By K.N. Pandita
Two regional states have viewed the 24 November nuclear deal between Iran and 5 +1 with scepticism. They do so for different reasons. Prime Minister of Israel calls it a big historical mistake. He doubts Iran’s sincerity. It could be a cover to clandestinely carry forward her nuclear programme; hence existential threat for the State of Israel.
This is also the line hawks in the US Congress as well as in the Congressional Foreign Relations Committee are towing. Testifying before the Committee, Secretary of State Kerry said that it had taken ten long years of hard work to bring about the deal and called it a crucial moment in history.
Israel’s scepticism arises from Iran’s rabidly hostile stance towards her. Ex-President Ahmadi Nejad’s anti-Israel vitriolic still bemuses us. It was Khumeini who, soon after the revolution, said that the road to Qods lay through Israel.
Israel believes that continued sanctions would have forced Iran to make more concessions and ultimately would have resulted in forcing Iran to completely roll back her nuclear programme.
Saudi Arabia’s disapproval of the deal is rooted not in existential but in political threat from Iran. They say the US has betrayed Riyadh and kept the deal hidden from them.
Iran-Saudi acrimony stems from their long rivalry for grabbing ecclesiastical leadership of the Muslim world.
When Khumeini rose to power, he said that monarchy was alien to Islam, and that the Imamate of the Mecca was not the sole right of the Saudi ruling house. Let us not forget that the Mecca riots then consumed lives of nearly 400 Iranian hajj pilgrims.
Saudis always look at Iranians as proselytes or second class Muslims because of their Zoroastrian ancestry. This is the reason why the clerical regime in Iran in post-revolution period initiated de-recognizing traditional Iranian culture and pandering to Semitic overtures. They wanted to show they were more desk book Muslims than the rest of them. However emphasis was on Shiite Islam.
Rise of fundamentalism and terrorism in contemporary Islamic history is also to be traced to this Saudi-Iran horn-lock. Khumeini’s slogan of export of Iranian Islamic revolution championed by Shiite Pasdaran was countered by Saudi initiated Sunni Wahhabi mujahideen cult. With the passage of time, both developed their groups of musclemen functioning under different patents but closely controlled and guided by respective state intelligence agencies.
Iranian extremists launched hate campaigns against the US because it supports Saudi monarchy and its assertive institutions. Quite naturally, it is tantamount to containment of Iran’s influence in the region. Presence of world’s most powerful country in such close proximity of Iranian land and waters was a red rag to the bull.
It has to be understood that Iran’s animosity towards Israel is essentially rooted in US-Saudi-Israel tripartite tie-up. Iran takes it as an affront. Since she cannot cross swords with the mighty US, she has been conceitedly assertive towards Israel. Her role in Lebanon and Syria is a reflection of this mindset.
Saudi reaction is pungent and they look for new assertive foreign policy and defence doctrine focusing on extended Iranian influence in the Middle East viz. through Hizbollah in Syria or Jundullah in Baluchistan. They see the nuclear deal something that would keep Bashar al Assad of Syria in power.
Nuclear deal implies that US-Saudi relationship trajectory will have to be reset. In the past the US apprehension was that if US downgraded its alliance with Saudis, then European Union would lose no time in filling the vacuum and become Saudi Arabia’s chief ally. But in changed conditions, will European powers want to become an ally of a country pursuing rivalry with Iran across the Middle East? The Arab Spring is so far ineffective in the monarchical state.
The third important country in the region is India. The deal puts India in a delicate situation. India and Iran have a long history of cordial relations. But the era of Indo-Israel freeze came to an end in 1992 when Soviet Union disintegrated and externally sponsored terrorism hit India in the crucial northern State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Oil plays major role in contemporary Indo-Iran relations. But with the lifting of trade sanctions on Iran, India will streamline her trade relations. The prospect of revitalizing Indo-Iran shipping effort will open up and with increase in crude oil imports oil payments imbroglio will be resolved.
India and Iran have signed Strategic Partnership Accord in January 2003 on the occasion of the visit of Muhammad Khatami, the then President of Iran to New Delhi. It is to promote mutual defence ties. It provided growing Indian access to Iranian bases in exchange of various Indian defence products, training and technology. Indian naval teams visited Iran for assistance in submarine maintenance and overhaul.
Israel had raised concerns on India warming up to Iranian defence requirements and also joint naval exercises in 2000. During his 2003 visit to New Delhi, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon Perez raised concern of Israel-based military technology transfer to Iran and asked for explicit guarantees.
The 2005 Indo-Us nuclear deal cast its shadow on Indo-Iran defence deals and since 2005 Indo-Iran defence ties have remained at a low key. No meeting of Joint Indo-Iran Working Group took place till today, all because of US pressure on India. New Delhi voted against Iran in IAEA in order to restrain Iran from making nuclear bomb.
In contrast to this, soon after the nuclear deal was signed, in Geneva, barely two weeks later in early December 2013, Iranian warships Alborz, Bandar Abbas and Russian origin kilo-class submarine Younis visited Mumbai port. Iran can lure Indian defence planers with a variety of defence equipment India would be interested in.
On the other hand, India’s defence relations have steadily grown ever since two countries established diplomatic relations in 1992. Israel is India’s largest arms supplier after Russia. During last one decade Israel has supplied India arms worth 10 billion dollars which means on average one billion dollars a year. Indo-Israel defence exchanges are in a number of areas like arms purchases, technology transfer naval cooperation, counter-terrorism, military training and space technology. Joint ventures are afoot for cooperation in cyber security, UAV etc.
In 2008 India launched TechSAR, an Israeli surveillance satellite called Polaris providing information on strategic Iranian installations. Iran protested and demanded that India refrain from allowing any country to conduct such operations from her soil.
This not withstanding, India and Israel have moved far ahead in defence ties. Israeli Chief of land forces Maj.Gen. Guy Zur paid a 4-day visit to New Delhi in November 2013.The sides discussed Saudi Arabia and Middle East regions. India looked for purchase of Rafael-made Spike ATGMs including 321 missile launchers, 8356 missiles and 15 training simulations along with transfer of technology. Israel will be cooperating with India for high tech system at a cost of 3 billion dollars.
The point is that after the second stage of the Iranian nuclear deal matures, economic and financial sanctions against Iran will be lifted and India-Iran relationship will jump to new heights. In the first place, it will reflect in oil transactions. Secondly naval cooperation between the two countries will assume wider dimensions. Thirdly in all probability, the hitherto shelved Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project will be revived and actively undertaken.
In this scenario how will the tripartite relationship (India-Iran-Israel) develop and withstand pressures? This also opens up vast scope for India to perform historic role of helping reduce Iran-Israel acrimony and pave the roadmap for new relationship based on pragmatism and not rhetoric. It is here that the Iranian nuclear deal throws a big challenge to India. For Pakistan, the nuclear deal brings unique advantage. She remains the sole Sunni Muslim country in the world to be in possession of a nuclear bomb as the deal denies Shia Iran to produce Shia bomb… May be in near future China-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia triumvirate goes into making.
(The author is he former Director of the Centre of Central Asia Studies, Kashmir University).