The landmark peace agreement of UAE and Bahrain normalizing relations with Israel in exchange for Israel’s commitment to suspend annexation of the West Bank has jolted the Muslim world. The first announcement by UAE earned severe criticism from Turkey and Iran in addition to condemnation by Palestine. Arab News reported Iran had threatened to launch an attack on UAE over the agreement.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned the deal saying the UAE-Israel agreement is betrayal of the Palestinian cause and that UAE had made a huge mistake. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told media, “The move against Palestine is not a step that can be stomached,” adding he had told his foreign minister “we may also, take a step in the direction of suspending diplomatic ties with the Abu Dhabi leadership or pulling back our ambassador.”
Israel no Longer a Pariah for West Asia
"Iran remains wedded to the Palestinian cause and its arming of the Hamas is an established fact. The recent Hamas rocket attack on Israel attracting Israeli response in Gaza was perhaps show of indignation for UAE and Bahrain bonding with Israel."
Bahrain became the fourth Arab state to normalize relations with Israel after Egypt, Jordan and the UAE. It is being opined that these new alliances have come up to promote trade and benefit individual economies. But this may not be the only reason. The fact is these nations want peace and abhor violence and terrorism.
Recall, the West installed the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt which was booted out. Whether more Arab states will recognize Israel remains unknown albeit there is speculation Oman might do so. But these new alliances indicate that Arab countries' view of Israel as the pariah in West Asia is diminishing.
Iran remains wedded to the Palestinian cause and its arming of the Hamas is an established fact. The recent Hamas rocket attack on Israel attracting Israeli response in Gaza was perhaps show of indignation for UAE and Bahrain bonding with Israel.
Iran fears possibility of UAE and Bahrain forming a security and military alliance with the US, more so with Yossi Cohen, Director Mossad having visited UAE on August 18 and signs that UAE may acquire American F-35s and Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system. Indications of Saudi Arabia and Israel cooperating against Iran have also caused anxiety in Iran.
The US has renewed sanctions against Iran despite EU reservations. Iran has condemned it and Russia’s foreign ministry reacted by stating, “To assert now that sanctions resolutions against Iran have been restored is wishful thinking. We hope our American colleagues will have the courage to finally face the truth and stop speaking on behalf of the UN Security Council. Illegitimate initiatives and actions …. cannot have international legal consequences for other countries … to limit legitimate cooperation with Iran”.
The US sanctions have forged closer Iran-China-Russia alliance facilitating the ‘China era’ with China obtaining military concessions in Iran overlooking the Persian Gulf – main oil region. Chinese investment of US$400 billion dollars over 25 years (16 billion annually) reflects the huge geopolitical consequences of the agreement.
Turkey too may band with Iran, given that China-Pakistan are promoting it over Saudi Arabia to lead the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). These alignments will likely to continue no matter who the next POTUS is even though President Donald Trump losing the race may result in the easing of sanctions against Iran and the revival of the nuclear deal.
Attacks on Shias in Pakistan, Afghanistan
"Shia shrines in Pakistan have been periodically attacked by Sipah-e-Sahaba, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Jundullah – affiliates of ISIS. This is in addition to China supported the genocide of Balochis in Baluchistan"
As the leader of the Shia-Muslim world, Iran should focus on future Shia-Sunni strife which is also behind the Saudi war on Yemen in addition to geostrategic reasons. Whether the US will wage war on Iran risking international flare-up is questionable considering war in the Persian Gulf would be different from opposing forces in Syria. But Iran should focus on sub-conventional threats given that this form of conflict has emerged strategically important in recent decades.
According to Human Rights Watch, "thousands of Shias” have been killed in Pakistan since 2008. Earlier reports had pointed out some 4000 Shias estimated killed in the period 1987-2007 but the actual figure may be more considering the Shia population in Gilgit-Baltistan has been drastically reduced through institutional killings.
Shia shrines in Pakistan have been periodically attacked by Sipah-e-Sahaba, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Jundullah – affiliates of ISIS. This is in addition to China supported the genocide of Balochis (both Shia-Sunni) in Balochistan. There have been reports of ISIS delegations visiting Pakistan to coordinate operations with Jundullah.
In Afghanistan, both the Taliban-Haqqanis and ISKP have been specifically targeting Shias – at times acting in concert like instances of ISIS-Al Qaeda cooperation Iraq-Syria and none claiming responsibility. The March 2020 terror attack at a Shiite gathering in Kabul killing 32 and wounding dozens claimed by Islamic State is just one of the scores of attacks on Shias over the decades.
Another ghastly targeting of Shias in Afghanistan was the terror attack on May 12 this year on a hospital’s maternity ward in Kabul and funeral in Kuz Kunar (Khewa), Nangarhar province resulting in the deaths of 56 people and injuries of 148 others, including newborn babies, mothers, nurses, and mourners. With US exit from Afghanistan, ethnic cleansing of Shias and minorities in Afghanistan will likely to go up.
Iran has suffered cross-border terror attacks through its border with Pakistan in the past. But the sub-conventional threat through its 959-km long border with Pakistan and the 921-kilometer border with Afghanistan may rise exponentially because of the above and the fact that Iran has accommodated China to dominate the Straits of Hormuz and the IOR. Having a porous border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, Iran should focus more on institutionalized Shia killings in these countries, not Gulf states normalizing relations with Israel.
Shireen Mazari, human rights minister in Prime Minister Imran Khan's cabinet in Pakistan, had said some years back that the Taliban should develop the capability to surge beyond Afghanistan’s borders to influence the International North-South Transportation Corridor. If that happens, it would adversely affect Iranian trade as well.
(This article was first published in the 'South Asia Monitor' and has been reproduced with due permission from the author in the larger interest of the military fraternity. Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')