistance against the very real threats Iran faces than if the United States remains hostile toward Iran.

Where America's interests lie, then, should be clear: Opposing European gas purchases from Iran will worsen EU-US relations, give Russia further opportunity to exploit European-American differences, and do nothing to moderate Iranian behavior toward Israel. An American rapprochement with Iran, by contrast, would promote EU-US cooperation, assist Europe in avoiding over-dependence on Russian gas and Russian-controlled pipelines, and offer a better opportunity to moderate Iran's behavior toward Israel.

Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University. He writes on Russian foreign policy, the international relations of the Middle East, and transnational revolutionary movements. This commentary was written for National Iranian American Council.




by Ajam (not verified) on

The main problem is that the US is still in denial of its diminished role as the sole, dominant power of the world. Of course as the shrinks suggest, there are normally seven post-traumatic stages after one experiences a loss: Shock, denial, anger, grief, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance.
This denial started right after the end of the Cold War, when Europe and a number of countries around the world no longer felt the need to sacrifice their sovreignty for the US protection from the "Soviet Bear," and still continues to haunt the US foreign policy to this date. The 9/11 helped release the anger by allowing US to unleash its fury of "Shock and Awe," but still failed to make it get passed the denial stage.
After hopes of running a pipeline to transfer Turkmanistan's gas across a unifed Afghanistan by helping Taliban trough ISI (Pakistani military intelligence) blew up in it's face, the US kept pushing for the baypass of Iran as the major Euroasian transit route at all costs to its own peril. Even supporting and/or partially financing alternative projects such as Baku-Geyhan and proposed transcaspian pipe-line has not helped the US to turn the corner.
Perhaps the change of administration could help bring the US to accept the new geopolitical realities of the world and realise that both Europe and Asia (India and China) are inclined to run their pipelines through Iran. Yet that will not happen until the US gets over the anger and denial phase and enter the bargaining and acceptance stage!


axes of rotation

by Sharizie (not verified) on

the world does not revolve around Israel and Jewish People

Katz and his gang need to get over themselves.

Obama would have won without Jewish vote ( may be he did need Jon Stewart's vote). Iran, china and Egypt and others done well with you guys for 4000 years

you got your patch of dirt, just sit down and be quite


My mistake, I meant Quatar.

by applepie (not verified) on

My mistake, I meant Quatar. I confuse these Persian guld states all the time. Also another correction, Qatar has has the world’s third largest gas reserves, comprising 15% of the world’s total.


Mark Soffer is the Ambassador of Israel in New Dehli:

Embassy of Israel in Qatar:


Embassy of Israel in Bahrain:

King of Bahrain wants the Jews of his country back:


Applepie, what are your souces?

by Shadooneh (not verified) on

"Bahrain has the second largest gas reserves in the world". Can you name a single credible source for this claim?
"and one of staunch allies of Israel". Can you name Israel's amabssador to Bahrain or Bahrain's ambssador to Israel? After all "staunch allies" must have full diplomatic, economic, military and even cultural relations.
"India, is fully vested in developing those fields". What fields? Do they have names, are they any credibe yield and reserves data that you can provide?
Much obliged.


Israel does not need Iran's

by applpie (not verified) on

Israel does not need Iran's gas.

Bahrain has the second largest gas reserves in the world and one of staunch allies of Israel, India, is fully vested in developing those fields.

A non-starter!

The Iranian regime is no longer gloating over the U.S. financial crisis. Instead, the monstrous mullahocracy is plainly worried about its own financial meltdown.

Oil revenues, which make up 80 percent of Iran's foreign earnings, are falling sharply. The price of oil has collapsed to less than $60 a barrel, with some experts predicting it could fall as low as $50.

The Iranian budget is expected to ecord a sizeable deficit; and the downturn is certain to aggravate already volatile social tensions. Up to 20 percent of the Iranian population do not have regular work, while price increases have averaged 29 percent this year.

The Islamist regime has forced banks to lend at interest rates far below inflation. As a result, just when businesses and farmers need emergency lines of credit, the banking system is short of available capital. The credit crunch will have a particularly severe impact in rural areas, where crops have been devastated due to drought.


This is not going to happen

by Toofantheoncesogreat (not verified) on

Russia has already shared and stated its strategy with Iran regarding these issues long ago, and most likely Teheran has agreed. I doubt Russia would have gone on a limb, given TOR-M1's, Nuclear fuel, limiting Sanctions, klimov fighter engines, and possible future sales of S-300 systems just because they love Iranians.

The only thing the US can bring to the table is removing sanctions, removings its military sharpness on Iran and stop supporting the baluchi and kurd fighters.

Talking with Iran is good for Israel because most likely, Teheran will water down its rethoric, support the politiciation of Hezbollah and accept the Saudi Peace plan.

The sad irony behind all of this is that Israel and Iran, putting the occupations of the palestinians aside, are natural born allies in the region. Just recently, the U.A.E. declared our occupation of the great and lesser thumbs to that of the Israeli occupation of palestinian areas.


If the Gorgestan debacle hadn't happened, we wouldn't have...

by Shadooneh (not verified) on

this conversation. Having said that, I firmly believe Iran has to take full advantage of geopolitically weakened position the West and mainly the US-Israel axis-of-fumblers are in by showing Iran is ready to be a reliable source of energy for them. Iran has made it very clear that it wants to be the regional hub for energy routes to the West. Iran's geographical location leaves no doubts in anyone's mind that a stable Iran is essential to guarantee the flow of gas and oil to the West. Several articles by Western and non-Western experts have appeared in various publications recently urging the US not create any stumbling blocks to achieve this goal, which will enhance the energy security for the Europe and geopolitical gains for the US itself to fight “international terrorism” if that’s in fact the US’s goal in the region.
But t I am not sure this article really addresses and elaborates its title, which is improvements in Iran’s relations with Israel as a result of Iran-US rapprochement, if it occurs any time soon. I am at a loss why Iran needs to change its “behavior” towards Israel when Israel has been on the record that it is certain Iran is working secretly to manufacture nukes, despite any evidence to prove these allegations and innuendos, and to add insult to injury that Israel had never shied away from military threat against Iran several years before Ahmadinejad came on the scene. That is a long time before any Iranian president said anything about “wiping Israel off the map”! Iran has its own geopolitical aims and Israel has its own, moreover, the author fails to make a convincing argument to prove a link exists between improvement in Iran-US relations and Israel. It seems to me Israel is the party that needs to improve its behavior towards Iran by ratcheting down its incessant rhetoric of military threats, pushing for sanctions, military and economic blockades and plain warmongering – none of these things Israel is capable of delivering itself. The best solution in improving Iran’s dealing with Israel is for the latter to honor its past agreements with the Palestinians, and to carry out various UN resolutions that it ignored for several years. Once Israel starts behaving like a responsible member of the international community by abolishing its Apartheid regime, demark its international border and dismantle its illegal settlements, Iran’s behavior towards it will change because Iran has publicly announced that its policy is to honor any viable and just peace between the Palestinians and Israel.
Iran by saying no to West ,as you are advocating in you post, will be making a grave mistake. Fortunately I have not heard that sentiment from any responsible party who has Iran's national interests in mind. You seem to be clinging to some outmoded rhetoric from the past. The “West” has changed a lot from the time that its main goal was colonizing the third world and exploiting the natural resources of the countries which it had invaded and looted anymore. As for the Shanghai Cooperation Treaty (SCO), I’m in full agreement with you that Iran’s future is full membership in that organization. But there are some road blocks, apparently China and Russia both are not rushing to accept Iran’s formal request to become a full member rather than keeping its observer status. China, more than Russia, has made the resolution” Iran’s nuclear “issues” with the West a prerequisite for full membership because it does not want to jeopardize its business relations especially with the US. Russian also wants to force Iran to accept nuclear enrichment in Russia in exchange for abandoning its own program. In short I don’t think this is an either or situation. Iran’s geopolitical position will be enhanced by joining SCO, but Iran, here’s my main disagreement with you, MUST not rule out establishing vibrant economic and political relations with the West and mainly the US.


Alternative to Russian Gas

by Kurush (not verified) on

Having failed to coerce Iran by bullying and classic gunboat diplomacy, the US and its Nato puppy dogs are floating certain 'ideas' through some mysterious and dubious channels with tenebrific origins. What better channel than an organization that fronts as an Iranian advocacy group, National Iranian American Council! Yet this self-appointed group, probably financed by deep propaganda wings of the Nato operating from a basement located in some Western capital, now is floating this feel-good, euphoric, behold-the-coming-utopia idea of a Western grand rapprochement and even military alliance with Iran. Afraid that the Shanghai de facto military alliance, which includes Russia, China, the Central Asian Countries and ,of course, Iran, might be formalized as a counterpoise to the Western proclivity to use violent means to subjugate wayward countries ( Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Burma, Sudan, Venezuela, etc.), the West is coming in from the back door furtively The crux of our time is this: the West has failed to wean itself from its modus operandi, namely, colonialism, exploitation, gunboat diplomacy,on the one hand; and, on the other, the former colonies, haunted by the racist colonial memories, will most certainly resist (Iraq, Afghanistan) a retrogressive motion to the bad-old-days of Western colonialism. This tension will feed itself on this current generation and the future ones until one or the other side wins. We Iranians must say no to any alliance with the West which will make Iran the frontline state against Russia ( as Nazi Germany had become at one time), or China, or both. The divide et imperia which worked so well as the Western colonialists’ modus operandi in the past, and is doing so well in Iraq and Afghanistan, must be spurned resolutely. We will not be the stooges of the Nato countries as the US and its puppy dogs try to encircle Russia and China for the ultimate coup de grace. The Shanghai agreement is the way to go for Iran. The time has come for the Iranians who have been victimized perennially by the West, to say no to the West, and build lasting relationships with our friends to the North, Central Asia and China. Let us re-establish the legendry silk road and begin our earnest commerce, and cultural interchange, with the East and the North. We have had enough of the Western parasites. Furthermore, we say to NIAC: take a hike!


What is Iran's security

by teapot (not verified) on

What is Iran's security problems? Why is the Islamic Republic so obssessed with this "security problem" if they have a backing of the majority of the population??


"grand bargain" II

by Fred on

The punch line of this NIAC lobby rigmarole is: “while Europe can provide Iran with much needed cash, Europe is neither willing nor able to provide Iran with help on its security problems to the extent that America can.”

One should not be surprised if the head of the NIAC lobby comes out with yet another “grand bargain” fax just like the previous one that he said that he got from his Islamist republic interlocutors to deliver to the Americans.