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Trump is sinking in the quicksand of West Asia

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | October 10, 2017

An amazing week is unfolding in West Asian politics. It began with three dramatic developments on Monday – Turkish troops crossing the border into Syria’s Idlib province; announcement in Moscow on agreement to sell the S-400 missile defence system to Saudi Arabia; and, the freeze on visas by the US and Turkey for each other’s nationals. And the week promises to be climactic in the US-Iranian relations.

On Monday Iranian Foreign Ministry warned that any move by the Trump administration to impose sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps will be a “strategic mistake” and Tehran’s response will be “firm, decisive and crushing”. It echoed a warning by the head of the IRGC, General Mohammad Ali Jafari that if the US designated his organization as terrorist, Iran will regard the US forces anywhere as the allies of the Islamic State and target them. Indeed, the weekend is slated to witness the refusal by US President Donald Trump to meet the October 15 deadline for endorsing Washington’s participation in the Iran nuclear deal. The common thread that runs through all these developments is the US’ standing in West Asia vis-a-vis the three most important regional states — Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Syria: The Turkish military operation in Idlib is directed against the al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front. The operation stems from the Astana process where Russia, Turkey and Iran have worked out the establishment of a ‘de-escalation zone’ in Idlib. The US is the odd man out looking in. The backdrop is provided by the upswing in Turkish-Russian relations and the recent Turkish-Iranian rapprochement. Turkey and Iran have common interest to counter the US-Israeli encouragement to Kurdish separatism. Clearly, the Turkish-Iranian rapprochement is having positive fallout on the Syrian situation.

Saudi-Russian ties: The announcement in Moscow on Monday regarding the sale of the S-400 missile defence system to Saudi Arabia signifies a tectonic shift in the Middle East politics. Saudi Arabia has been a ‘pivotal state’ in the US’ Middle East strategies since the mid-forties. It is now embarking on a ‘non-aligned’ foreign policy. The visit by King Salman to Russia last week, Aramco’s dealings with Rosneft and Gazprom, OPEC-Russia agreement to cut oil production – these suggest that the US-Saudi axis is steadily dissolving. Interestingly, Tehran is calmly viewing the Saudi-Russian rapprochement. These trends put a dagger at the heart of the entire US strategy in the Gulf, which had historically fostered a ‘bloc mentality’ among the Sunni states by fuelling their tensions vis-à-vis Iran.

Sensing that Saudi Arabia and Russia might clinch a deal over the S-400 missile defence system, Washington hurriedly announced last Friday that it proposed to accede to the pending request from Riyadh for purchase of the rival THAAD missile system. (Due to Israeli pressure Washington was dragging its feet on the $15 billion deal.) A keen tussle is developing and its outcome will be a litmus test of the US’ capacity to influence Saudi decision-making.

Turkish-American spat: Last week Turkish security nabbed a local employee of the US Consulate in Istanbul for alleged links with the Islamist preacher Fetullah Gulen who is living in the US and whom the Turks suspect as having been involved in the US-backed coup attempt last July against Erdogan. Washington went ballistic. From all appearances, Turkish intelligence may have nabbed a key accomplice of the CIA who had acted as go-between during the failed coup attempt last year. The statement by the US ambassador in Ankara, here, betrays nervousness. Woven into this is Washington’s support of Kurdish separatist groups, which Erdogan sees as the ‘hidden agenda’ of Americans to destabilize Turkey. The Turkish-American relations are in serious difficulty.

Iran nuclear deal: Trump is about to announce this weekend that Iran is not in compliance with the July 2015 nuclear deal. If that happens, US lawmakers have a 60-day window to decide whether to re-impose sanctions against Iran. The Israeli lobby is active on the Capitol Hill. To be sure, pressure will mount on Tehran to respond and retaliate somehow. There is an influential section of opinion within the Iranian establishment that never trusted the US intentions. Clearly, the door is closing on a gestation process over confidence-building that might have incrementally led to a US-Iranian normalization. (Read an insightful opinion piece in the New York Times by Wendy R. Sherman, a former Undersecretary of State for political affairs, who was the US’ lead negotiator for the Iran nuclear agreement – Trump Is Going to Make a Huge Mistake on the Iran Deal.)

All in all, the US is running out of friends and allies in West Asia – with the solitary exception of Israel. Its traditional Cold War-era NATO ally Turkey is turning unfriendly; Iran is preparing to confront the US; GCC is in turmoil but the US is watching helplessly; and, most important, Saudis are exploring the seamless potentials of a non-aligned foreign policy. Trump’s record in West Asia is proving dismal.

October 10, 2017 - Posted by | Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , ,

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