The Shia country has acquired strategic depth that would come in handy in possible conflicts with the neighbouring Sunni countries.
Armed with a nuclear deal in the right hand and Russian S 300 missiles in the left, Iran has emerged as a new policeman in the Middle East, much to the chagrin of Saudi Arabia. The 36-year-old Islamic republic couldn’t be happier to have had the best of both worlds. Iran can become the regional superpower it was during the reign of Shah. Barack Obama has already begun to fight Iran’s war on several fronts. When the Russian missile system lands in Iran, the Gulf nations will have lost their superiority in air force. Sunni countries in the Arab world are showing signs of consternation, if not fear.
Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed, the military leader of the UAE, met with US president Obama on 20th April to explore the agenda for the Camp David meeting scheduled for 14th May. According to The Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, the UAE initially pressed for a formal treaty to defend members of the Gulf Cooperation Council against external aggression. “The White House countered that such a legal pact is ‘not realistic’, given the problems of Senate ratification, and ‘not necessary’, writes Ignatius. “We can provide… an expansion of our security assurances to our allies that would give them confidence we will be there if needed,” an official was quoted as saying by him. He further wrote about a discussion between the White House and the Gulf Cooperation Council representatives over the specifics of greater military cooperation, including equipment, training, advanced weapons systems and joint military exercises.
The US may have dispelled UAE’s fears. But Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are not good listeners like UAE. They have good reasons, too. Just as Saudi Arabia vented its anger and hurt ego on poor Yemenis (read Iran-backed Houthi rebels), Turkey may gird its loins before entering into northern Syria. They also know the US cannot stretch itself too far. So, when Obama threatened to penetrate the proposed shield of advanced missile system S 300 — if Russia were to deliver them to Iran — the sceptics read the Iraq incident aloud. The US had to feign ignorance in Iraq last year when Iran got a fat cheque from Iraq in the name of fighting against the ISIS. The sceptics didn’t take Obama seriously when he threatened in the same refrain that the arms and ammunition meant for Iran must not be fired by the Houthi rebels fighting their own war in Yemen.
Strategically, the missile deal may not mean much, but the S 300 are advanced enough to beat the otherwise better equipped air power of the Gulf nations. So, it is bound to have an effect subsequently. According to political analyst Abdulrahman Al-Rashed,
“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not stop at reading the morning papers, but he actually called the Russian president to complain about the deal. Many Arab groups consider the missile deal as evidence that the nuclear deal has only increased Iran’s aggressiveness and not brought the region closer to peace.”
The problem is basically in the minds. The Sunni nations have been suffering from a kind of vertigo since the Arab Spring of 2011, doubting themselves as much as the United States even as they continue to reel from Iran’s proxy wars waged with vengeance.
Damascus and Baghdad bore the living and brutal testimonies to Tehran dropping all pretensions about its hegemonic ambitions. Tehran has made a huge opportunity out of the crisis in Iraq. Wrecked by a complex civil war, Iraq is a country open and vulnerable to outside manipulation, as is Syria to Iran and Russia’s moves.
Iraq was grateful in December last year that Iran accepted a fat cheque worth $10 billion against weapons to fight the Islamic State (IS). Ironically, the US had its nose right over the exchange of money bags. And yet, it had to not only feign ignorance but also hold itself back from doing anything that might offend the overbearing Iran. Yes, Iran is overbearing in this part of the world. The US is aware that the lives of their troops in Iraq are at the mercy of Iran.
Iran is heavily involved in shaping Iraqi policy. Iraq provides strategic depth and a buffer against Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states competing with Iran for dominance over the Persian Gulf. More broadly, Tehran wants to ensure that Iraq never again poses an existential threat to Iranian interests, as Saddam Hussein did when he invaded Iran in 1980, instigating the eight-year Iran-Iraq war that devastated both countries.
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