For Israel, the failure to oust the Iran and Hezbollah-aligned Syrian government has arguably marked the last nail in the coffin for the hyper-aggressive ‘Yinon Plan’ style geostrategic strategy it employed from the early 80s. However, Israel’s new path forward toward its unachieved goals – mainly, bringing down Iran is already under-way and new states may soon find themselves directly relevant to Israeli ambitions.
Yemen is one such state, and Pakistan may become one soon as well in the future.
The GCC and Israel’s interests dovetail in Yemen – with Iran still the target
According to leaks in 2016 to the Israeli media from Israeli security circles, the two also signed a covert memorandum in 2014 on joint military cooperation in several regions of strategic interest which included joint drills on two Red Sea islands Egypt had handed over to the Saudis.
The move by Egypt, which in 2013 saw a military coup with the Saudis’ blessing and support establish the rule of highly pro-Saudi military man Abdel Fattah al Sisi, came during Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz’s visit to Egypt in April of 2016 and was followed mere days later by the leaks regarding the 2014 MoU. Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon had publicly approved of the deal immediately, stating that Israel and Egypt’s 1979 Camp David accord was not violated by Egypt transferring the islands of Sanafir and Tiran to the Saudis.
Iran has not been proven to be materially involved in the Yemen War, and indeed it has denied such allegations whilst providing public statements in favour of the Ansarullah faction (known often as the ‘Houthis’, and followers of Zaydism and not Twelver Shi’ism as is often assumed). This does not, however, mean the Yemen War is not of great importance to it for a number of reasons that should bear heavily in the minds of the Iranian leadership.
Iran’s capability to block the Strait of Hormuz chokepoint, through which 40% of the world’s oil and gas shipments pass from GCC states have to pass through en route to the rest of the world, in the scenario of an attack on itself has made the prospects of an Iran invasion perilous enough to prevent the US trying to do it. Utilizing its ballistic missiles against the Gulf Arab states’ water desalination plants on the coast as well as their ports and off-shore pipelines is also a deadly last-resort route Iran could take if faced with an invasion. Attacking Iran would rapidly take down not only the GCC with it, but also cripple industry, transport and essentially modern life the world over thus making many countries genuinely invested in preventing war with Iran.
The preoccupation of Saudi Arabia and Israel – as well as the UAE – with Yemen becomes clearer in lieu of this. The wide and expansive coastline of Yemen on the Gulf of Aden, opening into the Arabian Sea, provides an ideal location for the GCC states to build modern ports and redirect the energy shipments they, especially the Saudis, rely on so much for their wealth away from having to use the Strait of Hormuz to enter global shipping routes. This would weaken Iran’s trump card in the event of an invasion and make it less economically unfeasible for the USA – still pushed virtually perpetually by Israel via its lobby to attack Iran regardless of the consequences – and any willing partners to invade it.
The Red Sea islands being handed over to the Saudis was thus likely part and parcel of the behind-the-scenes Israeli-Saudi planning centered around Yemen. The Saudi intervention in Yemen starting in March of 2015 – characterized by indiscriminate bombing of civilian infrastructure and a blockade on the country causing a mass starvation crisis – has been openly blessed by Benjamin Netanyahu who claimed in typically irrational fashion that Iran intended to ‘block the straits of Bab al Mandeb’. The reason behind the lazy suggestion was obvious; to create a pretext for Israel’s involvement in Yemen by raising the spectre of the Iran bogeyman. Israel has also trained mercenaries used by the GCC in Yemen.
Despite Ansarullah not having any working relations with the Iranians (or being able to, given the blockade), their despising of Zionism is evident in their rhetoric and their resistance mentality strongly parallels that of Iran. Israel’s Bab al Mandeb concerns instead have Ansarullah, which possesses ballistic missiles, at their epicentre regardless of Iran.
The GCC’s aggression covering those straits and focusing on key Yemeni ports is hence of obvious benefit to the Israelis and ties in perfectly to the closer understanding established with Israel vis-à-vis the Red Sea, itself a highly important waterway for global shipping. Securing Yemen with a pro-GCC, pro-Israel status quo would not only enable the utilization of the Yemeni coastline to divert GCC shipping away from the Strait of Hormuz but would also create a situation where Israel and the GCC could, under one pretext or the other, shut off the access of Iranian ships to the Red Sea. This would stop them reaching the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal and onward to the European markets some in the Iranian government seem to still entertain hopes about tapping into. Such red lines are not something the Israelis are unwilling to cross, and Iran knows it.
Using Pakistani Balochistan to destabilize Iran – a plan no Zionist could resist
The game to secure Yemen and the broader Gulf of Aden and to militarize the important shipping routes is clearly on. But, as Israel and the GCC work toward making Iran more attack-able through their ventures in Yemen, another potential front for stoking conflict with Iran lays beyond what is typically considered the Middle East region.
A look at Pakistan’s 900 km long, poorly-manned border with Iran would tempt Israeli strategists to compliment their Yemen strategy seeking to neutralize Iran’s Strait of Hormuz trump card in the event of war with a heated up Balochistan front as well.
The mostly barren and open region, in the event of Pakistani complicity in such designs, could replicate the utility that the Turkish and western Iraqi fronts served Israel, the US and the GCC when they threw the kitchen sink at the Syrian government. Baloch separatist groups, with a very small population to draw recruitment from, would be a more potent weapon with states at their back capable of and known for using mercenary proxies.
In what is an under-highlighted phenomenon in South and West Asian geopolitics, the Balochistan region is not only the scene of anti-Iranian terrorist groups supported by the Israelis but a much larger and more active role by India in supporting Baloch separatists against Pakistan. India’s close ties military-strategic ties with Israel, as described in a recent article by Robert Fisk, and India’s proactive strategic understanding with the US vis-à-vis ‘containing’ China from the naval and military perspective weigh heavier than its economic relations with Iran and it could be a serious asset in destabilizing Balochistan.
Pakistan and Iran’s overlapping security interests and the India-Israel factor
While Pakistan is not complicit in anti-Iranian terrorism which utilizes its wild territory – albeit a few emotional Iranian generals claimed so days after the 13 February murder of 27 IRGC by Takfiri groups – it has not shown signs of recognizing the potential destabilization of the region by highly powerful anti-Iranian actors. While Pakistan has made visible efforts in the past despite its preoccupation with the Indian and Afghan fronts to act against such groups on its soil, such as helping Iran capture the chief of MOSSAD-backed Jundullah in 2010, it seems oblivious to the possibility that the GCC, with whom it shares close ties, would likely choose Israel and the US over Pakistani concerns in deciding to use Balochistan against Iran.
Pakistan also recently rescued 4 abducted Iranian soldiers after locating and attacking a hideout Jundullah’s successor Jaish al Adl was holding them in. The terrorists, who had entered Pakistan from the Afghan border with the Iranian guards captive, had kidnapped 12 IRGC in October last year of which 5 were previously freed by Pakistan in November. Notably, the rescue came days after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had promised Iran of ‘good news’ over a week ago.
Iran has itself been somewhat guilty of ‘sleeping on the job’ when it comes to Balochistan’s security. Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadav was discovered and captured by Pakistani security services in March 2016 when he crossed the Iran border into Pakistani Balochistan. Tasked with supporting Baloch separatists – who India openly supports and provides a wealth of curiously Hindi-speaking ‘Baloch’ Twitter accounts to advocate for – as well as sectarian groups targeting Pakistani Shias, Yadav had operated out of Chabahar, Iran, under the cover of a businessman with an authentic Indian passport bearing a fake, Muslim-sounding name.
Iran did not back up India’s immediate claims Yadav was an innocent man kidnapped from Iranian territory and considering its eagerness to get the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline underway it is difficult to theorize that it would agree to destabilizing the region. It is obvious enough Iran was not complicit in his activities. Iran however, has not raised the issue with India thus far and instead chosen to repeatedly invoke Saudi Arabia’s alleged involvement on the Pakistani side.
Iran’s decision to verbally pressurize the Pakistani side and shoehorn the Saudis into the Balochistan issue rather than take the issue of Yadav up with India could potentially engender suspicions on the Pakistani side. It represents, for Pakistanis in the post-Yadav capture scenario, an Iranian posture demanding Pakistan do its bit yet ignoring its own duties despite Iran’s generally shrewd and sensible stance on security issues.
Moreover, Iran seems oblivious of the reasons for the US offering sanctions waivers to India for its investments in Iran which involve operating the Chabahar Port and building transport infrastructure to supply its goods to Afghanistan and beyond. India, the USA’s ‘100 year-long partner’, quite obviously does not choose economies such as Iran and Afghanistan for such large and long-term investments based on them being ideal investment environments – far from it. It seeks, instead, hegemony over Pakistan, especially in Afghanistan’s affairs.
India, who received a bloody nose in the aerial dogfights between itself and Pakistan that took off after its ‘surgical strikes’ debacle (airstrikes it claimed killed many ‘terrorists’ but in truth struck trees and rocks) in the early hours of 25 February, has been alleged by Pakistani government officials to have been plotting launch missiles at it in a joint strike with Israel.
An Iran on adequately high alert would immediately question why its biggest rivals, whose policies toward attempting to cripple its economy and especially its energy exports are as aggressive as they come, have found such agreement with India’s Iran-Afghanistan trade corridor. More importantly, Iran not extending its clear understanding of where US hostility toward it emanates from – the Israel Lobby – and thus demanding explanations of Israel’s Indian partner regarding its activities in Balochistan represents folly on its part. The possibility that leftover networks and contacts Yadav facilitated contribute to anti-Iran groups alongside the anti-Pakistan ones should be startling for the IRGC.
Mutual requirements necessitating a closer Iran-Pakistan understanding
As the author outlines in this analysis of Pakistan-Iran relations, the uncanny Israeli lobby influence on the US Treasury Department’s sanctions offices means that Israel despite its long history of advocating the toughest sanctions on Iran has made an exception for India’s trade corridor there. Knowing Israel, whose officially registered lobby on Capitol Hill AIPAC authored the first sanctions on Iran in the 90s to begin with, Israel not attempting to render Chabahar Port devoid of partners signals that it sees advantage in a powerful Indian presence in the vital Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
A powerful India with strategic depth in Afghanistan and Balochistan would be good for Israel and the US and bad for both Pakistan and Iran.
India’s own Afghanistan ambitions involve using its close ties to the US-backed Kabul regime to foster anti-Pakistan Baloch separatist groups there, and India’s state, media and political spectrum have already demonstrated with their recent brinkmanship with Pakistan that they make it an ideally aggressive partner for Israel in the region.
While it refused to become part of the GCC’s war on Yemen in 2015, Pakistan does not demonstrate cognizance of the extent of the involvement of the GCC in Middle East turmoil which has its origins rooted in Tel Aviv.
Managing to increase Iranian insecurity in the Persian Gulf region simultaneously with bolstering anti-Iranian groups in Balochistan – and targeting Pakistan as well – would be a gain for the Israelis possibly big enough to offset their failures in the Levant
The survival-oriented Iranian leadership, whose Resistance approach has strengthened it in the Middle East with several strategic victories, would do well to constructively engage the more economy-focused Pakistani government and ensure that the GCC – major investors in Pakistan – faces stiff refusal by the Pakistani side to use Balochistan against Iran.
The Pakistani military, which began the process of enhancing ties with the Iranians following the Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa’s visit to Tehran in November 2017, more enshrines the survival mentality that Iran would ideally look for in a partner to keep the Balochistan front under close watch. Its own vast experience with counter-terror and counter-insurgency, accumulated through the multiple operations launched against Takfiri groups that once plagued its northwest and the region bordering Afghanistan, would be an asset to the Iranians if more tactful rhetoric is applied by the latter toward Pakistan.
Iran and Pakistan’s mutual duties in organizing their priorities toward ensuring security thus parallel one another; Iran must acknowledge the close ties of India with Israel and Pakistan must acknowledge the close ties of the GCC with Israel even though the GCC is not involved in Balochistan and Afghanistan the way India is yet.
Managing to increase Iranian insecurity in the Persian Gulf region simultaneously with bolstering anti-Iranian groups in Balochistan – and targeting Pakistan as well – would be a gain for the Israelis possibly big enough to offset their failures in the Levant. To deny them the chance to do so is vital for both Iran and Pakistan.