The Drone Controversy - US Bullies Iran
The bottom line is that Iran is becoming a role model for the Persian Gulf region,
The manner in which Tehran handled its drone deal with Russia has been somewhat clumsy. The fact that the first 'leak' on this topic originated from none other than President Biden's National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan should have alerted Tehran that something sinister was afoot.
Instead, for whatever reasons, Tehran went into a flat denial mode. And now in a turnaround, we are given to understand that Iran's denial was factually correct, albeit not wholly true in content. Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has acknowledged that the "drone part is true, and we provided Russia with a small number of drones months before the Ukraine war."
The minister added the caveat that "This fuss made by some Western countries, that Iran has provided missiles and drones to Russia to help the war in Ukraine — the missile part is completely wrong."
Howsoever good Iran's drone technology might be, it has not been a game changer for Russia in the war in Ukraine. Russia's own missile capability is surprising even the western experts who had predicted months ago that it was "running out" of its inventory. In fact, the missile strikes may continue until Ukraine collapses and the West has no meaningful interlocutor left in Kiev's rubble.
Russia and Iran seem to have gotten mired in controversy unnecessarily. What seems to have happened is that just as Iran did reverse engineering on US' drone technology, Russians also did a good job to remake the Iranian kamikaze drones that were in its inventory prior to the special military operation in Ukraine. Kiev now says, after examining the debris of the Russian drones that it shot down, that they had Ukrainian parts, too!
It stands to reason that the Russian defence industry picked something from Iran's technology, something else from Ukraine's, and came up with a startling "Russian model". That probably explains the sophistry in Moscow' consistent stance that it didn't use Iranian drones.
Amirabdollahian revealed that Iran offered to explain the situation to Ukrainian authorities and a meeting was even set up in Poland to clear the misunderstanding and restore Iran's diplomatic ties with Kiev, but the Americans got it scuttled. Evidently, the US is not interested in a normalisation of Ukraine-Iran relations. Israel too would have an interest in keeping Iran at arm's length from Kiev. The US and Israel would apprehend that a strong Iranian diplomatic presence in Kiev might work to Russia's advantage.
Be that as it may, Amirabdollahian's candid admission will have consequences. Iran possibly got carried away by the exhilarating feeling that a superpower stooped to source its military technology, and furthermore, relished the high publicity its drones received — not to mention the embarrassment caused to Ukraine's western patrons who watched helplessly when the Russian drones created panic on such a scale.
However, belatedly, Iran realised the potential political and diplomatic fallout. In reality, all this "fuss," as Amirabdollahian put it, stems from Tehran's refusal to sign the EU draft nuclear agreement at Vienna, which infuriated Brussels and Washington, dashing their hopes that Iranian oil would come to the rescue of Europe by replacing the Russian oil imports that are being terminated w.e.f December 5.
Again, Iran's increased oil production was what the US was counting on to introduce tensions within the OPEC and split the cartel.
According to a Spiegel report, Germany and eight other EU states have put together a new package of sanctions against Iran in Brussels on Wednesday, which contains 31 proposals targeting officials and entities in Iran connected with security affairs as well as companies, for their alleged "violence and repressions" in Iran. The alibi is human rights violations.
Evidently, the West has reverted to its bullying tactic. President Biden has pledged to "free Iran" from its present political system — although the Americans know from past experience that public protests are nothing unusual for Iran but regime change remains a pipe dream.
Why is the West resuscitating the "Iran question" at this point? There are two underlying reasons — perhaps, three. One is, Benjamin Netanyahu's victory in the Israeli election last Sunday virtually guarantees that Israel's existential rivalry with Iran is once again in the centre stage of West Asian politics. Without that happening, Netanyahu will come under pressure to address the core issue in West Asia, namely, the Palestinian problem.
As things stand, the "Iran question" will return to the centre stage of West Asian politics. There is a congruence of interests between Tel Aviv and Washington on that score at a time when there is going to be some friction inevitably in the US-Israel relations, as the racist anti-Arab Religious Zionism alliance, Netanyahu's latest coalition parters, contains elements that the US once regarded as terrorists. Whipping up frenzy over Iran comes handy for both Israel and the US.
But on the other hand, Netanyahu is realistic enough to know that it will be suicidal for Israel to attack Iran militarily without American support and second, that the Biden Administration has not yet entirely given up hope on a nuclear deal with Iran.
Therefore, in the event of the midterms radically changing the profile of the Congress to the detriment of the Biden Administration, trust Netanyahu to insert the Iran nuclear issue as a key template of US domestic politics and the US-Israel relations.
A second factor is the trajectory of the war in Ukraine. Although the proxy war is in the home stretch and the US and NATO are staring at the defeat and destruction of Ukraine, the Biden Administration cannot simply walk away in humiliation, since this is Europe and not the Hindu Kush, and the fate of the western alliance system is at a crossroads.
Most certainly, US troops have appeared on Ukrainian soil and they can only be regarded as an "advance party." Will Ukraine turn out to be another Syria, with the regions to the west of the Dnieper River — "the Rump" denuded of natural resources — coming under US occupation so that its NATO allies in the periphery do not jump into the fray of dormant ethnic tensions inherited from history to carve out their pieces out of the carcass? Or, will a US-led "coalition of the willing" be preparing to actually fight the Russian forces in eastern and southern Ukraine?
Either way, the point is, the strategic ties developing between Iran and Russia will remain a focal point for the West, Amirabdollahian's "clarification" notwithstanding. It is only natural that in the conditions under sanctions, Russia's external relations are in the cross-hairs of the US. Iran has a stellar record of rubbishing the "maximum pressure" strategy.
Put differently, having Iran as an ally will be a strategic asset for Russia in a multipolar setting. Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union have decided to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement while Tehran is also working out swap deals involving Russian oil. Simply put, Europeans can keep their SWIFT for whatever it is worth and that is not going to make any difference to Russia or Iran — and the rest of the world is watching this happening in real time, especially in Iran's neighbourhood where oil is traded in dollars.
By now it is also clear to the US and its allies that JCPOA or no JCPOA, the overarching tilt toward Russia and China is Tehran's version of the Israeli Iron Dome, in diplomacy. The bottom line is that Iran is becoming a role model for the Persian Gulf region, as is evident from the queue lengthening for membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, even as the parallel track of the Abraham Accords has disappeared in the endorheic basin of the Arabian Peninsula.
Cover Photograph: A police officer inspects parts of a drone at the site of a Russian strike on fuel storage facilities, Kharkiv, Ukraine, Oct 6, 2022
Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar retired from the Indian Foreign Service.