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Assessing Washington’s “strategic and military” options in Syria

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For Washington, Eastern regions around Mediterranean holds “vital strategic interests” centrally to which lies Syria, policy makers within the White House and the State Department continue to face numerous challenges on how to adequately and effectively defend these “strategic interests” with “limited yet effective” military engagements. The “horrors” induced by Assad regime in this “complex” battlefield, coupled with the “rise of jihadist elements inside Syrian state”, further fuels an already “complexed battlefield”, which could potentially destroy the strategic interests of the US and their regional allies. Furthermore, the “ripple effect” from the on-going battle could involve neighbouring states.

Moreover, according to one estimate of the UNHCR: the conflict has claimed lives of over 117,000, whereas thousands have been wounded, leaving behind over six million internally displaced, besides devastated cities and towns, with more than half of the population without food and clean water, especially in the light of two chemical attacks. In the background of a “highly intense conflict”, the US even with “enormous military resources”, have fairly limited military option to bring this “saga of death and destruction” to a temporary halt. In the light of an increasingly “intense conflict”, even smaller military engagement could result in further escalation of this conflict. It is imperative for policy makers at the White House to completely “abandon” the option of a “direct military engagement” while redirecting all available resources to “limit the ripple effect within Syria”.

Washington’s strategic interests

Washington’s principle strategic objectives for regions around Mediterranean includes“ sustainable long-term stability, preventing easy movements of radical terror factions, preventing all categories of weapons of mass destruction, reinforcing Israeli security forces, ensuring a flourished economy, while promoting democratic values”. Washington must employ “viable measures” to prevent the reach of Syrian war beyond its boundaries. Furthermore, Washington must address the ethnic conflict between Shia and Sunni carefully and delicately, while systematically limiting this “ethnic” conflict, which is too delicate and vulnerable enough to engulf an entire region and with enough potential to establish “two ethnic centered poles”, giving further opportunity for nations such as Iran, to establish influence. Furthermore, policy makers must [if they have the means and resources readily available]eliminate internal clashes if the costs are acceptable.

Bringing an end to the Syrian civil war

In the background of regional instability, it is imperative for Washington to employ all available resources to prevent Syria from a total collapse. Indeed, the civilian casualties are rising phenomenally, with rapidly intense conflict coupled with the frequent use of chemical weapons, human bodies will continue to rise and so will the difficulties in post war reconstruction. Hence, one seemingly possible outcome, although likely, of the Syrian war will be of a “failed” state, which could become a “possible” hideout for Islamic radical militant factions such as Al-Qaeda and Al Nusra Front. Keeping in mind the on-going “intense clashes”, the damage induced by Syrians in this war will be too “painful” to recover regardless of any victor, especially with widespread lawlessness, death and destruction. With respect to US favoured outcome, the chances are reasonably low; as victors shall either be the Assad regime, left to govern shattered Syrian lands, or some Sunni centric radical militant factions with considerable dominance, but largely the outcome will be “continuous engagement until one side is exhausted”. Even if a “democracy favoured” liberal group emerges from the conflict, the total rehabilitation and reconstruction cost will be too difficult for Syria to bear, even if international aid organizations such as the UN assist financially the possibility for re-emergence of a civil war will remain high.

Keeping in mind the “moral values” of Washington,a large-scale US military intervention in Syria will not be significant enough to overthrow Assad regime or put an end to this conflict once and for all. Policy makers must note that, the Syrian conflict is densely spread in populated cities and towns, and is extensively carried out by multiple elements, and is not limited to a “stubborn” regime, but also extensively involves ethnic religious factions stretching the boundaries beyond a “revolution”. Moreover, Syria is different from other “Arab-spring” countries, the Assad regime, along with over 15% of the Alawiite population, are locked in a “death match”,the only way to achieve their freedom struggle. Many Sunni centred radical factions have called this “struggle as jihad”and are ready to die in this fight. This war is no less than “embedded in ethnicity, dipped in religious colours”,which will continue even after the fall of Assad regime, especially in the light of active “external factors” and “aggressive regional actors”. However, Washington’s strategic interests are best “preserved” if it manages to “contain” the conflict, and this is precisely where policy makers within the State Department should focus.

Bridging the Shia-Sunni clashes

One of the principle factors in Syrian civil war is the wedge that has been created between Shi’a and the Sunni ethnicity, which is rapidly increasing the gap between the two ethnicities. The causes which resulted in the Shi’a-Sunni divide are to “complex” to address in one article, but it will not be incorrect to state that, the Shi’a-Sunni conflict is “densely” gripped in Syrian Civil war. Moreover, major masses in Syria are Sunni whereas the Assad regime hails from Alawi sect, which is roughly 12% of the entire populous. Theologically, the Alawi were tied with Shi’a sect, however, the then Syrian President Hafez Al-Asad (who was an Alawi), after coming to power, received a  fatwa from the then Lebanese religious-leader cum philosopher Musa Al-Sadr stating that the Aalwai’s were community with deep roots in Shi’a Islam, which which further cemented his stand when the Aalwi leader sided with Shi’a Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, highlighting his preference for Shi’a community, a legacy perhaps, passed on to his successor, Bashar Al-Assad.

To protect American strategic interests in the region, it is imperative for Washington to prevent further escalation of Shi’a-Sunni conflict, which has the potential to spread over in neighbouring countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen; particularly in Iraq, the Shi’a-Sunni ethnic clashes continues to escalate phenomenally, crossing the levels of post-US withdrawal which not only threatens the instability of the state but also has the potential to seriously cripple delicate “post-Saddam reconstruction initiatives”. Furthermore, intense ethnic clashes could further infuriate an already infuriated crisis in Yemen, while fuelling instability in an already “political-dilemma” struck Lebanon.

The issue of chemical weapons

It is in the regional American interests to prevent the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), however, Washington must focus their attention on chemical and biological weapons besides nuclear. Even in the aftermath of a successful Israeli air strike on one of the Syrian nuclear installation in early 2007, a large stockpile of nuclear weapons were hidden by Assad regime, to avert its destruction from probable in-future Israeli airstrikes. Also, on numerous occasions Washington too warned Assad regime against transportation and deployment of these weapons. In early 2013, the State Department confirmed the presence of chemical weapons in Syrian military installations and in late August, the regime deployed chemical attacks on Syrian masses. The then President Obama had warned Assad regime against any further use of chemical weapons on Syrian masses, further stating that the “red line has been crossed” and re-affirmed their announcement of early June “to provide rebel forces with adequate military support”.

The use of chemical attack in late August came amidst international condemnation, diplomatic engagements and threats for armed response, out of which, none of the engagements adequately involved threats against another possible chemical attack or its proliferation or trafficking. Moreover, again in early February, another chemical attack forced international communities to convene a session at UNSC which then established a “temporary ceasefire”. However, with temporary ceasefire in place, the attacks continue to create “horror and havoc” within Syrian masses. As per today, the Trump administration has not yet addressed the issue regarding proliferation and trafficking of chemical weapons within the region. Policy makers must note that, there are multiple avenues to traffic chemical weapons: to begin with, the regime could easily traffic stockpiles of weapons to a third actor (preferable Hezbollah in Lebanon, or any Shi’ite militant group in Iraq), or the rebel forces could easily traffic these weapons within Syria itself, in such a case,the Syrian rebels could seek assistance from Al-Qaeda affiliate Syrian groups who could then transfer these weapons anywhere in the Middle East and beyond.

Preventing the “spill-over” effect

The Syrian conflict is too intense and there is a high possibility for it to engulf neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Israel. It must be noted that, even the slightest spill-over effect of Syrian conflict could potentially destabilize the entire region. The aforementioned neighbouring states share borders with Syria, which are essentially porous, and roughly all of them are currently hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Hence, these camps could ignite the “fire of resistance” outside Syria, forcing the Syrian forces to cross borders in an effort to counter Anti-Assad factions. An incursion of these Syrian forces, even at an infinitesimal level could further escalate the conflict, which would result ina direct confrontation which in due course, will force the refugees out of these camps.

The “spill-effect” of Syrian conflict on other regional allies of Washington, would prove disastrous for America’s strategic interests. In the event of a Syrian civil war escalating beyond the boundaries, the spill-over would further deepen the Shi’a-Sunni ethnic divide, while opening doors for new actors which could further deteriorate an already deteriorating situation.

Washington’s “viable” military options

Policy makers at White House and State Department continues to face numerous “policy centric” challenges with respect to Syria; in the light of repetitive inconclusive engagement at all levels (military, diplomatic and political)reinforced with Trump administration’s “erratic non-pragmatic policies with respect to Syria”, Syrian civil war must remain a top priority, especially when America’s strategic interests are at stake. Furthermore, Washington must not engage in a direct military confrontation. In an effort to retain strategic interests in Syria, policy makers should focus their attention to some of the viable policies mentioned below:

Deploy military advisors to train the rebel groups which fairly covers, providing logistical support, heavy weaponry assistance and real-time based intelligence. The deployed military advisors can range between two hundred to two thousand, covering a cost of no more than 250$ to 500$ million. The deployment of troops shall be in designated “green zones” which could be established post-discussion with Joint-Chiefs and CENTCOM.

Limited maneuvered attacks and assisting the rebel groups, by specifically targeting HVT’s (High Value Targets), through precision guided bombs or JDAM’s. The objective is to eliminate the target that is valued by the regime or is irreplaceable enough to shatter regime’s power in certain areas. Such targets could be residing in Libya or Lebanon, or in regime HQ’s or safe houses, regime sponsored residential areas, military barracks or signal-intelligence headquarters.

Implement a no-fly zone, this would prevent any Syrian air assets from flying in the airspace to carry out attacks against Syrian communities and rebel groups.

Implement buffer zones, this would provide a safe “casualty collection points” for rebel forces, where they can also, train and receive medical treatment. The author suggests implementing buffer zones on the border with Jordan and Turkey. These buffer zones would provide adequate air cover against Syrian air assets; however, the size of the zone and its location would ultimately determine the staging limit for reinforcements.

Prevent the use of chemical WMD’s, the US must deploy its special forces to identify and destroy chemical weapons in Syria, especially their trafficking routes and technical equipments, making their movements possible. Destroying a chemical weapon on land would prove dangerous as, the wind could potentially change the direction of the chemical, which could result in massive civilian casualties, since its lethal effects could be seen for miles. Identifying the canister location could prove difficult, especially when the number of missiles and the size of it are unknown, thus, intelligence must be real time and accurate. Once the intelligence sources have identified the location of cannisters/missiles, special forces must be deployed for immediate transportation of these cannisters/missiles out from the enemy territories, ensuring that there is no leak. Furthermore, locating chemical weapons is quite difficult particularly when they are small, they can easily be concealed.

It is imperative for policy makers to consider all the aforementioned points as “strategic force implementation packages” but must keep in mind the costs and the benefits of these points, before formulating a response. They must evaluate all possible scenarios/ simulations, individually and in groupings: carefully monitoring their progress. These responses might strengthen Assad regime’s response, as they would definitely see the war as “fight against the West”, selecting some “special forces elements” from the Syrian army and re-tasking them to dedicatedly counter US forces. More importantly, the author advises policy makers to employ more “aggressive yet discreet measures”, but asserts policy makers to retain determination, particularly when it comes to implementing any of the aforementioned points, post which the enemy could aggressively respond.

Conclusion

The Syrian civil war is increasingly becoming complex and with its increasingly “complexity”, the challenges faced by Washington continues to increase. How should policy makers formulate viable pragmatic plan of actions in such complexity? Essentially, Washington wants to see the end of the Syrian Civil war, it is in their interests, but a US “aggressive” response to bring peace on the table, could remind policy makers of their engagement in Vietnam, especially when there are huge lists of commitment and very few allies for support. Moreover, like all civil wars (particularly Lebanon, Rwanda, Somalia)the civil war in Syria will come to an end only when the resources are exhausted (Assad regime and rebel fighters), or when certain external actors stop assisting them with “vital” supplies. Although, the Assad regime has conducted numerous “unspeakable acts of violence and induced terror”, (so did certain rebel groups),Washington does not have enough resources to monitor every violent action induced by Assad regime and respond, which even if policy makers decide to, could potentially further infuriate the crisis. Taking into account the aforementioned arguments, Al-Qaeda and its Syrian affiliate could possibly be the victors, as the US does not have resources to shape Syria’s future.

The best possible option for Washington is to “contain the civil war”, that said, the containment itself will be a difficult especially in the light of recent “escalation”, this is precisely the “point of focus” for US military. Washington must assist regional partners in an effort to “contain the conflict”, dropping the option of a “costly military confrontation”. Furthermore, Washington must distance itself from the Shi’a-Sunni conflictas it would take one fatal error to escalate an already escalated conflict. Policy makers must note that, no country is benefiting from the Syrian civil war, irrespective of their religion or historical relationship/engagement with Washington. If this war escalates, it would engulf every actor. Containment is not only a viable option, but also the best possible one which would benefit every actor, and Washington must effectively initiate a policy on it. Containment will not invite easy choices, and will not immediately deliver results, however, it should remain at the core of Washington’s policy on Syrian civil war.

Anant Mishra is a security analyst with expertise in counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. His policy analysis has featured in national and international journals and conferences on security affairs.

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Kickbacks in India’s defence purchases

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Prime minister Narendra Modi of India boasts his government of being corruption- free. But, his claim has become questionable in the light of recent audit of Rafale purchase in France.

India had ordered 36 of these fighter aircraft from France in September 2016. The 7.8 billion government-to-government deal for 36 fighter jets was signed in 2016. The Indian Air Force has already raised its first squadron of the Rafale jets at Ambala and is due to raise the second one at Hasimara in West Bengal.

India expects to receive more than 50 percent of these fighters by April-end. The first batch of five Rafale jets had arrived in India on July 28 and was officially inducted on September 10 by the government.

In a startling disclosure, the French Anti-Corruption Agency, Agence Française Anticorruption

has announced that their inspectors have discovered an unexplained irregularity during their scheduled audit of Dassault. According to details, “the manufacturer of French combat jet Rafale agreed to pay one million euro to a middleman in India just after the signing of the Indo-French contract in 2016, an investigation by the French publication Mediapart has revealed. An amount of 508,925 euro was allegedly paid under “gifts to clients” head in the 2017 accounts of the Dassault group  ( Dassault paid 1 million euro as ‘gift’ to Indian middleman in Rafale deal: French report India Today Apr 5, 2021). Dassault tried to justify “the larger than usual gift” with a proforma invoice from an Indian company called Defsys Solutions. The invoice suggested that Defsys was paid 50 per cent of an order worth 1,017,850 for manufacturing of 50 dummy models of the Rafale jets. Each dummy, according to the AFA report, was quoted at a hefty price of 20,357. The Dassault group failed to provide any documentary evidence to audit about the existence of those models. Also, it could also not explain why the expenditure was listed as a “gift to clients” in their accounts.

Shady background of Defsys

Defsys is one of the subcontractors of Dassault in India. It has been linked with notorious businessman Sushen Gupta. Sushen Gupta. He was arrested and later granted bail for his role in another major defence scam in India, the AgustaWestland VVIP Chopper case.

The Enforcement Directorate charged Sushen Gupta for allegedly devising a money-laundering scheme for the payouts during the purchase of the helicopters.

Rampant corruption in India

Corruption in defence deals is a norm rather than an exception in India. They did not spare even aluminum caskets used to bring back dead bodies from the Kargil heights (“coffin scam”). Investigations into shady deals linger on until the main characters or middleman is dead. Bofors is a case in point.

Why investigation of defence deals since independence recommended

India’s Tehelka Commission of Inquiry headed by Mr. Justice S N Phukan had suggested that a sitting Supreme Court Judge should examine all defence files since independence.

Concerned about rampant corruption in defence purchases allegedly involving Army personnel, he desired that the proposed Supreme Court Judge should by assisted by the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central bureau of Investigation.

He stressed that unless the existing system of defence procurement was made more transparent through corrective measures, defence deals would continue to be murky. He had submitted his report to then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, but to no avail. The Commission had examined 15 defence deals including the AJT, Sukhoi, Barak missiles, T-90 tanks, tank navigation systems, simulators, hand-held thermal. imagers, Karl Gustav rocket and Kandla-Panipat pipeline. The irregularities in the scrutinised defence deals compelled the Commission to suggest de novo scrutiny of all defence purchases since independence.

Tardy trial

The courts have absolved Rajiv Gandhi of involvement in the BOFORS scam. However, a considerable section of Indian people still believes that ‘Mr. Clean’ was not really so clean. The BJP exploited Rajiv’s acquittal as an election issue. Kuldip Nayyar, in his article “The gun that misfired” (Dawn February 14, 2004) laments, “There was practically no discussion on Bofors-guns kickbacks in the 13th Lok Sabha which has been dissolved for early elections. Once Rajiv Gandhi died the main target – the non-Congress parties lost interest in the scam”.

According to analysts, the mechanisms of public accountability in India have collapsed. Corruption has become a serious socio-political malady as politicians, bureaucracy and Armed Forces act in tandem to receive kickbacks. The anti-corruption cases, filed in courts, drag on for years without any results. To quote a few case: (a) There was no conviction in Bofors-gun case (Rs 64 crore), because of lethargic investigation (the case was filed on January 22, 1990 and charge sheet served on October 22, 1999. Among the accused were Rajiv Gandhi, S K Bhatnagar, W N Chaddha, Octavio, and Ardbo. The key players in the scam died before the court’s decision). (b) No recoveries could be made in the HDW submarine case (Rs 32.5 crore). The CBI later recommended closure of this case. (c) Corruption in recruitment of Armed Forces.

Legal cover for middlemen

Central Vigilance Commissioner P Shankar had alleged (October 2003): “The CVC had submitted its defence deals report on March 31, 2001. Yet a year later, the government has not conducted the mandatory departmental inquiry to fix responsibility”. Shankar explained that the CVC had examined 75 cases apart from specific allegations made by former MP Jayant Malhoutra and Rear Admiral Suhas V Purohit Vittal. Malhoutra’s allegations were about middlemen in defence deals. After his report, the ministry lifted the ban on agents in November 2001 to regularise the middlemen. Purohit, in his petition in the Delhi HC on a promotion case, had alleged unnecessary spare parts were bought from a cartel of suppliers instead of manufacturers, at outrageous prices and at times worth more than the original equipment.

Past cases forgotten to continue business as usual

There were ear-rending shrieks about the Taj-heritage corridor case, Purulia-arms-drop case and stamp-paper cases. Indian Express dated November 11, 2003 reported that the stamp-paper co-accused assistant Sub-Inspector of Police drew a salary of Rs 9,000, but his assets valued over Rs 100 crore. He built six plush hotels during his association for 6 years with the main accused Abdul Karim Telgi. The ASI was arrested on June 13 and charged under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act. Investigations by the Special Investigating Team (SIT) probing the stamp scam had found that the ASI Kamath accepted Rs 72 lakh from the scam kingpin, Abdul Karim Telgi, on behalf of IGP Sridhar Vagal.

The problem is that the modus operandi of corruption ensures that it is invisible and unaccounted for. There are widespread complaints that the politicians exercise underhand influence on bureaucracy to mint money. For instance, the Chief Vigilance Commissioner complained to Indian Prime Minister (November 8, 2003) that at least “six cabinet ministers, handling key infrastructure ministries, are harassing chiefs of public sector undertakings for ‘personal favours’, and in some cases even for pay-offs”.

For example, one PSU (Public Sector Udertaking) chief is said to have complained that he was asked to get Rs 20 crore delivered to his minister’s party office and when he refused, he was “denied” an extension. Indian Express dated February 19, 2004 reported, under reportage titled “Figuring India” that ‘Rajiv Pratap Rudy is only one in a long line of ministers who have misused the funds and facilities of Public Sector Undertakings”. The newspaper appended the following bird’s-eye view of the funds (available for corruption) at the PSUs command: Rs 3, 24,632 crore total investment in PSUs, Rs 36,432 crore profits, 12,714 crore profits of monopolies in petroleum, Rs 5,613 CRORE profits of monopolies in power Rs 7,612 crore, profits of monopolies in telecom Rs 10,388 crore, Rs 61,000 crore invested in PSUs in 1991-1998, Rs 19,000 crore returns during 1991-1998.”

Corruption as proportion of gross Domestic Product

Professor Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari claim in their book Corruption in India: The DNA and RNA that public officials in India may be cornering as much as ₹921 billion (US$13 billion), or 5 percent of the GDP through corruption.

India 86th most corrupt (Transparency International corruption ranking Jan 29, 2021)

India’s ranking on the Corruption Perception Index– 2020 is 86. The index released annually by Transparency International ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and business people. It uses a scale of zero to 100, where zero signifies the highest level of corruption and 100 is very clean.

All-round corruption

In India, anti-corruption focuses on big ticket graft. But it is petty corruption that hurts common people more. Both need to be weeded out. A former World Bank president Robert Zoellick once said, “Corruption is a cancer that steals from the poor, eats away at governance and moral fibre, and destroys trust.”

According to Transparency International, CPI-2020 shows that corruption is more pervasive in countries least equipped to handle Covid-19 and other crises. “Covid-19 is not just a health and economic crisis. It is a corruption crisis. And one that we are currently failing to manage,” Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International said. “The past year has tested governments like no other in memory, and those with higher levels of corruption have been less able to meet the challenge. But even those at the top of the CPI must urgently address their role in perpetuating corruption,” she added.

Concluding remarks

Click Wikipedia to know that Narendra Modi’s “Net worth” is “₹ 2.85 Crore” (June 2020). This figure defies his humble financial background. He has a penchant for hobnobbing with “crony capitalism”. It appears he is worth a lot more.  Those who make illicit money have a knack to hide it.

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Turkish Expansion of Libya Threatens Wreck NATO

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Despite the fact that the parties to the Libyan crisis are gradually coming to a political solution, the situation continues to become heated both within and around the country. It is mainly influenced by the states involved in the conflict.

At the same time the instability in Libya has a negative impact on international relations, including growing contradictions between strategic partners. In particular Turkey’s military activities raise fears among at least three NATO members – France, Italy and Greece.

Relations between Ankara and its partners in the North Atlantic Alliance are exacerbated due to the actions of the Turkish leadership, which not only delivers weaponry to the former Jamahiriya avoiding the UN embargo, but also conducts geological exploration of the hydrocarbon fields in the eastern Mediterranean sea.

Contradictions between NATO partners have already begun to take the form of hidden clashes. For example, the French frigate “Courbet”, operating as part of the Alliance’s “Sea Guardian” operation aimed to prevent arms smuggling into Libya, approached three Turkish warships and a cargo vessel on June 10 last year. The French military attempted to inspect a civilian ship suspected of illegally carrying weapons to a war-torn country. In response, the Turkish warships illuminated the Courbet by the targeting radar for three times.

After the incident, Paris pulled out of the “Sea Guardian” operation. Moreover, the White House national adviser, Robert O ‘Brian condemned the Turkish military actions and expressed support for France. “NATO allies shouldn’t be turning fire control radars on each other. That’s not good. We are very sympathetic to the French concerns,” he told.

The contradictions between France and Turkey are also evident in the geopolitical sphere. Paris considers the Libyan National Army commander Halifa Khaftar as one of the key figures in resolving the Libyan conflict, while Ankara refuses to recognize him as a significant political force in the country.

In addition, there are growing tensions between Turkey and Italy. Rome as the largest importer of Libyan oil has been long cooperating with Tripoli’s authorities in oil and gas spheres. After throwing its weight behind one of the rival administration, Turkey seeks to revise the status quo in the Libyan hydrocarbon industry by sidelining France’s Total and Italy’s Eni in a bid to gain full access to the natural resources of Libya. Although Turkey urges countries and companies to joint collaboration, no one highly likely will consent to it, considering this suggestion as a “toxic asset.”

Greece, in turn, is annoyed by agreements between Ankara and Tripoli that deprive Athens of its legal right to the sea shelf between Rhodes and Crete. This part of the continental shelf belongs to Greece and Cyprus, but Turkey is trying to contend for its rights to the fields through the memorandum of understanding on maritime zones with the Government of the National Accord, predecessor of the newly formed Government of National Unity. The Turkish side sent warships to the Mediterranean to reinforce the “legitimacy” of its actions, which was negatively perceived by Athens. The situation became heated to such an extent that many experts have not rule out the outbreak of armed confrontation between the allies.

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Firmly Address Tehran’s Ballistic Behavior

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The recent change in US administrations has spawned a lively debate about the potential path back to a deal with Iran, especially concerning the latter’s troubling nuclear ambitions. Some argue against reviving the 2015 nuclear deal while others counsel for a swift US return to it. But there is a big problem with an undemanding US revival of the deal. Over the past five years, the regime has displayed extremely disturbing behaviors that endanger the region, Europe, the United States, and the broader international community.

Indeed, Iran’s nuclear escalations and its burgeoning ballistic missiles program are major threats. But much more troubling is Iran’s ballistic behavior.

There are four significant hotspots where the Iranian regime is active. This means any return to the Iran deal cannot exclusively address technical nuclear issues. The geopolitics of the entire region have changed. For instance, in Yemen, Houthi militias control a large segment of a sovereign country, and they are armed by the Iranian regime, including missiles. They are at war with the legitimate government of Yemen, and they have had a terrible record of human rights abuses.

In Iraq, Iran has used its militias to establish control over the entire country, with some exceptions. These militias are not only controlling the government, major parts of the economy or the banks, they are engaged in suppressing the population. In the fall of 2019, hundreds of thousands of young Iraqis from all walks of life took to the streets to demand meaningful reforms. But they were met with lethal force. More than 700 Iraqi citizens of all communities have been killed by pro-Iranian militias.

The Iranian regime’s forces in Syria have brought in radical Shia militias from as far as Afghanistan. More than 700,000 people have been killed in that civil war. Five million Syrians have been displaced.

And, last but not least, in Lebanon, Hezbollah is armed and funded by Tehran, and its secretary general does not shy away from publicly announcing his group’s complete allegiance to the Iranian regime.

So, the Iranian regime is effectively involved in the quasi occupation of four Arab countries. All this means that there cannot be a swift return to an “Iran deal” without addressing the regime’s regional ambitions and destructive meddling, which have resulted in instability for Europeans and American interests alike.

Meanwhile both in European capitals and in Washington, there are major interests that echo calls for a quick return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Absent in their inexplicable haste is any consequential consideration to pressing geopolitical demands.

Proponents of the Iran nuclear deal are eager to do business with Iran. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. But shouldn’t the cost of that decision be soberly evaluated before rushing back in?

Are there not important destabilizing factors that must be urgently addressed, including the deployment of ballistic missiles in the region, the preponderance of Iranian proxies in strategic hotspots, and persistent deadly attacks against Western allies in the region?

So, what should be done?

Any potential discussions with the Iranian regime must take into consideration the security of the Middle East as a whole.

First, regional security and the regime’s behavior must top the list of potential negotiation topics.

Second, the regime’s ballistic missile program should not proceed under the radar. The Houthi-fired missiles targeting Saudi Arabia and its oil facilities are designed and delivered by Iran. The missiles fired against the US and coalition forces in Iraq are also designed and delivered by Iran. And, Iran has deployed missiles in Syria, which are then aimed at Israel. Similarly, the Lebanese Hezbollah has boasted about having thousands of missiles in its arsenal.

Therefore, as an important step toward stability, the international community must ensure that the proliferation of these missiles is stopped, and they are removed from these countries.

Third, it would only be logical to include countries like Saudi Arabia and other impacted governments in the negotiation process because they bear the brunt of Tehran’s malevolence.

And lastly, international community should begin seriously engaging with the Iranian opposition. For the past three years, hundreds of thousands of Iranian citizens have loudly protested the ruling regime and its policies. There is another image of Iran that the world needs to acknowledge and engage. That’s exactly what the US policy is trying to do in Yemen, for example, by engaging both the Houthis and the legal government at the same time.

When dealing with the multilateral and strategic threats emanating from the Iranian regime, it is only natural to engage with the organized Iranian non-violent resistance, including representatives from the Iran protests and exiled leaders, particularly the very active National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), and to hear their voices during any negotiation with Tehran.

The Iranian regime will be emboldened to continue its egregious behavior if it senses weakness in the international community’s response. By firmly addressing its ballistic behavior, responsible international actors can harness the strategic domestic and international reserves to curtail Tehran’s threats.

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