TENSIONS IN M.E.

U.S. ploy to promote arms sales

US fifth fleet in the Persian Gulf a direct threat Iran.

M M Ali
The deployment of US Fifth Fleet and Air Force bombers in Persian Gulf in May exempting Iranian port of Chabahar from US sanctions raises questions whether the manoeuvring is designed only to ward off threats from Iran and its proxies –Houthi and Hizbollah on American interests.
It may be too early to comment how will the Americans unfold and execute their latest game plan for the region but one can always ask to what extent the war of words and the ongoing rhetoric reflect upon development at the ground level.
A discussion on certain issues and developments centring the region may help understand readers to draw their own conclusion in this regard. It may also help them assess the possibility of a shift of war theatre from the Mediterranean part of the Muslim world towards the Indian Ocean.
A ploy for arms sale
In response to National Security Advisor John Bolton’s May 5 statement that the forces were being dispatched to the Gulf in response to “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” by Iran, the US Naval chief Adm. John Richardson said that, essentially, the deployment was just business as usual.
“The Abraham Lincoln Strike Group was planned to deploy for some time now,” Richardson told the Sea Air Space conference, just a day after Bolton’s statement. He touted the Lincoln’s new route to the Gulf as an example of “dynamic force employment,” a new Navy tactic that is meant to surprise potential adversaries by having US ships show up off their coastlines without warning.
How the Trump administration was using the unspecified Iranian threat as a ploy for extracting billion dollars arms sale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is revealed in a report of the New York Times on May 28.
‘The Trump administration is preparing to circumvent Congress to allow the export to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of billions of dollars of munitions that are now on hold, according to current and former American officials and legislators familiar with the plan,’ the NYT report said.

In response to US bullies, Tehran threatened to stop the traffic of oil tankers through the Strait of Hormuz. Iran has for the first time released a video showing speedboats of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) closing in on a US aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.

‘Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and some political appointees in the State Department are pushing for the administration to invoke an emergency provision that would allow President Trump to prevent Congress from halting the sales, worth about $7 billion. The transactions, which include precision-guided munitions and combat aircraft, would infuriate lawmakers in both parties,’ the report added.
Game changer
Located barely 72 km away from each other in the deep-sea, Chabahar in Iran and Gwadar port in Pakistan have tremendous geopolitical significance with capacity to change the strategic balance in the region.
Close to the Straits of Hormuz, the Gwadar port – allows China to access the Indian Ocean that the Soviet Union used to dream of back in the cold war era. It will facilitate China to monitor US and Indian naval activity in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea while its proxy Pakistan can control the energy routes from there.
On the other hand, Chabahar port in Iran, is India’s trump card and gateway to Afghanistan, Central Asia, Russia and beyond. It can allow India to monitor Pakistani & Chinese naval activities in the Indian Ocean Region and Gulf.
Chabahar Port: The U.S. State Department exempted the Iranian port from its sanctions on the country in last November. The status of the port operated by Indian state owned company remained unchanged even during the current standoff between the US and Iran.
Built largely by India and inaugurated in 2017, the port provides a key supply route for Afghanistan while allowing India to bypass rival Pakistan to trade with Central Asia.
Most of Afghanistan’s imports and exports currently go through Pakistan, which Kabul accuses of harboring the Afghan Taliban.
An Iranian official was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying that IPGL had been granted the lease for “a temporary period of 18 months and a ten-year period afterwards.”
The official added that IPGL’s management would include “loading and unloading, supplying equipment and marketing.”
New Delhi has already pumped USD 2 billion into development in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban’s government.
CENTCOM: the portion of the US military responsible for protecting American security interests in an area stretching from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia. The region monitored by this command encompasses 20 countries including Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the countries of the Arabian Peninsula and northern Red Sea and five Republics of Central Asia.
The region for which CENTCOM is responsible contains some of the most economically depressed and politically unstable areas in the world. It is also an area characterized by a great deal of terrorist activity and is home to many terrorist organizations. As a result, the command has taken a lead role in combating the emerging threat posed by international terrorism while continuing to pursue peaceful engagements through humanitarian operations.
Since its inception, CENTCOM has been responsible for several operations, including two conflicts between the US and Iraq—Operation Desert Storm (1991) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003–11)—and the Afghanistan War which began in 2001 and continues till date.
Is the stage set for US exit from Afghanistan?
With the deployment of the US Fifth Fleet and Air Force bombers in the Persian gulf under command of the CENTCOM one may question whether this move will mark the beginning of the long waited US exit plan from Afghanistan?
Narendra Modi’s return to driver’s seat in India with a thumping majority even after reports of repression of minorities in India during his first term and particularly in Kashmir and the ISIS presence in Afghanistan offer a grand opportunity for the spread of the conflict in the region following the US exit from Afghanistan.
Will this allow India a permanent role in Afghanistan and counter China in the regional affairs?
The writer is a Dhaka-based journalist (his contact: m.ali.konok@gmai.com

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