Since the US Administration withdrew from JCPOA and re imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, the world has awaited with abated breath, for capitulation of Iran.US has tried to force UK,Germany and France, which are its NATO allies and co signatories to JCPOA, to impose sanctions but these nations have not abided.
It has been nearly forty years of sanctions but Iran has shown great resilience as a nation, despite huge sufferings. During these forty years, Iran, through its proxy armies, has stoked rebellion in Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, Syria and Iraq. In turn, it has established itself as a forerunner to leadership of Arab world, challenged only by Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Recently, Iran has signed 25 years of “strategic partnership” with China, which at the face of it looks to be based on economics. But the recent transformation of Chinese into a belligerent state with aggression in South China Sea, NE Ladakh,Hong Kong and Taiwan belie it to be purely economic, given the shrinking influence of US in this region.
In the backdrop of this, US has made history by brokering peace and official recognition betweentwo Arab nations and Israel, namely UAE and Bahrain. It can be argued that both these nations have been unofficially, in relationship with Israel but this normalisation gives a huge boost to Israel, as it being acceptable to the Arab world– a uniqueachievement.
This normalisation by two Arab states has come as a rude awakening to Iran. This strategic manoeuvringby US has caught them off guard. It may herald the start of a new strategic partnership between US, Israel, UAE and Bahrain, to corner Iran.
Since the end of Gulf War in 2003, Iraq has been having strained relations with most Arab neighbours, mainly due to its closeness with Iran.
Till Nouri al Maliki was the Prime Minister, Iran’s influence on Iraq was overbearing. The reasons were Iran’s strong influence on the proxy armies in Iraq, commonality with religious sect of the majority Iraqis and Energy trade.
With the Mustafa al Khadimi replacing Nour al Maliki in May 2020, there has been a perceptible change in Iraq’s dealings with Iran. In its need to hive off Iran’s influence, it has signed major economic deals with UScompanies, to develop its energy sector, till now deeply entwined with Iran. Itsefforts to decouple from Iran have increased its acceptability, in this region.
This, coupled with the US assassination of MajGen Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force and the major source of influence on proxy armies of Iran, has paved the way for Iraq to decouple from Iran.The proxy armies, tough still a major force,too are weaning away from Iran, as no other Iranian General has the same aura and influence as General Suleimani had.
The announcement of the UAE – Israel deal saw the first Israeli civil flight over Saudi Arabia, enrouteUAE. In itself, it delivered the message of Saudis being in agreement with this deal. The signing of normalisation by Bahrain too couldnot have been achieved withoutnod from Saudi Arabia.
In all this, Iran sees emergence of “Middle East NATO” type of coalition emerging between US- Israel- Saudi Arabia –UAE and Bahrain, with Oman waiting in the wings to join. Add to this is the friendly equation of Israel with Egypt and Jordan and we have a coalition which threatens the leadershipof Iran and Turkey in this region.
Iran’s deep apprehension about the Israel – UAE- Bahrain normalisation of ties arises from the “potential”it brings of an Israeli foothold in Iran’s immediate neighbourhood.
Since 1979 revolution, the Arab–Israeli split over Palestine had given the revolutionary Islamic Republic, ammunition for its rhetoric of Israelbeinga “cancerous tumour” and of US being the “GreatSatan”. More importantly, the animosity between Israel and Arab nations over Palestine, had provided Iran a safety bulwark against an attack by US – Israel combine from the soil of an Arab nation, in its otherwise fractured Arab neighbourhood.
Arab– Israeli enmity had provided Iran with not only a security buffer but also a “strategic depth” across Middle East to advance its own interests, with Israel and Saudi Arabia being its main focus. Strategic “depth” (omgh) is also called “backup” or “buttress” (aghabeh) in the Iranian security doctrine.Strategic depth here refers to the ability of Iran to take fight to the enemy’s border or as close to it as possible.
Today, the presence of Iranian forces in Syria and its proxy armies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemenprovide it this“strategic depth”. The attacks on Israel by HezbollahfromLebanon, by Houthis in Yemen on Saudi Arabia, by its proxy armies in Iraq on US forces and by its new ally Taliban, on US forces in Afghanistan, are cases in point.
Hence, commencement of normalisation of ties of between Arab nations and Israel spells doom over the Iranian concept of “strategic depth”, as it was animosity between Israel and Arabs, which gave Iran the opportunity to execute its “strategic depth” concept. This commencement of ‘normalisation’has also announced the end of the geographical buffer between Iran and its arch enemy, Israel.
Iran till now had made determined efforts to prevent Israel from gaining a foothold in its area of influence. In September 2017, when Israel backed independence referendum for an independent Kurdistan saw Regional Government of Kurdistan seize the oil rich city of Kirkuk,to pressurise Iraq to grant independence. Iran then threatened to send its military forces alongwith the Iraqi government troops to quash the rebellion. The main motive of Iran here was to prevent creation of an Israel backed nation in Northern Iraq.
The new Arab – Israeli alliance also facilitates its adversaries to gain Intelligence and in carrying out covert operations against Iran’s.
A spate of fires in Iran’s Nuclear and other industrial plants are indicative of this potent danger. On 02July 2020, a mysterious fire tore through Natanz nuclear plant. Earlier a huge blast hit the town of Parchin and its military complex. Before, an explosion occurred at Zagran power plant in Ahvaz. Before Zagran, chlorine gas leakat Karun Petrochemical Centre in the city of Mahshahr in southeast Khuzestan province made several seriously ill. None of these have been adequatelyexplained and points to sabotage.
In another instance, in February 2018, Mossadsuccessfully extracted Iran’s top nuclear documents and flew them to Tel Aviv, after transporting themthrough Caspian Sea and Azerbaijan, a key Israelially in Iran’s northern neighbourhood. Iran had long neglected its northern neighbours thinking of them being safe as they are in its ally, Russia’s area of influence. This is anotherchinkin Iran’s armour,exposed by the growing nexus between Israel andIran’s northern neighbourhood.
Emerging Arab– Israeli alliance is opening up new avenues for Israel forsetting up new electronic monitoring stations.UAE has offered Israelthe islandof Socotra to realizeIsraeli security needs in Gulf of Aden.
With Israel gaining a foothold in Arab land, which is onlyexpected to increase, future predicts Iran – Israel tensions in Horn of Africa and in the Arabian Sea, both of which are of great strategic significanceto Iran.
These cracks which are appearing in the “strategicdepth” of Iran has aggravated its economic suffocation. It is now finding it increasingly difficult to sell its oil and gas through proxy energy companies, namely in Iraq. This is drying up the clandestine financial channels, traditionally used by Iran to circumvent US sanctions.
The commencement of Israeli foothold in the Arab world bodes ill for Iran .It not only loses its “strategicdepth”, its clandestine routes of financial transactions but it also heralds“strategic encirclement” of Iran, the main gain of this US diplomatic masterstroke, which appears to be more potent than its ongoing sanctions. This may provoke Teheran to resort to aggressive actions against its Arab neighbours or through its proxy armies, on Israel and on US troops, stationed in Middle East. Itmaybe just the trigger US seeks,to launch a justified war against Iran.
The current events have created debilitating security pressures on a COVID affected and sanction ridden Iran. This has increased the chances of a war breaking out in this region. It is hoped that the strategic partnership of Iran with Russia and China and other SCO nations will create a balance and prevent war.
India has deep historical ties with Iran. We too have developed strong strategic ties with Israel and UAE. The growing normalisation of ties between with Israel and Arab nations, though welcomed by India has made it worried about the “strategicencirclement”ofIran and of its likely violent reaction to it. Recently our Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministers visited Teheran, to show our solidarity,with this sanction ravaged nation.
As India has good relations with all the players in this conflict, it makes it uniquely placed to act as a mediator,to prevent a war. Its efforts in this respect are important for its own security because if the war begins and more players join the fray, given its close proximity to the battle arena, India may find it difficult to maintain its neutral stance and this may damage its historical relationship with Iran.
The results of US elections in November 2020tooare eagerly looked forward to by the entire world. It may see the defeat of Republicans but will the Democrats let go of the opportunity to go for the jugular, now when Iran is possibly at its lowest since the fall of US backed Shah of Iran in 1979, is the moot question.