In May 2018, Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA), asserting that the accord
did not address the broad range of U.S. concerns about Iranian behaviour and would not permanently preclude Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The sanctions have been proved to be devastating on Iran’s economy.
Iran responded to the U.S. maximum pressure campaign in part by demonstrating its ability to harm global commerce and other U.S. interests and to raise concerns about Iran’s nuclear
activities. Iran might have sought to cause international actors, including those that depend on stable oil supplies, to put pressure on the Trump Administration to reduce its sanctions pressure on Iran.
In May and June, attacks on Tankers picked up-tempo. In addition, Iran’s allies in the region have been conducting attacks that might be linked to U.S.-Iran tensions. June 2019 and subsequently, the Yemn
Houthis, who have been fighting against a Saudi led Arab coalition that intervened in Yemen against them in March 2015, claimed responsibility for attacks in southern Saudi Arabia, and on Saudi energy installations and targets. On June 20, 2019, Iran shot
down an unmanned aerial surveillance aircraft near the Strait of Hormuz, claiming it had entered Iranian airspace over the Gulf of Oman. U.S. Central Command officials stated that the drone was over international waters. Iran stated “The downing
of the American drone is an open, clear and categorical message, which is: the defenders of the borders of Iran will decisively deal with any foreign aggression… This is the way the Iranian nation deals with its enemies.”. Trump kept his
response muted and modulated, but it was clear, Iran was desperate.
On September 14, an attack was conducted on multiple locations within critical
Saudi energy infrastructure sites at Khurais and Abqaiq. The Houthi movement in Yemen, which receives arms and other support from Iran, claimed responsibility. The attack shut down a significant portion of Saudi oil production and, escalated U.S.-Iran and
Iran-Saudi tensions and demonstrated a significant intent by Iran to threaten U.S. allies and interests. The result was additional sanctions by US.
Soleimani’s imperious handling of this episodic conflict, dealt a final blow when on December 27, a rocket attack was launched by Iran and Qds backed militia, on a base near Kirkuk in northern Iraq and on December 31, 2019, two days after the
U.S. airstrikes against KH targets in Iraq and Syria, supporters of Soleimani backed Kata’ib Hezbollah and other Iraqi militias surrounded the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, forcing their way into the compound and setting some outer buildings on fire. Die
China Russia Iran Entente?
China, Russia and Iran are conducting joint naval drills, intended to “deepen exchange and cooperation between the navies of the three countries,” however has been a statement of continuity boldness of action by Iran with impunity as well
as a message cohering mute solidarity by China and Russia.
This purported entente/show of strength has been exposed hollow by the Soleimani
assassination. There were no joint statements. Russia’s initial response to the assassination was, by Russian standards, comparatively muted. An official readout of President Putin’s phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron on January 3
only mentioned the two leaders’ “concern” (ozabochennost’) over the killing and the potential for escalating tensions in the Middle East. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was more critical, claiming that the assassination of a government
official on the territory of a third country “crudely violates the principles of international law and deserves condemnation” but explicitly stopped short of minor joint threatening consequences.
Syria remains the biggest question mark amongst them. Assad owes his victory in the Syrian civil war to the support of both Russia and Iran. Despite being on the same side of the conflict,
Moscow and Tehran are also rivals for influence in post-war Syria. Russia’s main disadvantage in this rivalry has long been its lack of boots on the ground (Russia’s main military contribution was airpower, which is good for striking targets but
not at controlling territory), and Iranian grown influence would seem worrying to Russia.
Beijing’s official statement were consistent
with China’s past efforts to avoid commitments in a region where it could clash with the U.S. and its allies. Beijing has so far done little to counter President Donald Trump’s effort to ratchet up pressure on Tehran, beyond defending the Iran
nuclear deal and criticizing the U.S.’s unilateral sanctions.
Saudi Pakistani Bonhomie Rediscovered
While Tehran is understood to be having little options but to keep pouring in money to keep presence in the Iraq muddle, US has surely rallied its geopolitical partners. That
includes the required but an evident sly rat Pakistan. Pakistan had been leaning towards Turkey-Tehran-Malaysia axis with eyes on monetary gains, as against the Saudi led Arab OIC. Saudi Arabia apparently had leaned on Imran to rethink his participation, because
of the perception that the KL Summit was meant to replace the OIC. However, the bigger picture appears the need of the old Geo-political coalition against Iran’s belligerence, targeting Saudi Oil assets and growing influence in the region.
Whenever US decides to put impetus in the region, while it may be from the shadows of Riyadh, Pakistan emerges as a player, mostly in terms of its inevitable
Geo-strategic placement and as a counter to Tehran.
Every other decade, Pakistan is brought out of depths of decadence, by a geostrategic event be it the Russian-Afghanistan war in the 80s or the US-Taliban conflict in the 2000s. This conflict, with US likely to ebb
its presence in the region, while playing behind the curtains for some time, may give breathing space yet again, to the failed state.