Geopolitical notes from India

M D Nalapat

Friday, March 06, 2015 – Had Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel been a US citizen, he would certainly have been a politician and equally surely, have been a “neocon” within the Republican Party. These are ideologically fixated individuals who divide the world into Light and Shade, often in an arbitrary way. They also believe that any method is acceptable while dealing with the “shady” part of the globe, including the creation of narratives that have only a tenous relationship with reality, if at all. Saddam Hussein was a secular politician, and ensured during his reign that Iraq remained free of fundamentalist influence, whether Wahabbi or Khomeinist. Women could dress way they liked, and suffered no restrictions other than those imposed on male citizens.

Al Qaeda was hunted down and reduced to insignificance, at a time when it was spreading its tentacles in Saudi Arabia, which from the start has been a US ally. This did not stop “neocons” from peddling the falsehood that the actual head of that organisation was not Osama bin Laden but the President of Iraq. To this day, a majority of US citizens believe that SaddamHussein provided a safe haven to Al Qaeda, when in fact all that the organisation wanted was the same as what Dick Cheneyand his ideological companions desired, which was to capture and kill Saddam, an objective finally met by President George W Bush, to the joy of Wahabbis and Khomeinists worldwide.

As the UN Human Rights Commission can testify, some countries can do no wrong even when they sanction and bomb to death weaker states. Add to the list Syria, where weapons and cash got supplied in profuse quantities to those who openly sought a Wahabbi paradise where women and minorities would be shown their place. They have partially succeeded, in that a third of country has become a Wahabbi haven, as has about a fourth of Iraq and more than 70% of Libya, thereby giving Al Qaeda and its offshoots safe havens on a scale not seen since the days when the Taliban ruled almost the whole of Afghanistan.

Allow it to be admitted that this columnist is an admirer of the Jewish people,and regard as legitimate their desire to have a country in which this small but vibrant community is in the majority. Even in locations somewhat unfriendly to this point of view, such as Tehran, he has not hidden from those spoken to – even in large audiences – his views on the subject, and it must be said that even in Tehran, he was listened to in respectful silence, rather than heckled the way it was expected he would be. The innate courtesy and culture of the ancient civilisation of Iran clearly prevailed over any other instincts.

Indeed, the culture of that country has entered into the core of cultures across the region, and to an extent, even the globe. Just as Wahabbism is entirely different from the moderate mainstream of Sunni Islam, so is Khomeinism alien to the rational principles of Shia Islam, as indeed has been acknowledged by several Ayatollahs and Hujatollahs in Iran, including to this columnist during his visits to that major power.

President Obama has freed himself from the shadow of the Clintonite legacy, a legacy which ensured the growth of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and which during the first four-year term of Barack Obama saw the Middle East enter deeper into the cycle of chaos into which it had been plunged by the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. Aware that President Hassan Rouhani of Iran represents the essentially moderate and indeed modern views of the overwhelming majority of the population of Iran, the US administration has reached out to Tehran, engaging it in diplomacy designed to ensure that Tehran does not travel further down the path to a nuclear weapon. No country would accept the state of permanent technological servitude which PM Netanyahu believes that Tehran should be forced to accept, if needed by the use of force. Each bellicose statement by him ensures a further strengthening of the position of the Khomeinists in Iran vis-a-vis the moderate majority led by Rouhani.

Is Netanyahu’s option of a military strike feasible? Should Israel and NATO – or Israel and the US – act in concert, there would be a temporary degrading of Iran’s nuclear capabilties. But these do not need bricks and mortar to survive, they simply need to remain in the minds of scientists in Iran, and from then onwards, they would focus on ensuring acquiring of a capability such that a future attack by the US and Israel or by any other combination would be met with retaliation so severe as to make the initial attack unlikely. In a smouldering Middle East, a war with largest Shia-majority country on globe would merely ensure that a new variant of global terror emerge to take its place alongside the ultra-Wahabbi terror machine of ISIS. This would be a global catastrophe.

Prime Minister Netanyahu may be a Republican at heart, and he has a right to show the world that he would – for example – have preferred Mitt Romney rather than Barack Obama in the White House. However, he is wrong in his dismissal of the Rouhani offer of talks. The US and its allies lost the chance to empower the moderate majority in Iran during the time when Mohammad Khatami was in charge, by offering him only surrender terms and thereby weakening his domestic base. The same mistake ought not to be made with Rouhani. A verifiable end to an Iranian nuclear weapons program, even while the civilian program goes ahead ,is possible and President Obama would be adding to the security of the region and the globe were he to succeed. Rather than cast doubt on such efforts, the interests of the State of Israel – a country which accounts for more than 90% of the creative inventions of the Middle East – mandate that Netanyahu stand with Barack Obama rather than oppose him. Playing politics in a foreign country is seldom a good idea,and it is a particularly bad moment now, when the US and other powers are engaged in giving Tehran confidence that it will not be attacked, provided it moves away from the path of weaponisation of its nuclear assets.

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

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