West Asia Developments: September, 2018
Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF
Iran: Nuclear Issue

Speaking at the UN General Assembly (UNGA), Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu brought to fore their penchant for Iran bashing, claiming that Iran was hiding an atomic warehouse in Tehran. He called for the IAEA to begin inspections of the site. Ever since the Trump Administration had announced US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Israel has found renewed vigour for taking matters in its own hand.

Such a move could further destabilise the already tense situation in the region. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif retorted back by saying that Israel’s nuclear weapon’s program needs to be scrutinized more. It was not the first time Netanyahu was bringing alleged evidence to an open forum. He had previously shown photos of an atomic archive in Tehran which he said proved that Iran had no intention of complying with the Nuclear Deal. Previously, Netanyahu had also brought an alleged Iranian drone part to an event which he said had violated Israel’s airspace. This narrative also suits their US benefactors. President Trump, who called Rouhani ‘a nice guy’ while stating that no meeting will take place with the Iranians. He chose to single out Iran for his vitriolic at the UNGA in his speech calling them brute, dictatorial and corrupt. He further threatened that Iran being the leading sponsor of terrorism cannot be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction. Iranians, dismissing the photo-op style of Trump diplomacy, asked them to return to the negotiating table.

Iran has been able to engage with the other P4+1 countries including UK, France, Russia, China and Germany and the EU have opposed the US position and withdrawal and has been urging them to continue to adhere to the agreed provisions of the JSPOA despite US withdrawal. They have also agreed to institute payment mechanisms to circumvent impact of US sanctions regime against Iran. How far this will succeed and alleviate the Iranian concerns remains to be seen.

Tehran Summit

Sponsors of Astana Process and the heads of state of Russia, Turkey and Iran met in Tehran on September 7 to discuss the course of the Syrian War and the future of the Syrian city of Idlib which was still under the control of the opposition like Jabhat Al Nusra (Al Quaeda) and remnants of Free Syrian Army. The Syrian war has not only changed the trajectory of the country through widespread death and devastation, but also affected Europe through a refugee influx that has resulted in another crisis altogether.

Although cracks begun to appear as Turkey did not agree on the onslaught on Idlib with Russia, the Summit unilaterally condemned the US supply of arms to the Syrian rebels that have been resisting Bashar Al Assad’s government forces. The main issue at stake during the Summit was the fate of Idlib. A government offensive in Syria, according to experts, would inevitably lead to a humanitarian disaster of extreme proportions.

While the Summit was mostly able to ensure that Idlib would be spared, at least for a while, it could not do much in terms of achieving lasting peace. All three countries, had various interests in Syria. While Turkey wants to prevent another refugee influx, Iran on the other hand wants to maintain its presence in Syria along with Hezbollah. Russia is looking to maintain its regional presence by preserving the Assad government.

Attack on Revolutionary Guard Parade

An assault on an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Parade dealt a shocking blow to the pride and prestige of Iran’s most elite battle-hardened unit. The attack demonstrated that even the Revolutionary Guards were vulnerable. The Guards properly known as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is only responsible to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and reports directly to the Supreme Leader.

The responsibility for the attack was claimed by an Iranian ethnic Arab organization called Ahvad National Resistance. Iran has blamed the US and Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia as responsible for the violence. While there is no evidence to support Iran’s claims, the IRGC has vowed to retaliate in response. The attack is one of the worst ever in the history of the IRGC.

Palestine: US President Donald Trump supports a Two State Solution

After causing a mayhem by shifting their capital to Jerusalem and unable to declare their so called Middle East ‘Plan’, President Trump claimed that he supported a two state solution. Trump also met Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu on the side-lines of the UNGA Summit. Although it still remains obfuscated, Americans plan to unveil the peace plan within two months.

While both sides need to resolve this longstanding conflict, the effect that Trump’s peace plan could have on the Palestinian side is unclear, especially as President Abbas has refused to participate in any kind of talks and the Gaza continues to burn. Ever since the US Embassy was shifted to Jerusalem, Israel has been emboldened to take unilateral measures which could prove detrimental to achieving peace.

Israel- Russia

Russia has threatened to supply S-300 missiles to Syrian forces, a move which Israel seriously opposes. This move is in the wake of the downing of a Russian Ilyushin plane in Syria which killed all 15 Russian servicemen. Russia and Israel had an arrangement over conducting strikes in Syria. Israel has said that it was the Syrian side that downed the plane while the Russians blame Israel for indirectly causing the incident. Russia has decided to supply S-300 anti aircraft missiles to Syria as a retaliatory measure. Israel is against such a move because it views that the missiles could end up in irresponsible hands which could make things worse for the region. Besides they said they will continue to hit inimical targets. Israel acknowledges that Russian influence in the region especially in Syria has significantly increased and it also needs Russian support to protect its interests and hence the relationship is unlikely to hit a real low.

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