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Bomb, Bomb, Bomb... Iran!

LAHORE:Prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Republic of Iran existed in a fragile condition, ravaged by sanctions and a brutal war that claimed the lives of a million citizens, along with the destruction of vital economic infrastructure (oil refineries), making the country severely dependent on Europe. At the time, Iran's sphere of influence existed only in Syria and parts of Lebanon, posing no threat to the hegemony of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Israel in the Middle East.

However, to the 'shock and awe' of the Saudis, operation Iraqi Freedom came as a godsend for the Persians. It laid the groundwork for the resurgence of the theocratic State, allowing the creation of a "Shia crescent", that has sent shockwaves across Riyadh and Tel Aviv.

In less than two decades, following the American invasion, the Iranians have gained complete control of Iraq. In Yemen, they have dethroned the pro-Saudi government while capturing significant territory through the Houthis, using it as a base to launch missiles into KSA. Also, with the help of Russia, Iran has decimated the Islamic State and Saudi-backed insurgencies, cementing its position in Syria, a strategically important area vis-a-vis Israel. Through Hezbollah, Iran remains the dominant player in Lebanon, as pro-Saudi elements lose ground. In addition, Saudi heavy-handedness has pushed Qatar to ally itself with Iran while Iranian support of the Muslim Brotherhood has given it a foothold in Egypt. Lastly, even in Bahrain, the majority Shia population is revolting against the Saudi-backed government, with assistance from Iran.

This alarming shift in the balance of power in the Middle East, has ironically led to an unholy alliance between the Wahabi monarchy and a Jewish democracy

This alarming shift in the balance of power in the Middle East, has ironically led to an unholy alliance between the Wahabi monarchy and a Jewish democracy. It is driving the current Iran-centric Saudi and Israeli policy. The two countries are secretly coordinating their actions as evidenced in a leaked cable of the Israeli foreign ministry, setting aside decades of enmity. To date all their attempts, both diplomatic and militaristic, have been unable to thwart the expansion of Iran across the region.

After failing to prevent the rise of Iran in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen while facing increased resistance in Egypt and Bahrain, the divided house of Saud is seemingly embarking on a dangerous strategy to confront Iran directly. A brazen attack on the Iranian Parliament last year, was the first example of a change in strategy, converting a proxy war, into a direct confrontation. Iran's reply came a few months later, as Houthis from Yemen fired missiles over Riyadh. Both of the above events represent a dangerous and dramatic escalation, unseen in recent decades.

In addition, the KSA has launched the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) or "Islamic NATO". A Sunni Army, created for one purpose: to fight Iran. Worrying for Pakistanis is the fact that the most important contributor to IMCTC, will be the Pakistan Army. Therefore, the Saudis moved swiftly to appoint former General Raheel Sharif as its head. Recent news of a brigade being dispatched to the Kingdom, is further evidence of the preparation for a war and the significance of the Pakistan Army in any war.

The Saudis received further impetus for their plans, following the election of Donald Trump. Trump sanctioned a massive weapons deal that was put on hold by the previous US President, Barack Obama. Also, Israel's government is lobbying the Trump administration to unilaterally cancel the nuclear deal forcing Iran to restart its nuclear programme, which will provide Israel the pretext for an attack on Iran.

The aim of a direct war would be to force Iranian resources away from its expansionist policies in surrounding states, along with preventing the growth of the Iranian economy which is expected to develop rapidly, given the removal of sanctions and increase in foreign direct investment. Peace will allow Iran to strengthen its position in the Middle East and replace KSA as the new hegemon in the Middle East, not including Israel.

Additionally, US elections in 2020 might bring in a Democratic government that might not be supportive of any aggression against Iran. This provides Israel and the KSA with a small window of opportunity, to engage Iran within the next two years.

In the event of a direct confrontation, the consequences will be unimaginably disastrous both for the region and surrounding countries. Pakistan might see a resurgence in Sunni-Shia violence reminiscent of the 80s and 90s, post-Iranian revolution as both Saudia and Iran have armed proxies within Pakistan that will exploit Pakistan's delicate balance.

With a determined Crown Prince, Muhammad Bin Salman, whose first major decision was to attack Yemen, the words of Cyrus the Great, seem like an ominous prophecy. However, this time the invaders will not be Greek.
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Publication:Friday Times of Pakistan (Lahore, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Mar 3, 2018
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