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Editorial / Commentary / Opinion

 

 

Peter C Glover :
Iran's army chief: next OPEC president?

 




Former Iranian Revolutionary Guards Commander Rostam Ghasemi is one of four names on a list submitted to the Iranian Parliament for approval as the country's new oil minister – a position that also means the presidency of OPEC.

Ghasemi is currently the subject of comprehensive international sanctions. But, if appointed, he could play a major role in determining the global oil price.

The knee-jerk reaction of some in the West might be to assume that what Ghasemi knows about oil and gas could be written on the butt-end of a Kalashnikov. But that is not the case. According to his Wikipedia bio , Ghasemi “graduated from Arvamehr University with a degree in engineering” and is listed as a “Project Manager in Oil and Gas” (sic). It would be fair to say that majoring in drilling or laying pipelines have not been central to his career, however. Ghasemi joined the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution in 1981 and fought in the Iran-Iraq War. He eventually went on to become Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in September 2007, a role he will finally relinquish in August.

If he gets the call to the ministerial position on August 3, Ghasemi will automatically assume the role as head of OPEC, a role Iran assumed in October last year. That would give the Revolutionary Guards an unprecedented international stage. The inclusion of Ghasemi by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may represent a conciliatory move aimed at placating supporters of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Ahmadinejad has been locked in a power struggle with the Ayatollah for years. In May, Ahmadinejad failed in a bid to gain control of the oil ministry (and its revenues). With the Revolutionary Guards being in Khamenei's ‘camp', Ghasemi's nomination looks to be something of an ‘olive branch'.

As British Middle East expert Con Coughlin puts it , “If it goes ahead the fate of world oil prices could rest in the hands of a man who has devoted his whole life to opposing the West. Oil prices are high enough as it is, and the prospect of Iran using oil prices to hold the world to ransom is something that should give all of us sleepless nights.”

The fact is, however, that OPEC's ability to orchestrate panic in the West – as it did during the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo in the fallout from the Arab-Israel conflict – is not what it once was. Though it is true that OPEC's global energy clout cannot be ignored , OPEC's Sunni Arab members today have a much higher geopolitical concern: a deep mistrust of Shia Iran's regional nuclear ambitions.

According to last year's U.S. security expose by Wiki-leaks, here is what Iran's ‘friends', including OPEC members (shown below in bold type), have privately been urging on the United States in recent times. And thanks go to The Israel Project website for collating these examples from various publications, including The New York Times , The Guardian and Der Spiegel , in 2010:

  • Saudi King Abdullah repeatedly urged the United States to destroy the Iranian program. “He told you [Americans] to “cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah's meeting with the U.S. general David Petraeus in April 2008. Abdullah told a US diplomat: "The bottom line is that they (the Iranians) cannot be trusted."
  • Officials from Jordan also called for the Iranian program to be stopped by any means necessary while leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt referred to Iran as “evil,” and an “existential threat.”
  • Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow.
  • Crown Prince bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi ( UAE ) said in one cable: “Any culture that is patient and focused enough to spend years working on a single carpet is capable of waiting years and even decades to achieve even greater goals.” His greatest worry, he said, “is not how much we know about Iran, but how much we don't.”
  • Kuwait's military intelligence chief told Petraeus Iran was supporting Shi'ite groups in the Gulf and extremists in Yemen.
  • The United States failed to stop Syria from supplying arms to Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, who have amassed tens of thousands of rockets aimed at Israel. One week after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad promised a top State Department official that he would not send new arms to Hezbollah, the United States had information that Syria was providing increasingly sophisticated weapons to the group.
  • Iran smuggled weapons to Hezbollah in ambulances and medical vehicles in violation of international conventions. Hamas also used such vehicles for military and arms-smuggling operations.
  • Iran withheld from the International Atomic Energy Agency the original design documents for a secret nuclear reactor.

The fact is that OPEC's members, along with many of their Arab-Muslim neighbors, fear Iran far more than they fear Israel. Teheran's tenure in the OPEC hot-seat is likely to prove more than a frustrating one, especially if the aim is to use the cartel for their own ideological ends – Ghasemi or no Ghasemi.

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Peter C . Glover is a freelance journalist & writer specializing in politics, the media and cultural affairs. Petroleumworld not necessarily share these views.

Edito's note: This commentary was originally published in Energy Tribune, on Aug 2, 2011 . Petroleumworld reprint this article in the interest of our readers.

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Petroleumworld News 08/04/2011

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