More thought for the grist mill.
Tundra Tabloid contributor, Anushirvan, responds to a recent piece by Chris Knowles concerning the looming threat of Iran’s nuclear weapons success. Here are his own astute observations, please take the time necessary to read it through, it’s an impressive read.
“Ultimately this has created a situation where we have an extremist Shiite Iran facing countries now run by the equally extremist Muslim Brotherhood. It is not unlikely that major conflict between these two grouping will take place.”
Truth of the matter is, we are already getting there, step by step. The rivalries have been escalating in Syria and will cross the border with Lebanon again, eventually. Subsequently, Hamas will start switching sides and proclaim an allegiance with Turkey, the Turks already meddling in Syria at this point to eradicate Shiism. Next, Iran will start threatening the Turks some more with nuclear war if they don’t stop interfering, or either they just might destabilize Turkey via the Alevi (Shiite) Turks. As a consequence, Saudi Arabia will step up the funding of Sunni terrorist groups even more than they have done up to this point in Iraq. Plus they will augment their efforts to aid the Baluchi (Sunni) insurgents of Iran’s Sistan va Baluchistan province, with the help of the Pakistani ISI, to keep Shiites in check.
Iran has been gradually losing control of its primary strategy in the ME. By supporting their natural companions Hizballah (Twelver Shi’ites, just like the mullahs of Iran) to the north of Israel, the Syrian (Shi’ite) Alawite regime that supplies Hizballah, and simultaneously supporting Hamas (an offshoot of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood) to the south, Iran has tried to consistently demonstrate that Shi’ite Islam was able to do something that no Sunni government in the vicinity had been capable of. Namely, keeping Israel in a stranglehold at both border regions, like in a sort of static pincer movement. In fact, ever since Khomeiny came to power in 1979, the official policy of Tehran has been to try to elevate the status of Shi’ites within Islam as a whole and hence shake off the dim view the majority of Sunnis have of them.
Whereas the main issues between Shi’ites and Sunnis derive mainly from eschatological differences, related to the succession dispute after Mohammed died, there is another particular reason why both groups find themselves at loggerheads with one another. The history of Iran itself explains quite poignantly why this still has repercussions in ME politics today. The Safavid conversion of Iran from Sunnism to Shiism made Iran the spiritual bastion of Shia Islam against the onslaught of orthodox Sunni Islam. And nowadays, as a majority Shi’ite country, all Shi’ite minorities in other Muslim countries, consider Iran to be the guardian of Shi’ism as a whole.
When Shah Ismail I conquered Iran and established his rule in the early sixteenth century, he decided to eradicate all Sunnism from the country. Iran, at that time being majority-Sunni, was de facto proselytized to Shi’ism. One of the main reasons why Ismail and his followers pursued such a severe conversion policy was to give Iran and the Safavid lands as distinct and unique an identity as was possible compared to its two neighboring Sunni Turkish military and political enemies, the Ottoman Empire and, for a time, the Central Asian Uzbeks — to the west and north-east respectively. The Safavids were engaged in a lengthy struggle with the Ottomans — including numerous wars between the two dynasties — and this struggle continuously motivated the Safavids to create a more cohesive Iranian identity to counter the Ottoman threat and possibility of a fifth-column within Iran among its Sunni subjects. In order to enable the conversion, Ismail I, who held a vehement disdain for Sunnis, regularly resorted to violent measures. With the exception of cultural minorities on the fringes of Iranian society, like most Kurds and the nomadic Baloch, who remained Sunni, the sedentary population of Iran became gradually majority Shi’ite.
Whereas Sunnis deem Shi’ites to be heretics by default, they are also feared by Sunnis for violent prosecution and conversion of Sunni Muslims to Shiism up to this day ! The historically justified paranoia of (among others) the Sunnis of the Arabian Peninsula carries over well into this century. With the growing sphere of Shi’ite influence in Iraq, it became pivotal for Sunni leaders to block the advance of the Shia oil slick on other fronts, out of sheer fear, plus the frustration of Shi’ite Iran claiming to be able to keep Israel in check at the borders and the added threat of developing nuclear weapons !
This is basically the main reason why the neo-Ottoman Erdogan decided to step in, with the intent to wean Sunni Hamas away from Tehran, and to assume the role of protector of all Sunnism in the region of the Mediterrenean. Erdogan has made himself the counterweight to Shi’ite Iran, in fact mirroring Iran’s intent to keep control of Lebanon (through Hizballah) and Syria (through the Alawite regime) by undermining Syria first and then marching on to Lebanon. As soon as Hamas will find Iran’s role severely diminished as a consequence of Ottoman scheming, it will switch sides. The Iranian mullahs however know that they are losing ground with regards to their grasp on Israel at its borders, and that’s why they have been stepping up efforts to speed up the development of nuclear weapons, the only means they’ll have left to keep claiming they can keep tabs on Israel. To them this is a geostrategical project of the highest importance. And they’ll be very reluctant to lose it.
The mullahs have to keep their grasp on Syria and Lebanon, otherwise they will lose both to the Ottomans of Turkey, who already persecute the Alevi (Shi’ite) minority on their own patch. The development of nuclear weapons will be their last resort to avoid such a thing happening and can serve as a means to apply added pressure on the Turks.
In the meanwhile, Shi’ites have come under increased persecution in Pakistan from Saudi funded Sunni terrorist groups. In fact, this is due to the fact that Saudi Wahhabism (a particular strain of Salafism) has been increasingly spending billions to let Salafi Islam seep into the madrasas of Pakistan in order to infiltrate Pakistani politics in the long run.
In my mind, this is suggestive of Saudi Arabia trying to keep tabs on the spread of Shi’ism in Pakistan with the intent to keep Iran’s influence over Pakistani Shi’ites at bay (both the Twelver Shi’ites and the Ismailis of Pakistan). Needless to say, but this will be to the detriment of almost all secular-inclined political parties in Pakistan, particularly the Pakistan Peoples Party. (run by the Bhutto clan, which is Shi’ite in origin, however the party itself is not exclusively Shi’ite, but rather secular-oriented and socialist) Also take note of the fact that Asif Ali Zardari, current president of Pakistan, is a member of the Bhutto clan and a Shi’ite !
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia also funds Jundallah, a Baluchi separatist organization based in Iran’s Sistan va Balochistan province that claims to be fighting for the rights of Sunni Baluchis in Iran. (a largely (semi-) nomadic people that escaped the conversion to Shi’ism in Iran). Saudi Arabia however cannot deal with these issues unless it has direct links to the Pakistani government officials who support the growing Salafi influence in Pakistan. Which leads us automatically to particular echelons of the ISI, a security service that is innately a military organization and can freely operate as a state within the state. Zardari, as the head of state, has absolutely no control over the ISI, that is linked with the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and other Sunni terrorist groups operating in Pakistan itself and across the border.
It is quite clear that president Zardari, belonging to the Bhutto clan himself and a Shi’ite, will not gain a grasp on the Salafi infested ISI, because they can do as they please with their Saudi funds. Quite simple. This explains why the ISI can operate like a state within a state and why they fund all manner of Sunni terrorist groups who consequently attack the Shi’ite minorities in Pakistan.
At this moment the mullahs are panic-stricken with the idea that the Shi’ite sphere of influence will lose Syria and Lebanon altogether, so they feel it necessary to flex some muscle to contain the problem (having already threatened Turkey a while ago), and it is highly likely that this situation will destroy the stability of the ME as a whole. If, however, the Iranians acquire the power to operate nuclear weapons effectively and efficiently, the conflict might just drag Pakistan into it: Pakistan will probably not strike Iran pre-emptively to come to the aid of the Turks, unless secular-oriented politics and the Shi’ite influences in Pakistan are completely eradicated at the hands of Salafis, working in tandem with the ISI and their Saudi benefactors.
Although some observers seem to think that this whole issue will be contained within the context of a ME geostrategical conflict, the nature of the Sunni-Shi’ite divide can turn the whole issue into a protracted destabilization on a much larger scale, even.