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Defusing the Iranian Crisis

Vinod Saighal

Nobody doubts that in the Foreign Policy arena India has been punching below its weight, more so in the last few years. Call it inability to withstand US pressure or vote bank politics there have been major foreign policy blunders with regard to two neighbours with whom the country should have had the closest of relations. Reference is made to the vote against Iran at the IAEA in Vienna several years ago and the more recent vote in the UN Security Council relating to Sri Lanka. Both these ill-considered moves poured cold water on the comfort level and good relations with them. What is more in the global arena India’s standing was diminished when countries around the world, especially in the region felt that a country the size of India with its growing economic might was unable to stand firm in safeguarding its geo-political and geo-strategic interests. Its membership in several important global fora like BRICS and IBSA amongst others might not be able to undo the damage in a hurry unless it seizes the opportunity that has now come its way to resolve an intractable dispute. Reference is being made to Iran and its quest for a nuclear capability, be it peaceful or otherwise.
   Evidently the problem has festered for a long time and does not appear to be any nearer resolution. Iran has a formidable line up against it. Besides USA, Israel and the European Union several of the Sunni Arab kingdoms and sheikhdoms would be happy to see Iran’s nuclear potential defanged - by military strikes if necessary. Evidently the prime mover for a military strike remains Israel, regardless of the consequences to the region or the global economy, secure in the knowledge that in an election year the US has no choice but to back it to the hilt, should it choose to strike Iran’s nuclear assets in 2012 itself. The potential devastation and turmoil in the Gulf and the entire region has been highlighted extensively by commentators around the world. For the most part these commentators put emphasis on the disruption in oil supplies and escalating prices. What they have not spelled out in greater detail are the longer term consequences of the military strikes on practically every country surrounding Iran, whether friend or foe.
   To elaborate on the greater danger to the region from military strikes it needs to be reiterated that Iranians have been preparing against the eventuality of being hit by Israel-US weapon systems of the latest variety and lethality. The bulk of their facilities have gone deep underground to the extent that military experts in the countries that are likely to go in for the strikes concede that at best the Iranian nuclear program can be retarded by up to a decade. It cannot be crippled. To cause severe damage Israel and the US would have to use massive bunker-buster munitions. In actual fact these might turn out to be mini-nukes or contain enough nuclear elements to contaminate the surroundings for a long time to come. Such contamination would extend to a radius of several hundred kilometers in all directions extending to most of the Arab countries, Israel itself, Turkey, Central Asian Republics, Pakistan and the north-western portions of India. It is an aspect that should alarm the countries that would suffer collateral radiation damage of varying intensities. This damage would be in addition to the crippling economic damage of very high oil prices that could extend from a few months to a few years. The dust cloud of the nuclear contaminated debris would circle the latitudes for a long time, adding to global warming and climate change - actions resulting from willful damage to the globe. The US being oceans away is not going to be overly worried about the nuclear-irradiated fallout. Others should take heed.
Russia and China have not gone along with the US on any military option, nor would they condone it. However, they are unlikely to go beyond condemnation of the US–Israel action. The subcontinent-sized country India is nowhere in the reckoning, largely ignored by the powers that be, with an occasional pat on the back for its subservience.
This is not only surprising, it is inexplicable. Both countries Iran and Israel are of overriding economic, military, geo-political and geo-strategic concern to India. This fact being evident need not be spelled out. Likewise, India is very important for the well being of Iran and Israel. India is a weak player on the global stage due to lack of clarity of purpose and a competent, self-assured leadership that could propel the country to the front ranks.  Even in its semi-comatose state should it decide to assert itself neither of the two countries under discussion would be able to ignore India’s efforts at bringing about reconciliation over an outcome that could jeopardize the future of both of them as well as the region.
What can India bring to the table for the resolution of the impasse that is at variance from the purely western backed initiatives? The foremost asset that it has besides its future potential as a global player and a rising economic power is a mutually beneficial relationship that can lead to greater economic prosperity for both Israel and Iran. Not being a military light weight by any stretch of imagination India can contribute substantially to their security in the region. The deep centuries old relations between Iran and India and in the case of Israel between Jews and the Indic populations favor India’s ability to bring about reconciliation; if not reconciliation, certainly lessening of tensions and the rejection of military solution.
The UK's Guardian recently interviewed “current and former US and European officials with access to intelligence on Iran,” and concluded that the United States, its European allies, and even Israel, agree that Tehran is probably years away from having a deliverable nuclear warhead. (“Nuclear watchdog chief accused of pro-Western bias over Iran,” Julian Borger, The Guardian, March 22, 2012).
Hardly any expert on the subject having opined that Iran’s credible nuclear weapons capability is around the corner the need to bomb away, right away does not make sense. Therefore, the military strike can and must be put on the backburner as much can happen in the Middle East and the world in the coming years.        
          Starting with Iran, being its very close geographical neighbour and a big consumer of its energy output, India should interact with top Iranian leaders to persuade them to retract or modify their extremely provocative statements relating to the holocaust or Israel’s right to exist. The retraction by itself, perhaps grudgingly made might not suffice. Privately Iranian leaders must assure India that they would stop bankrolling and arming the Hezbollah in Lebanon. The reward for a change of this nature in the Iranian approach would lie in the future. India would take an independent position on Iran de-linked from the US-European position. With China and Russia already taking an independent stand, India’s decision to do the same would change the equation in a major way.
Coming to Israel, India has enormous leverage on that country that goes way beyond the heightened military and economic relations that have developed since the opening of diplomatic relations between them. As already mentioned, there is deep affinity at the people-to-people level. Israeli tourists visit India in large numbers and feel at home, more than they do in any other country. These relations can only go from strength to strength unless Israeli belligerence, throwing caution to the winds ignores friend and foe. Taking a long-term view, the strengthening of this relationship can play a very major role in adding to Israel’s security in the region. The only assurance that India would require from Israel at this stage would be to forgo the military option. Israel, for all its tantrums is not in a position to ignore India’s friendly persuasion.
In the light of the foregoing India’s role for stabilizing the situation in West Asia between Israel and Iran is cut out. Delay, prevarication or self- doubt would be disastrous if not fatal for the region.

New Delhi, April 20, 2012



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