Explained: How The US-Iran Crisis May Unfold, And How It Would Affect India’s Interests In The Region 

Explained: How The US-Iran Crisis May Unfold, And How It Would Affect India’s Interests In The Region 

by Rajesh Soami - Jan 5, 2020 10:56 AM +05:30 IST
Explained: How The US-Iran Crisis May Unfold, And How It Would Affect India’s Interests In The Region Qasem Soleimani (sayyed shahab-o- din vajedi/WIkimedia Commons)
  • Any large maritime incident in the strait of Hormuz region would lead to global oil prices skyrocketing with consequences for all, including India.

India woke up to the morning of 3 January 2020 to hear the news of the death of Qassim Soleimani.

The first question which propped up in the minds of Indians, uninitiated in the workings of global geopolitics was, who was Soleimani?

Since then, the unending media focus on the Armageddon, which according to every makeup-clad TV anchor is at the door, has made us aware of who he was.

It is, therefore, moot to talk about Soleimani, but more important to know why we did not know of him earlier. In short, we did not hear of him because our view is myopic.

The regime in Iran is seen through the eyes of civilisational ties which we profess to have with the Iranians, or more appropriately, the Parsis.

As a result, the maligning activities of the ‘Mullahcracy’ in Iran gets a pass even as we focus on the Wahaabi ideology of Saudi Arabia.

General Soleimani was the commander of the Quds Force, the outward arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Force (IRGC) of Iran.

He oversaw the activities of half a dozen militias in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. These include Hezbollah, Kataeb Hezbollah, Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) etc.

These militias, some of which are now declared terrorist organisations, have been responsible for violent attacks across West Asia over decades.

The Indian government has remained unconcerned with the violence unleashed by these Iranian proxies, trained and armed by the Soleimani-led Quds Force. This was primarily because they were targeting entities and states India did not care about.

For example, Hezbollah fought a war against Israel in Lebanon in 2006. The conflict was precipitated by a cross-border attack by Hezbollah into Israel, wherein they killed three soldiers and abducted two others.

But then, attacks against Israel have always remained kosher in India owing to the predominant position of the left-liberal analysts in the media.

The Iranian hostility to Israel, with its roots in Islamic theology, has found supporters in the Indian strategic circles, in the garb of anti-imperialism or some other similar pretext.

The vote bank politics in India has also historically played its role in demonising Israel. As a result, there were higher chances of such attacks being romanticised than criticised in the country.

Other states, which have been targets of Soleimani-led Quds Force, are the Arab monarchies. Although they have not faced the same level of violence as Israel, the hostility is apparent.

In 2016, the Arab states also declared Hezbollah a terrorist organisation. However, since these monarchies (Saudi Arabia, UAE etc) have supported Pakistan in the past, India was unconcerned about them as well.

The approach of successive Indian governments in the recent past has been amusingly naive and wooden.

The Arab monarchies no longer support violent Islamist movements around the world, as they did in the past, a grudge we continue to harbour against them.

In fact, this role has been taken over by other states such as Turkey, Iran, etc. Even Malaysia under Mahathir Mohammed has chipped in with its own efforts.

This was evident when these states criticised India after the Modi government amended Article 370. In contrast, the reaction of the Arab monarchies was muted.

The change in the policies of the Gulf states took place sometime after the 9/11 attack in 2001.

The monarchies in these countries have realised that popular Islamic slogans and mass religious hysteria threaten their own rule.

This position was vindicated when strongmen in Arab countries fell in the wake of the Arab spring.

As a result, the Gulf monarchies have overtly opposed radical Islamic movements across the region since.

India’s relations with Israel have also improved over the decades. Despite this, there is strong resistance in Indian strategic circles to reorient the country’s policies in West Asia. In fact, the Modi government has been faster off the block than most analysts.

PM Modi himself has frequently visited both the UAE and Saudi Arabia since coming to power. India now has a strategic partnership with both the countries, who in turn, have agreed to up their economic investments in India.

Coming back to the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani and its impact on the region. There is general consensus that Iranians would not militarily challenge the US.

The firepower equation is loaded in America’s favour. However, Iran has many ways to retaliate. It could raise the heat for the US in the wider West-Asian region just below the threshold level of full-scale armed conflict.

This is unlikely to concern India directly.

However, the Iranians could also choose to arm the Taliban in Afghanistan, where India has heavily invested in the last two decades.

The Iranians have refrained from doing so until now primarily because of their suspicions regarding the predominance of Sunni radicalism in the Talibani ranks.

If Tehran recalculates that the US is a more immediate danger and needs to be ousted from Afghanistan at all costs, it could transfer more sophisticated weaponry to the jihadi militants, leading to another round of violence in the war-torn country.

Secondly, the route to Afghanistan through the Chabahar port, which India is trying to build with Iranian help, could also come under pressure.

When India stopped buying oil from Iran in the wake of American sanctions, Teheran had hinted that it could invite Pakistan and China to participate in the project. India needs to keep a keen eye on developments in this regard.

Finally, the Iranians could try to disrupt the oil flow through the narrow strategic strait of Hormuz. The oil export by Iran has already been hampered due to American sanctions.

The Iranians could choose to attack oil tankers of other countries in the region if they deduce that they have nothing to lose through such acts.

Any large maritime incident in the strait of Hormuz region would lead to global oil prices skyrocketing with consequences for all, including India.

The government needs to devise both a short-term as well as long-term plan for West Asia. The turbulence in the region is a continuing phenomenon and is unlikely to abate anytime soon. In fact, the chances of further turbulence have only increased.

New Delhi needs to read the tea leaves correctly to further its interests. The trajectories of larger states in the region is changing and India should reorient its policies accordingly.

The Modi government also needs to devise a long-term economic plan on ensuring energy security for the country to avoid economic pain due to geopolitical conflict in the region.

Rajesh Soami is a Research Scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University currently pursuing PhD in International Relations. He is also a badminton enthusiast. He tweets @RajeshSoami.

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