Asif Haroon Raja|
Iran under Reza Shah Pahlavi enjoyed best of relations with the United States of America (USA) as well as Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Their relations dipped to their lowest ebb once Imam Khomeini came to power in March 1979 and the King had to take refuge in Cairo. Iran under Khomeini failed the twin pillar policy that the USA had for the Middle East; based on Iran and KSA.
The Islamic revolution in Iran which had a ripple effect in the entire Muslim world including the six Muslim Republics of Central Asia was one reason which impelled the former Soviet Union to step into Afghanistan in December 1979. Saudi Arabia supported the Saddam Hussain regime in its nine-year war with Iran (1980-88) owing to its ideological rivalry with Iran. However, Saudi Arabia led the GCC States severed relations with Baghdad when Saddam occupied Kuwait in August 1991.
Instead of isolating Iran, the US itself is getting isolated. So is the case with India under extremist Modi trying to isolate Pakistan! Without the US intimate support, Israel will become a Pariah State.
They not only provided military bases to the USA but also paid the expenses incurred by the US-NATO forces in fighting the First Gulf War in November 1991. The GCC States once again extended support to the US-NATO forces in their occupation of Iraq in March 2003, and were on board in 2011 when the civil war was triggered in Syria to topple Bashar al-Assad regime, and when Libya was attacked in the same year to knockdown Qaddafi.
Iran support for the USA in Afghanistan in 2001
Despite the Iran-US antagonism, Iran didn’t object to the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, since it was opposed to the Sunni Taliban regime and viewed it as its ideological rival. It helped the US-NATO military by assisting the Afghan Northern Alliance (ANA) which it had hosted since 1996, and in league with Indian military had trained and equipped it. Subsequently, Iran provided support to the US-NATO forces in their venture against Iraq in March 2003. Iran-US relations strained again when ostracized Iran under Ahmadinejad and his regime started to actively pursue the nuclear program and develop missile power with the help of Russia.
If Iran is ditched by USA, it will hasten to join the block of China-Russia-SCO, towards which Turkey and Pakistan are also inclined.
Over the years, the influence of the USA waned in Iraq owing to its policy of ruthless persecution of Sunni Muslims and resistance movement launched by the Jihadists and Baathists. In the wake of mounting casualties of American soldiers, the US military had to abandon Iraq in 2011, but it left behind a monster ISIS, which seized bulk of northwestern Iraq including Fallujah and Mosul in 2014. Conversely, Iran enhanced its influence in Iraq substantially mainly because of Shia heavy southern Iraq contiguous to Iran and the installation of Shia heavy regime under Nurul Maliki and later under Haider Al-Abadi in Baghdad.
Later on, Iran spread its influence into Iraq’s northern Kurdish region. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has been the main backer of Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitary force. IRGC, Iraqi Shi’ite militias, Iraqi Kurds together with Iraq National Army have managed to oust ISIS from Iraq. IRGC Commander Gen Nasseri was killed in the battle of Mosul.
The US lost the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and had to pull out the bulk of ISAF forces (120,000) from Afghanistan in December 2014, leaving behind a token force of 12,000 soldiers. Iran, which had considerably lost its influence in Afghanistan during the five-year Taliban rule (1996-2001), once again increased its sway in Shias heavy western Afghanistan and Hazaras dominated Central Afghanistan due to its close ties with an ANA heavy government under Hamid Karzai and later under Ashraf Ghani.
The problem at hand is that while Netanyahu and his hawkish cabinet are war mongers, Trump is impulsive and will prefer a military action over restraint policy as practiced by Obama.
Assisted by Afghan refugees and Al-Qaeda which it had hosted for a long time, Tehran established contacts with Taliban groups and allowed them entry into Iran. It is now supplying arms to them covertly. The presence of Daesh (ISIS) in Afghanistan since mid-2014 and a desire to have a say in a resolution of Afghan tangle are the main reasons behind the Iranians arming the Taliban. Afghanistan has brought Iran-India closer and led to a coolness in Iran-Pakistan relations.
Iran’s Expansion in the Middle East
Iran strengthened its nexus with Syria, its most consistent ally since 1979, and Lebanon based Hezbollah, by adding Iraq and Huthis controlled Yemen. Officers and men of IRGC have been taking active part in Syrian war against the rebels and Daesh. Provision of logistics, technical, financial support ($6 billion annually) coupled with the deployment of IRGC (up to 10,000 operatives) by Iran and participation of Hezbollah fighters in the war helped Bashar al-Assad regime to stay in power.
Doha controlled Al-Jazeera which lambasts Gulf States was another point of friction. KSA, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt snapped diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar in June, accusing it of sponsoring terrorism and cozying up with Iran.
IRGC suffered 2,000 casualties including Brig Gen Abdollah Khosravi in Syria. The entry of the Russian air force in September 2015 helped Assad regime to recover territory and regain balance.
Expansion of the Shia arc in the Middle East together with a Russia assisted nuclear and missile programs of Iran have consternated the Gulf States, Israel, and USA. Saudi Arabia feels it has been strategically encircled by Iran and sees it as being well poised to create disturbances in the Arab States, while Israel feels its dream of establishing Greater Israel has been shattered.
US and Israel’s Machinations against Iran
Alarmed by the growing power of Iran, Israel and the United States actively worked on contingencies to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations. Besides imposing four-fold harsh sanctions, hurling threats and developing bunker-busting bombs and missiles to be able to hit underground nuclear sites, aircraft carriers were deployed near Suez Canal to dissuade Iran from manufacturing the nuclear bomb. In November-December 2011, Israel had come perilously close to exercising the military option but was restrained by the USA. Iran managed to keep them at bay due to its nuclear/missile capabilities and Ahmadinejad’s threats to wipe out Israel off the face of the earth and to block Strait of Hurmuz. While speedboats were offensively deployed in the Persian Gulf to counter sea invasion, two intruding US drones were shot down by Iran.
It took Bush/Obama Administrations and CIA over eight years of covert operations to be able to remove hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from power and replace him with Reformist Hassan Rouhani in June 2013. After two years of sustained efforts put in by John Kerry, Iran agreed to roll back nuclear program under a deal with the US, China, Russia, France Germany, UK (P5+1) in July 2015 in return for the lifting of sanctions which were badly hurting Iran’s economy. Another reason of cozying up with Iran was to reduce dependence on Pakistan for supplies to ISAF troops and to make use of Afghan-Chahbahar route because of coolness in Pakistan-US relations.
Israel view Iran as an existential threat to Israel because of its nuclear/missile capability, linkage with Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas in Gaza and its bellicosity. Miffed by Obama’s disinclination to jeopardize the deal
Israel and KSA were unhappy over the nuclear deal, former expressing fears that Iran was continuing to develop weapons-grade uranium bomb. Netanyahu wanted re-imposition of sanctions and to cut Iran’s potent missile program to size. Although Obama expressed his reservations that Iran was not living up to the spirit of the deal, he gradually lifted some of the sanctions and unfroze $1.7 billion assets in foreign banks.
Israel views Iran as an existential threat to Israel because of its nuclear/missile capability, linkage with Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas in Gaza and its bellicosity. Miffed by Obama’s disinclination to jeopardize the deal, Israel and American Jewish lobby succeeded in sidelining frontrunner Hillary Clinton and empowering Donald Trump in January 2017.
Trump and the Nuclear Deal
One of the tasks assigned to Trump was to cancel the nuclear deal, or else restore sanctions to force Iran to curb its missile development program. In compliance with the dictates from Tel Aviv, Trump has adopted a highly confrontational posture against Iran from the very outset. This was evident from his declaration that the nuclear deal is the worst kind of deal which he will tear off. Iran was included in the list of seven Muslim States that were denied US visas.
Iran is accused of violating the nuclear deal by carrying out 12 ballistic missiles tests. IRGC which has been blacklisted is on the hit list and is accused of fomenting instability in the region. Sanctions have been imposed on 25 individuals/entities connected with IRGC and plans are afoot to declare it a rogue outfit. Washington is pressing Europe to stop doing business with IRGC.
Consequences of the US-Arab-Islamic Summit
Taking advantage of the heightened tiff between Riyadh and Tehran, Trump decided to attend the US-Arab-Islamic Summit in Riyadh in May 2017. During his highly pungent speech, Trump expressed his open-ended hostility against Iran. He declared Iran as the biggest sponsor of terrorism in the world. He backed the Saudi led 41-member Islamic Alliance and signed $110 billion defense deal with Riyadh. All this was done to pitch the GCC States against Iran and to isolate and contain it.
Israel and KSA were unhappy over the nuclear deal, former expressing fears that Iran was continuing to develop weapon-grade uranium bomb. Netanyahu wanted re-imposition of sanctions and to cut Iran’s potent missile program to size.
Another significant development which took place soon after the Summit was the standoff between KSA and Qatar. Strengthened by the US support, King Saud decided to take a tough line against Qatar which it felt had become an eyesore on account of its close economic ties with Iran and its support to Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Doha controlled Al-Jazeera which lambasts Gulf States was another point of friction. KSA, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt snapped diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar in June, accusing it of sponsoring terrorism and cozying up with Iran. A de facto blockade was imposed on the country by closing the air, sea and land routes to isolate Qatar.
The US which maintains a large airbase in Qatar stood by Riyadh since tiff amongst the Muslim States suits its overall policy of ‘divide and conquer’. To start with President Trump took credit for the Riyadh-Doha tiff, which he implied was an intentional US-led strategy. However, in its bid to isolate Iran, the US is now trying to de-escalate tensions between KSA and Qatar but so far no breakthrough has been achieved since Doha is defiant and refuses to cut off support to the MB, break its ties with Iran and close Al-Jazeera media outlet as demanded by Riyadh. Qatar is in the know of KSA’s policy of promoting Wahhabism and supporting Salafi Jihadists.
Moving ahead with its policy of isolating Iran, the US under Trump played a role in bringing a thaw in Riyadh-Baghdad relations in 2017. In its bid to wean away Iraq from Iran, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has succeeded in wooing the Gulf allies to cozy up with Iraq with a view to isolate and contain Iran and to counter its growing assertiveness in the region. Iraqi PM Haider has asserted since he is badly in need of the US monetary assistance to reconstruct war-torn Iraq.
What will Happen to the Iran-US Nuclear deal?
The presence of Daesh (ISIS) in Afghanistan since mid-2014 and a desire to have a say in resolution of Afghan tangle are the main reasons behind the Iranians arming the Taliban. Afghanistan has brought Iran-India closer and led to a coolness in Iran-Pakistan relations.
The big question is what happens if the nuclear deal is scrapped by Washington? Obviously, Iran will recommence its frozen nuclear program and double its efforts to manufacture a uranium bomb at the earliest irrespective of re-imposition of sanctions. The next question is whether Israel will singly, or backed by the USA attack Iran’s nuclear sites? The problem at hand is that while Netanyahu and his hawkish cabinet are war mongers, Trump is impulsive and will prefer a military action over restraint policy as practiced by Obama. Furthermore, Trump’s core national security team was against the nuclear deal and James Mattis consider Iran as “single most enduring threat to the stability and peace in the Middle East”.
On the contrary, Russia, China, and most Europe are eager to preserve the deal and to do business with Iran. Russia which has signed S-400 air defense system deal with Riyadh, and is close to Iran and Syria is likely to play the US and Iran off each other to make Iran more dependent upon Moscow. Over one-year breather has allowed Iran to refurbish its economy. It has escape doors in Europe, China, Russia, South Korea and India to export its oil and gas.
The US lost the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and had to pull out the bulk of ISAF forces (120,000) from Afghanistan in December 2014, leaving behind a token force of 12,000 soldiers.
The undoing of the nuclear deal and sounding of war drums by Israel will have dangerous repercussions for the region which is already in turmoil. Military adventure by Israel will evoke a very strong response from Iran and could trigger war in the region. IRGC Commander has already threatened to raze the US military base in Bahrain and to devastate Tel Aviv with its missiles. Blockade of Strait of Hurmuz will deprive the world of one-third of oil trade. Anti-American and anti-Israel sentiments have once again begun to gather steam in Iran. If Iran is ditched by the USA, it will hasten to join the block of China-Russia-SCO, towards which Turkey and Pakistan are also inclined.
The US already stuck in the quagmires of Afghanistan and Syria and having no clue how to get out of them, has antagonized nuclear North Korea and is now infuriating Iran. It is also showing eyes to Pakistan. China, Russia, Turkey and most of Middle East countries are wary of the USA because of its jingoistic foreign policy, dangerous designs, and duplicities. Many European countries are also cagey in their dealings with the USA under Trump.
Instead of isolating Iran, the US itself is getting isolated. So is the case with India under extremist Modi trying to isolate Pakistan! Without the US intimate support, Israel will become a Pariah State. The warmongering US, Israel, and India are spoilers of peace and have made the world insecure. Conversely, China through its One-Belt-One-Road initiative has become the leading promoter of peace and development and is on its way to become the leading economic power.
The writer is a retired Brig Gen, a war veteran, defense and security analyst, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre. Takes part in TV talk shows, delivers talks and take part in seminars. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.