Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The New Great Game - Iran and Israel

Some interesting comments coming out of the Israeli state recently. Firstly, Gabi Ashkenazi believes Hezbullah may take over Lebanon if the Special Tribunal for Lebanon accuses members of the party in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al Hariri. This is an interesting statement to make, firstly because Israel had traditionally drawn a distinction between the Lebanese state and Hezbullah. Statements made over the past few years indicate that in future wars, Israel will no longer recognise that distinction and will target Lebanese infrastructure. A baffling statement if one considers the desctruction wrought in previous conflicts...

In another bit of news, the divided village of Ghajjar, long seen as a security gap by the Israelis, will now be withdrawn from. The Israeli army will only patrol the southern half whilst UNIFIL protects the northern side. There was also an announcement that Israel's missile and satellite defence network will be completed by 2015, ostensibly to protect the country from Iran. As for Egypt, Ashkenazi was quite vocal in his criticism of their inability to prevent smuggling into Gaza. Apparently Israeli intelligence believe Hamas now has missiles with a range of 80km, making Tel Aviv well within their range. It's quite likely that the Israelis are keeping a close eye on developments in Egypt as president Mubarak is now old and in frail health.

What is even more interesting is the fact that the Middle East is now the central stage for a new "Great Game", mirroring that which took place in central Asia during the nineteenth century. The implications for this "Game" are far-reaching. With regards to Lebanon, the Special Tribunal is largely considered to be politicised now, and is being used to add pressure to Hezbullah there, with the aim of keeping them distracted and on their toes. In Gaza, slow pressure is constantly being applied, but smuggling is proving to be remarkably successful. What is fascinating about the Gaza seige is the Iranian influence that has been growing in central Africa over the past five or six years. Eritrea is a hotbed for Israeli and Iranian intelligence, Iranian warships patrol off the horn of Africa and the coast of Yemen. Israel is good friends with Ethiopia and have a strong presence throughout the region. Recently an Israeli airstrike struck what is alleged to be an Iranian funded convoy delivering arms destined to be smuggled into Gaza.

Perhaps this would explain the recent "misunderstanding"that took place in Nigeria, where Manoushehr Moutaki, the Iranian foreign minister had to fly over following the discovery of containers containing Iranian weapons. Iran might be looking further afield in establishing smuggling routes. The ship with the weapons had been destined for The Gambia, although it is unclear what destination they were going to. On the map, we know Mauritania is close to The Gambia, and then we have the Western Sahara of Morrocco. One idea that comes to mind is that the Iranians, in promoting their ideology of standing by the Mustaza'afeen (the oppressed of the earth) might be helping the Polisario arm, thus putting pressure on the Morroccan kingdom. Morrocco recently had a diplomatic spat with Iran, cutting off ties because of alleged Shiite influences on the youth there. Impoverished Morrocco has particularly strong ties with the United States, Israel and Europe - most likely due to economic necessity. Still, this is far fetched and nobody has made any news or fuss about this. Then again, Western media routinely ignore the situation in the Western Sahara and that might be the trade off for Morroccan assistance elsewhere.

The other option is that the weapons were destined to be smuggled to Egypt and then on to Gaza via a tortuous and long route through the lawless and vast Sahara desert. It is far-fetched but crazy enough to work. Still, Chad is very much on the side of France, you have the issue of passing through Algeria and Libya too. There are far too many uncertainties and it is far too dangerous, making this very unlikely. Shipping these arms to Latin America is also a possibility but that introduces an entirely new set of problems. Overall, the destination of the shipment will remain a mystery, in the same way as the privateering of the Russian ship, the Arctic Sea a few years ago.

Expect this cat-and-mouse scenario to continue between these powers for at least another thirty years, incidentally the same amount of time that General Sir David Richards believed the war against al Qaeda might continue for, a war that he believes is unwinnable with the methods currently employed. The general advised that the best method to undermine this extremist threat he believes to exist will be in spreading "education and democracy". For a West that is currently weakened by the recurring economic crises that have befallen it, it is by far a cheaper option. The Israelis might also apply a similar approach, in tandem with the United States, with regards to Iran. Expect far more politicisation, music concerts for, and "concerned" coverage surrounding, democracy in the Islamic republic, and, of course, plenty more cloak-and-dagger business.

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