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Content in New Media as an instrument of interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign States

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Over the recent years we have observed a significant increase in the use of ICT-instruments to disseminate specially prepared content to achieve malicious political and economic goals. Many experts explicitly claim that ICT-instruments have increased manifold the capabilities to achieve objectives by non-military means. Confirmed are the predictions of competent experts that the new ICTs allow oneself to fight directly at the level of consciousness.

Thus, Chaz Freeman, a senior scientific adviser at the Watson Institute for World and Public Policy at Brown University, said in his article: “Since knowledge about society and the world is largely concentrated in cyberspace, abilities of State and Non-state actors to shape public opinion in other countries have increased unprecedentedly… During wars, psychological operations allow for rapid dissemination of fake electronic messages, fake news, compromising information about political leadership. This is done, among other ways, through social networks and results in distorted perception of the situation, disruption of political coordination and decision-making process. Technology allows for a gentle conquest through concealed actions in cyberspace. The application of scientific achievements leads to erosion of sovereignty, facilitating influence actions that go beyond diplomacy, but not bringing the matter to open war…”

Theoretical foundations and methodology of social behaviour management

Currently, one of the fundamental theorems of social sciences is the so-called Thomas theorem: “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences”. William Isaac Thomas, a classic of American sociology, formulated this statement in 1923 and did not attach much value to it. At the same time the consequences of this statement were constantly used in political practice of many states to manipulate the social behaviour of the masses.

Many experts predicted that the Thomas theorem will become increasingly important with the development of new technologies for information dissemination. For example, A.V.Lukov in his article “Consequences of the “Thomas theorem” with emergence of information civilization”, notes: “What was a special case at the beginning of the century has become the global situation by the end of the century thanks to the development of information technologies“.

For practical applications the most important consequences of the Thomas theorem are those, which allow management of the social behaviour. It was a common belief that only two “realities” – subjective and objective – influenced actions of an individual. Now a “third reality” has emerged – the global media sphere, through which, according to the Thomas theorem, one can influence the decisions and actions of people. Under these conditions, objective reality in the minds of “common people” (an average man) that goes beyond their everyday problems, worries and interests is replaced by the perception of this reality, which is formed by the “third reality” (more precisely, by those fragments of the “third reality”, which he trusts). Here, the words “common person” (an average man) mean a person who is not professionally engaged in economic, social and political issues and has neither the knowledge, nor the capacity, nor the desire to look for grains of objective reality in information flows.

The use of these consequences of the Thomas theorem in the organization of large-scale information campaigns of recent years (Colin Powell’s vial, maidan in Kiev, the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Skripal poisoning, etc.) fits into the same arrangement. Initially, a large-scale, well-directed campaign is carried out using all possible channels of the global media sphere to replace objective information about the situation in people’s minds with an idea of this situation that corresponds to the goals of the campaign developers. This stage can be called the “Replacement of reality by media events”.

After this goal has been achieved, the second phase of the campaign begins, the meaning of which, according to the Thomas theorem, is that people will now consider all the consequences of the formed perception of the situation as correct (you can attack Iraq, you can dislodge Yanukovych, you can bomb Syria, and etc.). This stage can be called “Information support for the implementation of the consequences of media events”. At the same time, in this phase “the fire is periodically plied with fresh fuel” – meaning that another campaign is launched to “update” the media event. Here we could mention the series of publications by the authoritative Russian expert Andrei Massalovich, in which he studied, in particular, the graphics of interest decline in specific topics on social networks and demonstrated the need for periodic support for this interest.

The technologies for deliberate preparation and dissemination of content are constantly developing: information targeting, use of Internet profiles of the users, “fake news” and employment of opinion leaders to rollout this news. In the recent article by Anders Fogh Rasmussen (former Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Prime Minister of Denmark ) and Michael Chertoff (former US Homeland Security Secretary) a generalized concept was proposed for the characterization of such technologies –hyper-partisan content.

Evolution of the views of the Pentagon on Information Warfare

The first to appear was the notion of “Information Warfare”, which was introduced in 1992 top secret directive TS 3600.1 of the US Secretary of Defense. It seems that the accurate translation of this notion into Russian would be “information confrontation”, or “information struggle”. This directive was a document of heightened secrecy, and therefore of limited use. In 1996 the US Department of Defense issued Directive S 3600.1 which introduced a concept broader than the information warfare – “information operations” – Actions taken to affect adversary information and information systems while defending one’s own information, and information systems. At the same time, information operations are carried out not only in wartime, but also in peacetime. American experts admit: “The fact that the United States was writing strategy to conduct operations in peacetime against nations was considered very risky, therefore IW [Information Warfare] remained highly classified throughout much of the 1990s”.

Information operations were finally consolidated in the military lexicon and practice of the United States in 1998 with the advent of the Joint Doctrine for Information Operations, a document that was intended for the widest possible use. According to this doctrine, information operations include Electronic Warfare, Computer Network Operations, Psychological Operations, Military Deception, Operations Security. By the early 2000s the US came to a realization that in the future Information Operations will become a separate type of warfare and will gain the same importance as operations in other environments – maritime, land, air, and space.

In 2002 the Psychological Operations Field Manual (FM 3-05/30) was adopted, which formulated the goals and objectives of psychological operations, as well as the definition: Planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. Note that the Joint Vision 2010 defines the concept of information superiority as the capability to collect, process, and disseminate an uninterrupted flow of information while exploiting or denying an adversary’s ability to do the same.

Over the past 10 years there has been an ongoing division of Information Operations and Cyber Operations. And this is confirmed in the latest edition of the Information Operations doctrine, published in 2014. And therefore, today, in the framework of Information Operations much more attention is paid to the Information and Psychological impact. If we refer to the official interpretations of definitions, information operations are understood as the integrated employment, during military operations, of information-related capabilities in concert with other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision-making of adversaries and potential adversaries…

At the State level one can observe not only the implementation of offensive psychological measures, but also an active search for scientifically based solutions for implementation of protective and defensive measures. Accordingly, the problems of information-psychological confrontation are receiving increased attention in the scientific community – primarily in the centres affiliated with the relevant agencies.

In September 2018 the US presented two new important documents that would determine their policy in cyberspace for years, and possibly decades ahead. First, the Trump Administration announced the US National Cyber Strategy. The second document was the Cyber strategy of the US Department of Defense. It is noteworthy that the spectrum of malicious activity now includes not only cyberattacks, but also malicious propaganda and disinformation campaigns – under the pretext of response to Russia’s unproved interference in the US presidential election process. All available means, including diplomatic, information, military (both kinetic and cybernetic), etc. can be used to prevent, respond and deter malicious cyber activity.

Conclusions

  1. As Methods and implementation techniques develop and mature the number and effectiveness of large-scale information and psychological operations will rise.
  2. The most important prerequisite for successful countering of such operations is the timely exposure of the signs of their start and their objectives. This information should be used as a foundation for a counteroperation to neutralize the media event (which replaces the reality) and prevent the realization of the Thomas theorem.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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The Nuclear Dimension of Cyber Threats

Dmitry Stefanovich

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The subject of the interrelation of threats in the fields of information and communication technologies and nuclear weapons is gradually becoming one of the dominant topics in current international security issues. In early summer 2019, a group of researchers working under the auspices of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) presented the Russian version of the “Nuclear Weapons in the New Cyber Age” report prepared by the Cyber-Nuclear Weapons Study Group (hereinafter referred to as the NTI Report). Russian assessments of the proposals put forward by American experts may contribute to finding constructive solutions that may be ultimately transferred to international communication platforms.

Understanding the Threats

The NTI Report is structured very logically and succinctly. The authors give specific examples using formalized scenarios and demonstrate the practical dimension of specific threats and their consequences. This is followed by concrete proposals. On the whole, this approach is conducive to understanding the essence of certain phenomena and is useful both for experts in the area under consideration and for the general public. Moreover, one would like to think that decision-makers in various countries will be interested in the problems considered.

The authors considered four “illustrative scenarios”:

Scenario 1: Warning systems provide false indications of a nuclear attack during a crisis.

Scenario 2: A cyberattack disrupts communications between officials, operators and nuclear systems, and/or international counterparts in a potential crisis.

Scenario 3: An adversary introduces a flaw or malevolent code into nuclear weapons through the supply chain or otherwise in a way that could compromise the effectiveness of those weapons

Scenario 4: An adversary is able to achieve unauthorized control of a nuclear weapon through cyber-assisted theft and/or defeating of security devices.

These scenarios look quite realistic. We will not go into detailed descriptions (or, more precisely, retellings) of them. A brief summary is given in Figure 1.

At the same time, we will note that each scenario has an element of simplification, which is generally justified from the point of view of the research objectives. An important clarification should be made, at least for the first scenario. An early warning system comprises many elements, and it is highly improbable that the decision to deliver a retaliatory strike will be made on the basis of a single sub-system. The probability of the “entire set” malfunctioning or being hacked and providing the exact same information appears to be very low. At the same time, when nuclear powers are in a crisis that has an obvious military aspect to it, the threat of a hastily made decision will also increase.

A Search for Solutions

The authors of the NTI Report propose the following three guiding principles that should be taken into account when developing approaches to minimizing the risk of cyber threats against nuclear weapons:

  1. The United States will continue to require a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear deterrent as long as nuclear weapons remain a central element of its security strategy.
  2. Technical measures alone are unable to completely eliminate the cyber threat to nuclear weapons.
  3. The cyber challenge is global, and a unilateral approach is not sufficient.

These principles appear to be quite sound and constructive. Item 1 is certainly reasonable for Russia and for other nuclear powers.

Maybe such statements should be also reflected in bilateral (or even multilateral) declarations on international security issues and strategic stability. Naturally, conditions should emerge first for such declarations.

The experts make several very specific proposals, which are grouped as follows:

reducing the risk of launch as a result of miscalculation;

reducing risks to the nuclear deterrent;

reducing the risk of unauthorized use;

taking a global approach to the cyber threat to nuclear weapons systems.

On the whole, this approach seems logical, but the feasibility of these proposals is questionable.

Certainly, the key task shared by all nuclear powers is to guarantee the impossibility of accidentally interfering with nuclear weapons and related infrastructure through information and communication technologies. What is problematic is the attitude of various states to interference that is deliberate, i.e. intentionally carried out by government services against probable adversaries. This contradiction sharply limits the room for joint action to minimize threats.

In particular, the recommendation contained in the NTI Report on bilateral and multilateral steps towards developing certain new rules of behaviour in cyberspace are unlikely to be fully implemented. This is primarily due to one of the key features of cyber weapons: the impossibility of reliably ascertaining the adversary’s target, even if the malware itself has been detected. Identical cyber weapons can be used to collect information and interfere with the systems into which the malware has been introduced.

Unilateral and Multilateral Approaches

At the same time, much can be done in the context of unilateral measures to minimize cyber threats.

It would seem that the most important task in this area is the training of qualified military personnel for the nuclear forces. Excellent knowledge of relevant weapons and military equipment, as well as the rules of operation in any situation and basic “digital hygiene” will evidently contribute to the overall reduction of threats.

Comprehensive rules and regulations for protecting equipment from external interference already exist. However, given that individual components are purchased from foreign manufacturers (this problem is relevant for both Russia and the United States), there is still danger of hardware implants. Let us hope that personnel of the relevant departments in the military and the special services have the necessary qualifications to detect such threats.

At the same time, certain national measures for enhancing the cyber protection of the nuclear weapons infrastructure should be compiled into some sort of “best practices” collection. Perhaps P5 countries (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) could prepare some handbooks to be distributed, for instance, as part of a Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. This would to some extent demonstrate the responsible approach of recognized nuclear powers to current issues related to nuclear weapons.

As we have mentioned before, developing a relevant section in the Glossary of the Key Nuclear Terms could be a useful step, as fine-tuning the Glossary is supposedly still on the agenda. A dialogue based on a uniform conceptual and categorial framework leads to negotiations being more effective. At the same time, forming a uniform terminology should not be viewed as a trivial task. The solution of this task requires both political will and a deep understanding of the subject of negotiations. And still, even if such procedures do not have a positive outcome, such communications promote an improved understanding of assessments, approaches and paradigms among partners.

We should remember the Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on strengthening global strategic stability today, which envisages, among other things, a joint “analysis of the regulation of new strategic security dimensions” related to the “possible impact of achievements in science and technology.” Moreover, Russia and China consider it appropriate to conduct a multilateral study of the relevant problems and their legal regulation on the basis of the United Nations.

Expanding the Context

As we have already mentioned, the crucial feature of cyber weapons (that kind of links it with “kinetic” weapons, primarily strategic weapons) is that the delivery vehicle and the payload are two different things: the same product can be used to introduce malware intended for monitoring and spying, as well as for control hacking and disabling.

Maybe classifying cyber weapons by hostile impact type can create conditions for searching for points of contact between various countries and international organizations. In general, the task of formalizing and coordinating definitions is one of the most complicated stages of any negotiation process, and a key stage that determines the success of the negotiations and the prospects for adapting the agreements to the rapidly changing reality against the backdrop of the scientific and technological progress.

As for deliberate cyberattacks that may be of interest to states that have the requisite capabilities, we should take note of the opinion of the UK-based Chatham House, which draws attention to the complex dynamics of military-political relations in the event of a further escalation in rhetoric concerning cyberattacks preventing combat missile launches as part of the so-called “left of launch” concept, which the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation calls “pre-start intercept.” The problem is that the hypothetical “Party A,” fearing an attack of such kindby “Party B,” may decide to use weapons at the early stages of a conflict. And if “Party B” is bluffing, then calling its bluff may result in the “failure” of the deterrent tactic. If “Party B” is confident in its supreme cyber capabilities, then its actions can easily become overconfident and result in a “hot” conflict.

Strictly speaking, the problem of the “rules of the game” in cyberspace is important in and of itself, without being tied to nuclear weapons. For instance, attempts can be made to train “cyber soldiers” to follow the rules of international humanitarian law, as, for instance, Professor Götz Neuneck from the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH) suggests. And the specific content of such concepts as “proportionality” and “military necessity” when applied to cyberspace requires additional research. Joint international exercises, including those related to nuclear systems, ideally with the participation of “probable adversaries,” could be a useful event in this area. Thus, states could gain some experience of acting in a simulated combat situation and gain experience of interaction through emergency communication channels, which is of crucial importance.

Safe Communication Lines

For decades, information and communication technologies have been developing at breakneck speed, and the militarization of cyberspace accompanies these processes. In general, any technological changes result in new threats, and “Neo-Luddism” will hardly be a suitable cure for such threats. “Nuclear abolitionists” are unlikely to achieve their goals in the foreseeable future either: we are seeing a return to the international rivalry of great powers, and nuclear weapons are one of the principal elements confining death and destruction in the course of this rivalry within relatively moderate bounds.

The only way to preserve strategic stability and prevent catastrophic consequences from the incorrect use of nuclear weapons is to perform an in-depth analysis of the impact that new technologies have on the relevant systems. This analysis should be as open as possible and involve an element of international dialogue at both the state and expert levels. At the same time, it is necessary to “increase literacy” in information and communication technologies and nuclear weapons (and their control systems) both among military personnel and among civilian specialists and decision-makers. The NTI Report and the subsequent communication activities of its authors are a step in the right direction, especially since representatives of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation attended the presentation of the report at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

From our partner RIAC

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Omani national security and the kind of political and military cooperation with the United States

Sajad Abedi

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Historical documentary evidence suggests that the United States has always had a strategic partner in the region. Oman is undoubtedly the closest Iranian southern neighbor to the Persian Gulf, with its common cultural and religious roots with the land of Iran. But it should be noted that the effects of convergence between the United States and Oman have an impact on Iran’s national security. Also, after the US Secretary of State Visits Oman and his visit to Sultan Qaboos and the Pompeo positions in Amman, the question is: How much is Oman to do with US sanctions against Iran?

Oman has a geographical isolation in the Arabian Peninsula. The country has only a frontier from its western region, and the three UAE, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are neighbors. On the other hand, the majority of the Abbasid religion of this country has led to its religious isolation in the Islamic world, and Wahhabism has entered into conflict with the followers of this religion several times since its inception, and still considers the abbots from the divergent difference of the Islamic world, And excuses.

Oman is relatively weak in the economic field, dependent on oil and the outside world. However, the Omani dealings with the United States are not high, and most of it is in the military arms sector. The demographic structure of this country, in particular the population of about 5% Shiite, who has a lot of strength and wealth, with the Baluchis, who have traveled to Oman many years before Iran, actually created a situation and the Omani government will not be in a relationship with Iran. If this issue is analyzed along with the influence of Wahhabism on the Omani population, it will be more important if it is to be analyzed.

It should be borne in mind that the Sunnis in Amman claim that they are the majority of the citizens of this country. Oman considers the Gulf Cooperation Council to be important in the framework of this cooperation, in addition to external problems, to prevent Arab aggression, the Omani are well aware of the history of Saudi Arabia’s deployment to its neighboring countries, and therefore the balance Power will not be pleasing to Saudi Arabia. Oman, which seeks to reduce dependence on oil and economic diversification in its 2020 and 2040 prospects, avoids any kind of conflict and conflict in the region, because the arrival of capital, tourists and goods, and services and manpower require security in this country. And stability in the region. They are working to strengthen Qatar in the Gulf Cooperation Council and are working with the United States to provide their own resources in the region, and because strengthening Qatar and removing Saudi and Qatari hostilities are in the interest of the country and necessary to curb Saudi Arabia. Greetings from the United States.

But the question is whether Oman can adopt an independent policy at the level of engagement with global powers such as the United States?

In August 2010, Oman and Iran signed a security agreement; of course, it cannot be said that the relations between Tehran and Muscat are generally without problems and is a full-fledged relationship; for example, the Oman navy does not participate in Iranian military maneuvers while Which is in the military maneuvers of the Gulf states, the United States, India and Pakistan. Oman has given America’s military partner its ports and bases. It has shown its willingness to participate in the US missile defense shield, which is aimed at creating security against Iran’s threat to the countries of the region.

From the point of view of Oman, the military conflict between the United States and Iran has a huge geopolitical and economic risk. To reduce this danger, the Omani government has acted as a bridge between Tehran and the West; that is why the Oman kingdom, unlike Saudi Arabia and some countries of the Cooperation Council, Which wants Iran to lose its position in the region, does not want Iran to be attacked by the military and tries to increase the capacity of Iran in the region by means of a synergy.

The geographic proximity of Iran and Oman in the Strait of Hormuz, Oman’s geographical remoteness from the Arab world, and the geopolitical and geopolitical importance of the Strait of Hormuz, Iran and Oman, have required good relations. Accordingly, and despite the fact that Oman has always had close ties with the United States, this has not had any effect on Iran’s friendly relations with the country. In fact, the different Muscat approach to the Tehran Cooperation Council has had a dramatic impact and has effectively reduced the influence of Riyadh on the smaller member states of the Council for the purpose of convergence, and undermined West’s efforts to isolate Tehran.

It should now be seen that in spite of important approaching variables such as geographic continuity, geopolitical situation in the region, oil, the need for stability in the region, and … the main causes of the security scene in the region.

In the past, in the context of security-related security with national power, there was a belief that with increasing military power security would increase, and with the number of military forces and equipment representing the power and security of each country, but now beliefs have changed and should be noted. National security is not a unilateral process that can only be increased by increasing its military power, but has a broad and comprehensive concept.

It is possible to maintain the national security of each political unit by increasing national power and balancing its constituent elements, and increasing one of these factors, if not accompanied by an increase in other factors, could threaten national security. In this regard, today, national security has taken a cross-border dimension; in other words, it is not just inside the border. Of course, security is not military power, so sometimes increased military strength reduces security and insecurity.

The Omanian kingdom has a different look at the position of the Gulf Cooperation Council on the issue of convergence; on the one hand, it contributes to economic issues within the framework of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council, but on the other hand, in foreign policy and disputes between the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council Persian countries has not entered and has been trying to play a role in the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council by assuming the role of the Hammer of Equilibrium. However, now it seems that, despite the differences between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it is not very willing to remain in the Gulf Cooperation Council. This approach may lead to a gap in the Gulf Cooperation Council, and will split countries into two different blocks. In this regard, Muscat tries to maintain its impartiality in the internal conflicts of this council as well as the differences between Iran and Arab countries, while playing a positive role.

Now the kingdom of Oman is not willing to pay for the rest of the world; therefore, in view of Muscat, Egypt’s entry into the Gulf Cooperation Union is very dangerous. On the other hand, the Omani kingdom does not differ much with other countries, but it is not pleasing to Saudi policies (which are trying to dictate their policies to other Gulf States). The country has repeatedly objected to Saudi apparent interference in foreign policy of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and if the situation continues, it is foreseeable that the Gulf Cooperation Council will collapse in the future, and even Qatar, along with the Oman kingdom, will cooperate with the Co-operation Council Gulf exits and form an alliance with Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. In contrast, Bahrain, UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are on the other.

In the future, Muscat tries to maintain its impartiality and, in its relations with the United States, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, and …, continues its policies and tries to play a positive role in resolving regional crises, as The meetings of Iran and the Western countries over the past years with Oman’s administration show that the king wants to mediate Iran’s relations with the West.

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Tension in the Gulf: Not just maritime powder kegs

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A recent interview in which Baloch National Movement chairman Khalil Baloch legitimized recent militant attacks on Iranian, Chinese and Pakistani targets is remarkable less for what he said and more for the fact that his remarks were published by a Saudi newspaper.

Speaking to Riyadh Daily, the English language sister of one of Saudi Arabia’s foremost newspapers, Al Riyadh, Mr. Baloch’s legitimization in the kingdom’s tightly controlled media constituted one more suggestion that Saudi Arabia may be tacitly supporting militants in Balochistan, a troubled Pakistani province that borders on Iran and is a crown jewel of China’s infrastructure and energy-driven Belt and Road initiative.

Riyadh Daily interviewed Mr. Baloch against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the United States and Iran that many fear could escalate into military conflict, past indications of Saudi support for religious militants in Balochistan, and suggestions that countries like the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are united in their opposition to Iran but differ on what outcome they want maximum pressure on the Islamic republic to produce.

The interview followed publication in 2017 by a Riyadh-based think tank with ties to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman of a call by a Baloch nationalist for support for an insurgency in the Baloch-populated Iranian province that borders Pakistan and is home to the crucial Indian-backed port of Chabahar on the Arabian Sea.

It also juxtaposes with Pakistani anti-Shiite, anti-Iranian militants who operate madrassahs along the Iranian-Pakistani border reporting stepped up Saudi funding. The monies are believed to come in part from Saudi nationals of Baloch descent, but the militants suggest the funding has at least tacit government approval.

Balochistan has witnessed multiple attacks on its Hazara Shiite minority as well as in May on a highly secured luxury hotel frequented by Chinese nationals in the Chinese-backed Baloch port city of Gwadar and a convoy of Chinese engineers as well as the Chinese consulate in Karachi. Militants killed 14 people in April in an  assault on an Iranian revolutionary guards convoy and exploded in December a car bomb in Chabahar.

Saudi Arabia is also suspected of supporting the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, a controversial Iranian exile group that seeks the fall of the Iranian regime and enjoys support of senior Western politicians and former officials as well as US national security advisor John Bolton prior to his appointment and ex-Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal.

For now, tacit Saudi support for Baloch militants is likely to be more about putting potential building blocks in place rather than the result of a firm decision to wage a low-intensity proxy war.

“The recent escalation in militant attacks is a direct reaction to Pakistan army’s growing atrocities in Balochistan and China’s relentless plunder of Baloch resources,” Mr. Baloch said.

Asserting that the Pakistani part of Balochistan has been occupied by Pakistan since 1948, Mr. Baloch insisted that the “Baloch nation is resisting against this forced accession. This insurgency is the continuation of that.”

The alleged Saudi support coupled with plans for a US$10 billion Saudi investment in a refinery in Gwadar and a Baloch mine has sparked discussion in Beijing about the viability of China’s US$45 billion plus stake in the region’s security and stability.

Iranian officials see a pattern of foreign support for insurgents not only in Balochistan but also among Iran’s Kurdish, Arab and Azeri minorities. Their suspicions are fuelled by statements by Mr. Bolton prior to his appointment calling for support of insurgencies and Prince Mohammed’s vow that any battle between the Middle East’s two major rivals would be fought in Iran rather than Saudi Arabia.

Complicating the situation along Iran’s borders is the fact that like in the waters of the Gulf where naval assets are eyeing one another, it doesn’t take much for the situation to escalate out of control. That is particularly the case with Iran having shifted tactics from strategic patience to responding to perceived escalation with an escalation of its own.

Iran moreover has been preparing for a potential covert war waged by Saudi Arabia and possibly US-backed ethnic insurgent groups as well as the possibility of a direct military confrontation with the United States by building a network of underground military facilities along its borders with Pakistan and Iraq, according to Seyed Mohammad Marandi, an Iranian academic who frequently argues the Tehran government’s position in international media.

Iran recently released a video showcasing an underground bunker that houses its missile arsenal.

In a further heightening of tension, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards attacked on Friday Iranian armed opposition groups in the Kurdistan region of Iraq with drones and missiles. Iranian artillery separately shelled villages in a region populated not only by armed anti-Iranian and anti-Turkish Kurdish groups but also smugglers.

The strikes followed the killing of three Iranian revolutionary guards. A spokesman for the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) denied responsibility for their deaths.

The risk of escalation is enhanced by the fact that while the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel agree on the principle of maximum pressure, they do not necessarily see eye to eye on what the end goal is.

While US President Donald J. Trump appears to want to force Iran back to the negotiating table, Israel and Mr. Bolton are believed to advocate gunning for regime change ignoring the risk that the effort could produce a government that is even less palatable to them.

That outcome would suit Saudi Arabia that does not want to see a regime emerge that would be embraced by Western nations and allowed to return to the international fold unfettered by sanctions.

A palatable government would turn Iran into a Middle Eastern powerhouse with a competitive edge vis a vis Saudi Arabia and complicate the kingdom’s ambition to become a major natural gas player and sustain its regional leadership role.

Writing in the Pakistan Security Report 2018, journalist Muhammad Akbar Notezai warned: “The more Pakistan slips into the Saudi orbit, the more its relations with Iran will worsen… If their borders remain troubled, anyone can fish in the troubled water.”

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