By Zakir Husain* |
Islam News – Some|of the very recent developments in the region undoubtedly convey that instead of peace and stability the road of the Gulf peace is heading towards a more chaotic and unstable future, making Joe Biden, the incoming President’s task, more difficult and challenging.
If I say that all rumblings in the region started after the two statements the President-elect made, it won’t disqualify my arguments. Though, Biden team appears steadfast in his determination, the regional Gulf powers have started hedging their positions. First, he would not change the current venue of the American Embassy; and, second, start the nuclear (JCPOA) talk with Iran.
More than the two statements of President-Elect, the response of Iran that it is ready to return to full compliance of the deal if the President-elect ease out the sanction, has perhaps disturbed both Israel and the Gulf states more. Think where the Islamic Republic would be without sanction or control? In just five years Iran will be so stable and powerful that it either won’t need nuclear weapons or nobody would be in position to stop Iran. How the regional countries sitting with big dreams of curtailing Iran will control the heavyweight. Growing Chinese obsession will definitely not let the US be as forthcoming and involved in the security architecture of the region as it has been. Then who will carry the deterrence value? Certainly, not the oil dependent big emerging eastern countries such as China, India, South Korea, Japan. They know their power and limitations. Negotiation instead of conflict is more suitable to their profiles.
Today, Iran is in such a position that even if it abandons its nuclear ambition no regional power, including Israel, is in position to bring it to its knees. No doubt, Israel has power to destroy some vital points, carry out blitzkrieg attacks but can it sustain a long drawn war, or war of attrition with the rag tag militia, moving with 90,000 rockets on their piggyback. It is a historical fact that Israel cannot sustain long drawn war with any regional power. During the conflict with Egypt in the 70s, defense was draining out more than 50 per cent of its budget, leaving less resources for strengthening national security and development. So there is no doubt that a long drawn war with Iran will once again push Israel to the same situation.
It is better not to say anything about the capability and capacity of the other regional powers. Syria, Yemen, Aramco, Houthis’ missile reach have exposed them all.
Here is a brief decoding why the road to the Gulf peace looks chaotic and full of rumblings. Just I am raising some questions readers can find out the ‘truth from the facts’:
- All of a sudden why there has been a need to patch up or do rapprochement with Qatar. Please don’t think Qatar has been so weakened to be submissive by the boycott. Qatar will return to the regional game, we will realise it very soon. If the US shifts the Al-Udeid air base to any other country, Doha would hardly give a second thought to invite Turkey to set up a fully-fledged air base.
Just consider two scenarios why rapprochement with Qatar became imminent at this time: (i) reunite Qatar to build and strengthen a common united GCC platform to bargain with strengthen with the new administration in White House and hedge their wrongs. Second, who will benefit from the FIFA cup if the Big brother is out of the game? Can it afford to remain isolated from such a huge opportunity available next door? Will they allow Turkey and Iran to grab the opportunity? Under such circumstances, patch up between Doha and Abu Dhabi will be atomised soon.
- Why Saudis felt the need to patch up with Turkey despite so much washing each other’s dirty linen in public. Why King Salman took the matter in his hand and called President Tayyip Erdogan before the G20 Summit and later on their foreign ministers also met in the 47th OIC Summit in Niamey, Niger, after the Khashogie episode.
- Now consider why Turkey all of a sudden became so malleable and took two steps, first agreeing to resolve the ‘lingering disputes’ and both the leaders (Turkish and Saudi) agreed on ‘keeping channels of dialogue open in order for the bilateral relations to be enhanced and for issues to be settled’. (Al Jazeera, 21 Nov 2020). Second, why Turkey appoints its ambassador to Israel after two years?
Now think, will Ankara be able to turn down Biden’s advice to correct its Human Rights records in Syria, Libya, and treatment with Kurdish, when it already had some taste of his style of functioning during the Obama Presidency. Turkey too won’t like to keep all its eggs in Russian basket, especially after the Armenia-Azerbaijan episode. Looking at Ankara’s past and US-NATO alliance, Moscow is justified to be suspicious of Ankara and may not allow Turkey to expand its footprints in its backyard. Simply, Moscow cannot trust Erdogan who is ambitious to use all leverages, historical, political and economic, defence for enhancing his profile. The recent move of appointing ambassador simply shows that Ankara wants to seek Israeli support. Now think over’ how much President Erdogan’s heart beats for Muslim Ummah and how much powerful and independent he is’?
- Now what will Iran do? How will Iran limit the new administration at White House to only a nuclear deal? With two of its actions, Tehran has drawn its red lines. First, the response to US’ open killing of its General Qassem Soleimani with missile attack on it Iraqi air base, shows that Iran will directly convey no more tolerance to the killing of its valuable personnel. An asymmetric response to an asymmetric action will soon become a new normal between Israel and Iran.
Second, the timing of the capital punishment to Rohullaf Zam simply coveys President-elect that our nuclear talk does mean to include others issues such human rights, internal interference or long-dream of discrediting, defaming and destabilizing the Islamic government. Nuclear talks mean only nuclear. No other issues such as missile development, manufacturing of small arms, deployment of boats in Persian Gulf, or Houthis. Instead of lumping all the issues, Iran may like to have a comprehensive dialogue with a condition of reduction of exogenous powers in the region and no nuclear blackmailing.
Another recent event, punishing 19 year old Sahar Taber for 10 years for putting distorted pictures on Instagram as Zombie Angelina Jolie, seems another ploy of Iran to trap the coming President. Iran may accept to release and win over the President if he presses Tehran to release her on human rights grounds. If this happens, what will be interesting to see how the Saudis react if the same pressure comes on them to release the imprisoned females and Raif Badawi?
Biden is famous for what… Democracy, Human Rights, arms supply with strings and no more war, instead negotiation -are some of his USPs, true? Will he deliver what the world is eagerly waiting for?
Too much ifs and buts or red lines will turn the entire exercise into a zero sum game and once again Tehran will remain the same pariah. Therefore, it is important for Tehran to play its cards carefully. Iran’s size and reach in the region is more dangerous than holding a couple of nukes especially when Israel is sittng on 100s of nukes capable of turning the region into a holocaust.
Let’s see what more magic Biden-Harris’ Middle East box carries to surprise and make the Gulf game a win win for all loggerheads.
About the Author: Dr. Husain is a political economist, runs India Middle East Economic and Strategic Research Centre, keeps wide and varied interest in India and the Middle East and the role of big powers. Visited half a dozen countries, including IVLP alumni. Authored Saudi Arabia in a Multipolar world: Changing Dynamics, Routledge International.