Creating a worrying coalition
I appreciated your magazine’s focus last issue on the new US Defence Secretary Mark Esper’s perspective and aims with regards to Iran. To seize on one point, Esper’s observation that Iran’s primary military capabilities stem from aligned, Iranian-trained and funded proxy groups in the Middle East seems spot on. Iran’s impressive web of influence includes the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza, who are said to be providing Iran with information on Israel’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for a huge injection of cash. This international reach gives Iran both boots on the ground and operatives throughout the region, but also (barely) plausible deniability of indirect military and terrorist action, such as the recent drone attacks on the oil facilities of its main economic rival, Saudi Arabia.
With the economic squeeze of oil sanctions reported to be having a significant effect, and having driven Iran even closer to Beijing due to its now complete economic reliance on China’s oil purchases, are we seeing an Iran emboldened by desperation or by closer than ever ties with Russia and China? It doesn’t take a cynic to see the link between sanctions on Iranian oil, driving up the price of Saudi oil, and an Iran-affiliated attack on Saudi’s largest oil field, disrupting half of the state’s entire output.
Esper aims to force Iran back to the negotiating table and “talk about the way ahead”. Rouhani, however, has denied the possibility of talks while the US ‘maximum pressure’ campaign continues. If Iran manages to weather the sanctions, however, the US may just succeed in forcing Iran into the welcoming arms of Russia and China instead, creating a worrying coalition of America’s nuclear-armed enemies.
No simple process
I very much enjoyed reading the analyses in the article and editorial in your October issue, covering the ongoing process that is Brexit and what/how Asia can learn from the EU example.
As the story drags on, it is becoming ever more difficult to decide what is and is not democratic. But surely the process must fully involve the devolved legislatures of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, which adds another layer of complexity, as the former two voted in the majority to remain, while Wales and England voted to leave. Yet all powers now seem to have moved back to Westminster, with Scotland and Northern Ireland forced to go along with a process they did not choose.
A simple ‘stay/leave’ question this is not. Asia, take note.