Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has promised to share development experience with Iran to help it resist pressure from the United States. Wang criticised that China and Iran were not included to a democracy summit organized by United States in December among the 110 invitees for the summit, which include Taiwan, India and Iraq.
Russia, Iran and China will hold joint maritime exercises in the Gulf around late 2021 or early 2022, Russia’s ambassador to Tehran said. The drills involving naval vessels from the three countries will be focused on shipping security and combating piracy.
Lebanese militant group Hezbollah said it had fired a barrage of rockets at Israeli positions in a disputed area close to the Lebanese border, calling it retaliation for Israeli airstrikes on southern Lebanon a day earlier. It was the third day of cross-border hostilities that threaten a period of calm prevailing since 2006, when Israel and Hezbollah fought a one-month war.
Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi has vowed to boost political and economic relations with Latin American states, as a top priority for his country’s foreign policy. “Undoubtedly, activating the level of cooperation between Iran and Latin American countries can make the Americans and other arrogant people passive,” he stressed.
Israel’s defense minister warned that his country is prepared to strike Iran, issuing the threat against the Islamic Republic after a fatal drone strike on a oil tanker at sea that his nation blamed on Tehran. The comments by Benny Gantz come as Israel meanwhile lobbies countries for action at the United Nations.
The United States and the United Kingdom joined Israel in blaming Iran for a fatal drone attack on an Israeli-managed oil tanker in the Arabian Sea on Thursday. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh denied Iran was behind the attack.
Is Russia Recalibrating Its De Facto Alliance With Israel In Syria?
2 AUGUST 2021
Last month’s revelation by a representative of the Russian Armed Forces that the Syrian-manned anti-air systems that his country dispatched to the Arab Republic successfully downed most “Israeli” missiles during a recent strike suggest that the Eurasian Great Power might be recalibrating its de facto alliance with the self-professed “Jewish State”.
Russia and “Israel” have been de facto allies in Syria for over the past half-decade as I argued at length over the years, especially in my top four analyses on the subject here, here (which lists 15 other pertinent ones), here, and here. To summarize, Russia sought to actively “balance” Iranian influence in Syria which it regards as regionally destabilizing due to its reported role in organizing attacks against the self-professed “Jewish State” from the Arab Republic’s territory. Moscow was motivated by the desire to comprehensively expand its ties with Tel Aviv, which it also expected would improve its geostrategic positioning vis-a-vis Washington by gradually becoming “Israel’s” most significant regional security partner.
It advanced this aim by “passively facilitating” literally hundreds of “Israeli” strikes against the IRGC and Hezbollah there, which importantly were never thwarted by Syria’s Russian-supplied S-300s from a few years back due to what some believe is the Kremlin’s continued refusal to transfer full operational control over these systems to Damascus. The thinking goes that if Syria succeeded in downing any more “Israeli” jets in self-defense, then Tel Aviv would be triggered into launching a disproportionate response against its neighbor that could completely cripple its military and therefore inadvertently reverse Russia’s recent anti-terrorist gains in the country. The Kremlin calculated that it’s better to give “Israel” freedom of the skies than risk that scenario.
This strategy seems to be changing though as evidenced by a Russian Armed Forces representative revealing late last month that the Syrian-manned anti-air systems that his country dispatched to the Arab Republic successfully downed most “Israeli” missiles during a recent strike. This suggests that the Eurasian Great Power might be recalibrating its de facto alliance with the self-professed “Jewish State”. It’s unclear exactly what Moscow’s motivations may be, but some educated hypotheses might suffice for pointing sincere observers in the right direction. These are the recent removal of President Putin’s close friend Netanyahu from power; the ongoing efforts to clinch a “New Detente” with the US; and restoring regional geostrategic balance.
In the order that they were mentioned, the first development might have resulted in the coming to power of influential forces that don’t share Netanyahu’s vision of a de facto Russian-”Israeli” alliance. Those individuals can speculatively be described as more pro-American than pro-”Israeli” in the sense that they’d prefer to put their traditional patron’s interests before their own polity’s. To explain, regardless of however one feels about Netanyahu’s legacy, he was nevertheless very successful in comprehensively improving relations with Russia, which in turn made “Israel” less dependent on the US’ regional security services for defending his polity’s interests. His successor and that man’s team might feel more comfortable returning under the US umbrella.
The second point is pertinent insofar as it’s increasingly clear that the US and Russia are attempting to negotiate a series of “mutual compromises” across a wide array of spheres following June’s Biden-Putin Summit in Geneva. Russia wants to relieve American pressure along its western flank in order to focus more on its “UmmahPivot” for reducing potentially disproportionate dependence on China in the future while the US wants to refocus the bulk of its strategic efforts on more aggressively “containing” China in the “Indo-Pacific”. “Israel”, which is important to both of their interests, might have come to be treated as little more than a piece to be traded by Russia on this “Great Power Chessboard” in exchange for US “compromises” elsewhere.
Finally, this might simply be due to Russia realizing that “Israel” is now far too strong and must therefore be “gently” balanced through increased military (and specifically anti-air) assistance to Syria. After all, one of the primary reasons why Russia de facto allied with “Israel” in the first place is because Iran was becoming too strong in the region and thus had to be balanced according to the Kremlin’s geostrategic calculations. It would therefore be natural for Russia to temporarily recalibrate its balancing strategy in light of succeeding so well with its earlier motivation. This suggests that Russia might eventually oscillate back towards “Israel” if/once Iran regains its momentum, and so on and so forth in accordance with the Kremlin’s Eurasian balancing strategy.
While a lot still remains unclear at the moment, all that can be known for sure is that Russia wanted the world to know that it credibly bolstered Syria’s air defense capabilities, which certainly hints that it’s actively recalibrating its balancing act and in particular the “Israeli” dimension thereof. It’s unknown exactly how far it’ll go and whether it’ll ever cross the Rubicon that many Non-Russian Pro-Russians (NRPRs) have been practically begging for with respect to letting Syria finally use the S-300s to shoot down attacking “Israeli” jets, but it’s obvious that something has changed even though the reasons for this perceptible shift are debatable and could even potentially be a combination of each of the three earlier described hypotheses.
Iran Is Wisely Marketing Itself As A Conduit For Russian-Pakistani Trade
23 JULY 2021
The Iranian Consul General to Pakistan’s proposal on 16 July that his country could serve as a conduit for Russian-Pakistani trade was extremely strategic since it shows a keen awareness of the Islamic Republic’s role in Eurasia’s rapidly evolving geo-economic environment.
Eurasia’s geo-economic environment is rapidly evolving in light of several interconnected developments over the past year. February’s agreement to construct a trilateral railway between Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) challenged the strategic viability of the North-South Transport Corridor’s eastern branch (E-NSTC) from the Indian-controlled Iranian port of Chabahar to Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics (CARs). Kabul hammered another nail in that project’s coffin last month during the virtual trilateral Foreign Ministers meeting alongside the top diplomats from Beijing and Islamabad when it committed to rely on the Belt & Road Initiative’s (BRI) flagship project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Although Russia still officially remains interested in the NSTC, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov enthusiastically endorsed Central Asian-South Asian connectivity during a topical conference in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent in mid-July, which can be interpreted as Moscow’s approval of PAKAFUZ and willingness to use this project to reach South Asia.
As it presently stands, Iran can’t bank on the NSTC as much as it initially expected. This initiative will still likely facilitate some Russian-Indian trade as intended, but nowhere near what the most optimistic observers had hoped for. The Islamic Republic’s strategic consolation is that Azerbaijan’s proposed six-nation integration platform will probably become its new priority and thus connect Iran more closely with Russia and the other four members of this platform. Even so, Tehran would still prefer to become a transregional economic player in Eurasia, the vision of which it aims to advance through March’s 25-year strategic partnership deal with China. I wrote at the time that this game-changing development could be leveraged to facilitate Russian-Pakistani trade through the western expansion of CPEC into the Islamic Republic (W-CPEC+) where it would then mostly proceed parallel with the NSTC’s original route. Some critics were skeptical of this ambitious vision, but my views have just been vindicated by the Iranian Consul General to Pakistan.
The Express Tribune reported that Mr. Mohammad Reza Nazeri said on 16 July while speaking at the first session of the Pakistan-Iran Business Facilitation meeting that Iran is a beneficiary of CPEC and can facilitate Pakistan’s trade with Central Asia and Russia. This statement very strongly suggests that he has a keen awareness of the Islamic Republic’s role in Eurasia’s rapidly evolving geo-economic environment. With E-NSTC having been made largely redundant by PAKAFUZ, which in turn also reduced the strategic viability of its core function of facilitating Russian-Indian trade, it makes sense for Iran to position itself as a conduit for Russian-Pakistani trade in order to redeem this project’s transregional importance for connecting Eastern Europe with South Asia. It can also serve as a temporary workaround to trans-Afghan trade between the two for as long as the situation in that landlocked country remains violently unstable. Put another way, Iran finally realizes how important Russian-Pakistani connectivity is nowadays and thus wants to play an important role in facilitating it.
Guided by this flexible approach to Eurasia’s rapidly evolving geo-economic environment, Iran can realistically retain its transregional geo-economic importance despite the NSTC’s initial Russian-Indian connectivity function having been reduced due to recent developments related to PAKAFUZ and New Delhi’s general realignment towards the West (including through its abidance to the US’ unilateral anti-Iranian sanctions regime). The expected influx of Chinese capital and the connectivity projects that it could be responsible for as a result of their 25-year strategic partnership deal could greatly enhance Iran’s transregional connectivity attractiveness, especially with respect to facilitating Russian-Pakistani trade. The expansion of W-CPEC+ to Russia via Iran and Azerbaijan would also improve the viability of the Golden Ring concept for assembling a new multipolar network in the Eurasian Heartland, which would serve the strategic interests of all the involved countries.
India Has Very Limited Security Options For Ensuring Its Interests In Afghanistan
8 JULY 2021
The Taliban’s lightning-fast takeover of Afghanistan in the wake of the US’ full military withdrawal by September 11th presents certain security concerns for India, but the South Asian state only has very limited options for ensuring its relevant interests, none of which credibly involve any conventional military involvement contrary to widespread speculation about this scenario.
India is struggling to ensure its security interests in Afghanistan after the Taliban’s lightning-fast takeover of broad swaths of the country in the wake of the US’ full military withdrawal by September 11th. The South Asian state is concerned that the war-torn nation might become a training ground for Kashmiri militants, or even worse, that some Taliban fighters might consider crossing over the Line of Control (LOC) into the Indian side of Kashmir. It should be kept in mind that the Taliban promised the US as part of last year’s peace deal that it won’t support any foreign militants, nor does it have a track record of expansionist plans outside of its native territory, but India still fears the aforementioned worst-case scenarios.
There’s been widespread speculation over the years and especially in recent weeks that India might provide conventional military assistance to Kabul in order to stem the Taliban’s rapid advance. According to those who ascribe to that scenario, this could possibly involve arms transfers, intelligence support, actual troops, and/or private military contractors (PMCs). The first two options are the most credible since they entail comparatively low costs and almost no risks to India itself. The last two ones, however, are much costlier in all respects. India’s leadership must also certainly understand that if it’s still struggling to contain what it regards as security threats in the part of Kashmir under its control, then it’ll be much more difficult to contain the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Some further elaboration on this insight is required in order to better understand India’s strategic calculations. Those who predict that India might commence some sort of conventional military intervention in Kabul’s support are likely influenced by one or two ideas: that India is pursuing a policy of regional expansionism and/or to trap the country in a deadly quagmire. They’re not mutually exclusive either since accepting the first observation as valid can in turn be instrumentalized through a clever information campaign to influence India into taking the second seemingly natural step of getting itself caught in the Afghan quagmire due to its earlier described fear of the Taliban taking over that country.
No matter how afraid India is of the Taliban conquering Afghanistan, there’s almost nothing that it could do to stop this. Even in the best-case scenario of it dispatching military equipment to the internationally recognized authorities there on an emergency basis and ramping up its intelligence support for their forces, that likely won’t be sufficient to stop the Taliban. At most, all that it could do is temporarily delay what appears to be the inevitable outcome of the war. As for the third and fourth policy options, they’d fully depend on Iran passively facilitating India’s military intervention since there’s no way that Pakistan would support this. The incoming “principalist”/”conservative” administration, however, might not be in favor of doing so.
President-Elect Raisi is predicted to take a stronger stand against the US and its proxies upon assuming office. Although Iranian-Taliban ties are complicated, the Islamic Republic might balk at being portrayed as having anything to do with another foreign military intervention in one of his country’s neighbors, especially one which would indirectly aid American strategic goals. It’s one thing for Iran to assist India’s regional economic integration plans through the Central Asian branch of the stalled North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) and another entirely for it to approve the overflight of Indian forces and/or PMCs to Afghanistan in order to fight the Taliban. Some secret agents might still transit through Iran to enter the country, but not on a large scale.
Under these conditions, the best that India can unilaterally do is the first two options that were earlier discussed. It would be much better for its long-term interests, however, if it explored the possibility of entering into secret talks with the Taliban. Some outlets reported that this happened last month even though New Delhi recently denied it. Nevertheless, that’s the most pragmatic policy that India could follow at the present moment. It shouldn’t wage a proxy war against the Taliban via Kabul and/or its own forces/PMCs, but should prepare for the seemingly inevitable reality of that group returning to power to some extent in the coming future. They might still hold a grudge against India, but some level of dialogue is always better than conflict.
India’s Russian ally is the most reliable partner to facilitate such contact if New Delhi had the political will to see this proposed policy through. Although Moscow still officially regards the Taliban as a terrorist group, it nevertheless pragmatically hosted its representatives several times in the Russian capital over the years as part of its efforts to advance the difficult peace process. If Russia could talk to the Taliban despite that group having emerged from the US-backed Mujaheddin of the 1980s that was responsible for killing approximately 15,000 Soviet soldiers and wounding around 35,000 more, then there’s no reason why India can’t do so as well since it never suffered the same level of losses at their forerunner’s hands.
Speaking of Russian-Indian cooperation on Afghanistan, they could also jointly assist Tajikistan with bolstering its border security in the face of ISIS-K’s presence along this frontier. Dushanbe might feel somewhat uncomfortable accepting Indian military aid considering its recent partnerships with New Delhi’s Chinese and Pakistani rivals so it would be more acceptable for everyone if this assistance is coordinated through the SCO in which they all participate. Afghanistan is an observer in this organization so each member’s intelligence support could potentially be funneled through it in order to avoid any perception among some that one or another country’s relevant assistance to Kabul is somehow aimed against their interests (whether directly or indirectly).
With this in mind, an entirely new plan might begin to take shape. Instead of seeking to defeat the Taliban through proxy warfare, something that’s practically impossible to pull off since not even the world’s most powerful military in history could accomplish this task directly despite its two-decade-long occupation of Afghanistan, India should moderate its security goals to containing the threat of ISIS-K’s expansion into Central Asia. This would enable New Delhi to present itself as a responsible regional security stakeholder, especially if it coordinated such efforts through the SCO, perhaps by following Russia’s lead in this respect if Moscow is the first to propose a multilateral campaign to this effect.
There is nothing that India can realistically do to stop the Taliban from training Kashmiri militants apart from retaining a very limited intelligence presence in post-withdrawal Afghanistan to possibly sabotage such efforts on an extremely limited scale. Truth be told, however, that wouldn’t even be necessary to begin with since the Taliban seems to be working very hard to improve its international reputation and therefore is disinclined to train any foreign militants no matter how sympathetic it may speculatively be to their cause. Going back on its word concerning such a globally significant security matter would immediately raise suspicions about its grand strategic intentions and thus reduce the likelihood of it ever being accepted into the international community.
Considering this, India should reconceptualize its security concerns in Afghanistan. The Taliban will most likely take over the country at some time in the future, after which it’ll be cautiously welcomed into the international community for pragmatic reasons. Refusing to enter into dialogue with the group would therefore be a mistake for India’s regional economic interests. Its threat assessment should shift from the Taliban to ISIS-K, and India should accordingly coordinate its relevant security assistance to the Central Asian Republics and especially Tajikistan through the SCO, ideally under Moscow’s aegis. This proposal would enable India to present itself as a responsible regional security stakeholder while pragmatically defending its regional economic interests.