Two out of the three main intractable conflicts in the world have nearly gone to war. The Korea/China vs. Japan dispute is simmering. Out in our parts, Pulwama led to Balakot, which led to Rajouri.
Ten Indian missiles were reportedly pointed at targets in Pakistan but Modi refrained from pulling the plug. The Saudis and the Emiratis, with whom he enjoys excellent relations, had a benign influence on him. A possible nuclear Armageddon was thus avoided in the subcontinent. Or maybe just postponed?
Then there is the Shia-Sunni fight. The fight is also between the Christians and the Jews, as evidenced by the Nazis railing against the Jews in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA whom Trump cozied up to by calling them very fine people. Still, after the horrors of the last century, the Judeo-Christian conflict has tamped down.
No conflict in the world is as intractable and as ferocious as the Shia-Sunni one. It is confined to a single religion, Islam, but cuts across ethnicities – Arab, Persian, and others. It has now dragged in the Jews and the Christians in its wake.
Iran, aka Persia, has always had a glorious civilization, long before Islam came to its shores. In fact Iranians seethe at how Arabic invaders brought Islam to its shores. But Islam in Iran mutated into the Shiite form, of which form Islam contains only 10 percent. The Shiites have felt persecuted by the Sunnis ever since Islam cleaved into two, and have always tried to rise against what they perceive as injustice.
Now a Shiite crescent is rising from Azerbaijan to Iraq to Iran to Lebanon to Bahrain to Syria to Yemen. That is an extraordinary number of countries in the grip of Shiites. None of this would have happened had George W. Bush not invaded Iraq, and instead of conquering it, handed it, the world’s second-most populous Shiite country, to Iran, all without the latter firing a shot.
The Shiite crescent petrifies the Gulf Sunni states, especially their leader Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has ditched any animosity towards Israel, and is practically beseeching it to attack Iran. Israel knows that it is too small to take on Iran, and has therefore roped in the US in its design.
Barack Obama kept the Israelis and the Saudis at bay, which made him deeply unpopular in the two countries. But Trump is an evangelical in the Judeo-Christian mould. He has undone whatever Obama did.
Centerpiece is Iran’s bid to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran has a well-established nuclear program, and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that at some point it might want to acquire nuclear weapons. How far along it is on its potential quest is the big question. The quest petrifies both the Iranians and the Saudis.
Obama ordered the assassination of a number of Iranian nuclear scientists, but when that didn’t work, signed the Iran nuclear deal. The Israelis and the Saudis considered the deal to be a sham. They believed that Iran already had the bomb, so where was the need for any deal to postpone its creation. They just wanted to use all-out force to destroy Iran’s bomb, which they felt was buried deep inside its basement.
How deep? That again was a big question. Israel knows that it does not have the firepower to completely eliminate all vestiges of the Iranian nuclear program, nor even render it such a debilitating strike so as to postpone its emergence for many decades to come, so has had perforce to turn to big brother Trump.
Shipping tankers in the Strait of Hormuz are being damaged by someone. The US was quick to pin the blame on Iran, but Israel could be up to dirty tricks. And now the Iranians have shot down a US drone spying on them.
The US says that the drone was flying over international waters but imagine if there was an Iranian drone flying over international waters off the East Coast of the US spying into the US. Would the US not have been justified then in shooting down the drone.
The Iranians claim that one of their rogue commanders shot the drone down. A lesson herein for India and Pakistan. At the height of Pulwama and Balakot and Rajouri, if a rogue Indian or Pakistani field commander had launched a tactical nuclear missile into the other’s territory, the subcontinent would have gone up in flames.
Trump says that he stopped his missiles 10 minutes before launch because one of his generals told him that 150 Iranians would die in the process. How many casualties? Isn’t that the first question the US president should ask instead of the last.
Others in the room say that it would have taken 30 minutes for the missiles to reach Iran, and that Trump aborted the mission 10 minutes into launch. Scary. And then his aides say that Trump liked the thrill of being in command of ordering up the strike and then calling it off. Even more scary. Is this some kind of video game?
Modi was celebrating World Yoga Day during all this drama. He enjoys relatively good relations with the Iranians and so-so with Trump and excellent ones with Netanyahu. But just as the Saudis and Emiratis helped defuse the Indo-Pak crisis, shouldn’t Modi have dispatched Jaishankar to Tehran and Washington and Tel Aviv and told each to knock it off.
India wants to be a world player, but whenever it is called on to act according to its heft, it refuses to do so. Nehru would have inserted himself into this Middle Eastern imbroglio. But then Nehru was Nehru.