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Iranian Tactics In The West Asian Crisis – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

Iranian Tactics in the West Asian Crisis

Anil Trigunayat

India and Iran do have a civilisational and strategic partnership which had fallen into disuse due to the consistent US pressure through CAATSA and bilateral negotiations.

There is no doubt that Iran is pivotal to security and stability in the Middle East (West Asia). The Israel-Hamas war has once again proved it even though it is often concluded by many analysts and experts that both Tehran and the political leadership of Hamas were kept in the dark by the Hamas Military leadership steered by Yahya Sinwar before undertaking the unprecedented 7 October terror attacks which led to the killing of over 1,200 Israeli civilians along with 240 hostages.

Hamas in a report did admit to some mistakes. Of course, even if somewhat miffed Tehran regime came out in support of their protégé Hamas which got engaged in existential warfare with Israel and the synergy of their objectives was obviously against the ultra-rightist-run Jewish state.

Iran has an asymmetrical advantage given its 3H +KH+ SM expanse in the Arab world that includes Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; Houthis in Yemen and Hamas in Gaza as well as Kataib Hezbollah and several other Shia militias in Iraq. These have an umbilical relationship with Tehran but do not necessarily take all orders from them which has been evident from Hamas and Houthi attacks and escalations in Palestine and the Red Sea respectively.

Even Hezbollah, the most well-trained and equipped, of all these non-State actors, is keeping the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) engaged in a low-key and psychological warfare. On the other hand, militia groups in Iraq are continuing to target US bases most recently being the Al Asad base forcing retaliation by the US on them. These regular attacks and counterattacks can be germane to a wider conflagration in the region which no one seems to be interested in even though some argue that Netanyahu could try any trick in his toolbox to prolong the war which would keep the currently disenchanted US stuck in the game in the Middle East.

Biden-Bibi discord on ‘Day after’ scenario and vertically opposite positions on the fate of Gaza and Palestine with the Two-State solution has been pretty evident as Bibi continues to test US patience and capability to stretch. Whether it will snap is anybody’s guess although quite unlikely!

Escalation by Houthis and attacks on commercial ships in support of Hamas and Palestine has reached dangerous levels and has wider ramifications for the safety of important maritime routes and safety of trading lanes especially energy transit which have become more expensive as major companies are trying to detour and several value and supply chains in the West have already been ruptured.

The general assumption is that further escalation must be contained but that needs to be done by addressing the genesis of it all i.e. the Israel-Hamas war and ongoing civilian casualties and humanitarian strife which is provoking and stoking the cinders in other volatile areas in the region. For this Tehran’s acquiescence is essential since despite sanctions, socio-economic problems and its running battle with the West it has been able to consolidate its hold through the rather powerful non-state actors as it has also mended ties with Arab countries and Turkey.

India and Iran do have a civilisational and strategic partnership which had fallen into disuse due to the consistent US pressure through CAATSA and bilateral negotiations. But despite that on a political level high-level contacts were maintained and interactions happened most recently between Prime Minister Modi telephonically as well as on the sidelines of the BRICS Johannesburg Summit when Iran was admitted along with five others including Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt from West Asia.

Earlier on during India’s presidency of SCO, Iran became a full member expanding the foothold of cooperation and interactive matrix. India is a trusted interlocutor in West Asia and the US does recognise that as it is still not keen to expand the war directly with Iran but conveys to Houthis that there will be severe costs to their mis-adventurism.

Hence given the deteriorating situation in the Red Sea and ensuing West Asian crisis and threats to maritime security and trade with direct impact on Indian interests External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar needed to undertake an important and timely visit to Tehran where he met his counterpart and called on President Ebrahim Raisi. Not only that even at NAM Summit in Kampala following the Tehran visit he conferred with the Iranian Vice President. In Iran, he also discussed and assured of India’s continued commitment to strategic connectivity projects like the Chabahar port and the INSTC that have been languishing for over two decades due to geopolitical reasons.

Indian strategic perspective was evident in the Joint Press Statement when a solid commitment to Chabahar port connectivity was accorded with a high level of supervision at the leadership level. This has also become urgent as the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict has impacted the IMEEC corridor adversely.

An issue that irks the Iranians is India’s non-procurement of their crude and natural gas due to US sanctions when they can defy them in the case of Russia -another heavily sanctioned country especially as India propagates and practices a policy of strategic autonomy.    This time round it is likely that some way out may be found. In any case, given the way the global disorder is infested with unilateral sanctions, it would be necessary to create some sanction-immune Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVS) to carry on critical trade and other activities by our national interests.

Action on these especially Chabahar is essential lest the Iranians begin to play around with the Chinese via the short Wakhan corridor and indirectly with Pakistan with whom they just had a volley of missile and drone exchanges taking out the so-called Baluch terrorists (as respectively designated by them) across the border amidst Shia-Sunni Dynamic. A diplomatic spat resulted in the temporary downgrading of the ties which provides a small crevice to Rawalpindi to refine the discussion with Washington DC that began with Gen Asim Munir’s visit to US when the Jaish Al Adl also killed 11 Iranian policemen across the border.

US only criticised Tehran for escalating the tensions in the region as Biden claimed that Iran was not much liked in the region and condemned its destabilizing behaviour. In any case, the Baloch issue and their plight came to the forefront yet again as Pakistan and Iran chose to underplay the mutual attacks on their own feared terrorists. High-level contacts in the offing to avoid further escalation with the intervention of Turkey and China.

India on the other hand issued a clearly worded statement justifying the Iranian attack on terror outfits in Pakistan stating that sometimes nations have to act in self-defence. This also corroborated the Indian reaction to Hamas terror attacks against Israel. A brilliant extension of diplomacy against the global evil of terrorism. These discussions will be carried on during the visit of the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council to India as the two sides appear committed to salvage and straighten the ruffled feathers.

In diplomacy sometimes you can hit many targets with a single arrow and keep the quiver intact. And that’s what the visits of EAM to Russia, Iran and NAM and Africa may have achieved.

Anil Tringunayat is the former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta and is currently a Distinguished Fellow with Vivekananda International Foundation.

The article was first published in Firstpost as Iranian praxis and the ongoing West Asian crisis on January 26, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organization.

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Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Nadiya Murshed, a research intern at IMPRI.

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