Bridging the Persian Gulf

Discussion in 'Foreign Relations' started by ejazr, Dec 29, 2011.

  1. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    http://dailypioneer.com/columnists/item/50758-bridging-the-persian-gulf.html

    Author: PR Kumaraswamy

    Iran’s attempt to undermine Sunni Arab states is not in India’s interest. We may override Israeli and US concerns, but we can’t ignore the GCC’s apprehensions.

    Iran is not just a regional power but has been showing signs of being a hegemonic power. Capitalising on its hydrocarbon reserves and geo-strategic importance, the ideologically-driven Islamic Republic has been trying to influence events well beyond its national boundaries. There are clear signs that Iran is bent upon Persianising the Gulf.

    Since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, it has been trying to influence political events in Baghdad. Post-Saddam Hussein democratisation meant the emergence of Iraq as the first Shia Arab state. The impending American withdrawal by the end of this month would be the consecration of the Iranian power and would pave the way for a greater Iranian role in the Persian Gulf. Moreover, the winding down of American presence in Afghanistan would also enhance its role and influence in that troubled country. Furthermore, the ‘Arab Spring’ offered additional avenues when the majority Shia population in Bahrain protested against their prolonged exclusion and marginalisation. The Saudi support for the beleaguered Al Khalifa family increased the Iranian stakes in the island.

    Through its influence over militant groups such as Hizbullah and Hamas, Iran has found a pivotal place in Lebanese and Palestinian affairs. The celebrations over the 2005 Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon proved short-lived. Today nothing is possible in that country without having Hizbullah (by extension Iran), on board. Likewise, the victory of Hamas in 2006 considerably enhanced the Iranian role in Palestinian affairs.

    These developments come against the backdrop of the Iranian determination to pursue a confrontational policy towards the West, especially the US. Despite international disapproval and isolation, the Iranian leadership is not ready for a compromise.

    The defiant stands adopted by the Ayatollahs are facilitated by a host of factors. Iran is one of the largest and most populous countries in West Asia. It has the fourth largest known oil reserves (after Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Canada) in the world. It also has the second largest gas reserves after Russia.

    Thus managing Iran has been a serious challenge for many countries. Since the dawn of the Islamic Revolution, the US is struggling to evolve a meaningful policy towards the Ayatollahs. More than three decades after the hostage crisis, Washing-ton, DC remains clueless. Neither engagement nor containment proved to be effective. If the former lacked irresistible incentives, the latter lacked teeth. Hence, from Ronald Reagan to Mr Barack Obama American Presidents continue to pursue an ineffective policy towards Iran. The same holds true for other countries, including China. The economic incentives offered by Iran are in conflict with political problems posed by the Islamic Republic.

    India is no different and has been trying to manage Iran. One can even argue that Iran has been the most serious foreign policy challenge facing New Delhi since the end of the Cold War. On a host of issues, there is a genuine convergence of interest between the two countries. Iran is important for Indian interests concerning energy security, access to Afghanistan and Central Asia and its policy towards Pakistan.

    At the same time, both sides are at variance over a number of concerns. Perceived proximity with Tehran has often come in the way of emerging India-US friendship. While the American pressure is often cited for problems with Iran, it is often ignored that much of the energy problems with Iran are inflicted by the latter. Even without American interference, Iran has proved to be a tough and even unreliable customer on the energy front. The Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline is struck over security concerns. The LNG deal remains on paper because Iran lacks critical technology. Oil explorations are proving to be unattractive as Iranian laws grant royalty not ownership to foreign oil explorers. In short, potential energy cooperation with Iran is not reflected in the incentives accruing to India.

    The Iranian position on the vexed West Asia peace process has been at variance with India’s. While former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami was prepared to accept a Palestinian political settlement with Israel, under Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran has returned to the revolutionary rhetoric of Ayatollah Khomeini. His foot-in-mouth disease has made more enemies than any violence could. His periodic statements against Israel, its existence and calls for its destruction proved controversial even for some Iranians. His Holocaust denial spree, for example, did not go well among prominent Iranians, including former President Khatami. The Iranian support for military groups such as Hamas and Hizbullah are principally driven by its anti-Israeli agenda.

    On the critical nuclear issue, their differences are obvious. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Parliament in February 2006, a nuclear Iran does not serve Indian interest. While there are differences over the means, all major powers, including China and Russia, do not admit the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme. Despite their anti-American rhetoric both of them have continuously voted against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency and United Nations Security Council. While the September 2005 vote against Iran in the IAEA is widely commented by the Indian critics, the voting pattern of China and Russia rarely received closer scrutiny.

    More importantly, India’s Iran policy would have to consider its vital interests in the Arab world. The Arab countries, especially the littorals of the Persian Gulf, are vital. Bulk of India’s trade is with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, especially Saudi Arabia. A major portion of India’s energy supplies come from the Arab countries not Iran. Above all, around six million Indian expatriate labourers are productively employed in the Arab countries. Their presence partly addresses the unemployment problems in India but also results in substantial remittances. Recent estimates of the International Monitory Fund put the annual total foreign exchange remittances of the expatriate labourers at $50 billion, with bulk of them coming from the Gulf region.

    Seen within this wider strategic context, Iranian rhetoric against the Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, goes against larger Indian interests in the Persian Gulf. While Iran is important, the Arab countries are equally — and in some cases more — important. When push comes to shove, India can override the Israeli and even American concerns vis-à-vis Iran. But it will not be able to override the Arab concerns over Iran. Internalising this elementary logic would serve India’s interests in the Persian Gulf.

    The writer teaches contemporary Middle East in Jawaharlal Nehru University.
     
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  3. mayfair

    mayfair Elite Member Elite Member

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    If we can have cordial relations with Arabs and Israel, th where's the harm in having good relations with Iran? We need not entangle ourselves in the Persian-Arab affairs. We must encourage those engagements that serve our interests. A nuclear Iran is of no concern to us, a nuclear Pakistan is the real threat.
     
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  4. Bangalorean

    Bangalorean Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    ^^ True.

    I would prefer if we don't take any sides in these middle East conflicts. Tread carefully and diplomatically, keep relations open with all sides. Status quo is best.

    Like you said, when we can do a balancing act between Israel and Palestine, Iran-Sunni is not a big deal at all. :pound:
     
  5. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Ideally we want to balance our relation on the three sides of the triangle.

    But with recent comments on Iran threatening to shut down the Hormuz strait, this is something that will impact India directly and may even push India to take a side being in the UNSC vis a vis the nuclear vote on Iran.

    The MEA should be working to resolve these issues between Iran and the Saudis through some back channel if only to maintain open lines of energy for India at least.
     
  6. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Keep the nose in the air to sniff the trend and play by the ear.

    It is a historical schism.

    What can MEA do?
     
  7. mayfair

    mayfair Elite Member Elite Member

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    Iran does not have the naval ability or the will to enforce a shut down of the Hormuz strait. It will be the perfect pretext for the US to launch a punitive strike at Iran and since many countries in the EU, China, Japan and India among others too rely on the oil from gulf, they may not be averse to the US action.

    The Arabs and Israel (now that's what I call irony of the highest order) will be happy to go along with this and contribute to the effort to completely defang and castrate Iran once and for all.

    Iran is fully aware that their interests are best served as a nuisance than a combatant in the straits.
     
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  8. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Why India should avoid landing in hot waters of Hurmuz | TwoCircles.net

    By Ravi M. Khanna, IANS,

    As Iran and the United States move towards a standoff in the Strait of Hurmuz, India is going to find itself in a serious dilemma because of its close relations with both the countries. To use the old Greek mythological term, India will be caught precariously between the proverbial Scylla and Charybdis.

    The US response to Iran's threat to block the Strait of Hurmuz could be diplomatic or military, but it would spell trouble for India's foreign policy. Why? Because then India will be forced to take sides, which it has brilliantly avoided so far by clubbing together a special foreign policy stance on the ongoing US pressure on Iran about what it sees as its nuclear weapons ambitions.

    Considering its close energy and economic relations with Iran and its own nuclear weapon tests, India has so far refused to directly side with the US on its position that Iran must not be allowed to make the nuclear bomb.

    India's stated policy has been that Iran is a close friend and has every right to develop nuclear energy but it should not make a nuclear bomb because it has already signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). And when questioned about its own nuclear bomb, India's argument is that it was justified in testing the bomb because New Delhi never signed the treaty.

    So far this has proved to be a very smart policy. But now if the Iran/US situation grows suddenly into a stand-off in Hurmuz, then India will be compelled to do something it has avoided - take sides between Iran and the US.

    India's relations with the US have never been closer. Especially after the Indo-US nuclear pact that allows India to buy nuclear fuel for its power plants from any member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Club. Considering India's efforts to develop blue water navy, there has also been a lot of discussion in Washington on how it can use India's help in keeping the Ocean lines in South Asia secured and open and also to put an end to the piracy in the Indian Ocean.

    So there is no doubt that if push comes to shove in the strait of Hurmuz and the US moves its navy to prevent Iran from closing the international passage, it will need, and definitely ask for, India's help. And that is when India will be in hot waters because that will mean a direct defiance of Iran. And although Iran also needs India badly in Afghanistan, especially after the US troops leave in 2014, its relations with India obviously will be affected adversely if India took a stance against Iran in the Hurmuz crisis.

    Besides trade worth billions of US dollars with Iran, New Delhi's relations with Tehran have also been based on shared geopolitical interests and security issues and also on India's latest strategic quest for "energy security" to maintain its more than seven percent growth rate. India has invested heavily in Iran's gas fields in its strategic efforts to control the global oil and gas resources.

    Also, following President Barack Obama's decision to wind up the Afghan mission by 2014, India has sought Iran's crucial help in ensuring that its interests in Afghanistan remain unaffected after the US pullout. Iran also has a justifiable interest in Afghanistan being its neighbour and has already made inroads into the Hazara region of Afghanistan.

    Obviously, despite the not-so-good relations that currently exist between Iran and Pakistan, Indian strategists are wary of possible Iranian policy shifts towards Pakistan.

    So, with so much at stake, officials in New Delhi's South Block should be working overtime to tweak India's foreign policy in a way that it doesn't have to offend either the US or Iran. And only the coming weeks will tell how India emerges from this tight rope walk -- one of the tightest in international relations and regional diplomacy.
     
  9. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    If you are referring that MEA should resolve Sunni-Shia schism, then that is not what I meant.

    IMO, that is really not even the problem here but in fact, its the plain old Geo-political power politics. And Iran being a historical great power wants to achive that status at the cost of its neighbor who just happen to be Arab Sunni states mostly.

    What I am advocating is more on the lines of the article above where the MEA should try to defuse a chance of an all out war in the Persian Gulf as this would impact us economically. Its in our national security interests to have a security presence in this area, and now that we have the economic and political clout to do so, we should at least be working behind the scenes to exert that power.
     
  10. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

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    Damn it, considering all the geopolitical scenarios in the region, a thaw in US Iran relations is the best thing that could happen in that region. I hope the new year get that.
     
  11. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    When the Muslims cannot and will not bridge the rivalry, who is the listless incompetent MEA to do so or is capable of doing so?
     

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