Monday, April 2, 2012

I wasn't through chatting....

Surprise, surprise: Iran is helping its ally, Syria, defy Western sanctions by providing a vessel to ship Syrian oil to a state-run company in China, potentially giving the government of President Bashar al-Assad a financial boost worth an estimated $80 million. Iran, itself a target of Western sanctions, is among Syria's closest allies and has promised to do all it can to support Assad, recently praising his handling of the year-long uprising against Assad in which thousands have been killed.

China has also shielded Assad from foreign intervention, vetoing two Western-backed resolutions at the United Nations over the bloodshed, and is not bound by Western sanctions against Syria. Sytrol, a big Chinese oil company, tried enlisting contacts in Venezuela to help find a vessel that could pick up the cargo.

The problem was ultimately resolved by the Iranian authorities, who sent the tanker M.T. Tour to take on the cargo. The Maltese-flagged tanker is owned by shipping firm ISIM Tour Limited, which has been identified by the U.S. Department of Treasury as a front company set up by Iran to evade sanctions. The M.T. Tour reached the Syrian port of Tartus at the weekend, where it loaded the 120,000 metric tonne (132,277 tons) cargo of light crude oil, according to ship-tracking data. Satellite tracking showed the vessel was last spotted near Port Said in Egypt, where is was due to arrive on Wednesday. Its final destination was not available but is likely to head directly for China.

By the way, speaking about oil: Everyone keeps saying how Putin is was so smart, spending millions of dollars constructing an oil pipeline across Russia, through Georgia and the Ukraine, into Eastern Europe. Well, I have to wonder, why, when China is one of the largest growing markets for oil on the worlds stage, and is one hell of a lot closer to the Russian oil fields, didn't he build a pipeline to them? Maybe he is not quite as smart as some people think... I'm just saying....

Going back to talk about Syria again for a moment. The struggle there is a complex one, made worse by the involvement of many competing foreign interests -but the basic conflict is really pretty simple. And it is one which we, Westerners, seem to frequently overlook throughout the Middle East. In it's simplest form it is a struggle between Syria's Sunni majority (backed by Saudi Arabia) and the ruling Shia's (backed by Iran) (the exact reverse is true in Bahrain, by-the-way). The conflict between these two factions of the Islamic religion is a bloody one that goes all the way back to the beginnings of that religion. That struggle has resulted in untold numbers of wars, revolutions, deaths and destruction over the years -and it is likely to continue for a long time. But don't be too quick to make light of that conflict. In Western terms it is much like the bickering between the Protestant and Catholic factions of Christianity -and that "bickering" resulted in tearing Europe apart for 300 years. The Hundred Years War (which lasted closer to 200 years), wars between France and Germany -even the great defeat of the Spanish Armada was the result of an attempt by the Pope to get Spain to force Catholicism back into England (and don't forget the struggle in Ireland where tensions between the two religions is still simmering). 

It has always been like that. Throughout the history of mankind, men seem perfectly willing to kill their fellow men and justify it on religious grounds. The differences between the Protestant and Catholic views of Christianity are not, and have never been, worth killing over. Christ himself would never have approved any of it. I feel certain the same can be said about the differences between Sunni and Shia views of Islam. But I, for one, have no intention of telling them that -some of those guys are seriously fanatic and dangerous and would not appreciate my views (which is, perhaps, something non-Islamic countries should remember before getting all involved over there in the first place).

Am I rambling? OK, I'll stop (for now). Have a great day.

Live Long and Prosper....

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