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Chris Trotter asks whether the global commitment to combatting climate change is compatible with the US-Israeli strategy of protecting Saudi-Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies from Iranian influence

Chris Trotter asks whether the global commitment to combatting climate change is compatible with the US-Israeli strategy of protecting Saudi-Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies from Iranian influence

By Chris Trotter*

The assassination of top Iranian nuclear scientist, Moshen Fakhrizadeh, is an ominous development for the Middle East and the world. Not only does it elevate the risk of an Iranian counter-strike against Israeli and/or American assets in the region, but it also threatens to frustrate any de-escalatory Iran initiatives currently being contemplated by the incoming Biden Administration. New Zealand will struggle to avoid being drawn into whatever unfolds from this latest provocation. The next few months are, therefore, likely to be a further test of this government’s commitment to maintaining New Zealand’s diplomatic independence.

Any first-principles review of this evolving crisis throws up an intriguing question. Is the global commitment to combatting climate change compatible with the US-Israeli strategy of protecting Saudi-Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies from Iranian influence? In a world hastening to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, the oil reserves of the Middle East should, logically-speaking, be of declining strategic importance. Accordingly, the United States’ long-standing determination to preserve the political status-quo in the region should be weakening. Why, then, are the United States and its key ally in the region, Israel, so committed to strengthening the defences of their anti-Iranian allies and friends?

To answer that question, it is first necessary to acknowledge the most important conflict currently dividing the ruling circles of the United States: the future of fossil fuels. The US oil industry, long the most aggressive lobby in American politics, has steadfastly refused to countenance any measures tending towards “Big Oil’s” eventual eclipse by alternative energy suppliers.

It was the US oil industry which led the charge against the findings of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by bank-rolling climate change denialism. The industry also provided significant assistance to the right of the Republican Party. When Donald Trump declared climate change a “hoax”, the oil industry celebrated. What truly upped its consumption of champagne, however, was President Trump’s decision to tear-up Barak Obama’s “nuclear deal” with Iran.

Had Obama’s most important diplomatic achievement been allowed to stand, then the slow reintegration of Iran into the geo-political calculus of the Middle-East would have become almost impossible to stop. People around the world are apt to forget the years when Iran, under the Shah, acted (alongside Israel) as America’s principal “enforcer” in the region. Those same people also tend to forget the eight-year war (1980-88) between Iraq and Iran which the US sponsored in order to keep the post-Shah Islamic Republic of Iran weak and poor. Uncle Sam’s man-on-the-spot for that exceedingly brutal conflict was, of course, Saddam Hussein.

The intractability of the Middle Eastern situation stems largely from the structural political fragility of the regimes located over the world’s largest and most accessible supplies of oil. Since the crucial “Bitter Lake Agreement” negotiated between President Franklin Roosevelt and the Saudi King, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, on 14 February 1945, the oil-rich absolute monarchies of the Middle East have been under Anglo-American protection. The effort required to keep the forces of history at bay proved too great for the British, but not, until recently, for the Israelis and the Americans.

Among those political leaders less beholden to Big Oil, however, the unsustainable cost – in blood and treasure – of maintaining the Middle Eastern status-quo has become increasingly apparent. A cynic might say that if climate change hadn’t already existed, it would have been necessary to invent it! For the oil industry, however, the crisis is existential. A planet weaned-off oil would leave some of the world’s wealthiest corporations in the same position as the great whaling companies of nineteenth century New England: literary curiosities; museum exhibits.

For the Israelis, too, the situation is fast becoming critical. What need would the US have for an attack-dog in the region if it ever arrived at the conclusion that its Middle Eastern assets were no longer worth the economic, military and diplomatic cost of their defence? What use would Israel’s recent recognition agreements with the Gulf states be if the hereditary potentates who signed them end up being swept away by the people they have for too long oppressed? Is Israel, on its own, capable of rolling-back these long-delayed revolutions if the US decides it’s time to simply walk away? And what (other than the so-called “Samson Option” of unleashing nuclear hell) can save an exclusively Jewish State of Israel if the revolutionary Arab states decide it’s time for the “Zionist” attack-dog to be put down?

It is with questions like these ringing in their ears that those responsible for the assassination of Moshen Fakhrizadeh set about organising their attack. Perhaps they represented the more rational elements of the US “Deep State” – agents determined to head-off a full-scale US air assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities by a lame-duck president hell-bent on going out with a bang rather than a whimper. Or, maybe it was an attack organised by Israel’s formidable Mossad – intended to act as the detonator of a much bigger explosion. One set off by a President determined to be neither upstaged nor outdone by lesser players on the international stage he will soon be forced to leave.

Will Tehran allow itself to be provoked? Responding in kind by taking an American and/or Israeli life of equal value? Or, will it follow the precedent established following the American assassination of Iran’s celebrated military commander, General Qassem Suleimani, on 3 January 2020? Striking the Americans and/or the Israelis with the flat of its sword and declaring honour satisfied.

If President-Elect Joe Biden’s national security team are any good at all, they will already be activating plausibly deniable back-channels to convey a message to the Iranian authorities. “Do nothing to justify massive retaliation by America and/or Israel. Exercise patience for two more months, and then anticipate only good things from the new administration in Washington.”

If New Zealand wishes to place itself in a position where it, too, can anticipate only good things from Washington, then it might begin by encouraging an international initiative to buy-out the oil industry’s investment in fossil fuels. Such a scheme would, in effect, pay the oil industry to keep as much of its product in the ground as possible, while entrusting its leading corporations with the task of transitioning the world away from oil, coal and natural gas, towards a greener, more sustainable future.

Let the planet’s poachers become its gamekeepers, and let us be done with the bitter legacy of Bitter Lake.

*Chris Trotter has been writing and commenting professionally about New Zealand politics for more than 30 years. He writes a weekly column for His work may also be found at

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A war would level the playing field. The Haves and Have-nots will all be Have-nots. Time to start again from the ashes and no mercy will be shown to ex speculator/investor class elites.

I think you need to talk to someone.

It is interesting the Chris makes no mention of religion, that in the highest levels of the Islamic faith in Iran, the leadership fervently believe they are blessed with the hand and voice of Mohammad if not Allah, and that any action in His name guarantees them a place in paradise.

In addition I think by leaving out religion in this missive, he avoids facing the real reason why the US and Israel have not lost influence - is the world capable of sitting back and just observing a Islamic fundamentalist Government (Iran) move to take over Saudi and the religious icons that are held within. With such control of the Islamic world, and nuclear ambitions, what limits could then be placed on them?

Doesn’t mention either Iran’s best friend China lying in wait. Now then wouldn’t that be a test of one another’s military strength on a neutral playing field a la Spain 1935. Except replace the word neutral with inflammatory. Dangerous forces in dangerous places at play.

It is also not mentioned the dangerous Zionist ideology and agenda that has been complicit with the United States in destabilizing nations in the middle east in an effort to balkanize the region.
These people believe they are chosen by god and that the gentiles were put on earth to serve them, dangerous ideology from both sides i would say.

You're right there, but it is the western powers who were to blame post WW2 and now. Then Israel was created from anti-semitic politics, and is supported today for the same reason, although the US has a huge Jewish voting bloc. No one wanted them then and still don't based on BS religious bias.

I agree with Chris that the main motives here are oil and politics. The US seem to have no issues supporting other dictators and countries with extreme religious rhetoric both presently and in the past.

I think we are long way off abandoning oil altogether, but a good point re the Middle East

Had Obama’s most important diplomatic achievement been allowed to stand,

Does Chris mean the pallets of cash in the dead of night?
Obama’s handling of mid east was a complete disaster. For Chris to write otherwise and conflate with climate change is astounding.

He does seem to conflate a number of events and counterfactuals.

I actually have some admiration for the way Israel are so proactive with their security, I guess you get that mentality when most of your neighbour's want to eradicate you. I wonder whether Biden will move the US embassy back to Tel Aviv?

You claim lineage from a colonisation-repressed-race, as I recall?

Yet 6 million ghetto-ised Palestinians don't resonate?

I guess that's what fibreglass hulls and injected outboards will do to culture.

I didn't say I was pro-Israeli and/or anti Palestine fruit loop. Anyway, a nuclear war with mass-casualties would be right up your strasse
Dr Death.


It's too simplistic to say that American support of Israel is all about using them as a proxy against other ME states. It's the other way around -- the US is obliged to support Israel because of American internal politics, and Israel's enemies become its own by proxy.
The US attitude towards Iran has been profoundly stupid for a long time. To deal with the Saudis as best mates for decades while lambasting Iran as terrorists is brain-dead beyond measure, and it's purely spite (based on an incident in the 70s) and the influence of Israel.

Never forget the USS Liberty incident

Many Israelis view Americans as morons and suckers begging to be fleeced.

their supremacist ideology is despicable, its has caused massive destruction and destabilisation in the middle east while American kids are coming back in body bags, time to end these needless wars !!

As thoughtful pieces go, this is indeed one.

But it misses the elephant in the room.

Ex the EROEI of oil, you don't have an 'economy'. Not what we've come to think of one, anyway. So consumptive society will stay with fossil energy until it leaves us. Too late for Climate Change, but pretty soon chronologically. The interesting thing to watch is debt - the widening gulf between what can be done, and what is being betted-on being done. If dbt goes indefinitely, EROEI will be the curtailer.

if the conflict broke out in the Middle East, it will be a perfect time for the motherland to take back that big island!

UK to take back Australia? This was too cryptic...

I think Moa means China taking Taiwan.
Just putting two and two together.

or maybe he means china taking Taiwan and Australia -- listening to premier speaking now -- tensions rising rapidly -- time to sell up Aussie companies selling to china -- more heavy tarriffs on the way methinks

Xing is monitor this site and report back.. but it doesn't take a nuke scientist to work that one out in this present climate.!

Trump's finished and so his masters are desperate to salvage some last gains from his smoking crater, and pushing the U.S. into war against Iran is win-win for them.

He's probably got some deals lined up from the military complex

Both the Saudis and the Israelis are playing the usual clever game and expecting the US to pick up the pieces. If America declares that it does not want to interfere in the Middle East, there will be a tectonic shift in equations across the region and when the dust settles it may be a brave new peaceful place ?