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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Drivers of Violence: Religion, Nukes, & the Race for Leadership

The death of Osama Bin Laden has, expectedly, evoked sharp reaction from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, both the Afghan and Pakistani branches. The terrorists have threatened to unleash devastating attacks against the Pakistani security forces and the mainstream political parties. The daring attack by the Pakistani Taliban on the PNS Mehran Naval Base on the outskirts of Karachi in the second fortnight of May this year may well be a portent of a dangerous future for Pakistan. 

The last few months has been a steep rise in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including on the military and law enforcement agencies. Increasing extremist violence threatens not just the unity and territorial integrity of Pakistan but the entire region at large. 

Pakistan  may be the Terrorism Central for the War on Terror; but let me now explore another angle, one beyond the Pakistan: the Greater Middle East.

The Greater Middle East Angle

For over three decades now, Iran has spit fire at both Israel and the U.S., whom it sees as the major backer of the former’s arbitrary and hegemonistic actions against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank (read Occupied Territories).

The last few months have seen hectic international parleys to punish Iran for its secretive nuclear weapons programme. Economic embargo and military sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy; however, the Iranian Clerical regime has not flinched from its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

More than the U.S., there are two countries which stand to lose most in case of the emergence of the Iranian Bomb: Saudi Arabia and Israel.

A backgrounder on Saudi Arabia & Israel
Saudi Arabia is Sunni while Iran is the world's largest Shia republic. For decades now, Iran has been challenging the Saudi hegemony in the Islamic World. Iran's rising power ambitions threatens 
Saudi Arabia's leadership of the Islamic World at large and the Arab World in particular. In short, Saudi Arabia is an ideological, sectarian, and power rival.



Established as a Jewish State in 1948, Israel is the first theocratic State in the post-Second World War world. Judaism (the religion of the Jews) and Islam have been at loggerheads for centuries.

Also, Israel is an undeclared nuke weapons power; in this regard, Israel follows an 'ncnd' policy, i.e. it neither confirms nor denies its nuke status. Its nuke weapons make it the only nuke weapons state in the Middle East.

Iran has often called for the destruction of Israel. Given Iran’s belligerent posture against Israel, it is given that the latter will try to thwart the former’s nuclear ambitions. It is in this context that reports of Israel’s planned strikes against Iranian nuke plants should be understood. Israel believes that Iran, in a moment of desperation (and massive strategic geopolitical miscalculation), may launch a nuclear weapons attack against it.

In this regard, questions have been raised over how Israel can manage the logistics, like flying nonstop over other Muslim States (mainly Jordan and Iraq). In this regard, in highly secretive meetings, it is learnt that Saudi Arabia has given permission to Israel (opens in separate window) to use its northern air corridor for flyover to strike at Iran’s secretive nuclear plants. 

Now let's look at how and what such Israeli action could mean for the U.S.-led Global War on Terror.

Soon after reports of Israeli plans to attack Iran’s nuclear installations began to surface, in August last year, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Qaeda’s local franchise in Yemen, came out with the following message for radical Islamists:

“What is expected is for the war to begin by the Jews against Iran. Israel will stage air strikes on Iran’s nuclear installations to start…. In such situation, the Iranian Shia regime will exploit the situation by seizing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina by blaming Saudi Arabia for facilitating the Israeli attack on its nuclear installations. In turn, the Israelis will seize territory in the Levant to establish ‘the greater state of Israel’. The Sunni Arab population of the Middle East will be caught between the ‘Jews in the Middle East and Iran in the Peninsula’.”

So why does Al-Qaeda want another war in the Middle East?

Says Bruce Riedel, one of the world’s foremost experts on terrorism: “Because it [Al-Qaeda] calculates an Israeli strike on Iran will prompt Iran to strike back against not only Israel but also the United States. Iran will attack American installations in the Gulf, encourage its proxies in Iraq and Afghanistan to attack Americans, and engage in a global terror campaign. In Lebanon, Hezbollah will start another war, raining missiles down on northern Israeli cities and towns and provoking Israeli airstrikes on Beirut and maybe even into Syria. Iran might even try to close the Strait of Hormuz and disrupt the global energy market. All this chaos and violence will make America even more unpopular in the Islamic world and open doors for Al-Qaeda to exploit. In this they are right, another war will be blamed on America rightly or wrongly. Al-Qaeda doesn’t really know if another war is in the making but it is almost certainly right that if it comes it will be good news for it.”

The scenario outlined in this complicated picture might appear to be far-fetched; however, it is entirely in the realm of possibility. As they say, in international politics there is no certainty.

(Source for the photo: News of AP Web site. All copyrights belong to the mentioned Web site.)

1 comment:

Sai Prasad J said...

It comes as a surprise to me that a hardcore Islamic organisation like the Al Qaeda sees an occupation by Iran(fellow Muslims) as being as undesirable as that by Israel..or that Saudi would let an 'infidel' nation attack one of its own...Why haven't the pundits of international politics considered exploiting this deep ideological schism within the 'ummah' to break the terror nexus...Or have they..Kindly enlighten,sir...
Also...what will be the ramifications of such an eventuality for India?