All countries apparently involved in the current US-Iran standoff claim that they do not want war in the region but are inexorably moving step by step towards a military clash. Notwithstanding the recent lip service to peace by the American, Iranian and Saudi leadership, the tension in the Gulf has been escalating mainly because of the irreconcilable objectives of the stakeholders. What the American and the Arab leaders want Iran to concede, seems to be unlikely given the historic record of the defiance of the Persian nation since the Islamic revolution of 1979.
The USA does not want any defiant country in the region that instead of toing its policies, works against its perceived regional interests. Iran, amongst the regional countries, has been independent in the pursuit of its foreign policy objectives, and has, therefore, been the object of the US hostility for the past 50 years. The US Foreign policy since past one decade has been under the extreme influence of Israel and the Arab monarchies. The US failed to turn the protests of the young Arab populations against their autocratic rulers into liberal democracies ala Tunisia which, with the backing of the EU countries, has transformed into a functional democracy.
The American policy, contrary to what tall claims President Barak Obama made in his speech in Cairo in 2009, remained hinged to the whimsical likes and dislikes of the Arab monarchs – hell bent on settling their old scores with certain autocrats concentrating on the countries and entities that posed a sort of security threat to Israel and its Arab allies in the Gulf. These countries included Libya, Syria, Iraq, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan ul Muslimin), Al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The real objective of the US in the Gulf region is to secure Israel weakening the strong and affluent Muslim countries and encouraging Arab Monarchies and Emirates to enter into a security arrangement with Israel. The US and its Gulf allies hired mercenaries from Chad, Mali and some Arab countries, trained them in the use of lethal weapons, armed them to the teeth and set them on Arab leaders like Moammar Qaddafi, Bashar ul Asad for violent regime changes. The Gulf Monarchies reined in Turkey to recruit, train and arm the Free Syrian Army. Some estimates suggest, the FSA is consisted of 30,000 trained soldiers. They achieved their objective in Libya setting alight that affluent country. The country has relapsed now in the third civil war with General Khalifa Haftar – an American passport holder – waging war against the Government of National Reconciliation backed by the EU and UN. The General has the active support of Egypt, UAE and the tacit backing of President Donald Trump.
The USA demand that Iran should behave as a ‘normal state’ means nothing more than to withdraw its support to Bashar ul Asad, Hezbollah, Hamas, Houthis; disarm the Shia militias from different countries presently supporting Hezbollah in Syria; restrict the influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and ensure that no trouble would be created for US in the event of withdrawal from Afghanistan as there are credible reports that Iran has withdrawn some of the Shia militias from Syria and deployed them along the border districts contiguous to Afghanistan; abandon its nuclear and missile development program altogether and end its competition with Saudi Arabia in the Gulf.
The ambitious strategic objectives of Saudi Arabia and UEA overlap with those of USA. The USA has abiding political, economic and strategic interests in the region. These interests could be well served if all the countries of the region synchronize their foreign policies with the US interests. The Arabs want security from Iran. Given the historic hostility between Arabs and Persians and the chronic want of trust between the two camps, the former have never been willing to believe in the diplomatic statements of good neighborliness and peaceful coexistence coming out of Tehran. They want to see Iran economically weakened – not to be able to financially sustain its population in general, supporters of clergy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, its proxy militias in Syria, Yemen, Gaza in particular – militarily battered and diplomatically isolated. They depend for all this on the USA and Israel, though they have been amassing modern weapons to the benefit of the US military industrial complex.
They keep on fueling the hostility by bringing in questions of the disruption of the vital Sea lanes of the Gulf of Oman, Strait of Hormuz and Aden. Over 80% of the Saudi’s foreign trade including its outbound oil cargo passes through Aden, and 40% of the Gulf oil transits through the Strait of Hormuz. Any disruption of marine traffic in these waterways would enormously disturb the international trade. Therefore, the talk of the safety of vital Sea lanes adorns every statement of the US and Arab leaders. Whatever happens in the Gulf – may it be the attack on US drones or missile attacks on cargo ships or an explosion in the vicinity partially damaging one or two ships, missile attacks on Saudi Arabia from Houthis, Iran is inevitably blamed with one voice by the Arabs and the USA.
The US National Security Advisor, John Bolton is always dead sure that Iranian proxies were involved in the attacks. The Secretary of State Pompeo says that the US was ready to hold unconditional talks with Iran provided the latter behaves as a ‘normal state’. In the same vein, he threatens that the US will take all military steps to deter Iran from any mischief. Saudi leaders also say they do not want war in the Gulf but deep down in their hearts, they want to see Iran kneeling and beseeching before them. The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s dash to Tehran failed to lower the tension in the region. Abe Shinzo did not have any answer to the Ali Khamenei’s counter question whether he would be willing to continue his imports of oil from Iran.
The Iranians are a proud and resilient nation. Their aversion to the Arabs is rooted in history. Before the revolution, Iran was the most trusted ally of the US in the region. Its relations with the US since the advent of the clergy rule have been underlined by hostility. Iran has a functional democracy holding elections at national, provincial and local levels regularly. Its record in human rights, freedom of movement, assemblage, expression and media is better, surely not worse, than in the Gulf Monarchies and Emirates. Like all states, it has carved out its spheres of influence in the Middle East over the decades. The Iranians have always been mindful of the enmity of the US and the Arab countries towards their country after the Islamic revolution. They have derived hard lessons from this historic record and would not compromise their pride and dignity.
Iran would not accept the hegemony of Saudi Arabia in the Gulf region. It would continue to back the Shia populations in the Arab countries. Shias all over the Muslim world would continue to look towards Iran as their spiritual center. It would never severe its relations with Hezbollah, Hamas, and other Shia militant groups in the region. It can create a lot of trouble for the US to have a peaceful exit from Afghanistan. Iran has unobtrusively developed its relations with the Taliban and the Afghan leaders as well. It could play a more crucial role than Saudi Arabia or UAE in the resolution of the Afghan conundrum.
Iran has many odds to surmount in this crisis. It has differences with Turkey on the regime change in Syria. Tayyip Erdogan has desisted from coming out publicly in favour of Iran. The Turkish leader is apparently maintaining neutrality given his country’s relations with the Arab monarchies, though dependent on the Iranian gas accounting for over 60% of its import bill. Pakistan has not been able to bridge the trust deficit with Iran caused by the cross border activities of Jash ul Adel. Iran suspects the Jash is backed by the Saudi Arabia with the connivance of our security agencies. The recent exchange of bilateral visits at the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister levels has not adequately addressed the Iranian suspicions. Our leanings towards Arabs are too obvious to go unnoticed by Iranians.
Iranians will be willing to lower the tension and resume talks with the USA if the latter, as confidence building measure, removes embargo on the import of the Iranian oil by the major importers like China, Japan, India, South Korea and a few other countries, relax embargo on banking transactions for import of medicines and other essential items as suggested by the Swiss Foreign Minister recently. Iran wants the US to recognize the legitimacy of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of May 2015 as the first step for talks for any change in its provisions with the participation of the co-signatories. The US would not do that. Iran would not bow and accept a fraction of the US demands. The Arabs would keep fueling the tension and goading President Trump towards a Libya style attack on Iran. They failed to achieve this objective in Syria. They will leave no stone unturned in their bid to subdue Iran. President Donald Trump is in the grip of hawks like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo. Netanyahu, in a bid to satisfy his big ego, is naming the Jewish settlements in Golan Height after him. Arabs are filling his coffer with billions in arms purchase. Pakistan is struggling to overcome its internal economic and political crisis. What the unpitying heavens signal is ‘wither the Muslim world’.
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