Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Diplomacy of Discord

The River War

In my last post, I showed Iran's tactical game play in the Mid East, particularly with regards to Israel. But supposing the Iranian Navy were able to enter the Red Sea, what then?

There are no numbers yet, but several reports cite Muslim Brotherhood (MB) activists among the protesters. With the uprisings intensifying this Friday just gone, the involvement of the mosques seems all the more plausible.

But so what. So what if the MB takes power and gains a significant power-sharing position in any future government. There is a possibility that it would respect peace accords with Israel, with the benefit of reaping US aid (reportedly in the region of $1.5 billion annually). But that's not what we saw from Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Of course, Hamas are in the pockets of the Iranians. They were not reliant on US aid for their survival. But US aid isn't the only thing Egypt has.

The quotation at the outset of this post is from a book written in 1899. While Egypt's greatest resource might no longer be the Nile, substitute the word 'Nile', with 'Suez' and you might be getting onto the right track.

In 1956 and '67, wars between Egypt and Israel were fought over the Suez Canal; a vital shipping artery for oil to Europe and the US. But even more than this, Egypt also possesses unique geographical relations to Saudi Arabia, and borders Sudan and Libya (all 3 countries with oil). But not only this, if we're to believe the reports that the Muslim Brotherhood is taking advantage of the recent coup in Tunisia (which neighbours Libya from its other side), and considering Iran has been funding insurgents in Yemen (to the south of Saudi Arabia), this makes Egypt prime real estate, enveloping two countries (Libya and Saudi Arabia) which means killing more than two birds with one stone.

So, would Iran attempt to take over the Suez Canal, especially considering Israel's decisive wins in both conflicts?

Iran wouldn't need to be in control of the Suez, in order to wreck havoc and affect oil prices. Iran has invested in remote controlled, naval warfare vessels (speed boats) which could easily attack oil-tankers.
"IRNA said Zolfaqar was a new generation missile-launching vessel which can be used for patrol as well as for attack operations.
"It is designed for quick assaults on ships and is equipped with two missile launchers, two machine guns and a computer system to control the missiles," the report said."

When looking at the history of conflicts between Israel and Egypt, they have always been in Israel's favour. But not so with Iran-backed Hezbollah. In 2006 Israel fought a disastrous campaign against Hezbollah, in which Israel attempted to quash Hezbollah almost exclusively from the air. While Hezbollah is not a traditional army fighting to hold, or take, a specific territory, it nevertheless managed to entice the Israelis to overwhelm Hezbollah with sheer power. An act that resulted in Israel's munition supplies being depleted after only one month. And when looking at Israel and Hezbollah's encounter before this, the Lebanon War, it lasted from 1982-2000. A full eighteen years of conflict.But Israel has now improved its military once more, thanks to chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and these encounters with Hezbollah have become hard lessons.

This just goes to show Iran seems to be hoping to extend this method of warfare to other regions. To digress briefly, these are classic tactics based on Sun Tzu's The Art of War. A three thousand year old text from China about all things strategic. How Islamists got a hold of this is more than likely during the Cold War, when the Communists backed various Arab regimes.

But there are several other examples of how Iran has successfully employed asymmetrical warfare, and against a rival even more powerful than Israel, the US.

In Iraq, Iran funded rival Sunni and Shia insurgents, not only for the purposes of keeping the US bogged down in conflict, but as a psychological tactic to demoralise US public opinion back home. Something the left in the US has only been too willing to oblige.

In Nigeria, Iran has been happy to help fund jihadists there. So Iran has no problem funding Sunnis, it doesn't even have issues supporting and training non-Muslims how to fight. If it serves their purposes. As Sun Tzu says, war is an extension of policy. The best way to get what you want is not to even lift a finger; let someone else do it for you. This we saw in Vietnam, in Afghanistan against the Soviets and in the war on terror.

The best example of these principles applied, is Bevin Alexander's How Wars Are Won: The 13 Rules of War from Ancient Greece to the War on Terror

So to return to our original premise, Iran doesn't need to posses the Suez Canal, should the US or its allies allow Iran to reach it, nor does it need to posses Egypt, in the traditional sense. As long as it fuels chaos from there and creates instability, it is only a matter of waiting while it bides its time, waiting for others to wear themselves down.

With regards to Israel, it is considerably more restrained after having been impeded from pursuing its aims with Iran by the Obama administration. Israel has to contend with Hezbollah, Syria and possibly Turkey in the north; Hamas in Gaza, and potential uprisings to Israel's East (West Bank, Jordan). Lastly, it seems from within, Israel's left are attempting to coordinate uprisings from Israel's Arab community, as they have done for well over a decade.

Israel's current leadership is more competent than any other having served within the last few decades. It has seen many intifadas and peace processes, and in the last few months Benjamin Netanyahu has shown himself to be particularly adept at negotiating more time with Obama's suicidal peace policies. What Israel must be aware of now, is not rushing into provocations, nor attempt to win wars with overwhelming force, especially when it has to consider Barak Obama's indolence where Iran is concerned.

The next few hours will be crucial...

Update 1/31/11: "Egyptian intelligence chief and newly [July 2009] appointed Vice President Omar Soliman told then-Central Command commander Gen. David Petraeus, “’we hope Iran will stop supporting Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and other cells’ within Egypt … ‘but if not we are ready.’”" Washington Times

Update 2/4/2011: Shippers concerned over Suez Canal vulnerability

Update 16/2/2011: Classic Sun Tzu ambush, taking things in a new direction: Iranian Warships in Med A Serious Provocation say Israel

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