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Iranian encirclement 12, December 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Iran.
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Each star is a US base.

An excellent map from Juan Cole.

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Afghanistan: Lost in Translation 26, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia.
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The Guardian has an excellent video of the US forces in Afghanistan and their problems with understanding what the local Pashtun are trying to tell them. The clip shows one of their translators wilfully mistranslating what a tribal elder has to say. One can only hope that translators such as these are in the vast minority, however unlikely that may be.

Hat Tip: Media Shack

Stealth F-35s in return for settlement movement? 11, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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F-35 JointStrike Fighter

Thanks again the the MEI Editor’s blog for pointing out that Israel has officially just asked the Pentagon for permission to buy a new generation of Stealth F-35 fighter aircraft from America. Dunn asks whether this will be used by Obama as some kind of carrot in return for real movement on, for example, settlements. Quite frankly, I just don’t see how Obama could not use this as leverage. This seems like a golden opportunity for Obama to exert some real pressure. These planes aren’t key to Israel’s security. The hundreds of advanced fighters that Israel has now are more than adequate, as has been proven time and again, to vastly out-match whatever Israel’s enemies could possible throw at them. I suppose that Israel might prefer these Stealth aircraft were they to want a safer way to, for example, go after Iran’s nuclear weapons, but I’m sure that they’ve got aircraft already that are more then capable of this. Also, symbolically, I think that holding back on giving Israel access to some of America’s most advanced technologies could be a useful in currying favour in the other camp.

Saudi to allow Israeli jets across its airspace? 7, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Saudi Arabia.
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Reports suggest that Saudi Arabia has tacitly agreed that Israel could use their airspace in any raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities. According to the Times of London, Mossad’s director Meir Dagan held talks with Saudi counterparts as long ago as 2002 over the matter. This is in addition to persistent rumors that senior Saudi officials met briefly with Israel PM Ehud Olmert in 2006. It must be said, however, that these reports are sketchy in the extreme and Saudi officials and analysts strenuously deny such accusations.

However, Riyadh and indeed the rest of the GCC may collectively breathe a sigh of relief were Iran’s alleged Nuclear programme to be seriously derailed or destroyed. Even without any nuclear weapons Iran is already a bellicose and powerful country. Iran’s threat stems not only from its relatively potent military but from the extent of Shia links in GCC societies. Such concerns are particularly apparent in Bahrain and in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern provinces. Were Iran to obtain such weapons, aside from the elevated status that such weapons confer on the Tehran government, there are clearly fears that Iran would be yet more unconstrained in their actions.

Riyadh’s staunch denials are not surprising. Even though there are significant differences between Iran and its neighbours, the Saudi Arabian government cannot be seen to be tacitly sanctioning an Israeli raid on a fellow Muslim country. However, the exigencies of geopolitical strategy and real politik are powerful, just as they were when Saudi sanctioned the stationing of hundreds of thousands of Western troops in their country for Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s.

Indeed, it is hardly unknown for countries to engage in politically unpalatable acts if and when they are deemed necessary. A clear example of this can be found – somewhat ironically – in Iran in the 1980s when it had a quiet but close relationship with Israel against an expansionist Iraq. At the very least, this cooperation manifested itself in terms of Iranian oil shipments for Israeli arms. This is, however, denied by Iranian officials, though in the face of the available evidence this is more of a face-saving exercise than a serious rebuttal.

Today, however, with the threat of Iraq gone from the horizon of both countries, Iran has more of an opportunity to expand its influence in the region. This is the underlying premise behind Jordanian King Abdullah’s 2006 notion of a potential ‘Shia crescent’ descending on the Middle East. Israel sees this very expansion as a key threat and worries about an undeterrable nuclear-armed Iran offering more and more support to its proxy militant groups in the Levant.

Overall, there appears to be a confluence of opinion from the South of the Arabian Peninsula to the Mediterranean Sea stretching across the Atlantic that favours a nuclear-free Iran. The key question is how far the actors in question are willing to go to achieve this goal. Vice-president Biden’s comments yesterday maintaining that Israel is an independent country and can do as it wants have been widely perceived as giving the ‘green light’ to Israel to strike at Iran. Along with Saudi Arabia’s apparent stance on the matter and a general GCC antipathy towards a nuclear Iran, Biden’s comments tentatively suggest that a strike may be more a question of if, rather then when.

GCC missile defence? 1, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Iran.
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It appears that America is seeking to link the GCC countries together in a joint missile defense system. Currently, the US has bilateral defence relations with all the states in the GCC, yet explicitly linking them in this way would be a new step. The article in The National continues to state that the US believes that there is something of a risk of “low-flying cruise missiles fired from close range.” Just what can they be thinking of?

The timing of such a statement is, of course, no surprise. Whilst such a notion may well appeal to the smaller, threatened GCC states, the technical difficulties of such a programme are surely substantial. However, just assembling the GCC states and perhaps coercing or persuading them to entertain and sign up to such a bargain would be a political coup for America and another clear sign of regional balancing against a potentially bellicose and dangerous Iran.

The most ridiculous statement of the year 11, June 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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…and the winner is undoubtedly and unequivocally Yossi Peled an Israeli politician who suggested that Israel sanction America for its recent outrageous behavior vis a vis the Middle East peace process. Words, as they say, fail to comprehend the idiocy of this notion…American aid…Israel…billions upon billions of dollars…any bells…

Hat tip: Middle East Institute Blog

New American embassy in Pakistan 29, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, The Sub Continent.
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Stephen Walt over at the excellent Foreign Policy blog briefly discusses American plans to build a new behemoth embassy complex in Pakistan as well as a buying a hotel in Peshwar to act as a consulate. Such initiatives are signs of the increasing importance that the US is putting on Pakistan as well as, it could be argued, a sign of their increasing long-term commitment. Walt eloquently sums up the other side of this particular argument as well as offering a few home-truths about the US’ involvement more generally.

One of America’s main problems in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan is the widespread popular belief that it is now addicted to interfering in these societies, usually in a heavy-handed and counter-productive way. In their eyes, Washington is constantly telling them which leaders to choose, which leaders should step down, which extremists to go after and how they should reorder their own societies to make them more compatible with our values. And oh yes, we also drop bombs and fire missiles into their territory, which we would regard as an act of war if anyone did it to us. Even when well-intentioned, these activities inevitably lend themselves to various conspiracy theories about America’s “real” motives, and reinforce negative impressions of the United States.

China’s string of pearls 7, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, China and the ME.
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China's string of pearls

This (somewhat amateurish) map shows China’s string of pearls. This refers to ports that China has invested in to refurbish and use at their discretion. Those of a more alarmist nature see these moves akin to the establishment of Chinese naval bases by stealth. The map below highlights the reasoning behind these moves.

string-of-pearls1

China’s desire to secure the route for their ever expanding dependence on Middle Eastern oil and gas is understandable. No country in the world would want such a vital supply line out of their guaranteed control. Whilst China has frosty but reasonable relations with India and America, the only countries with the navy to challenge China in that part of the world, China can not count on these relations for ever. Indeed, with the ever increasing race for the Gulf’s oil and gas resources with India and the always-fractious issue of Taiwan with America, there are without doubt issues that can potentially arise.

Despite how understandable one may think China’s actions are, for India they must be arousing serious concerns. Having China’s potential military bases to close to their mainland, not to mention encircling them, is not something that the Indian government can take lightly. It is, therefore, no surprise that India are the second largest weapons importers in the world presently. As for America, they will not be overly pleased to see China’s reach extending towards the straits of Hormuz. Moreover, their preeminence in blue water is now coming under more and more of a threat. The military and the US Administration need to be aware, however, that these Chinese ports – despite what they might signify – are not, in and of themselves, a threat. America needs to keep any bellicose language to itself at this stage and save it for when it really matters.

Israeli Foreign Minister: US will accept any foreign policy decision 23, April 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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The new Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has somewhat undiplomatically said that America will follow Israel’s foreign policy decisions. Such a crass statement will no doubt soon be splashed all across the Arab world and will infuriate – essentially – the whole region. Such an injudicious quote will also – rightly – be seized upon by Mearsheimer and Walt and their thesis highlighting the apparent unusual levels of influence wielded by the Israeli lobby in America.

The great American give away 17, May 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Foreign Policies, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Western-Muslim Relations.
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Saudi Arabia are proud of the fact that they are the world’s largest swing producer of oil. They are the only country in the world with enough spare capacity to, at the drop of the proverbial and highly theoretical hat, pump out more of the black stuff. However, they are being – as you may have noticed – rather coy about putting their extra capacity where their mouth is. This fact is not lost on Gal Luft, the executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS), a Washington based think tank specifically focusing on energy security. He was commenting on Bush’s seemingly fruitless visit to the Kingdom on MESH and concluded by suggesting that perhaps the best way for America to proceed would be to name an aircraft carrier the USS Ibn Saud. While this is unlikely to happen (!) it is only faintly less ridiculous and far less dangerous than the policy that the Bush administration is currently pursuing; namely helping Saudi obtain ‘peaceful’ nuclear technology.There are several issues with this. Firstly, has no-body else noticed that Saudi has some 262 Billion barrels of known oil reserves left, as this map neatly shows? They ought to be (literally) the last country on earth that would need alternative sources of fuel. Secondly, adding more nuclear issues to the Middle East does not seem to be the prudent course of action. The frosty Saudi-Iranian relations based on competition for leadership of the Islamic world and Sunni-Shia relations hardly need another complicating factor. Not to mention the potential knock-on effects of this with other Gulf countries, Egypt, Syria, Turkey and who knows who else looking over their shoulders’ at Saudi developments. Lastly, Saudi have dabbled in the nuclear playground before. There has been a mass of circumstantial evidence of Saudi’s desire to acquire nuclear weapons. Meetings between Saudi and Pakistani scientists and government officials, Saudi bankrolling of various Pakistani nuclear developments and Saudi’s acquisition of nuclear capable missiles from China are but a part of the puzzle.

There will, of course, be a number of safeguards including no doubt, IAEA inspections and who know what else. Yet these are, as has been proven time and again, not foolproof. And overall, is this is kind of message that the Bush wants to be sending? It is hardly a resolute stand against economic blackmail as some commentators are declaring it. Whilst this latter view is overstating the matter, giving the Saudi’s nuclear technology seems to be a high price to pay for…nothing. Nothing tangible at least. The Saudi’s need the Americans just as much as America need Saudi, primarily for the American security guarantee. The Saudi Army, Navy and Air Force, while modern and well equipped is generally regarded as being not capable of safeguarding the Kingdom as the Gulf War conclusively proved.  Indeed, the only thing that could change this status quo would be some wildly implausible course of action such as Saudi obtaining the bomb…