IRAN-US NUKE DEAL & YEMEN CONFLICT

Geopolitical notes from India

M D Nalapat

Friday, May 08, 2015 – Ariel Sharon, who in 1982 did immense damage to the security interests of his country and its people by assisting Maronite Christian thugs in Lebanon with logistics, weapons and intelligence while they were waging a war of extermination against large pools of Shia. Today, a like mistake is being committed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who regards Bashar Assad as a greater threat than Abubakr al Baghdadi and is consequently an ally of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar in their battle against Assad, a battle rooted in theology rather than politics. The four allies see an opportunity of using NATO to free Syria from the grip of the Assad family, the way Iraq was liberated from Saddam Hussein in 2003 and Libya from Muammar Kaddafy in 2011, the last two because they were in open opposition to the hereditary rulers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.

For Netanyahu and his allies in Riyadh, Ankara and Doha, the signing of a US-Iran nuclear deal would be a nightmare come true, for from then onwards, it will not be possible for them to play up the Iran threat in order to gain strategic concessions from a Washington made credulous by targeted funding and lobbying of thinktanks and other decision-evolving locations. While the US would gain immense leverage in the region, besides damping down the possibility that it could join Israel in being a country under attack by Shia terrorists, so would Iran, a factor that causes severe heartburn in Tel Aviv, Ankara, Riyadh and Doha. Small wonder that anti-Obama groups across the US are suddenly getting fresh oxygen in the form of donors, and that so-called “Obama-friendly” agencies within the Beltway have become critical of the President’s foreign policy in the post-Hillary Clinton phase, when in fact Obama has been able to frame and to push policies far better suited to the overall interests of his country now that lobbyist-loaded Clintonites are no longer driving the agenda of his administration the way they did in his first term.

Within weeks of each other, President Obama has achieved a breakthrough in relations with Cuba which could open the doors to engagement with that country strong enough to ensure a non-toxic (to US interests) trajectory once the Castro brothers relinquish power to their successors. Raul Castro has shown that he has the courage of a Deng Xiaoping, at least in the sphere of foreign policy. Were he to show a similar dynamism in economic policy, finally Cuba’s geographical proximity to the US would become the asset it can be, rather than the threat it has been since the 1960s.The Cuban people are as versatile as the Palestinian community of West Asia, and they would finally get the freedom they need to thrive in Havana that they have for decades enjoyed in Miami, where the Cuban-American community is known for its values and for its success in helping both themselves as well as their adopted country.

Obama has wisely gone ahead with signing a nuclear deal with Iran well before the 2016 Presidential elections, aware that in the course of a year, it will become clear that the doomsayers of the deal are bluffing, and that the agreement will enhance rather than degrade US security and other national interests. The problem for Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey is that the deal would also significantly boost Tehran’s interests, thereby enabling it to compete more effectively within the region for influence, especially with Riyadh. The best hope for the four is that President Francois Hollande of France can scupper the deal by getting his representative to make unreasonable demands in a bullying manner, the way it has been the case ever since the Geneva talks began. Why France, Germany or Britain are present and not India or Indonesia is a question that does not worry a UN system led by Ban Ki-Moon, but the fact is that Paris does not any more have the heft to torpedo a deal unless Berlin and London cooperate, which they are unlikely to do. Neither is interested in selling more super-expensive Rafale fighter jets to the GCC countries, the way Hollande so obviously is.

Clearly, the fact that the French have been the most obstructive on what is essentially a US-Iran nuclear deal has helped ensure that both Egypt (with Saudi money) and Qatar have ordered 24 aircraft each, although these are likely to see “action” only during parades, or against targets who would find it difficult to retaliate even against much less sophisticated flying machines. Given that Dassault Aviation makes less than a dozen aircraft each year, and that until now all of these get absorbed by the French air force, and that Hollande has committed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to supply 36 Rafale aircraft to the Indian Air Force in two years, it may be a while before Cairo or Doha see any aircraft. Should the nuclear deal get signed despite the obduracy of Hollande, the zest for buying French aircraft would considerably diminish within the GCC and those grouping keeps afloat through cash donations.

Hence the Plan B, which is to use the two month interregnum between the US-Iran understanding and an agreement in order to expand the space of Wahabbi interests vis-a-vis the Shia, such as through pumping in weapons and cash to miscellaneous groups in Syria on an unprecedented scale and the aerial bombardment of Houthis in Yemen by the Saudi Air Force. The assumption is that Rouhani (and Khamenei) have invested so much in a deal that they will stand by while their allies get clobbered. Should Tehran instead react with force to such a provocation, the situation on the battlefield will soon get messy for the four undeclared allies. Wisely, the Pakistan Parliament declined a Saudi request that ground forces be sent into the Yemeni quagmire.

King Salman’s war in Yemen is as big a mistake as Gamal Abdel Nasser’s was. The five years of intense military intervention in Yemen by Egypt (involving more than 60,000 troops on the field) created conditions for the collapse of the Egyptian army when it was sent into battle against Israel in 1967. King Salman’s war is likely to last as long as Nasser’s war, and will within 2016 ensure that violent sectarian conflict erupt in his own country, as also in those who have been bold enough to join him in seeking to subdue the Houthis. Of course, this is in the event that better counsel not prevail and lead to a cease-fire.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

 

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