The entire Gulf region is right now on a high alert in the wake of the murder of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on November 27, 2020, allegedly by Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.
Iran has threatened to retaliate, in light of which the US has deployed its USS Nimitz carrier, armed with 60 fighter aircraft, in the Persian Gulf. Though, officially, the country has called this as deployment to provide security cover to its retreating forces from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Israel embassies, too, across the world have gone into a high alert. Although, even if Iran decides to retaliate, it is not expected to be ‘that damaging’, hence, it may not be a potential blow to the US, unless Russia and China come forward to help Iran.
Iran had traditionally been a Russian ally and it is Russia that has supported Iran to help the Bashar al-Assad regime to continue its tumultuous nine years in Syria. China has in July last entered into a $400 billion ‘military and trade’ deal with Iran, and to discourage any imminent support to the country from Russia and China, the US has accordingly, in a swift move on November 28, 2020, imposed sanctions on Chinese and Russian companies for supporting the Iranian missile program.
“The US has sanctioned four entities in China and Russia for their support of Iran’s missile program, which remains a significant proliferation concern. We will continue to use all our sanctions tools to prevent Iran from advancing its missile capabilities,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
The companies are Chengdu Best New Materials Co Ltd and Zibo Elim Trade Co, Ltd. in China, and Nilco Group and Santers Holding and Joint Stock Company Elecon in Russia for transferring sensitive technology and items to Iran’s missile program.
It can easily be understood that once the Chinese companies are imposed with sanctions, the companies which are involved in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will eventually feel the heat, and China’s ultimate project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), is likely to be choked, towards which the US, and ironically, India have long lobbied for.
The nations in business with such companies will be the next target and Pakistan will be the first to feel the heat of such retaliation. The US will then try to arm-twist Pakistan to provide its military bases for targeting Iran, which it most unlikely will not comply with. This will further invite sanctions on Pakistan on the account of flirting with the Chinese companies.
But, in this fast-changing situation, in a move to de-escalate the brewing scenario, former chief of the US’ Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, has labeled the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist as a “criminal” act that risks inflaming conflict in the region. He said he did not know who was to blame for the murder of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, as Tehran pointed its finger at Israel.
“This was a criminal act & highly reckless. It risks lethal retaliation & a new round of regional conflict,” Brennan said in a series of tweets. “I do not know whether a foreign government authorized or carried out the murder of Fakhrizadeh,” he said.
“Such an act of state-sponsored terrorism would be a flagrant violation of international law & encourage more governments to carry out lethal attacks against foreign officials,” he said. Brennan noted that Fakhrizadeh was not a designated terrorist nor a member of Al Qaeda or the Islamic State, designated terror groups which would be legal targets.
A strong critic of President Donald Trump, Brennan urged Tehran to “resist the urge” to retaliate and “wait for the return of responsible American leadership on the global stage,” a reference to President-elect Joe Biden, who will replace Trump on January 20, 2021.
As if the fluid situation in the Gulf region needed just a trigger which might develop into a full-blown war, a few days before the killing of the scientist, Iran had deployed its Shahid Roudaki, an aircraft carrier warship, in the Persian Gulf, in anticipation of the ‘cry-of-war’ from Israel-US, which had been lingering for a few years now.
But, a singled-out Iran, long considered a pariah by the Arab states as they always dreaded that Iran’s revolution of 1979 would come to their shores, is too small to be pitted against the mightiest army of the world. And a surprise might ensue only when Russia and China come to equip Iran, as the small Islamic nation had been the most vocal critic of the US imperialism in the Gulf region for 70 years.
There have also been reports that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia crown prince MBS was ‘very nervous’, as per Middle East Eye, when in his meeting with the Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu on November 23, 2020, the latter had suggested an airstrike against Iran, for the sake that the recent attacks on Saudi oil assets (which may have been Israel doing it through it proxies) were a ‘warning’ from Iran.
And secondly, he doubted the stance of US President-elect Joseph Biden who may first consider a de-escalation in the situation, something John Brennen has also suggested.
ABSOLUTELY rare Israeli flight direct to new Saudi mega-city Neom on Red Sea shore
It was Bibi's ex-fav bizjet t7-cpx. Back to Tel Aviv after 5 hours on ground pic.twitter.com/Ty9aedYbsK
— avi scharf (@avischarf) November 23, 2020
It may, however, be added that in the recent weeks, two US B52 bombers practiced a sortie from a base in North Dakota over the Gulf, involving other US combat and refueling aircraft, while Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller is currently on another trip to the Gulf, visiting US airbases in Bahrain and Qatar, all presumably, to “take stock of the impending war with Iran.”
The world now also awaits the crucial Russian and Chinese move vis-à-vis Iran.
The writer is a former State Information Commissioner, India. He is a media analyst and writes on international affairs.