In the event of Anglo-American air strikes within the Iranian territory, we may find Iran retaliating with brute force. It means an escalation of war, which neither the US nor the UK would like. But the ground situation is completely unpredictable.
Nevertheless, both have said that if necessitated by circumstances, airstrikes inside the Iranian territory may not be ruled out. Reuters, on February 4, quoted Frank Sullivan, the security adviser to the White House, who made a formal statement to that effect.
Dialogue Is A Priority
Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on February 5. It is his 5th visit to the region since the outbreak of the war in Gaza. It indicates that the US is serious in parties calling a halt to the fighting in the Middle East.
From the very first day of the unexpected Hamas attack on October 7, President Biden has been saying that Washington does not want the war to spread to other areas in the region.
In the initial stages, Biden even said that Washington has no proof of Iran’s involvement in the clashes. He was also reported to have done some spade work aimed at persuading the parties to inch towards a ceasefire, at least for a specific period, even if that would be a short one.
But the odds are many. The more disturbing one is the threat posed to the highly strategic international waterway through the Red Sea to the Suez Canal and onwards to Europe.
Iran-supported Houthi militants have been targeting commercial vessels in the Red Sea. It has forced the US, the UK, and at least twenty more states allied to them to retaliate and forestall any serious damages.
A threat to shipping through international waterways means denial of the freedom of navigation as laid down in the UN Charter. Because the Houthis have declared they would continue attacks if the cargoes are connected to Israel, the US, and Great Britain feel it a duty to keep the strategic channel secured.
Their retaliatory strikes were not of high intensity because they did not mean stoking the flames of war but only warned Yemen not to stray from the international norms of freedom of navigation.
A common feature of proxy wars is that the premier, for whom the proxies get involved in actual fighting with an adversary, never owns its complicity in the act of militancy. Iran is an example of using the services of proxy to flare tensions in the region.
Though the fighting started on October 7, and layer after layer of this complex and clandestine activity was laid bare with ongoing fighting, it was evident from the quality of weapons used, fighting tactics adopted, print and media and publicity hype, and fitful international intervention including one from the UN, all remained tight-lipped about the fundamental cause of the current catastrophe but vocal about activating ceasefire.
Some irresponsible statements made by the myopia-afflicted elements were nothing short of an indictment of the victim (Israelis) and clean chit to the aggressor.
But Prime Minister Netanyahu wants the real culprit to be identified and punished for becoming a constant source of destabilizing peace in the region. He indirectly exhorted the international community that eradicating Israel from the map of the world was the publicly declared objective of Iran, and it was using multiple proxies to inflict a thousand cuts on the State of Israel.
The irony is that pro-Palestinian groups want to block the rightful retaliatory action by Israel by asking for a ceasefire and proposing no punitive punishment to those who are running the proxies.
Only the British Foreign Minister, Lord Cameron, was upfront in calling a spade a spade. The Independent of 4th February quoted: “Lord Cameron told the Sunday Times: “I’ve met with the Iranian foreign minister and had a very robust conversation where I said that these proxies are your proxies, you cannot disclaim your responsibility for them…. Of course, you can claim they have a certain amount of independence, but you created them, you backed them, you financed them, you provided them with weapons, and you will ultimately be held accountable for what they do.”
The simple logic is this. If these are not the proxies of Iran, and doubtlessly they are, then the theocratic regime of Tehran has no right to raise hue and cry if the proxies are neutralized.
Consequently, proxies like Osama, Zhavahiri, Suleimani, Najjar, and others in different parts of the world have rightly met their fate at the hands of those against whom they were conspiring. Tehran cannot find justification for protesting against the airstrikes by the US and allies to neutralize the Houthi threat from Yemen. But since Iran does protest and even asserts supporting the Houthi, it is crystal clear that Tehran is the source of trouble in the Middle East.
We said that the US does not favor the escalation of hostilities to other parts of the region. Some signals have gone to Tehran to behave as a responsible state.
The first question that should be addressed in a scenario of escalated hostilities is if the US strikes inside Iran, what will be the reaction of Russia and China?
China has a 25-year agreement with Iran, which ensures the supply of a fixed quantity of oil annually. Besides, China has made sizeable investments in Iran. Naturally, China will muster support in favor of Iran.
However, China would not venture into physical intervention as long as its vital facilities are not threatened in one way or the other. China may readjust the deployment of its naval force in the Gulf region and the Western Indian Ocean region and, along with that, extend political and psychological support to Iran. Shipment of weapons to Tehran may not be ruled out.
As far as Russia is concerned, it has friendly relations with Iran. In connection with the Ukrainian war, Iran is alleged to have supplied drones and some more items of war machine to Moscow.
Russia could deploy a bigger naval force in the region as Moscow is committed to keeping the important and strategic waterways open for free navigation.
We don’t think that on the issue of Iranian proxies attempting to disrupt peace and normalcy in the Red Sea region, Moscow will lose sight of larger global interests and get involved in a regional tussle while it is fighting a bigger war in Ukraine.
The deployment of a couple of warships or subs in and around the region may give Moscow consolation that her voice has to be heard. In terms of the solution to the Palestine issue, the idea of creating two sovereign states is already under discussion at various levels.
Blinken’s current visit to Saudi is part of the big role Washington is playing in a peaceful solution to the Palestinian issue.
However, pro-Islamic states like Turkey and Pakistan and organizations like OIC will find it a tough challenge to their influence and status within the fold of the Islamic brotherhood, which they will find is pitted against the Western democracies.
In the prospect of Iran responding to further airstrikes by the US, we do not think that anything concrete will emerge from the Muslim world except the formal utterance of the domineering West trying to re-impose its hegemony over the ummah.
Given the severe differences among the members of OIC, this organization will be incapable of changing the direction of the wind. They will have to go with the democratic and powerful world opinion.
A critical facet of the implication of the Anglo-American strike on specific locales within the territorial jurisdiction of Iran will undoubtedly become a booster to the morale of a strong home-bred anti-theocratic movement inside Iran.
We know that the anti-hijab movement was suppressed by the Iranian regime through the unleashing of brute force in which more than four hundred Iranian women, mostly students, had to pay with their lives.
An attack on Iran could mark the beginning of the end of the theocratic regime in Iran and its terrorist credentials. It is also possible that in the calculus of the democratic and liberal world, showing Iran its right place would mean the greatest blow to the international jihadist terror movement.
- KN Pandita (Padma Shri) is the former director of the Center of Central Asian Studies at Kashmir University. Views Personal of Author.
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