The moral winner of the World Cup 2022 is the Iranian team. Yesterday, Iran’s national team kept silent during the Islamic Republic’s national anthem ahead of their match against England, in solidarityMore
Iran and Saudi Arabia, after years of enmity, agreed last week to restore diplomatic ties after talks facilitated by China, a significant development widely welcomed worldwide.
Experts have said that the Beijing-brokered detente has raised hopes for a much-needed reduction in tensions in the Middle East, with a particular focus on the ongoing war in Yemen.
They told Xinhua that China’s economic and diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran are highly significant, allowing Beijing to play a constructive role in de-escalating conflicts in war-torn Yemen and beyond.
Abdullah Dubalah, a Yemeni political observer, told Xinhua, “China’s participation in facilitating the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia serves the region’s stability, as it maintains good relations with both countries, thereby promoting a more peaceful and prosperous Gulf region.”
He noted China plays a role in facilitating dialogue and cooperation in the region, which is entirely different from the divide-and-rule approach of the United States.
Adel Dashela, a Yemeni writer and academic researcher, said China had demonstrated its diplomatic prowess by successfully resolving international disputes through political dialogue.
He said the two sides must adhere to the agreed-upon terms to overcome obstacles, reduce regional tensions and benefit all parties involved.
The expert pointed out that Iran and Saudi Arabia also play a significant role in resolving Yemen’s civil conflicts, adding that the two regional powers should put the interests of Yemen on par with the regional security issues because Yemen has become a hotbed for regional conflicts and unrest.
Still, some Yemeni observers told Xinhua that the recent Saudi-Iran deal alone cannot resolve Yemen’s plight, calling for more efforts to end the crisis.
“Although the China-brokered agreement can create a positive momentum in Yemen, it does not fix all problems in the war-torn country,” said Maysaa Shuja Al-Deen, a Yemeni political researcher.
She said “the underlying issues that have fueled the conflict in Yemen, such as political divisions, economic instability, and regional power struggles, are complex and difficult to resolve.”
Al-Deen said she believes that a comprehensive political solution for Yemen issues requires the involvement of key regional players, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, and sustained international efforts.
Adil Al-Shuja’a, a politics professor from Sanaa university, said “the crisis in the region has been ongoing for decades, and the agreement is a step towards a potential resolution. “
The expert’s view was echoed by Yasin Al-Tamimi, a political analyst and writer, who said “the agreement, which marks a new chapter in the relationship between the two countries, is expected to have an impact on the conflict in Yemen and could give Riyadh the impetus it needs to end Yemen’s war.”
Al-Tamimi said “to achieve this goal, it is believed that a negotiated settlement will be necessary. Such an agreement would enable Saudi Arabia to maintain its influence over the political landscape of Yemen while at the same time providing a pathway towards peace and stability in the region.”
The civil war erupted in Yemen in late 2014 when the Iran-backed Houthi militia seized control of some northern cities and forced the Saudi-backed Yemeni government out of the capital Sanaa.
The war has killed tens of thousands of Yemenis, displaced 4 million people, and pushed the country to the brink of famine.
In a statement released by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Yemeni government welcomed the recent agreement as a potential opportunity to improve relations and serve the region’s stability.
Meanwhile, Houthi group spokesperson Mohammad Abdul-Salam wrote on Twitter that the group’s leaders welcome the resumption of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, believing it would promote stability in the region.
The restoration of diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia has garnered curious allusions of doom and gloom, if not outright shock and awe, over Israel’s back channel security dialogue with the Kingdom, not to mention damage to U.S. interests in the region. The New York Times captured it as “the topsiest and turviest of developments anyone could have imagined, a shift that left heads spinning in capitals around the globe.” And in a separate piece, it quoted Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the arguably hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies that “Renewed Iran-Saudi ties as a result of Chinese mediation is a lose, lose, lose for American interests.”
But the Times wasn’t alone. Twitter was replete with nightmarish scenarios for U.S. influence and prestige in the Middle East and concern in Tel Aviv even as the Biden administration outwardly welcomed the development. John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, expressed skepticism that Iran would honor its commitments to abstain from violence or interference in the Kingdom’s internal affairs, but acknowledged how the development could serve in defusing regional tensions and possibly ending the war in Yemen. Friction between Iran and its neighbors across the Gulf account for Yemen’s horrendous humanitarian crisis, energy-market rattling missile strikes against the Kingdom and United Arab Emirates, and Tehran’s meddling among Saudi’s Arabia’s disenfranchised Shia community. Reducing that is in Washington and Tel Aviv’s interest, regardless who gets the credit.
The reality is that Iran and Saudi Arabia have been walking back their mutual escalation of provocative words and deeds for quite some time.
Representatives, generally from the nation’s respective intelligence services, have conducted meetings brokered respectively by the Iraqis and Omanis for at least the last two years. And while the Saudis certainly don’t tell the U.S. everything, my direct experience in this dialogue is consistent with Washington’s assertion that it was kept in the loop and Israel was likewise hardly taken by surprise.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began his de facto rule of the Kingdom flexing his military muscles in Yemen while making saber-rattling boasts concerning Iran. He even boldly suggested Riyadh would pursue its own nuclear program should the Iranians weaponize theirs. But reality set in after Saudi military failings in Yemen and Houthi attacks inside the Kingdom undermined Prince Mohammed’s superpower narrative.
The crown prince’s confidence in U.S. security guarantees wavered further following the September 2019 missile and drone attacks on Saudi Aramco facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais, which the U.S. acknowledged to have been Iranian facilitated. And Prince Mohammad did not take kindly to incoming President-elect Biden referring to him and the Kingdom as pariahs owing to persistent evidence of human rights violations and an intelligence community assessment the White House released holding him personally responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
Ropes of Sand
Prince Mohammad’s political fortunes are largely dependent on whether Vision 2030 can deliver on the promise to diversify the country’s petrochemical-dependent economy and bring greater employment and increased housing. Neom, the high tech, futuristic $500 billion dollar city under construction in Saudi Arabia’s northwest is the centerpiece on which much else depends. Despite the influx of petrodollars owing to the war in Ukraine, Neom has struggled to meet its projected 2024 opening which, along with other setbacks, have shaped Prince Mohammad’s greater pragmatism. The opening to Iran, Yemen ceasefire and reversal of the Qatari boycott reflect such necessary pragmatism.
Nevertheless, the crown prince is demonstrating independence from what he sees as America’s unreliable protective blanket and looking for alternative security partners. Making the Biden White House look bad is just an added benefit-but that does not make for an existential threat to U.S. interests. Despite the Times’ hyperbole (and the Wall Street Journal’s earlier claim that “the relationship had hit the breaking point.”, there’s no evidence Prince Mohammad is prepared to sustain the enormous costs of converting the Kingdom’s well integrated and U.S.-dependent military infrastructure to Chinese or Russian weapons systems.
Moreover, in the most catastrophic scenario, China will not threaten to boycott Iranian oil on which it depends or project force in the Kingdom’s defense were Tehran to attack. But the Crown Prince is betting the U.S. wouldn’t stand by under such circumstances regardless of Riyadh’s friction with Washington, thereby providing him freedom to play the international field to serve his own political narrative.
The Saudi ruler also likes the prestige associated with American technology and its advanced battlefield-tested systems like those the Ukrainians are using to great effect against Russia-as does Prince Mohammed’s one-time ally and increasingly rival UAE’s President Mohamed Bin Zayed, who likewise endeavors to chart his own course. Were Prince Mohammed ever to petulantly jump off that ledge, as he’s certainly capable of impulsive, poorly calculated decisions, doing so could not possibly occur overnight and would leave the Kingdom’s American-centric infrastructure vulnerable.
The fact is that Riyadh has in recent years been scaling back defense spending to finance the crown prince’s grand economic programs. His aim appears to achieve a social contract of sorts cribbed from China to offset his people’s aspirations for political freedom in exchange for social reforms and comfortable lives.
That’s not to totally dismiss the China card. Prince Mohammed has for some time been looking to China for support in developing Saudi Arabia’s own ballistic missile capability, as well as a pilot nuclear program, and Beijing is only too happy to help. The Intercept reported that part of DCIA Burns’ April 2022 travel to the Kingdom was to dissuade the Crown Prince from procuring fully assembled Chinese ballistic missiles as a deterrent against, or response to, Iran.
Mind the Gap
But beyond the smiles and handshakes recently choreographed in Beijing, the Crown Prince appears interested in addressing defense gaps relative to Iran whose threat is not going away. China is likely to accommodate capabilities the U.S. would rather withhold making it likely Prince Mohammed will pursue a broad range of military and economic opportunities with Beijing, but avoid an either-or choice with the U.S.
China, for its part, will eagerly work to erode and replace U.S. regional influence in a region which accounts for much of its energy supplies. As reflected by news that Beijing is working to host a summit among Iran and its Gulf Cooperation Council neighbors, Chinese leaders hope to reap the lucrative economic opportunities and likewise solidify its image as the preeminent and most reliable world power. Money talks, and face is critical in this region where rulers all strive to appear strong and independent of foreign influence, but no Gulf ruler is going to stake their Kingdoms on Chinese security guarantees-or weapons.
As for Israel, the development similarly falls short of a doomsday event. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would surely value the political gains at home and abroad of securing normalization with Saudi Arabia, coming as it would at both Iran’s and the Palestinians’ expense. But the truth is that Israel’s security back channel with Saudi Arabia has been ongoing for years and across far more challenging political climates. Benny Gantz, while the Israeli army’s chief of staff, then Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, and former directors of the National Security Council Yossi Cohen and Meir Ben-Shabbat have all travelled to the Kingdom in recent years.
Moreover, a November 2020 Washington Post story quoting Israeli media and claiming confirmation from an anonymous Israeli intelligence official reported that Netanyahu himself, traveling with then Mossad Chief Cohen, met Prince Mohammed personally. The gathering occurred in Neom, the same Saudi futuristic city under development, along with then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Israeli-Saudi cooperation concerning Iran is not going to end, but rather remain in the shadows, for the time being. After all, Iran remains a far more likely military threat. Tehran’s hardline leaders will not order the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to abandon the Kingdom’s Shi’a, whose unrest could undermine Prince Mohammed’s veneer of strength, and threaten the nation’s Northeastern oil epicenter.
It has been vintage Prince Mohammed to quickly follow-up any acts of defiance with the White House, as was the case with last year’s oil production cut, with messaging and appeals to the American public. This appears the case with the Kingdom’s sudden revelation of its willingness to establish ties with Israel. Riyadh went on an info spree in the U.S. following the October cuts to justify the measure, during which it issued statements and used proxies to highlight its good deeds and philanthropic efforts, including gifts to American universities.
More practically, however, Prince Mohammed is unlikely to normalize relations with Israel absent the creation of a Palestinian state while his father lives. Palestinian statehood is dear to King Salman’s heart, assuming health has not incapacitated him, the King having played a major role in developing the thrice Arab League endorsed 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. The plan offers Arab states’ recognition and normalization of ties with Israel in exchange for its withdrawal from occupied territories, a just settlement, and a Palestinian state. A frail King Salman reassured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his own public while still seen conducting meetings in May 2021, as he had after the U.S. pushed Riyadh throughout 2020 to join the Abraham Peace Accords, that Saudi Arabia remained committed to the 2002 framework and would not forsake the Palestinians.
The Wall Street Journal reported from Tehran on Wednesday that “a lethal crackdown and an ailing economy have quieted anti-government street demonstrations … organised protests have largely tapered off.” The paradox is, this interpretation is widely applicable in the contemporary world situation, including many G7 countries. How can one pretend there are no “protestor grievances” in Britain or France today, and, yet, how come they are mute?
The western narrative never cared to admit that Iran is ruled by elected governments. The big question is, would such street violence have erupted in Iran without the covert support and coordination by foreign intelligence agencies? It is pointless to discuss Iran’s politics while in denial mode about the whole history of foreign interference in that country’s internal affairs.
Michel Foucault’s famous essay on the Iranian Revolution What Are the Iranians Dreaming About? begins with the author’s exchange with an Iranian activist in the streets of Tehran heaving with revolutionary fervour in 1978: “They will never let go of us of their own will. No more than they did in Vietnam.” I (Foucault) wanted to respond that they are even less ready to let go of you than Vietnam, because of oil.”
Today, four decades later, this historical reality continues. Arguably, it may now become even more complicated and intractable, as Iran’s oil and gas is set to combine with Russia’s, another energy superpower. Meanwhile, Associated Press reported today that Iran and Russia are also moving toward linking their banking systems, turning their back on the petrodollar.
Read the US Energy Information Administration data — here and here — to know why the AP report matters. Simply put, almost a quarter of the world’s oil reserves and around 40 percent of the world’s gas reserves may potentially be traded outside the western banking system if Russian and Iranian policies work in tandem, dealing a body blow to the “world currency,” American dollar.
Suffice to say, there is no question that the protests in Iran were a western reaction to the emerging alliance between Iran and Russia. Now that the protests over hijab have “tapered off,” the modus operandi will shift from colour revolution back to the classic mode of sabotage and assassinations (especially after Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power in Israel.)
The burgeoning military cooperation between Iran and Russia puts Tehran on Washington’s crosshairs. In the context of the Ukraine conflict, the West see Iran in a new way. Indeed, the Russian interest in getting Iran on board the Moscow-brokered process of Turkish-Syrian rapprochement underscores that the Kremlin has jettisoned whatever past reserve it would had about aligning with Iran in geopolitical projects.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated at a press conference with the visiting Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Moscow that “Russia, Iran, and Turkey are members of the Astana troika, which has been handling the Syrian settlement. Therefore, I consider it absolutely logical that any further communication on bringing relations between Turkey and Syria back to normal will also involve Russia and Iran.
“As for the timeframes and specific formats of participation, be it at the military, diplomatic or any other level, they are currently being specified. We have a full understanding that it is necessary to move step by step, so that every step forward should yield specific, albeit minor, results.”
What the US and its Western allies (and Israel) will find particularly galling will be the warm words of welcome extended by Turkey to this development, which highlights the ascendance of “Astana troika” in the geopolitics of Syria.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s foreign policy advisor Ibrahim Kalin has said: “We are pleased that Iran is joining this process. Iran is an important side. I think it will be able to contribute to this process. The participation of Iran in the negotiating process, which is held with the mediation of Russia, will make it easier. As part of this process, we are talking about ensuring the security of our borders, the neutralisation of the terrorist threat with respect to our country, the return of Syrian refugees, a worthy and safe return.”
Kalin disclosed that a foreign minister level meeting between Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iran can be expected “within the next few weeks.” Unsurprisingly, a convergence of interests between the US, Israel and Kurds (and Kiev) to settle scores with Iran is only to be expected.
The early signs are already there. According to Iran’s defence ministry, three drones were involved in the attack on Friday at about midnight on a military facility in the city of Isfahan. It said one drone was destroyed by air defence systems and two were caught by “defence traps”, causing minor damage to a building. There were no casualties.
Pentagon spokesperson Brig Gen Patrick Ryder promptly said the US military played no part in the strikes, but declined to speculate further. However, Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed “US officials and people familiar with the operation” as saying Israel had carried out the attack. The New York Times also named Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, citing “senior (US) intelligence officials”. (here)
Isfahan province is home to a large air base, a major missile production complex and several nuclear sites. Iran’s official Irna news agency said the drones had targeted an ammunition manufacturing plant. The BBC highlighted that “The attack comes amid heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme and its supply of arms to Russia’s war in Ukraine.”
NourNews, which is wired into Iran’s national security establishment, disclosed on Wednesday that forensic experts have matched the body, engines, power supply and navigation system of the downed UAVs and “precisely determined their manufacturer and revealed important clues.”
A second report by NourNews on Wednesday went into further details according to which Kurdish terrorist elements based in Iraqi Kurdistan were deployed by “a foreign security service” to smuggle parts of the drones and explosive materials across the border through “one of the inaccessible routes” in northwest” Iran, which were later assembled in “an equipped workshop using trained forces.” It seems Iran’s security establishment had some inkling of such a terrorist attack on the basis of the interrogation in August of a terrorist Kurdish group working for the Israeli agency Mossad.
However, a stunning dimension to this sordid affair is that a top aide to the Ukrainian president Zelensky linked the Isfahan attack to the alleged supply of Iranian drones to Russia. An unnamed Iranian official has since reacted that unless Kiev disowned any such linkage, Tehran too may adopt “a new approach that is appropriate to the behaviour of the Kiev government.”
Not much ingenuity is needed to connect the dots in the Isfahan attack — Ukrainian and Israeli intelligence (and the American masterminds in Kiev) operated through the Kurdish groups based in Iraqi Kurdistan, which have long-standing links to both the US and Mossad, and “sleeper cells” within Iran.
The bottomline is that today, almost anything concerning Iran’s security would have a foreign dimension — albeit hidden behind hijab or rubrics of democracy and human rights. That is what history testifies. No doubt, time present and time past are linked in such a way in Iran that both could be present in time future, and — to borrow from English poet TS Eliot — the time future can as well be deemed as “contained in time past.”
The process toward a Turkish-Syrian rapprochement may lose momentum as a top aide to Turkish President Recep Erdogan threatened to derail it. On Saturday, Ibrahim Kalin, presidential advisor on foreign policy, stated during a media briefing in Ankara that the Russian push for peace did not mean that Ankara was abandoning the option of launching a new campaign in Syria.
To quote Kalin, “A ground operation is possible any time, depending on the level of threats we receive.” But he also added, “Turkey never targets the Syrian state or Syrian civilians.”
This may seem like crying “wolf.” But Kalin’s comments came two days after Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad said that any future talks with Ankara should aim for “the end of occupation” by Turkey of parts of Syria.
Syrian Foreign Minister Fayssal Mikdad since said at a joint press conference in Damascus on Sunday with the visiting Iranian FM Hussein Amir Abdollahian that a suitable environment must be created for Syrian-Turkish meetings at higher levels if necessary, and that any political meetings must be built on specific foundations that respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the presence of the armed forces as a real guarantor of the Syrian and neighbouring lands, and this is the thing that determines the possibility of holding such meetings.
Abdollahian’s own remark was equally revealing: “Syria and Turkey are important countries in the region, and Tehran has distinguished and good relations with both of them, and when there were threats of Turkish military attacks against northern Syria, we worked to prevent that, and we are happy that the diplomatic efforts we made led to dialogue taking the place of war.”
Plainly put, Tehran underscored that it has equity in any Syrian-Turkish normalisation. Arguably, Iran creates space for Syria to negotiate with Turkey. Iran is a balancer in the Syrian-Russian equations also, which has its complexities too. Basically, Tehran regards Damascus as part of the “axis of resistance” that is integral to Iran’s regional strategies.
Significantly, this is also the thrust of a commentary recently by the influential NourNews which is wired into Iran’s national security establishment.
Indeed, Assad told Abdollahian that Damascus is keen on “continuous communication and coordination of positions” with Iran, especially since the latter was one of the first countries to stand by the Syrian people in their war against terrorism, and furthermore, such coordination is of the utmost importance today to “achieve common interests” when the two countries are witnessing “accelerated regional and international developments.”
During Abdollahian’s visit, Syria and Iran agreed to renew an economic strategic agreement, which would be formalised during a forthcoming visit by President Ebrahim Raisi to Damascus.
Apart from the crucial security role by tens of thousands of Iran-backed fighters in tilting the balance of forces in the Syrian conflict in Assad’s favour, Iran has also been a critical economic lifeline for Syria, delivering fuel and credit lines worth billions of dollars to help Damascus offset crippling Western-led sanctions. Syria and Iran signed almost a dozen economic deals in 2019 as part of the long-term strategic economic agreement to bolster their commercial ties.
Moscow may have pursued Ankara’s interests more in its relations with Syria lately. But Moscow’s shrinking strategic band width and diminished influence in Syria in the downstream of the Ukraine conflict does not translate as retrenchment.
The redeployment of the Wagner Group from Syria’s southwest and far eastern regions to Ukraine, the transfer of a Syria-based S-300 missile defence system to Ukraine and even possible withdrawal of additional military assets from Syria can only be seen as tactical shift in Russia’s military footprint in Syria.
Plainly put, Iran’s role is a factor of stability in the Syrian situation lest an empowered Turkey feels tempted to expand its presence in Syria. Equally, Russia also plays a trapeze act, leveraging its presence in Syria to encourage a conflicted Israel to navigate a precarious balance between its interests in Syria and its support for Ukraine and the West.
The bottomline is that in the wake of the Ukraine conflict, the Syrian conflict’s power dynamic is dramatically shifting. On the one hand, there is a strategic “pull” toward a greater possibility of Damascus, Moscow, Tehran and Ankara working together to push US forces out of northeast Syria.
On the other hand, the power dynamic with Russia may be shifting in Ankara’s favour lately. Erdogan’s capacity to hold Swedish and Finnish accession to NATO hostage; Erdogan’s intensified threats to launch another incursion into northeast Syria; Turkiye’s role as the sole custodian of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits which regulate the access to the Black Sea — these are factors that may encourage Erdogan to press his demands more forcefully once the Turkish elections slated for June get over and Russia’s primary leverage on Turkiye, which is economic rather than military, loses its potency.
Make no mistake that Erdogan’s top priority will be the dismantling of the Kurdish project in northeast Syria. How Erdogan goes about it is the whole point. It may not be a bad thing for Russia since any such shift in the Syrian conflict landscape would ultimately cut down the Kurds, threaten the viability of the US-Kurdish partnership and eventually pressure the US to pull out of Syria.
But the catch is, it may entail another limited Turkish invasion of Syria. Should Erdogan believe that his victory in the forthcoming election depends on another Syrian incursion, Russia will be unlikely to prevent the attack. Hence Moscow’s positive attitude toward Erdogan’s proposal on a trilateral meeting between Turkey, Russia, and Syria to address Turkiye’s security concerns.
Any aggressive Iranian tactics at this point may weaken Russia’s capacity in fostering a Turkish-Syrian rapprochement. But then, the mitigating factor here is that in the present conditions under sanctions, Russia and Iran also have deepened their strategic ties well beyond their cooperation in Syria.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the semi-official Iranian news agency Tasnim reported on Sunday quoting an influential member of the Majlis that Tehran expects to take delivery of a number of Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets in the coming months plus “a series of other military equipment from Russia, including air defence systems, missile systems and helicopters.”
Su-35 is a 4++ generation twin-engine, super-maneuverable fighter jet and a game changer. It is for the first time since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 that Iran will be receiving advanced cutting-edge weaponry to boost its deterrence capability.
A holistic view of happenings in the year 2022 gives more cause for concern than hope for the world community. While significant developments have happened in the field of science and technology in the year 2022, peace and harmony in the world still remain a distant dream. Many people seem to have become pessimistic and think that aspiring for peace in the world is an unrealistic and utopian expectation.
While several unhappy events have taken place in 2022 particularly due to war and conflict, natural as well as manmade calamities, one of the worst things that have been noted is the denial of rights and privileges for women by law in a few Islamic countries, particularly in Iran, Afghanistan and to some extent in Saudi Arabia.
While the growth in civilization over the last several decades has ensured that women are treated as equal to men in all respects by enforcement of the law by most governments, still atrocities against women and the exploitation of women have been reported in an isolated manner in several countries. Offences against women and heaping insults on them in private households and public places and work spots have been reported and particularly sexual assaults against young women are being reported too frequently. This implies that the section of menfolk continues to think and act as if women are inferior creation of God and their weaker physical attributes in comparison with men justify the women being viewed as weaker and susceptible to exploitation.
While such disturbing trends prevail in many countries, the law and regulations in such countries do protect women’s liberty and freedom and atrocities against women by men are treated as punishable offences.
Scenario in Iran and Afghanistan:
However, what is happening in Iran and Afghanistan is different from the rest of the world, as oppressive acts against women have sanctioned laws in Iran and Afghanistan.
There are several Islamic countries where regulations are enforced by law, where severe dress restrictions exist for women, the marital laws are oppressive and polygamy is permitted where women are virtually reduced to the level of pleasure objects for men and restrictions exist for women in places of worship
The recent ban on University education for women in Afghanistan is the worst development that has taken place in living memory. To put it bluntly, any government which put such restrictions on women should be viewed as uncivilized and extremely backward.
What is particularly distressing is that there has been no effective force in the world, which can safeguard the liberty of women in countries such as Iran and Afghanistan and ensure the dignified status of women in society.
There are, of course, some isolated groups all over the world which make statements against such restrictions on women but they have little impact in countries like Iran and Afghanistan.
U N O should act:
Under the circumstances, one option is that United Nations Organisation should take a firm stand against oppression and denial of rights for women by law in any country and declare such regulations as inhuman and governments in such countries as uncivilized.
At present, United Nations has the concept of maintaining a peacekeeping force to send multinational peacekeeping forces to disturbed countries to protect the victims. We also have institutions like the Red Cross, which go to the aid of victims and sufferers during war and calamities.
In the same way, UNO should examine whether it can have a wing that can be aptly named an “Oppressed Women Protection Force”, which can be sent to such countries where the restrictions imposed on the liberty of women are enforced by law.
Such Women Protection Force may be authorized by the UNO to enter such countries, where government restrict women’s liberty by law and carry out a sustained campaign for women’s liberty in the region. This women’s Protection Force can considerably strengthen the women’s movement in these countries considerably. Of course, this protection force will be an unarmed body and would be a moral force that cannot be ignored by the offending governments. This force would also represent the voice of the civilized community and bring enormous pressure on the offending governments to mend their ways.
This suggestion for a Women’s Protection Force may sound whimsical, vague and impractical in the present scenario in world.
However, this idea does deserve to be developed, debated and fine-tuned in a way that it can become a reality.
It should be kept in mind that in the past such “impractical ideas” have gained acceptance due to the sustained efforts of right-thinking individuals and positive campaigners.
Consequent upon the Ukraine war, as the Sea of Azov becomes an inland sea for Russia, bracketed by the Crimean Peninsula and the mouth of the River Don, the sea and rail networks of the region extend to Iranian hubs on the Caspian Sea and ultimately lead to the Indian Ocean. A feature article in Bloomberg last week titled Russia and Iran Are Building a Trade Route That Defies Sanctions brings to centre stage this “sanctions-busting” project in the region.
Last month, Mehr News Agency reported that a first 12 million–ton shipment of Russian grain bound for India already transited Iran. The time has come for the inland trade corridor known as the International North-South Transport Corridor or the INSTC, which was launched in 2000 to connect the Baltic Sea with the Indian Ocean.
Ironically, the West’s “sanctions from hell” against Moscow roused the INSTC to life. Moscow is currently finalising the rules that would give ships from Iran the right of passage along inland waterways on the Volga and Don rivers!
The INSTC was conceived as a 7,200 km-long multimodal transportation network encompassing sea, road, and rail routes to move freight between Russia, Central Asia and the Caspian regions, Iran and India. At its core, this is a Russian-Iranian project who are stakeholders in countering the West’s weaponisation of sanctions.
But there is much more to their congruent interests. The Western sanctions motivate them to look for optimally developing their economies, and both Russia and Iran are pivoting to the Asian market, and in the process, a new trading bloc is forming that is completely free of Western presence. “The goal is to shield commercial links from Western interference and build new ones with the giant and fast–growing economies of Asia, ” Bloomberg noted.
Speaking to a group of senior Russian editors on Monday in Moscow, Foreign Minister Lavrov said, “Rest assured that in the near future, we will see a serious drop in the West’s ability to ‘steer’ the global economy the way it pleases. Whether it wants it or not, it will have to sit down and talk.” This is the crux of the matter — force the western powers to negotiate.
In the near term, INSTC’s takeoff will depend on some big projects. On Monday, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak spoke about an energy grid involving Russia, Iran and Central Asia and the South Asian region.
Novak said, “A constant influx of national currencies gives confidence to the market. At the beginning of the year, we faced a situation where it was not very clear what to do with these currencies. At the moment, they are traded on the stock exchange and ensure mutual trade turnover… If at the beginning of the year this flywheel swayed very hard, then in just a few months it became commonplace, and we began to trade steadily in national currencies.” De-dollarisation provides an underpinning of the INSTC. This is one thing.
Second, Novak made the disclosure that Russia and Iran may reach an agreement on swap supplies of oil and gas by the end of this year. As he put it, “If we talk about perspective, this includes exports of gas to Afghanistan, Pakistan — either using the infrastructure projects of Central Asia, or through a swap from the territory of Iran. That is, we will receive their gas in the south of the country [Iran], and in exchange we will supply gas to the north for Iranian consumers.”
Novak added, “We expect around 5 mln tons [of oil] per year and up to 10 bln cubic meters [of gas] at the first stage.” Pakistan is interested in sourcing Russian gas. Novak referred to Russia’s agreement with Azerbaijan, which is set to increase gas supplies, and “when they increase gas production, we will be able to discuss swaps.”
Pakistan has an inherent advantage, as all the participating countries of the INSTC except India also happen to be members of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. At some point early enough, the two designated Iranian ports in the INSTC — Bandar Abbas and Chabahar — will likely get linked to Gwadar Port, which is the gateway to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor [CPEC] leading to Xinjiang, and an important component of the BRI.
Clearly, the INSTC will spawn a web of international economic corridors. Iran is destined to become the hub of converging strategic interests with significant economic dimensions that will determine new alliances and impact the geopolitics of South and West Asia in the 21st century.
The US has been waging an information war to debunk the CPEC and fuel anti-China sentiments in the Pakistani public opinion. But it is a hopeless endeavour to malign the INSTC as a geopolitical project and impractical to threaten regional states from associating with what is an intercontinental trade route that is no single country’s franchise. After all, how to sanction a trading bloc?
The facts speak for themselves. The INSTC trials carried out to transport containers from Mumbai to St Petersburg using the trade corridor are able to reduce the delivery time of cargo from 45 days to 25 days at 30% cheaper rates than via Suez Canal, justifying the hopes for enhanced connectivity and utility of the corridor. Clearly, the trade potential of INSTC is immense.
However, Russia and Iran are determined to decouple the West. Lavrov said on Monday, “We can no longer rely on these people. Neither our people nor history will forgive us if we do… we too openly and naively put our faith in the assurances that we heard in the early 1990s about a common European home and the need for an international division of labour that would rely on the best performance and competitive advantages of each country, so that, by pulling our efforts together and saving resources, we would be able achieve the best and cost-effective results. All of that was empty talk.”
Iran and Eurasian Economic Union [comprising Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan] have reportedly finalised the terms for a free trade agreement involving more than 7,500 types of commodities. A market as big as $700 billion is opening up to Iranian products and services as of the next Iranian year [starting March 21, 2023].
The FTA encourages free movement of goods and services, and provides for common policies in the macroeconomic sphere, transport, industry and agriculture, energy, foreign trade and investment, customs, technical regulation, competition, and antitrust regulation. It will be a game changer for the INSTC, transforming the power dynamic in the vast Eurasian landmass and the Gulf region. The INSTC signifies a strategic axis between Russia and Iran built around a trade route heralding a non-western trading bloc of free-wheeling regional states with common interests in resisting western hegemony.
The Islamic Republic of Iran was the first UN member ever to be expelled from the prestigious Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), tasked with protecting women’s rights and promoting gender equality.
In response to Iran’s crackdown on protests, following the death of a young woman in police custody, Tehran’s four-year term on the CSW came to an end on December 14 after the adoption of a resolution introduced by the United States, with 29 members voting in favour of the resolution, eight against, and 16 abstaining.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called the vote “historic” and told reporters, “I think we sent a strong message to the Iranian government, and we sent a strong message to Iranian women.”
The 45-member commission is nearly as old as the United Nations itself and was formed in 1946. The 54-member UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) that oversees the CSW, and which had previously elected Iran in April 2021 for a four-year term to the CSW beginning March 2022, adopted the resolution to oust it from the commission.
Based on increasing evidence gathered in the 1960s that women were disproportionately affected by poverty, the work of the commission centered on the needs of women in community and rural development, agricultural work and family planning, and scientific and technological advances. The commission also encouraged the UN to provide greater technical assistance to ensure further advancement of women, especially in developing countries, according to “A Short History of the Commission on the Status of Women.”
It is unusual to oust any government from a United Nations body. And several states questioned the legality of the move, especially Iran and Russia. But Canada’s Ambassador Bob Rae countered this opposition by saying a vote has to be taken first in order to request an opinion.
Death of Mahsa Amini
The resolution was sparked by Iran’s brutality against protesters who took to the streets in September after the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, arrested by the “morality police” for not wearing a hijab, a head covering. She died in custody. As street protests spread across the country, political stability is being put to a potential test for the politically inexperienced president of Iran, conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi.
At least 488 people have been killed since the demonstrations began, according to a November 29 tweet by the Iran Human Rights (IHR) group, which is monitoring the protests. Another 18,200 people have been detained by authorities, IHR said. Iran recently publicly executed two male protestors.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield spoke of the young woman, saying: “Mahsa Amini just wanted to finish her studies. She wanted to start a family. … She was just a student. But now she is a martyr… We know she was killed for the crime of being a woman.”
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the protesters have no interest in reforming Iran’s theocracy but, instead, want to do away with it, and the women-focused demonstrations have been attacking the regime’s legitimacy. “Chants of ‘woman, life, freedom’ and calls to end mandatory hijab-wearing challenge the Islamist ideology that Iran’s government is based on. These protests have unusually widespread support, unbound by class, ethnicity, or gender,” stated the article by CFR.
Iran’s UN ambassador, Amir Saeid Iravani, has, meanwhile, denied all allegations leveled against the country. Castigating the United States, he said that Washington demonstrated hostile policy toward the Iranian people, particularly women, “pursued under the guise of defending human rights.” He questioned the legality of the vote, saying that “terminating an elected member’s participation in a functional commission for any alleged reason” is not supported by the ECOSOC’s rules.
Russia’s deputy ambassador, Gennady Kuzmin, said the purpose of the meeting was to purge the Commission on the Status of Women of a sovereign player, adding that each state has the obligation to maintain public order. But he said the Iranian government should take measures to prevent such tragedies like the death of Mahsa Amini in the future. He also questioned the legality of the vote.
Ambassador Gilad Erdan of Israel, now in a proxy war with Iran, told the ECOSOC delegates that “this resolution must receive the support of all of us and whoever doesn’t support it is complicit in the oppression and murder of women.”
Those not supporting the resolution were Bolivia, China, Kazakhstan, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Russia, and Zimbabwe.
According to Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the International Crisis Group, lots of delegates had second thoughts when reports of the U.S. action became known. “I have heard a lot of diplomats say they think Iran’s actions are vile, but they worry that the U.S. will use these exclusionary tactics more in future. One day it’s Iran, the next day it could be you.”
The text of the resolution voiced concern over Iran “administering policies flagrantly contrary to the human rights of women and girls and to the mandate of the Commission on the Status of Women,” and decided “to remove with immediate effect” Iran from membership in the commission for the remainder of its 2022-2026 term.
The ongoing unrest in Iran since mid-September following the death of a Kurdish woman in police custody shows no signs of abating as of now. The unrest has drawn support from all social strata and assumed anti-government overtones. The efficacy of suppressing the unrest is doubtful. Iran is entering a period of turmoil.
Indeed, the government faces no imminent threat but seems cognisant of the imperative need to address the hijab policy to pacify the protestors. As the protests continue, many women are walking on the streets of cities across Iran, especially in Tehran, without head coverings.
There is a long history of Western countries fuelling public unrest in Iran. Regime change agenda must be there in the western calculus but, curiously, Washington is also signalling interest in reaching an accommodation with Tehran under certain conditions relating to the regime’s foreign and security policies in the present international milieu.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian stated explicitly on Monday that the US and a number of other Western countries have incited riots, because “one of the US’ objectives was to force Iran to make big concessions at the negotiating table” for the revival of the JCPOA. Amirabdollahian’s remark followed some megaphone diplomacy by Rob Malley, the US special envoy on Iran last weekend.
Speaking in Rome, Malley connected the dots and outlined the linkages in the matrix. He said: “The more Iran represses, the more there will be sanctions; the more there are sanctions, the more Iran feels isolated. The more isolated they feel [isolated], the more they turn to Russia; the more they turn to Russia, the more sanctions there will be, the more the climate deteriorates, the less likely there will be nuclear diplomacy. So it is true right now the vicious cycles are all self-reinforcing. The repression of the protests and Iran’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine is where our focus is because that is where things are happening, and where we want to make a difference.”
In effect, Malley admitted that the Biden Administration is a stakeholder in the ongoing protests in Iran. Importantly, he also hinted that although Iran has taken a series of fateful decisions that make a full revival of the nuclear deal and a lifting of some economic sanctions a political impossibility for now, the door to diplomacy is not shut if only Iran’s leadership changed course on relations with Russia.
In further remarks to Bloomberg on Saturday, Malley said that “Right now we can make a difference in trying to deter and disrupt the provision of weapons to Russia and trying to support the fundamental aspirations of the Iranian people.”
As he put it, Washington now aims to “disrupt, delay, deter and sanction” Iran’s weapon deliveries to Russia, and any supplies of missiles or assistance in the construction of military production facilities in Russia “would be crossing new lines.”
In sum, Malley has linked the US approach toward Iran’s protests with Tehran’s foreign and security policies in regard of Russia and its war in Ukraine.
The first signs that the US intelligence was focusing on Iran-Russia military ties — in tandem with its Israeli counterpart, of course —appeared in late July, when the US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan made an allegation during a media briefing at the White House that Iran wanted to sell weapons-capable unmanned aerial vehicles to Moscow.
Sullivan claimed that Iran was already training Russian personnel in using the drones. Within the week, Sullivan doubled down on that allegation.
The timing of Sullivan’s disclosure must be noted carefully — coinciding with a visit to Tehran by Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 19. Putin’s talks with the Iranian leadership messaged a strategic polarisation under way between Moscow and Tehran with far-reaching consequences for regional and international politics.
Putin’s discussions ranged from the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Syria to the legality of Western-led sanctions regimes, de-dollarisation, geopolitics of energy, the International North-South Transport Corridor, defence cooperation and so on, anchored on the congruent interests of the two countries on a number of important strategic and normative issues.
Following up Putin’s discussions, Iran’s armed forces Chief of Staff, General Mohammad Bagheri travelled to Moscow in mid-October. Gen. Bagheri met Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, which signalled that the military relations between the two countries was acquiring an irreversible momentum.
A fortnight after Gen. Bagheri’s visit, Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev came to Tehran to discuss “various issues of Russian-Iranian cooperation in the field of security, as well as a number of international problems,” according to Interfax news agency.
Russian state media said Patrushev discussed the situation in Ukraine and measures to combat “Western interference” in both countries’ internal affairs with his Iranian security counterpart Ali Shamkhani. Patrushev also met with Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi.
Meanwhile, Washington senses that there is disharmony within the Iranian establishment on how to handle the protests, and, in turn, this is sharpening the internal Iranian debate about the wisdom of growing alliance with Russia vis-a-vis re-engaging with the West in a fresh attempt to revive the nuclear deal.
Clearly, Malley’s remarks hinted that amidst the US’ support for protests in Iran, it still remains open to doing business with Tehran if the latter rolls back its deepening strategic partnership with Moscow and refrains from any involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.
In fact, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi (who holds Washington’s brief) also chipped in with a remark on Monday that the UN watchdog has no evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon programme, implying that the resumption of negotiations in Vienna faces no “systemic” block.
That said, Tehran’s cooperation with Moscow on foreign and security policy policies is of long-term consequence to Iran and there is no question of the Iranian leadership putting all its eggs in the American basket. For Russia, too, the partnership with Iran is of strategic importance in the conditions of multipolarity.
Significantly, Iranian media has reported that Iran’s nuclear negotiator and deputy foreign minister Ali Bagheri Kani visited Moscow last weekend and met his Russian counterpart Sergei Ryabkov in Moscow to “discuss the prospects of full-scale implementation” of the JCPOA (2015 nuclear deal) “in order to strengthen the approach of multilateralism and confront unilateralism and adhere to the principles contained in the United Nations Charter” as well as the two countries’ “efforts to prevent instrumental political abuse and selective treatment of human rights issues by Western powers.”
The official news agency IRNA later reported from Tehran quoting Bagheri Kani that the two sides “reviewed bilateral relations over the past months and created frameworks and mechanisms in agreement with each other for developing relations.” He mentioned Syria, South Caucasus and Afghanistan as areas of cooperation between Tehran and Moscow.
Most certainly, the latest round of Iran-Russia consultations was noted in Washington. On Saturday, the Director of National Intelligence in the Biden Administration Avril Haines held out a veiled threat that while Iranian leaders may not see the protests as a threat now, they could face more unrest because of high inflation and economic uncertainty. She said, “We see some kind of controversies even within them about exactly how to respond — within the government.”
On the other hand, Bagheri Kani’s consultations in Moscow would have taken into account the large-scale US-Israeli air exercises last Tuesday simulating strikes on the Iranian nuclear program. The Israeli military said in a statement that joint flights of four Israeli F-35i Adir stealth fighter jets that accompanied four US F-15 fighter jets through Israel’s skies simulated “an operational scenario and long-distance flights.”
The statement added, “These exercises are a key component of the two militaries’ increasing strategic cooperation in response to shared concerns in the Middle East, particularly those posed by Iran.”
The US-Israeli exercises underscores the criticality in the situation surrounding Iran. Tehran’s shift to enrichment at 60% causes disquiet in Washington. But a military strike on Iran is fraught with unpredictable consequences not only for West Asian region but also the global oil market, which is facing uncertainties due to the US attempt to put a price cap on Russian oil.
The bottom line is that the protests in Iran are assuming the proportions of a casus belli. The US has internationalised Iran’s internal upheaval.
The moral winner of the World Cup 2022 is the Iranian team. Yesterday, Iran’s national team kept silent during the Islamic Republic’s national anthem ahead of their match against England, in solidarity with the uprising against the ayatollahs. The team’s players wanted to tell the whole world that they do not represent the regime, but rather the people in their fight against dictatorship.
Yet, according to the protesters, the Iranian team is not doing enough to challenge the regime. However, by remaining silent, the players defied the Islamic Republic on live TV, in front of the cameras of the whole world. The team then lost against England, but it was not looking for a victory on the soccer field. After all, Iranians back home preferred that the English team would win the match, as officially the Iranian one still represents the Islamic Republic.
Iranian Defender Hajsafi: Protesters ‘Should Know That We Are With Them’
However, during a Sunday press conference, Defender Ehsan Hajsafi openly supported the protesters. He said: “They should know that we are with them. And we support them. And we sympathize with them regarding the conditions.” He then added: “We have to accept that the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy… We are here but it does not mean we should not be their voice or we should not respect them.”
London-based media outlet Iran International reported that Striker Kaveh Rezaei expressed sympathy and criticism of the recent killing of the Kurdish people in Mahabad and Javanrud. Rezaei stated: “Stop the killing of Kurdish people… Killing Kurds is equal to killing Iran.”
It may not be enough, but after all, the team will pay for any criticism of the regime once they are back home.
The Iranian Team Will Play Against The United States
On November 29, the Iranian team will play against the United States. It would be nice for the U.S. team to show solidarity with the Iranian protesters, as the American soccer players can afford to express their position freely, unlike the Iranian team.
In school, children are taught that sports teach good values, respect, equality, and resilience. The West was not strong enough to oppose the organization of the World Cup in Qatar, a country under scrutiny for its mistreatment of migrant workers and reports of human rights abuses. However, the West can still redeem itself.
The U.S. team should find the confidence and courage, developed in sports, to show that the people in the West are not indifferent. For example, when the U.S. team scores a goal, the players can take their jerseys off and show underneath another shirt with the name “Mahsa Amini” (in Kurdish: Jina Amini), the girl that became the symbol of the protests in Iran after being tortured and killed in custody by the Islamic Republic’s “morality” police, or with the slogan of the uprising: “Woman, Life, Freedom.”
This Is Showing Empathy And Comradeship
Some people may say that sports should not be “politicized.” Yet, this would be showing empathy and comradeship. It is to put into practice the values that sports teach. Athletes in the U.S. have been kneeling in several matches. It would not make sense that during a match with Iran, the same athletes would not stand for human rights, in support for the people of a country that are dying for freedom.
The West can take advantage of the World Cup’s spotlight, one of the most watched events on the planet, and make history with a strong message against dictatorship. After all this is what sport is all about: solidarity.
Views expressed are personal
The manner in which Tehran handled its drone deal with Russia has been somewhat clumsy. The fact that the first ‘leak’ on this topic originated from none other than President Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan should have alerted Tehran that something sinister was afoot.
Instead, for whatever reasons, Tehran went into a flat denial mode. And now in a turnaround, we are given to understand that Iran’s denial was factually correct, albeit not wholly true in content. Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has acknowledged that the “drone part is true, and we provided Russia with a small number of drones months before the Ukraine war.”
The minister added the caveat that “This fuss made by some Western countries, that Iran has provided missiles and drones to Russia to help the war in Ukraine — the missile part is completely wrong.”
Howsoever good Iran’s drone technology might be, it has not been a game changer for Russia in the war in Ukraine. Russia’s own missile capability is surprising even the western experts who had predicted months ago that it was “running out” of its inventory. In fact, the missile strikes may continue until Ukraine collapses and the West has no meaningful interlocutor left in Kiev’s rubble.
Russia and Iran seem to have got mired in a controversy unnecessarily. What seems to have happened is that just as Iran did reverse engineering on US’ drone technology, Russians also did a good job to remake the Iranian kamikaze drones that were in its inventory prior to the special military operation in Ukraine. Kiev now says, after examining the debris of the Russian drones that it shot down, that they had Ukrainian parts, too!
It stand to reason that the Russian defence industry picked something from Iran’s technology, something else from Ukraine’s, and came up with a startling “Russian model”. That probably explains the sophistry in Moscow’ consistent stance that it didn’t use Iranian drone.
Amirabdollahian revealed that Iran offered to explain the situation to Ukrainian authorities and a meeting was even set up in Poland to clear the misunderstanding and restore Iran’s diplomatic ties with Kiev, but the Americans got it scuttled. Evidently, the US is not interested in a normalisation of Ukraine-Iran relations. Israel too would have an interest in keeping Iran at arm’s length from Kiev. The US and Israel would apprehend that a strong Iranian diplomatic presence in Kiev might work to Russia’s advantage.
Be that as it may, Amirabdollahian’s candid admission will have consequences. Iran possibly got carried away by the exhilarating feeling that a superpower stooped to source its military technology, and furthermore, relished the high publicity its drones received — not to mention the embarrassment caused to Ukraine’s western patrons who watched helplessly when the Russian drones created panic on such a scale.
However, belatedly, Iran realised the potential political and diplomatic fallout. In reality, all this “fuss,” as Amirabdollahian put it, stems from Tehran’s refusal to sign the EU draft nuclear agreement at Vienna, which infuriated Brussels and Washington, dashing their hopes that Iranian oil would come to the rescue of Europe by replacing the Russian oil imports that are being terminated w.e.f December 5.
Again, Iran’s increased oil production was what the US was counting on to introduce tensions within the OPEC and split the cartel.
According to a Spiegel report, Germany and eight other EU states have put together a new package of sanctions against Iran in Brussels on Wednesday, which contains 31 proposals targeting officials and entities in Iran connected with security affairs as well as companies, for their alleged “violence and repressions” in Iran. The alibi is human rights violations.
Evidently, the West has reverted to its bullying tactic. President Biden has pledged to “free Iran” from its present political system — although the Americans know from past experience that public protests are nothing unusual for Iran but regime change remains a pipe dream.
Why is the West resuscitating the “Iran question” at this point? There are two underlying reasons — perhaps, three. One is, Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in the Israeli election last Sunday virtually guarantees that Israel’s existential rivalry with Iran is once again in the centre stage of West Asian politics. Without that happening, Netanyahu will come under pressure to address the core issue in West Asia, namely, the Palestinian problem.
As things stand, the “Iran question” will return to the centre stage of West Asian politics. There is a congruence of interests between Tel Aviv and Washington on that score at a time when there is going to be some friction inevitably in the US-Israel relations, as the racist anti-Arab Religious Zionism alliance, Netanyahu’s latest coalition parters, contains elements that the US once regarded as terrorists. Whipping up frenzy over Iran comes handy for both Israel and the US.
But on the other hand, Netanyahu is realistic enough to know that it will be suicidal for Israel to attack Iran militarily without American support and second, that the Biden Administration has not yet entirely given up hope on a nuclear deal with Iran.
Therefore, in the event of the midterms radically changing the profile of the Congress to the detriment of the Biden Administration, trust Netanyahu to insert Iran nuclear issue as a key template of US domestic politics and the US-Israel relations.
A second factor is the trajectory of the war in Ukraine. Although the proxy war is in the home stretch and the US and NATO are staring at the defeat and destruction of Ukraine, the Biden Administration cannot simply walk away in humiliation, since this is Europe and not the Hindu Kush, and the fate of the western alliance system is at a crossroads.
Most certainly, US troops have appeared on Ukrainian soil and they can only be regarded as an “advance party.” Will Ukraine turn out to be another Syria, with the regions to the west of the Dnieper River — “the Rump” denuded of natural resources — coming under US occupation so that its NATO allies in the periphery do not jump into the fray of dormant ethnic tensions inherited from history to carve out their pieces out of the carcass? Or, will a US-led “coalition of the willing” be preparing to actually fight the Russian forces in eastern and southern Ukraine?
Either way, the point is, the strategic ties developing between Iran and Russia will remain a focal point for the West, Amirabdollahian’s “clarification” notwithstanding. It is only natural that in the conditions under sanctions, Russia’s external relations are in the cross-hairs of the US. Iran has a stellar record of rubbishing the “maximum pressure” strategy.
Put differently, having Iran as an ally will be a strategic asset for Russia in a multipolar setting. Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union have decided to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement while Tehran is also working out swap deals involving Russian oil. Simply put, Europeans can keep their SWIFT for whatever it is worth and that is not going to make any difference to Russia or Iran — and the rest of the world is watching this happening in real time, especially in Iran’s neighbourhood where oil is traded in dollars.
By now it is also clear to the US and its allies that JCPOA or no JCPOA, the overarching tilt toward Russia and China is Tehran’s version of the Israeli Iron Dome, in diplomacy. The bottom line is that Iran is becoming a role model for the Persian Gulf region, as is evident from the queue lengthening for membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, even as the parallel track of the Abraham Accords has disappeared in the endorheic basin of the Arabian Peninsula.