Gulf crises and Pakistan

The escalation of war in gulf region can herald catastrophic consequences not only for the Arab world but also for Pakistan

The Houthis rebels of Yemen have fired a third ballistic missile but it was countered successfully by the Saudi armed forces through its effective system. This third missile was fired at the time when US president Donald Trump announced its plan of transferring its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.The Yemen crisis can trigger a war amongst the Arab world, which is already divided. If such crisis transpire, Pakistan must have oil storage capacity of at least thirty days.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger two months ago stated that Israel would further widen its territorial influence. Political pundits had also feared that after the Arab spring revolution, there was a likelihood that due to the internal strife, Arab countries’ hostility would intensify and they could be at loggerheads with one another.

God forbid, this dismal scenario would also entail repercussions for a country like Pakistan because the alliance of US, UK, Israel and India would further gain strength and one cannot rule out the possibility of Indian attack on Pakistan’s territory. On the other hand, Iran sees Pakistan as directly and indirectly under the thumb of its enemies i.e. Saudi Arabia and the US.  Accordingly, Iran is providing India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. Hence developing confidence and cooperation between Iran and Pakistan is essential.

The escalation of war in gulf region, therefore, can herald catastrophic consequences not only for the Arab world but also for Pakistan. The law enforcement agencies and security institutions in Pakistan should have a plan in case if war gets triggered in the region. In such case, the problem of oil supplies and the blockage of trade routes through sea would have to be dealt by the law enforcement agencies in an efficacious manner.

At present, the entire Islamic world is divided into two blocs: Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Jordan, Egypt, UAE and Morocco would forge an armed alliance with the support of USA and UK whereas Syria, Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Hezbollah would form an alliance to fight against each other. Such division in the Islamic world would ultimately prove to be vantage point for Israel and India. The recent missile attacks by the Houthi rebels including the attack on Riyadh International Airport manifest that the hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iran would further intensify because the Houthi rebels are being supported by Iran and the Yemen government is being supported by the Saudi government. Political experts say that Iran is not only financially supporting the Houthi rebels but also supplying weapons to them whereas on the other hand US and Pentagon have already announced its support unequivocally for the Saudi government against Iran.

The crown prince of Saudi Arabia Muhammad Bin Salman is at present considered to be one of the most influential personalities. He has actively taken charge over the economic affairs of the country and also taken control over the influential Saudi clerics council which plays a pivotal role in the decision-making of political affairs.It is due to his influence that Saudi Arabia has taken aggressive stance and at present the Saudi armed forces have enveloped the entire Yemen state in order contain the supplies of weapons being provided to the Houthi rebels. Definitely, soon Iran would raise this issue before the UN as a major concern towards human rights abuse.

So Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE and Egypt could form an alliance in the future akin to what we witnessed in 1990 when operation desert storm was launched to fight Iraqi forces in Kuwait.To further strengthen the alliance, there could be an inclusion of Lebanon, (if Sunnis in Lebanon gain an upper hand) in order to counter Iran and Hezbollah. This could also pave the way for Israel to launch an attack on Hezbollah and in counter offensive Hezbollah, with the support of Iran and Syria would also attack Israel armed forces through missile attacks and rocket launchers.

Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE and Egypt may form an alliance in the future akin to what we witnessed in 1990 when operation desert storm was launched to fight Iraqi forces in Kuwait. To further strengthen the alliance, there could be an inclusion of Lebanon, in order to counter Iran and Hezbollah

The Saudi-Iranian power struggle predates Muhammad bin Salman, which can be traced back to the 1979 Islamic revolution. Saudi Arabia views Iran as a historical and ethnic foe and a Shia rival challenging Saudi leadership of the Sunni-Muslim world. Iran’s long-term goal is to upset a status quo effectively guaranteed by the United States. Its short-term goal is to take advantage of the consequences of the Iraq war and the Arab Spring to spread its influence and reach out to Shia communities across the region. Baghdad, Damascus, Sanaa, and Beirut, now reside in the Iranian camp. Saudi Arabia leads the conservative Arab states, although the steady rise of Muhammad bin Salman means that these populations are now being offered a (although non-democratic) reformed path. For the 32-year-old Muhammad bin Salman, dealing with Iran is as important as transforming the Saudi economy and, under the cover of an anti-corruption campaign, it seems he is sorting out royal rivalries.

Since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the traditional centres of power in the Arab world — Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have been nervous about the growing influence of Iran: its nuclear ambitions, its sway over the Iraqi government, its support for the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas, and its alliance with Syria. The conflict with Iran further intensified after the 2011 Arab uprisings.

Saudi leaders became especially nervous when the Arab revolutions spread to Bahrain, a Shi’ite-majority country ruled by a Sunni monarchy only 26km from the Eastern province, the oil-rich area where a large segment of the population is Shi’ite. The Saudis accused Iran of supporting the Bahrain uprising, and in 2011 sent more than 1,000 troops to help crush the pro-democracy movement there

Instead of viewing Yemen as a poor peripheral country of little importance, the princes of the House of Saud seem to see the present turbulent situation in Yemen of strategic importance. As long as the regional proxy war with Iran continues, Yemen will remain a key theatre for that war, and a vital piece of Muhammad bin Salman’s regional ambitions.

Can this latest crisis escalate into a military-confrontation-war between Iran and Saudi Arabia? The possibility of another gulf war cannot be ruled out as already both the countries are up against each other in proxy wars.


The writer is a constitutional and human rights lawyer

Published in Daily Times, January 2nd 2018.