Bahrain

A geopolitical tsunami has hit Middle East: It’s music to Modi’s India

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

A geopolitical tsunami has hit Middle East and it has the potential to change the contours and politics of the region for decades.

Israel and United Arab Emirates signed a peace deal in early hours of Friday (Indian Standard Time) which would split open the Middle East into camps of “future” and “past.”

“Future” belongs to those Islamic states who are bound to follow the example of UAE and drop the cloak of hostility of decades against the Jewish state. “Past” is those regressive actors of the region who prefer bloodshed to keep nurturing the blood-soaked tree of hatred and enmity.

First the bare facts. The United States president Donald Trump has announced that Israel and the UAE have reached a diplomatic agreement. In exchange, Israel would suspend the annexation of occupied West Bank territory.

Israel’s embattled prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, assailed by corruption charges, had announced that he would annex 30 percent of West Bank which has Jewish settlers and leave the remaining 70% in the hands of the Palestinian authority.

This was an improvement on the previous plan drawn by Jared Kushner, a senior advisor to his father-in-law Trump, which had outlined a negotiated settlement between the two: West Bank being divided between Israel (30% annexation) and Palestinian Authority (70%) who could set up an independent state. Palestinians lost little time in rejecting the plan.

A peeved Netanyahu then announced that he would annex the 30 percent of West Bank he had in mind for the Jewish state anyway by July 1. It set off a storm of words and finger-wagging. Egypt, Jordan and a host of other Arab states warned of consequences. The Jewish settlers in West Bank were unhappy too.

What happened next was a masterstroke. Israel turned this non-starter into something magical. Netanyahu somehow convinced Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the UAE, nudged of course by Donald Trump, to shake hands and announce a formal deal of peace and prosperity between two sworn enemies. In return, Israel suspended its plan to annex part of West Bank.

Netanyahu could thus show his people that if he hasn’t fulfilled his plans in West Bank, he has been able to strike a historic deal with a traditional enemy. Zayed could tell his people that he was able to stop the annexation of West Bank.

It’s not just a win-win situation for both these nations. Other Gulf sheikhdoms like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman would lose little time in making open what they have been doing secretly with Israel behind public glare. They would hate for the UAE to offer its financial paradise in exchange for Israel’s technological prowess—be it in agriculture, health care or in cyberspace.

The losers of course would be Iran, Turkey, Yemen, Syria and all their proxies like Hezbollah, Hamas, Houthis etc who could find themselves out in cold. The Palestinian Authority has also been dealt a body blow. It’s all Arab and Gulf allies would no longer be by its side. It is in this background that one has to view the deadly Israeli cyberattack on Iran in recent months, undeniably bolstered by its growing footprints in the enemy’s camps.

Certain expected reactions are already flowing in. The Palestinian ambassador to the UAE is being recalled over. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has described the deal as “treason.” Hamas has called it “stabbing in the back of our people.”

Netanyahu meanwhile has announced his commitment to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. This is only for the consumption of his domestic audience. It won’t happen soon. Netanyahu would hope this deal with UAE would secure his place in history, like it did for Richard Nixon, battling Watergate, by opening the doors of China for the world.

It’s a marvellous news for Indian ears. India has grown astonishingly close to Saudi Arabia and UAE during Modi government’s two tenure at the helm. It had been concerned about its deteriorating ties with Iran and has watched it with alarm that the latter has fallen into the lap of China. India has also been upset by Turkey’s hostility, its president Recep Tayyip Erdogan using his acerbic tongue like a Wild West desperado does by shooting from its hips.

Better still, this deal will hurt Pakistan big time. It would force them to come out in open, in support or against the deal. It’s given it won’t support the Israel-UAE deal. It would thus only push them into more regressive elements of Islamic world. A Sunni Pakistan in bed with a Shia Iran is a delicious prospect we shall await.

China moves to turn Iran into a client-state; stakes up for India

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India would watch with concern a blood-pact in the making between China and Iran which could mean trouble both at home and abroad.

China put an agreement in place last month which would virtually turn Iran into a vessel state. Tehran is already in bed in wild anticipation, once its parliament approves the union.

The 18-page agreement, accessed by the New York Times, involves 100 projects worth a staggering $400 billion. China would get discounted oil for next 25 years and in exchange would pepper the Persia of old with subways, high-speed railways and airports. There would be free-trade zones in strategic locations, including two which would overlook the critical Persian Gulf (Abadan) and the Strait of Hormuz (Qeshm).

Iran plans to hand over Jask, a port just outside the Strait of Hormuz, to China which is the vantage point through which most of the world’s oil transits. India, which imports 84% of its oil, has reduced its dependence on Middle East in recent years but it still accounts for 65 per cent of its needs. Saudi Arabia and Iraq are two of its biggest oil suppliers from the Middle East.

China has a string of ports in Indian Ocean, such as Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan, and now soon in Jask, which puts New Delhi at unease on its energy and security needs, if China was to block the free seas and give these ports a military makeover.

It also messes up the Chabahar port on the Gulf of Oman which India has helped build and now controls since 2018. India had soaring ambitions of turning this base into access to Central Asia and much of Eurasian landmass, through a mix of sea-land routes, not to say oil pipelines, bypassing the physical barrier of Pakistan on its north-western borders (see image).

Now India is hemmed in on its north and west flanks by two enemies and in between are the impassable Himalayas. It would be increasingly reliant on the military muscle of the United States for its freer access to seas upwards.

The United States would be no less alarmed by China’s move on Iran. It had sought-and controlled—the Middle East for decades since the World War II. Now its Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, could face China’s build-up. Its warships have regularly tangled with Iranian fleets in the busy sea lanes of the Persian Gulf.

The proposed deal also makes a nonsense of the United States sanctions against Iran under the Trump administration, which had brought Tehran on its knees with crippled oil supply and blocked access to world’s financial highways. China, it seems, has braced itself too for the US economic sanctions which are inevitable in the wake of this agreement and would intensify the trade or covert war between two of world’s biggest powers.

Iran needs to produce—and supply—at least 8.5 million barrels a day in order to be relevant in the energy sector. China seeks to import at least 10 million barrels a day for its energy needs. It imports 75 percent of its oil from foreign oilfields.

The agreement also outlines China’s plan to help Iran build its 5G telecommunications network, riding on its major player Huawei. The Trump administration has barred Huawei from the United States and India is set to do the same under prime minister Narendra Modi.

The Shia Factor

India’s ties with Iran have plummeted in recent months. The Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif had made inflammatory remarks on the CAA and on Delhi riots in February for which it was rebuked by the Modi government. India has the second highest number of Shias in the world after Iran. India’s Shias have been a moderating influence on a virulent Muslim section in India.

The document also outlines military cooperation, joint training, exercises and research besides intelligence sharing and manufacturing weapons. The military ties between China and Iran have only scaled up in recent years. The Chinese navy has participated in military exercises in Iranian waters at least three times since 2014.

Then there is the Russia factor. Moscow is India’s biggest defence importer but if asked to make a choice, it would look after China’s back than of India. It is India’s oldest and most reliable friend but the ties now are facing its litmus test. The clincher would be the supply of S400 missile system in 2021 which India is committed to buy and the United States is determined to prevent. It would be a make or break moment for India-Russia ties, at least in the immediate future.

The second Cold War is unfolding. In its first version, the United States and Soviet Union were ranged against each after World War II, in the battle-lines drawn by the NATO and the Warsaw Pact in the European theatre, their respective allies in the neighbourhood of Central-Latin America and Eastern Europe-Central Asia visible in plain view. The contours of the second Cold War is no less apparent. The United States and China are snarling at each other, with Indo-Pacific and the Middle East the two most likely flashpoints. The stand-alone moment for India is gone.

 

 

 

Who is Donald Trump fooling on Iran?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

I am not a stockbroker but if I was I would bet big against Donald Trump unleashing a war against Iran.

I mean he heads a country which needed half a million of its servicemen to tame a small Kuwait and prepared six months to arrange for its logistics. How would do you do against a large territory like Iran?

His country United States can’t fight two medium-sized wars and can it really afford to free up Far East and China who would strangulate Taiwan the moment it’s off-radar?

And please don’t give me this Nuclear-muscle nonsense. It works best before you use it.  You can nuke a Hiroshima or Nagasaki but you can’t nuke the whole of Iran.

It’s also as if Trump doesn’t know that Pentagon would give a damn to his command for war. US can only declare war if its army wants so—as was the case with Vietnam and Iraq. The military generals of the US have already rejected the notion of abiding with the President’s order for an illegal war.

We know the US, the adolescent that it is of only 200-odd years, makes some silly mistakes (Remember the hostage crisis of the 70s: Jimmy Carter’s helicopters couldn’t fly over Iran at a low height because its filters got clogged with sand). But a war with Iran would be worth an Oscar of the Absurd.

For one, if you don’t allow oil out of Iran to the world; Iran would stop any oil to go out of the Middle East (see picture). Shias are everywhere:  60% of Iraq is Shia; 80% of Bahrain is Shia; the majority in Kuwait is Shia; the oil in Saudi Arabia is controlled by Shia. Iran would damage tankers and make sure the blame doesn’t come its’ way. In the last one month itself, four tankers anchored near Fujairah in UAE were damaged. Two tankers with petrochemical products were attacked in Gulf of Oman this week. No traces were left. It would become a routine. Saudi refineries could go up in smoke. Iran has strategic partners in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and even Afghanistan.

We also know that the US’ Iran policy is based on a single agenda: Change of Islamic revolutionary regime in Iran. This agenda is unfulfilled even after 40 years. This is a country which unlike a France or England could survive on half a bread. Threat of a war, doesn’t open up the factional feuds in the country. Instead it draws them together—as Western-oriented parties and hardliners are hugging each other at the moment.

It’s also as if the US doesn’t know that its’ tough stance would probably make Iran a nuclear-powered regime in six months. Iran announced on June 17 that it would start withdrawing from compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement. But if the US pulls out of the deal unilaterally and the other signatories of the pact—China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany—hold their silence, what options Iran is really left with but to press on the raw nerve which inked the pact in the first place?

In this week itself, Iran would exceed the limit on enriched uranium which the 2015 deal had stipulated—only 300kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67 per cent, or it’s equivalent, for 15 years.  If Iran adds a few thousand extras of centrifuges, it would reduce the time Iran needs to arm itself with a nuclear weapon.

And how do you think Iran’s opponents would face up to the Persians? Saudi Arabia is so pathetic it can’t even bring tiny Yemen to submission. They can’t do anything to Houthi. A war would only make Turkey stronger. Iran is already being wooed by Russia and China. A common bank is being set up by Syria, Iraq and Iran to facilitate trade between these countries.

If anything a war would break up the United States. By mid-2020, oil prices would hit the roof. Insurance premiums on tankers would be prohibitive. Consumer prices of oil products would multiply. If oil prices exceed $100 per barrel, it would hit China, Europe and the US. If the oil prices are doubled, the US would be in ruins. It is the biggest consumer of electric power.  It doesn’t matter where it gets its energy from, be it Texas, Siberia or Saudi Arabia: if it’s 150% per barrel, US is destroyed.

Then why the hell is the US tightening its screws on Iran? And Donald Trump is increasingly sounding like John Wayne with holster unbuckled?

The short and sweet answer is: Trump wants to stoke up fears in the Middle East so that it could sell its military hardware to Iran’s opponents and fatten up its GDP. It never wanted a war, it never would. If the US wanted a war, it wouldn’t be looking the other way as Iran continues to sell 300 million cubic feet of gas to Iraq. Iran’s sale of oil in the region could go up to two million barrels of oil daily.  

The trouble is, Iran knows the game and is upping the ante: It has given an ultimatum to remaining signatories of the 2015 Pact either fall in line by July 7 and help preserve the nuclear deal or face the music. It’s a classic case of the hunter becoming the hunted. Trump has climbed up a tree but doesn’t know how to get down.

Fun, I say.