Strategic thinking and planning can convert adversity into opportunity. It seems that Iran has learnt this lesson from the unfolding of events on its borders in the Middle East. The United States and its allies left no stone unturned to corner Iran and change its behavior according to their wish. But Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 has been successfully managing all adverse situations very smartly. Its growing power and influence in West Asia is a pointer to the fact. Today Iran has significant presence and influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain, and in pockets of many Arab states. The manner in which Iran succeeded in involving Russia in the ongoing conflict in Syria which completely changed the dynamics of politics in the Middle East is a reflection of the deep strategic thinking and planning by its think tank.
There is no doubt that the West Asia has been the most disturbed region in the world for last many decades. When the disturbances in the region are analyzed superficially the Semitic tradition of violence or people’s adherence to Islamic extremism is blamed. However, just a bird’s eye view of the pages of political history of the 20th century Middle East will make it sufficiently clear that the colonial powers of Europe and then at the later stage the United States are responsible for most of the crisis in the region. We should not lose the sight of the fact that the existing political boundaries in the region were drawn by the colonial masters to protect and promote their long term interests. Therefore, whatever problems and conflicts we see today in the region from the Arab-Israel problem to the ethnic conflicts between Shias and Sunnis, Kurds and Arabs, Turks and Arabs, Kurds and Turks, and the recent phenomenon of Islamisation of violence represented by the organizations like the Al Qaeda and the ISIS, the deep involvement of the colonial masters and the United States and now of Russia and other major powers cannot be denied.
Iran seems to have understood the very nature of the problems in the region and therefore its strategic think tank has realized that the choice is between unite or perish. In its quest for a new power structure in the Middle East, Iran has been unconsciously helped by the United States and its allies. The removal of Baathist Saddam Hussein from Iraq and replacing him with a predominantly Shia regime has provided best opportunity to Iran to think for a Confederacy of Shia states. Thus despite all odds, it intervened in the conflict zones of Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon, and many other pockets of the region.
Iranian involvement has changed the swing of conflict in favour of Assad in Syria, its continuous support to Shia regime in Iraq, its open participation in support of Houthis in Yemen, and its long time ties with the Hizbollah in Lebanon make clear the intentions of Iran. What we are going to witness very soon is the declaration of the formation of a confederation of Shia states comprising of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Hizbollah-dominated area of Lebanon. Later on this confederation may try to include Azerbaijan- the second largest Shia populated country in the world, and pockets like Bahrain etc. In fact, the countries and pockets mentioned are already working and behaving as a confederation showing full cooperation under the leadership of Iran. However, the formation of such a confederation will largely depend upon the success or failure of Iran in saving Assad’s regime in Syria. If it succeeds in saving Assad’s regime in Syria the declaration of the confederation will be made soon but if it fails, it will continue to work to achieve the dream in near future.
This strategic move of Iran will definitely provoke Arab states to develop closer cooperation among them and make a similar confederation of Sunni states. In fact the Coalition of Arab states to fight Houthis in Yemen and the King Salman’s consistent diplomatic efforts to mobilize and motivate other non-Arab Sunni states to join the Coalition can be seen as a step in this direction. It has been widely reported in the media that the King of Saudi Arabia wish to develop a permanent military force on the pattern of NATO under the banner of the Sunni coalition. Now the question arises that will the Sunni states like Pakistan and Turkey agree to join such an ambitious project? If Sunni countries under the banner of Saudi Arabia and the Shia states under Iran get united and form confederations, will it further destabilize West Asia or will it work as a deterrent to promote peace? What will be the reaction of the powerful non-state actors like Al Qaeda and the ISIS to these developments?
These are the some fundamental questions the strategic thinkers and experts if International relations would be trying to answer. Moreover, under these circumstances, the reaction of the European powers and of the United States and the Russian Federation will be interesting to see. Since Russia’s open involvement along with Iran in the civil war of Syria, it is being observed that the USA and its allies are losing ground in the Middle East. Coming together of the PRC and Russia to support Assad’s regime and veto the US-sponsored resolutions in the United Nations Security Council is indicating that the unipolar dominance of the United States is coming to an end.
Moreover, the Russian Federation under Putin has established itself as a more reliable partner than the United States and this is the reason that Iran has openly allied with the Russian Federation. It is also important to remember that the United States and the largest military pact of our time i.e., NATO watched helplessly when Russia went for military offensive in Georgia and Ukraine. Now the emboldened Russia is moving beyond what it considers it’s near abroad/new abroad or the post-Soviet space comprising of the territories under the former Soviet Union and is deeply engaging in the Middle East conflict. Under these circumstances, the formation of the confederation of the Shia states of the Middle East with full support from a more assertive and reliable Russia is not beyond speculation. Nevertheless, this emerging dynamics of the West Asian politics will not be good for Israel in any case.
*Dr. M. Mohibul Haque, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, AMU Aligarh