Tags: Gulf States, Iran, Iran agreement, US-Gulf relationship
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The following article was published by The Daily Telegraph on 14th May and can be found here.
Anger at America
The US’s refusal to stand by the ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the face of Arab Spring protests was taken badly in the Gulf. If America can break one multi-decade relationship, the Gulf states fear, perhaps America would, if protests erupted, break their own long relationship.
President Barack Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’ rhetoric amplified and drove home these concerns; here was proof of the US’s focus shifting away. And theObama-led decision to engage with Iran has been greeted with a mixture of scorn and horror as the sum of all their fears – a so-called ‘Grand Bargain’ with Iran – begins, for some, to materialise.
Indeed for years the Gulf states, like a jealous partner fearful of being spurned for another, has fretted that America might seek to come to a widespread accommodation with Iran at their expense. The logic runs that in return for a complete halt to Iran’s questionable nuclear programme, America would somehow defer to Iran’s interests in the Gulf region at the expense of its Sunni Gulf allies. An extra advantage and motivating factor of this ruse would be that Israel’s security would be bolstered without a theoretical Iranian nuclear threat, and thus the US could disengage from the region.
While such a series of events has a certain logic to it, the reality is somewhat different.
Explicitly implicit guarantees
The fact is that the US will be the prime security guarantor for the region for the foreseeable future – decades at least.
The US has constructed for itself or otherwise has the run of a litany of huge and important military bases around the Gulf region that will remain central to US power projection throughout the wider Middle East region.
Though the US may no longer be hooked on Gulf oil as it once was, its own supplies of unconventional hydrocarbons coming increasingly on-line in recent years, the Gulf region remains the linchpin of world hydrocarbon production and as such is of central and critical importance to the world’s economy.
As the state with the largest open economy in the world, America’s interest in securing a broad peace in this region is unshakable and America’s self-image as the world’s indispensable nation also behoves it to quite explicitly provide for the region’s stability.
Indeed, this is another curious aspect of this whole issue. Several Gulf leaders have gone to America to lobby Mr Obama for a greater US role in the region. They would ideally like explicit, formalised US guarantees of protection for their states.
Such explicit guarantees are entirely off the table, but, whether through existing arrangements or the region’s pivotal importance to the world’s economy, America remains – no matter Mr Obama’s preferences – deeply intertwined in the region. It is the same with the UK.
For example, whatever bilateral defensive or security agreements are or are not signed and sealed with Qatar are irrelevant. If something catastrophic happens in the Gulf state, Britain is obliged to send the cavalry if we are to keep the lights on. Qatar’s liquefied natural gas, arriving multiple times per week in the UK via tanker, is crucial in the UK’s energy mix.
Moreover, America has sold tens of billions of dollars’ worth of arms to the Gulf states in recent years. This kind of investment is far from a one-time deal: you do not just fly over an F-16, C-130, or Apache helicopter, park it at the airbase and wave goodbye: the necessities of through-life maintenance, upgrades, supplying, and training for such equipment spans decades and is yet another facet of almost inseparable US-Gulf interaction.
This is not to deny some level of US lowering its focus on the Gulf. But after leading two wars in three decades in the Gulf, the latter of which cost trillions of dollars, thousands of lives, and is widely seen as a failure, a US drawdown is an obvious necessity.
But any domestic rhetoric exhorting the US to leave the region, a fiscally-led preference to drawdown resources, or even a presidential preference to disengage America where possible can all be trumped by the realities on the ground.
Careful what you wish for
The status quo has, therefore, not really changed. America under Mr Obama has shifted its focus away from the Gulf, but remains deeply entangled in the region.
There is an element of the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen and other Gulf-led unilateral military strikes in recent months that appear to be not-so-subtly aimed at America. “If you won’t secure the region, we will,” seems to be the Gulf retort.
While regional states stepping up and taking more control in their own security affairs may be greeted hopefully in the White House, Mr Obama should be careful what he wishes for.
The Saudi-led seven week bombing campaign in Yemen meandered along being far more effective at causing humanitarian suffering than halting the Houthi advances, with a barely-believable 15.9 million people – 61 per cent of Yemenis – needing humanitarian assistance, according to the World Health Organisation. Indeed, the realisation is dawning that beyond bombing whatever targets it can find, Saudi Arabia really does not seem to have any kind of strategic plan.
The Gulf states are far from wreaking upon the wider Middle East the kind of peace that the US brought to Iraq when it upended and hollowed out the state leaving a brittle, weak state from which no functioning government emerged. But their efforts to forge a coherent, effective opposition to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria or to counter the Houthis in Yemen do not bode well.
Linguistic Composition of Iran 26, February 2013Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran.
Tags: Iran, Iran languages, Iran map, Languages in Iran
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I love a nice map. The only thing better than a nice map is a particularly informative nice map, like this one on arab dialects or the one below.
Hat tip to @blakehounshell for pointing out this map.
On the notion of Israel attacking Iran 4, April 2012Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
Tags: Iran, Iran nuclear sites, Israel, Israel attack Iran, Israel overflight, Meir Dagan, Mossad, Natanyahu, Netanyahu Iran
On 24 April an article in Jane’s Defence Weekly based on intelligence sources claimed that Iran is only two years away from producing an atomic bomb. However, there is no need to start building a shelter yet as this article was written on 24 April 1984. Need it be stated that Iran – unlike Israel that obtained its first bomb sometime around the mid 1960s – did not obtain a nuclear weapon in 1986. This example is highlighted not to mock Jane’s typically erudite analysis but to note that for decades it has been claimed that Iran has been near production of a nuclear weapon.
In the same year, US Senator Alan Cranston said Iran would have nuclear weapons by 1991; in 1992 Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that 1995-1997 was the right time-frame; Shimon Peres in 1992 plumbed for 1999; a 1992 House Republican Research Committee claimed that there was a ‘98 percent certainty that Iran already had all (or virtually all) of the components required for two or three operational nuclear weapons.’; a 1995 report quoting US and Israeli officials goes for the millennium as the date; in 1997 sources noted that the date had been pushed back to 2007-2009; in 2005 Israel’s Defence Minister warned that a ‘point of no return’ would be passed within two years; in 2007 Mossad went for 2009 as the magical date; in 2009 it was predicted that Iran would be “nuclear-equipped” within one year; and Meir Dagan the former head of Mossad recently suggested that 2015 is the nearest viable date.
The more recent predictions often bypass the US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran stating ‘with high confidence’ that Iran had given up on its nuclear weapon programme in 2003; a notion confirmed in 2009 by a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee reports stating that ‘there is no sign that Iran’s leaders have ordered up a bomb.’
While there is most certainly a significant amount of troubling contradictions and concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear programme, many of which found a voice in a damning 2011 IEAE report on the topic, nevertheless, one might expect more scepticism to be shown on this topic that is typically found in the political discourse regarding leaders who have been consistently wrong for decades.
Indeed, there seems to be something of a drum-beat for war building. However, such considerations often ignore the basic concerns of whether Israel could effectively attack Iran; a key piece of information for the debate. If Israel cannot, or if the consequences of an attack would be so dire as to retard Israel’s strategic position, then the questions concerning Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon are rendered moot.
While Israel’s gamut of ICBMs launched either from Israel or their Dolphin Class submarines could be useful to destroy Iran’s anti-aircraft capability, without being armed with tactical nuclear warheads, they are unlikely to be able to degrade significantly hardened targets.
Insertion of special force teams is unlikely given the risks involved with deploying them in sufficient number, the fact that they could only carry what they land with, and the fact that many of the nuclear facilities in Iran lie far inland. The only plausible way to attack Iran’s facilities, therefore, is through air strikes.
Attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities would be no ‘surgical strike’ such as Israel conducted in 1991 on the Osirak facility in Iraq, or more recently against secret Syrian facilities in 2007. As Israeli threats have increased, Iran has reacted accordingly and dispersed and hardened its facilities. Today there are at least seventeen known Nuclear facilities, perhaps twelve of which ‘would have to be struck to seriously damage Iran’s nuclear program….some of which is buried deep underground…the new plant at Fordow, for example, is believed to be buried 260 feet under granite.’
There are real concerns as to whether Israel has the weapons to seriously damage such facilities. In 2009 America sold Israel 55 GBU-28 bunker-busting bombs weighing over two thousand two hundred kilograms. Since, however, America has designed a far larger Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), weighing in at nearly fourteen thousand kilograms, which can only be delivered by the B-2 stealth aircraft which Israel does not possess. Moreover, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta does not even think that these MOP weapons will be sufficient to guarantee the destruction of certain Iranian sites, namely the Fordow enrichment plant.
Whatever the ordinance, delivering the bombs would be difficult. Over one hundred aircraft would be needed to attack the multiple targets. Avoiding Iranian air defences, while not state-of-the-art and even if many could be destroyed in advance, would still be a concern and would likely take up yet more fuel. This is a key concern given that such a journey would push the Israeli F-15s and F-16s outwith their capabilities requiring air-to-air refuelling from Israel’s fleet of seven air tankers. This vastly complicates the mission not only in terms of where the tankers would loiter, but they would certainly need their own fleet of fighter aircraft protecting them further complicating the mission.
The question of over flight is equally vexatious. There are essentially three likely flight plans. The northern path follows the Mediterranean, cutting across five hundred miles of Turkey, then flying hundreds of miles into Iran itself before returning the same way. The central route crosses two hundred miles of Jordan, four hundred miles of Iraq, and several hundred miles within Iran itself. The southern route would cover nearly five hundred miles of Saudi Arabia, three hundred miles of Iraq before getting to the Iranian border.
While Israeli planes took the Turkish route in 2007 when attacking Syria, not only have bilateral relations deteriorated significantly since, but Turkey are believed to have upgraded their radar systems and there is little mood within Turkey to allow this to happen again.
Route two through Jordan and Iraq is technically feasible. While Iraq has no Air Force about which to be concerned and Jordan’s proximity to Israel renders intercepting Israeli aircraft almost impossible, cutting through Jordan in particular could be a diplomatic disaster. Jordan is one of two countries with a peace treaty with Israel and the only Arab bordering country with whom Israel have workable relations. Moreover, such an act, highlighting the impotence of the Jordanian Government and stimulating rumours that the elite consented to the Israeli attack, could potentially ignite the tinder-box that is Jordan today. The last thing that Israel want is for another unpredictable popular-led revote to take place on its borders.
Option three too is far from idea. Saudi Arabia certainly have the capability to intercept Israeli planes with Air Force bases on the north west, north east, and eastern borders with capable F-15s. This means that Saudi Arabia would have to concent to the Israeli action; a deeply difficult decision to make in these revolting times where populism and strong religious trends are wafting around the region, none of which factors would easily forgive such an act, even if it were to weaken Iran. Moreover, acquiescing to Israel’s attack would leave Saudi Arabia itself open to an Iranian retaliatory strike.
Certainly, some combination of, for example, Israeli submarine-launched missiles disabling parts of Iran’s air defences, some agreement could be made with, say, Saudi Arabia for unimpeded air passage, and Israel could indeed destroy numerous facilities in Iran. However, overall, it seems beyond the Israeli capability to launch a sustained campaign against Iran and one that could offer a high degree of certainty that critical facilities could be destroyed entirely.
Legally & Internationally
There is little debate that such an attack, without a resolution from the United Nations Security Council, would be wholly illegal. The retort that it is an option of last resort – a pre-emptive attack – would find no legal favour. Indeed, nor is that surprising given the complete lack of proof that Iran will imminently obtain such weapons and then launch them immediately against Israel.
The notion of Iran attacking Israel with nuclear weapons and thereby assuring the sure destruction of its major cities in an assured nuclear retaliation by Israel is nothing less than preposterous, no matter what offensive and threatening quotes Ahmadinajad comes out with. Indeed, why people seem to distrust most things politicians say in the West but believe wholeheartedly whatever nonsense Ahmadinajad comes out with is baffling.
One of the key lessons from the attack on Iraq’s nuclear facilities in 1981 is that such a ‘pre-emptive’ attack may counter intuitively actually speed up a country’s desire to obtain nuclear weapons. Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defence College and formerly of Harvard University, who has studied and written on the Osikark attack extensively, noted that before the attack ‘Iraq’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability was both directionless and disorganized.’
Subsequently, the evidence suggests, the regime became convinced of the need to vigorously and single-mindedly pursue such a weapon to the extent that, as the author of a 2005 study on the case notes, ‘the Iraqi nuclear program increased from a program of 400 scientists and $400 million to one of 7,000 scientists and $10 billion’ after the attack.
One certainly needs to be cautious in pursuing policy by analogy, but there is little reason to think that an attack on Iran would not have the same consequences. While there is undoubted ambiguity at the moment as to whether Iran is actually trying to obtain weapons – remembering the 2003 US Intelligence Estimate but also the damning 2011 IAEA report – were Iran to be attacked, pursuance of an Iranian bomb would likely be a fervent, central goal of the Iranian regime for obvious existential security reasons.
Moreover, exactly as occurred in Iraq, the Iranian regime would likely be even more clandestine about their project, burying it further literally and metaphorically underground and away from international inspection. Certainly, it would be false to say that Iran is compliant with international regulations at present, but ceteris paribus they could be much worse.
Indeed, the notion that such an attack would – at best – only set back the programme, should it exist, is powerful. Former Vice-Chairman of the America Joint Chiefs of Staff James Cartwright noted that the intellectual capital would remain even if the facilities were destroyed and
‘they’d just build it back.’
The more direct consequences of an Israeli strike are potentially harrowing. From the potential radioactive fallout wafting across the Gulf to population centres or to the oil fields in eastern Arabia to the thousands of casualties incumbent in any such large-scale attack, the human cost would be high. Internally, the Iranian regime, which has still not recovered from the 2009 election fiasco in which it was widely discredited, would be galvanised in power for the Iranians have their own version of the Israeli mantra of keshe’yorim shotkim (‘silence when shooting’).
Iran would clearly retaliate. Though Hamas has distanced itself from an automatic retaliation, Hezbollah in Lebanon would surely launch a barrage of rockets into Israel. Indeed, the commonly held notion is that there are 200,000 missiles aimed at Israel at any one time. Iranian agents abroad – as incapable as they seem to be at times – may well target Israelis or Western targets; Iran would likely seek to close down the Strait of Hormuz, potentially spiralling the conflict significantly wider; or if Iran feels that America was complicit, it could retaliate against US bases in the Gulf, hitting Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE, and Kuwait.
The key corollary of all of these events and a certainty no matter the Iranian retaliation is a prodigious oil price spike, a profound shock for the teetering global economy, and the spectre of recession or depression as a direct economic consequence. Such scenarios are hardly scaremongering, not even unlikely; indeed, for the afore mentioned consequences, it is but a matter of degree.
Taking all these issues into consideration have been a raft of high-level military and governmental officials from both America and Israel.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has echoed many of the above conclusions, specifically arguing that attacking Iran would:
‘simply delay it [obtaining a bomb]…Of greater concern…are the unintended consequences, which would be that ultimately it would have a backlash and the regime that is weak now…would suddenly be able to re-establish itself…able to get support in the region, and …instead of being isolated would get the greater support in a region that right now views it as a pariah.”
Michael V. Hayden, a former director of the CIA, bluntly noted that ‘airstrikes capable of seriously setting back Iran’s nuclear program were “beyond the capacity” of Israel’. He continued to note that overall the Israelis ‘only have the ability to make this worse.’ Admiral William Fallon, former commander of US Central Command, suggested that ‘No one I am aware of thinks that there is a positive outcome from a military strike’ while General Martin Dempsey, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that a strike against Iran was ‘premature’.
Former Mossad Chief of nine years, Meir Dagan, has spoken out on several occasions on this topic, offering a logical, educated, and damning case for the attack on Iran, but more recently plainly summed up the notion as ‘a stupid idea’.  Another former Mossad Chief Ephraim Halevy cautioned that a strike could be devastating for the Middle East for a century and that Iran is ‘far from posing an existential threat to Israel’, refuting one of Netanyahu’s fundamental arguments. Former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) Lt-Gen Amnon Lipkin-Shahak repudiated what may seem to be received wisdom noting that ‘it is quite clear that much if not all of the IDF…leadership do not support military action at this point.’
A plurality of opinions
Certainly, there are several other high-level officials who argue the opposite. But at the very least the fact that the US Secretary of Defence, several high-ranking intelligence and military officials, and two former Mossad Directors appear to have serious and rational concerns over the viability and the sense of an Israeli attack on Iran, is a serious cause for concern. These non-political actors, without an obvious political axe to grind [though one may cast aspersions at Meir Dagan] and aware of the intelligence that most are not privy to, pour scorn on many of the key arguments of those proposing or seeking such an action. Also, lest one forget, none are running for elected position in the foreseeable future.
This plurality of opinion and the profoundly concerning history of those adamant that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in two, three or five years time, means that the case for Israel attacking Iran is less than certain, while an examination of the technical possibilities questions whether such an attack is even possible. And surely if one is engaging in such a policy with such profound implications, it would seem to be sensible if not mandatory that a high burden of proof is required. As yet there is – unequivocally – no such consensus.
 Ewen MacAskill, ‘Iran nears nuclear ‘point of no return’ The Guardian (27 January 2005) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/jan/27/politics.iran
 Angus Hohenboken, Iran will soon post N-threat, says Israel’ The Australian (31 January 2009) http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/israel-iran-will-soon-pose-n-threat/story-e6frg6tx-1111118716317
 An excellent round of these dates can be found in Christian Science Monitor. Scott Peterson, ‘Imminenet Iran nuclear threat? I timeline of warnings since 1979’ Christian Science Monitor (http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/1108/Imminent-Iran-nuclear-threat-A-timeline-of-warnings-since-1979/Earliest-warnings-1979-84
 Eric Margolis, ‘A radioactive situation’ The National Interest (24 February 2012) http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/radioactive-situation-6566
 Eli Lake ‘Inside Obama’s Israel bomb sale’ Newsweek (25 September 2011) http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/09/25/obama-arms-israel.html
 Tony Capaccio, B-2 bomber gets Boeing’s new 30,000 pound bunker buster bomb’ Bloomberg (15 November 2011) http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-14/30-000-pound-bunker-buster-bomb-now-ready.html
 Bruce Ackerman, ‘The legal case against attacking Iran’ Los Angeles Times (5 March 2012) (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-ackerman-attacking-iran-would-be-illegal-20120305,0,4429323.story
 Quoted in Colin Kahl, ‘Before attacking Iran, Israel should learn from its 1981 strike on Iraq’ The Washington Post (2 March 2012) http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/an-israeli-attack-against-iran-would-backfire–just-like-israels-1981-strike-on-iraq/2012/02/28/gIQATOMFnR_story.html
 Geoff Dyer, ‘Israel faces resistance over Iran strike’ The Financial Times (28 February 2012) http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/fd386d8e-6161-11e1-8a8e-00144feabdc0.html
 Amos Harel, ‘Some 200,000 missiles aimed consistently at Israel, top IDF officer says’ Haaretz (2 February 2012) http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/some-200-000-missiles-aimed-consistently-at-israel-top-idf-officer-says-1.410584
 Remarks by Secretary of Defence Leon E Panetta at the Saban Centre US Department of Defence (News Transcript) 2 December 2011 http://www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4937
 Elizabeth Bulmiller, ‘Iran raid seen as a huge task for Israeli jets’ New York Times (19 February 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/20/world/middleeast/iran-raid-seen-as-complex-task-for-israeli-military.html?ref=elisabethbumiller
 Amos Harel, ‘Former Mossad chief: Israeli attack on Iran must be stopped to avert catastrophe’ Haaretz(1 December 2011) http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/former-mossad-chief-israeli-attack-on-iran-must-be-stopped-to-avert-catastrophe-1.399046
 Isabel Kershner, ‘Israeli strike on Iran would be ‘stupid’, ex-spy chief says New York Times (8 May 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/09/world/middleeast/09israel.html
 Yoav Zitun, ‘Iran far from posing existential threat’ Y Net News (11 April 2011) http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4143909,00.html
 ‘Israel’s military leaders warm against Iran attack’ The Independent (2 February 2012) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/israels-military-leaders-warn-against-iran-attack-6298102.html?printService=print
Iran’s oil exports map 15, January 2012Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran.
Tags: Iran, Iran oil exports, Iran oil exports map
Here’s a quick and easy map from CNN showing where Iran sends its oil. I’d be more impressed, though, if it showed what percentage of oil Iran’s sales made in the countries in question.
Hat tip: ScottLucasUK
Decoding Iran’s Missile Tests 4, January 2012Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Iran.
Tags: Iran, Iran close down Strait of Hormuz, Iranian Missile Tests, Iranian missiles, Strait of Hormuz, US Iranian relations
Over the Christmas and New Year holidays Iran undertook a series of naval exercises in Gulf waters, which included the test firing of a range of missiles, one of which could theoretically reach as far as Israel. While Iran’s military elite claimed that the tests were successful, given their record of exaggeration and the attempted manipulation of photos of missile launches, it is difficult to take such statements at face value.
Yet such tests are not really about tactical military preparations or the meaningful testing of a new missile. Instead they are designed to once again rattle the sabre, to remind both the Gulf states and in particular Europe and America of Iran’s military threat. In particular, these exercises and other bellicose statements in recent weeks about Iran’s ability to “close down the Strait of Hormuz” are aimed at pressuring European states not to back America’s new tough round of sanctions on Iran.
In other words, the exercises and the threats regarding the Strait of Hormuz are mostly a PR diplomatic bluff; yet this is not to say that they should be ignored.
The greater tensions in the Gulf and the more exercise that Iran feels it needs to put on, the greater the chance of a conflagration occurring by accident. Recent instances of the kidnapping of British Marines in 2007 and of Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) boats “buzzing” US warships in 2008 could easily have escalated quickly and were enormously incendiary and foolish actions by Iran.
US election season being underway may have prompted President Obama’s tougher new sanctions on Iran to shore up his “strong man” credentials and though America certainly does not want to instigate an actual confrontation with Iran in this post-Iraq era, provocative actions and miscalculations from Iran in the context of pressure from domestic, Gulf and Israeli lobbies could prove difficult to resist.
At the same time, Iran does not want a “hot war” in the Gulf either. Despite the constant inflammatory rhetoric emanating from Tehran, the elite knows full well that were a conflict to occur with US or Gulf forces in the region, even were Iran’s asymmetric forces to strike a blow or two, given the profound technological mismatch between Iran and America and its Gulf allies, overall it is not difficult to imagine Iran’s entire Navy, significant portions of its air force and any number of its petroleum installations being summarily destroyed. While this would temporarily solidify the Iranian elite’s position given the likely subsequent rallying of public support, such blows could be profoundly crippling.
While some suggest that Iran’s elite is intrinsically unstable or “irrational” and may actually seek such a conflict given that they are beholden to their religiously inspired Revolution, one only need recall that at the height of Khomeini’s rule in the 1980s, despite typically nasty rhetoric to the contrary, Khomeini engaged and traded with Israel. Iran needed spare parts for its fighters and Israel wanted oil: rhetoric is one thing; realpolitik is another.
Despite neither side wanting serious escalation, neither America nor Iran appear able to escape their cold war. Aside from a deep history of mistrust and proxy conflicts for more than three decades, today Iran feels profoundly encircled and afraid. It sees tens of US bases and tens of thousands of US troops to its north, south, east and west, not to mention US allies laden with advanced military equipment across from Iran in the Gulf.
Wholly unable to cope with such a conventional military challenge, Iran has instead engaged in augmenting its asymmetric forces both in terms of the IRGC and by supporting groups such as Hezbollah. This, in turn – in addition to persistent US claims that Iran has been involved with the supplying of, for example, IEDs in Afghanistan and Iraq to kill US forces – has entrenched US implacability to Iran.
Thus today the “Great Satan” is a mainstay of Iranian politics and Iran is a byword for perfidy in US domestic politics, making reaching any accommodation difficult. Iran’s recent overture for diplomacy is cleverly timed for Tehran knows perfectly well that the Obama Administration will find it all but impossible to engage during the election season. Therefore, when America rejects this attempt, Iran can claim that it tried the diplomatic route but was rebuffed, much as President Obama did with his initial overtures after he was elected.
There are no easy exits on the horizon from this vicious cycle. Both sides know fundamentally that they need to talk, but both are constrained by their domestic climates, where accommodation and even discussion is seen – absurdly – as weakness. So too are Gulf states constrained in their relations with significant antipathy across the region to Iran. Yet the immutable relations between Iran and the Gulf states born of their unalterable proximity is perhaps the best hope for a future accommodation. Both HH the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, HE the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al-Thani, and most recently Mohamed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the Prime Minister of the UAE, have voiced sporadically reasoned and moderate views on Iran; yet much work and time is yet needed – not to mention a partner in Iran – for such sentiments to prevail and for a new Gulf security architecture to replace the current failing framework.
Published in The Gulf Times
Iranian encirclement 12, December 2011Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Iran.
Tags: America, American bases Central Asia, American bases Middle East, American bases surrounding Iran, Iran, Iranian American relations
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An excellent map from Juan Cole.
On Iran’s Stealth RQ 170 Capture 9, December 2011Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
Tags: American drone caputres, Beast of Kandahar, Beast of Kandahar caputred, Iran, Iran shot down drone, RQ 170, RQ 170 captured
So Iran did actually manage to get a hold of one of America’s drones this time? I would imagine that there are some highly concerned people in Washington and some people buying air tickets and grabbing bags full of cash in Moscow and Beijing.
Iran insists that it remotely jammed the UAV and landed it on purpose. But Iran lies quite a lot about these things. Their technology is, obviously enough , enormously inferior to America’s, but America’s hubris knows no bounds: hence the debacle in Iraq with the feeds from UAVs. Certainly, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Iran hacked the feed and took control of it (their asymmetric warfare capabilities need to be noted as significant, in particular) but it is more likely that either 1) a technical error from the US side caused the issue or 2) Iran managed to scramble the signal somehow. Either which way, these UAVs are designed to land themselves somewhere flat so certainly it didn’t need the Iranians to guide it down.
Certainly, this is a blow for America. How bad a problem remains to be seen in a few years when grainy footage emerges from a Chinese military base of a wing shaped UAV taking off.
Yet such a UAV has such eventualities taken into account; there is some degree of expendability built in.This is not to try to minimize the loss; as Michael Dunn notes, now for one thing Iran will be able to learn exactly what the RQ 170 actually does (i.e. only photography, sigint, radar suppression etc or some combination thereof).
There are, of course, two other possibilities entirely. 1) That Iran has made this out of leftover polystyrene and sticky back plastic or that 2) this is some enormously elaborate sting by America. Neither are that likely, but neither can be ruled out. Let the speculation begin.
Iran can ‘easily’ occupy Saudi Arabia 17, October 2011Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran, Saudi Arabia.
Tags: Iran, Iran can destroy Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia
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Let no one say that some Iranian Ministers do not have a good sense of humour.
Mohammed Karim Abedi, a member of Iran’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee in the Iranian parliament, confidently stated that ‘Iran was capable of occupying Saudi Arabia if it chooses [sic] to do so’.
Iran’s military forces have the ability to strip Saudi Arabia of its security whenever it wants and Saudi Arabia will not be capable of responding.
Wholly without irony with this belligerent statement, he was replying to the accusation that Iran was plotting to assassinate the KSA Ambassador in Washington DC [my thoughts on which will appear soon].
He also noted that Iran has infiltrated Israel with spies so that it now knows ‘critical information’ to be used should the two states ever come to blows. I’m sure that those in Tel Aviv are terrified.
Of course he sounds like an ass to us, but we’re hardly the intended targets: all politics is domestic, let’s not forget.
WSJ article on Iran and Bahrain 6, October 2011Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain.
Tags: Bahrian Shua, Iran, Iran in Bahrain, Shia in Iran
I have written on numerous occasions about Iran and Bahrain (here here and here). I am neither Bahraini nor Iranian. Nor do I have a gripe with either side. Nor am I a dyed in the wool conservative or a pinko liberal. I try to come at the issue of the Shia in Bahrain, the stalled pearl ‘revolution’ and the question of Iran’s involvement therein as neutrally as possible. I try to caveat what I say and have frequently noted my openness to listen to and evaluate new evidence.
Thus far it is my conclusion that Iran has not played a significant role in the uprisings in Bahrain. There is quite simply not the evidence in the public domain to support such a statement. Which is why I was so interested in this article published in the Wall Street Journal. I was looking forward to reading some critical scholarship or analysis that eschews the tired and typical generalities of nasty Iran.
Alas I was disappointed.
The following is the entire article with my comments underneath. As per my blog’s style, I have commented in a dry and sometimes sarcastic manner. This is not to be mean or disrespectful, but, frankly, it’s a disgraceful article that deserves all the derision it gets.
When the history of the 2011 Arab uprisings is written, Bahrain’s chapter will likely be the most unexpected for a casual reader. Though military rule was lifted in June and widespread public protests have not been seen since March, Bahrain’s place in the region’s upheavals remains deeply misunderstood.
So far, so intriguing. I’d agree to some degree; all of us are operating from behind some kind of veil of ignorance; we don’t know the inner workings of the Bahraini MOI or the King’s mind, so what we do is draw educated assumptions and suggest sensible explanations.
Bahrain is not just another falling domino in the Arab Spring. Nor is it experiencing a surge of spontaneous resistance by its people against their rulers.
There’s no spontaneity to it? At all. None? Not even a bit? Not a tiny bit? A teensy tiny bit? That is a HUGE deceleration to make.
Rather, Bahrain is the victim of a long cycle of intrigue and interference aimed at replacing the moderate and modernizing Khalifa regime with a theocracy under Tehran’s thumb.
And these two things are mutually exclusive? I’d beg to differ.
This spring, as protesters camped out in Manama’s Pearl Square by night and hurled stones by day, Iran mobilized its public-relations teams, which read scripted newscasts denouncing the Khalifa family.
Aaah! The dreaded media wing of the evil Republic! Run for the hills! Not….PR!
Meanwhile, Tehran’s military drafted intervention plans.
Yer what!!?? Proof please.
Though even if one assumes that such plans have been made – which I can well imagine and have no problem admitting (I’m well aware that Iran is extremely far from a benign actor: see Kuwait earlier this year) – I’d personally have thought that they’d have been there for ages. Not, as he directly insinuates, having being conjured up post-Spring.
Western observers and governments took the bait and shied away from addressing the true origins of the violence, instead urging Bahrain to show restraint.
Mmm…because Western states like, oh I don’t know…America…so love to play down the Iranian threat…RI-diculous
The misreading was doubly disappointing given Tehran’s long history of working to upset Bahrain’s domestic stability. Since Iran’s 1979 revolution, the country’s leaders have assumed that their revolution represents the aspirations of Shiites throughout the Mideast.
That is why they have worked to undermine the Sunni Khalifa family’s legitimacy in Bahrain by promoting an ideology of Shiite empowerment.
When Nateq Nuri, advisor to Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, claimed Bahrain as Iran’s “14th province” in 2009, he was only restating well-worn rhetoric from the revolution 30 years prior.
Today there is an intimidating imbalance of power between Iran and Bahrain.
Umm…anyone know of any fleets based in Bahrain? Anyone?? Venture a guess??? Could have sworn I saw a LOT of big grey ships last time I was there.
Iran’s standing military numbers 510,000—roughly two-thirds of Bahrain’s entire population. Bahrain would have little to worry about if Iran were content merely to grandstand and make threatening noises. But Tehran has taken concrete steps over the last 30 years to destabilize and de-legitimize Bahrain’s leadership, both directly and through proxies.
Iranian subversion began in December 1981, when the Tehran-based Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain (IFLB) attempted a high-profile coup. An Iranian-trained team of Shiite Bahrainis were to simultaneously attack telecommunications services and Bahrain’s airport, and would assassinate key members of the Khalifa regime. In the ensuing chaos, Iran would send in its military and establish a new theocratic regime similar to its own.
I’ve never come across any proof of this, but am willing to believe it…no-one is trying to say that Iran is a cuddly neighbour
The coup failed, but the experience spurred the formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which today includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Under the December 1981 Saudi-Bahrain Security Pact, Saudi Arabia placed its entire “potential in the service of Bahrain’s security.”
That didn’t stop Iran from working to extend its power. But in the late 1980s, Iran overplayed its hand when it started mining sea lanes in an attempt to control the Persian Gulf. Four days after a U.S. frigate struck an Iranian mine in 1988, the U.S. launched Operation Praying Mantis to sweep Iran’s naval presence from both sides of the Gulf.
Having been checked militarily by the U.S., Iran began to deploy more clandestine methods in its quest for regional control. When unemployed Bahrainis rallied at their government’s labor ministry in 1994, Iran filled the country
with propaganda advocating a Shiite intifada characterized by “democracy” and “equality.” Tehran even offered to mediate as the “Days of Rage” grew in ferocity and Bahrainis faced daily acts of violence in the unrest, which lasted until 1999.
Mounting evidence of Iran’s duplicity prompted the U.S. to permanently station its Fifth Fleet in Manama in 1995. Taking the move as a provocation, Tehran intensified its intifada
and began training Bahraini Shiite fighters in Iran.
Proof? But again, I’m willing to suspect that some folks were indeed so trained. (My only point being that this is not rock-solidly ‘true’)
Among other efforts, Tehran established a military wing for Hezbollah in Bahrain, which attempted another coup in June 1996. Bahraini authorities thwarted the plot only by preemptively arresting dozens of suspects, and the kingdom continued to operate under de-facto martial law that didn’t end until 1999, when Sheik Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa died and his son and successor took over the kingdom.
The new King Hamed bin Issa Al Khalifa promptly ordered an end to emergency rule, instituted a general amnesty for political prisoners and reestablished Bahrain’s popularly elected Shura Council. But while many hoped that Hamed’s gestures would ease Bahrain’s religious tensions, the liberalizations only saw the Shiite community become more militant.
…and they had no grievances about which to agitate?
The current uprising, or so-called Pearl Revolution, in fact did not begin this year but dates back to 2008, when Bahraini authorities arrested senior Shiite clerics accused of conspiring against the government. The sporadic violence that ensued culminated in still another attempted coup. Then in December 2008, 14 people were arrested on suspicion of planning a series of terror attacks against commercial centers, diplomatic missions and night clubs in Bahrain.
The arrests unleashed still more violence. It was against this backdrop that Iran’s Mr. Nuri called Bahrain Iran’s “14th province,” a statement greeted by joyous chants of agreement from Bahrain’s Shiites.
All of them? Every last one? All chanting in unison? Were you counting? How are you judging whether a chant is joyous or not? Or merely merry? How about elated or just loud? And what exactly does this mean? What level of support does this denote?
Despite such revanchism, in the spring of 2009 Hamid declared another amnesty,
What a guy.
this time pardoning some 170 prisoners who had been charged with endangering national security, including 35 Shias on trial for allegedly trying to overthrow the government. Normally, this would provide space for reconciliation. But again, Iran’s efforts to push Bahrain into full-scale civil war have kept tensions hot.
Thirty years of intransigence
An interesting word choice. One with which I’d agree. But ‘intransigence’ is not exactly explicit, direct and persistent interference, now is it?
reveal the extent of Tehran’s determination to turn Bahrain into an Iranian satellite.
Of course Tehran would love to have Bahrain under its fold. I don’t disagree.
So Iran’s machinations during this year’s protests should have had the international community rushing to support Bahrain, not ostracize it.
Aaah…the crux. The key bit. The core. The proof. The evidence. The schizzle. The skinny…what machinations? What? Specifically? Literally? Explicitly explain what machinations you’re talking about. Using real evidence, what have been Iran’s machinations? This is T H E key question. One which has not even been remotely touched upon in this article.
Instead, too many decision makers were still lost in the rhetoric of the wider Arab Spring. The specifics of each country are whitewashed in favor of one simplistic mantra: that the Arab peoples have been oppressed by their leaders and want democratic reform.
Most have…most do.
This is only partially correct in some cases and fundamentally erroneous in Bahrain.
So you are explicitly saying that there has been no oppression by Bahrain’s elite on the Shia? This is factually what this paragraphs says. This is a bold, bold claim and one that ignores a wee mountain of evidence
Instead of simply reading demonstrator’s placards, leaders need to understand the country’s history. Bahrain is in the midst of an existential struggle against a vastly superior foe. Meanwhile, in Iran, the international community is content to listen to calls for moderate reforms coming from immoderate ayatollahs.
Nice word play at the end.
All in all this is a shockingly bad article. For several reasons
Are the Shia in Iran incapable of doing anything themselves? Are they unable to resist the lure – the moth to the flame – of Iran’s calls? Are there no issues with Bahrain’s Shia looking to a significant degree to Najaf and Karbala?
While some may look to Iran as the leading/only Shia state to some degree, what does this mean? That they support the Iranian football team? Prefer Persian food? Will martyr themselves for Ahmadinejad? Or…well…nothing at all. My point is not that all Shia do not take orders from Iran; surely some do but what is equally sure is some do not.
And here I’d look to the instructive example of the Iran Iraq war. Shia versus Shia in brutal trench warfare replete with chemical weapon attacks. By this kind of absurd narrative one would expect the Iraqi Shia to down tools and join their Shia brethren in Iran; after all Khomeini was in his revolutionary pomp. Yet did this happen? Not at all. They killed each other by the hundreds of thousands.
While Iraq is obviously vastly different from Bahrain, this example is just to show that this dialectic is vastly more complex than Iran clicks its fingers and the Bahraini Shia jump. Which is exactly the kind of simplistic assumption that underpins all such ridiculous articles.
Facts on the ground
I think the author needs to do a bit of wider reading regarding the Shia situation in Bahrain, particularly regarding socio-economic disenfranchisement.
I realise that at times we (us outside of governments) do not have access to grade A proof, should such a thing exist. But when one is making such accusations as in this piece, it is incumbent, at the very least, for the author to be specific.
I wholly agree that – or rather, as far as I know – Iran have a sporadically nefarious history with Bahrain. And that this fact should inform – but not cloud – our assumptions and research subsequently.
But when beginning discussing the Pearl Revolutions and Iran’s role therein, we need to be honest and note that – thus far? – there is simply no evidence of Iran’s involvement. Printed stories in Iran just do not count as anything more meaningful than a bunch of printed stories. Is that it? Is that the proof of Iran’s involvement: journalists’ witterings?
I’m not trying to be obtuse; I understand that Iran have a vested interest in upsetting the status quo in Bahrain and have, it seems, a history in this; but this is a serious accusation, and ‘form’ or, to put it another way, circumstantial evidence, just will not do.
On Iran and the GCC 22, August 2011Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, Iran.
Tags: Bahrain, Iran, Iran and the GCC
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The Guardian have published an article of mine on the GCC fixation with Iran. Despite a bit of butchery with the editing robbing my opening sentence of its mojo, it is still, I feel, worth a read!