Tightrope walk in the Gulf

By Tribune India

Not long ago, Indian foreign policy was credited with successfully navigating the multiple contestations in the Gulf and West Asia by maintaining positive engagement with all key actors in the region, in particular Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran.

This was no mean feat considering the rising level of confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran and Israel and Iran. The US posture towards the region was another complicating factor. Washington abandoned even the pretence of playing honest broker on the Israel-Palestine issue and ratcheted up pressures on Iran. Nevertheless, it would be fair to say that while maintaining the rhetoric of friendship and collaboration with Iran, India has had to dilute its level of engagement with the country.

Running with the hares and hunting with the hounds can only take you so far and no further. Iran is no longer a key supplier of oil and gas to India. The strategically important Chabahar port project has faced repeated delays, both from US sanctions as well as roadblocks on the Iranian side.

It has also been reported that Iran will no longer invite Indian participation in the rail project linking Chabahar with Central Asia to the north. China with its Belt and Road project and substantial resources is now in pole position as far as these proposed infrastructure projects in Iran are concerned.

And now the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on November 20 in a terror attack, which is suspected to have been carried out by Israeli intelligence, raises the risk of a more general conflagration in an already tense and troubled region. Whatever gains India may have made with its deft tactical and transactional manouevres so far could well run aground.

Iran will watch for India’s reactions. When the US carried out the assassination of Qassim Suleiman, the head of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards in September 2019, India refrained from criticising Washington, confining itself to expressing the hope that all sides concerned would exercise restraint.

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