Tag Archives: Iran

Trump’s End Game in Middle East

ISSSP Reflections No. 53, May 26, 2017

Author: Shreya Upadhyay

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US President Donald Trump first international nine-day tour comprises three major religious capitals of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. With that, he chose to plunge straight into the middle East politics with sit downs in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Palestine. This article looks at Trump’s first diplomatic mission and analyse the contours of his endgame in the Middle East.  

A Pan Arab, US, Israel Coalition: Targeting Tehran?

Trump’s perfectly tailored speech on “radical Islamic extremism in Saudi Arabia urged the Muslim countries to take lead in combating radicalisation.  The President also held separate session with leaders of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council to discuss the civil war in Syria and potential “de-escalation zones” to provide safe areas for civilians.  

In recent years, fears of a rising Iran have started to chip away at differences among Arab countries. Israel has also voiced her wish to improve ties with Saudi and other Gulf countries as part of an initiative that would draw Palestinians into a peace deal and create a broad front against Iran’s nuclear ambitions. During his visit Trump addressed major issues that are of immediate concern to the US. ISIS and other radical Islamist factions in the region remain a threat. However, Syria and Iran take remain of particular concern for the US. In his speeches he sent a strong message to Iran regarding its nuclear ambitions.  Interestingly, till now Trump has not ‘ripped up’ the Iran nuclear deal till now due to what the analysts see as reflecting business interests at home and diplomatic interests abroad.  However, Trump has accused Iran of funding, training and equipping terrorists and militias.  

Trump administration is taking up “Arab NATO” rather seriously and working towards closer security coordination between key Arab states and more burden-sharing to maintain the security of the region. A budding coalition of the United States, Israel and Arab leaders, largely arising from their shared view of Iran as a growing national security threat seems to be taking shape.                                                     

The Ultimate Israel- Palestine Peace Deal

The US President hammered the requirement of re-invigorating an Israel-Palestine peace process stating it was important for establish a common cause with the Arab neighbours in order to challenge Iran. It should be noted that even in the past, US Presidents ranging from Jimmy Carter to Obama have expressed confidence in their ability to bring the two sides together. Obama was certain that peace would occur under his watch that he told the United Nations in his 2010 address that it was possible the dream of a Palestinian state could be realized in the next year. The talks have, however, been moribund since 2014.

Trump during the visit avoided addressing thorny issues that have stalled peace efforts for decades. Instead, in his talks with the Israelis and Palestinians, he sought common sets of principles to build momentum for peace. However, his speech was missing specifics and bordered largely on rhetoric and goodwill.

The Israeli side was already miffed with revelations that the US president had shared sensitive intelligence with Russia. Another strain was backtracking on a campaign promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, that led to a fracas between American and Israeli officials planning for Trump’s visit. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked to join Trump on his visit of the Western Wall, but was snubbed. US officials declined to say whether the Western Wall belonged to Israel. Western Wall and the surrounding area holds an important place for the Israelis as well as the Palestinians. The US has withheld recognition of Israeli control of the area until there is a deal.

On paper, both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have made right noises about their readiness to negotiate. However, in reality they face domestic constraints on their freedom to manoeuvre. A peace deal still remains elusive till the five core issues (borders, security, Jerusalem, a right to return for refugees and mutual recognition) are not addressed.

Challenges to Trump’s Policy in Middle East

A new US president with a different foreign policy is a welcome step for the Middle Eastern leadership. Moreover, the region views Trump as someone not beholden to a particular ideology. That gives him some leeway and freedom. However, there are challenges to achieving the Arab-Israel peace and forging a regional security alliance against Iran and Syria.

  1. Regional Issues: One of the biggest issue for Trump is the distrust in the region. The level of disbelief between Israel and Palestine exists not only on the leadership level but also among the public. The Gaza war that started after the breakdown of the 2014 talks have worsened the situation. The issue of trust not only exists between Israel and Palestine but even within Palestine with the rift between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Fatah, led by Abbas, growing deeper in recent months. Israel on its part is sceptical of the entire region. Till now the US ensured that Israel must maintain a ‘Qualitative Military Edge’ in the region and therefore constrained its military sales to Gulf. Trump’s recent $110 billion defence deal with Saudis is sure to attract grumblings of discontent among those in Tel Aviv.
  2. Russian Influence: In the past few years, Russia is reasserting its influence across the globe, including Middle East. The starting point was intervention in Syria where Russians have put boots on the ground. Other than that there is growing Russian involvement in several other Middle Eastern countries, including Turkey, Egypt and Israel with which the US had built strong ties over the decades. Russia is also coordinating with many of these countries against the ISIS. Netanyahu has made three visits to Moscow in the last two years and Putin has also tried to organise a summit between Israel and Palestine, an area traditionally dominated by the US. For the Trump administration, it is therefore crucial to strengthen ties with the region and find ways in which Russia and the US can collaborate on increasing the safety and security in the region. Notably, the US government were caught off guard with Putin’s presence in Ukraine and Syria. The US needs to be mindful of Russian activities in the regions such as weaponising Iran, and other activities to undermine US interests in the region.   
  3. Saudi Money: Analysts have questioned whether the Saudi kingdom is in a position to afford the deal thanks to its flailing economy due to volatile price of oil and massive deficits.  Saudi’s forex reserves are plummeting at an alarming rate due to plunge in oil prices. Even as the regime recognised conceded its weakness in the Vision 2030 unveiled last year, its spending of billions of dollars only shows economic lunacy and too impractical to be honoured.   
  4. Domestic Constraints: Trump took his first foreign trip amidst mushrooming domestic challenges. His public approval ratings continue to revolve around 40 per cent, a low mark for a new US President. However, he received a royal welcome from the middle eastern leadership and got some goodies to take back home as an example of Trump as a deal making President helping America domestically. However, the Trump administration may find congressional opposition to the some of the promised defence equipment, amounting to as high as $86 billion, that can be a source of instability in the region. 

About the Author

Shreya Upadhyay, Consultant at ISSSP, NIAS. She can be reached at <vini.shreya@gmail.com>

Resurgent Iran and its Role in the Region

National Defence College, New Delhi, September 8, 2015

Arun Vishwanathan, Assistant Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore

NDC LogoThe lecture outlined the specifics of the Iranian Nuclear Agreement, the verification measures therein and the implications of a resurgent Iran on the region as a whole. The lecture was delivered at the National Defence College, Delhi as part of the Course to senior officers of the Indian defence services, civil services, police, other departments in addition to officers from over twenty friendly foreign countries.

Troubling Tehran in Iran Review

Iran Review Website: Book Review Section

Arun Vishwanathan, Assistant Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies and Rajaram Nagappa, Head, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS

Troubling TehranThe leading website studying Iranian developments (Iran Review) has listed ISSSP’s book Troubling Tehran: Reflections on Geopolitics. The book joins a select list of publications that the website has shortlisted based on their focus on Iran. 

What is the best approach for resolving differences over the Iranian nuclear programme and preventing a conflict? How would a conflict possibly unravel given Iranian military, asymmetric and missile capabilities? What does a military conflict over Iran mean for international order and India in particular? These are some of the questions that the book, Troubling Tehran: Reflections on Geopolitics analyses and seeks answers to.

The book can be bought from Flipkart | Bookadda | Amazon | Amazon India
For more details on the book click here

Book Review: Troubling Tehran: Reflections on Geopolitics

Strategic Analysis, Vol. 38, No. 3, May 2014, pp. 376-378.

Aditi Malhotra, Senior Research Fellow, National Institute of Advanced Studies

strat analysisThe ever dynamic nuclear conundrum of Iran has continued to hog the limelight. Numerous suggestions emanating from varied quarters about how to manage the issue have dominated the ongoing international discourse. However, there is no unanimity on how to cope with the current situation and the impending future.

Surprisingly, in the Indian context, where Iran’s importance is undeniable, the debates have remained limited and incomprehensive. Troubling Tehran is a book that seeks to address this lacuna and trigger an Indian cogitation on Iran and the prognosis.

For the complete book review click here
The book can be bought from Flipkart | Bookadda | Amazon | Amazon India

Iran and P5+1 Geneva Agreement: A Game Changer?

The Diplomatist, Vol. 2, Issue 3, March 2014

Arun Vishwanathan, Assistant Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies

diplomatist cover

Copyright: The Diplomatist

The interim agreement signed on November 24, 2013 at Geneva by Iran and the P5+1 and its subsequent operationalisation (January 20, 2014) highlights a remarkable shift the situation surrounding Iran has undergone over the past few months. The agreement is being perceived as a major departure in American policy towards Iran and the region in general. However, close observers would be quick in pointing out that such a shift has been some time in the making. The US move to enter into a dialogue with Tehran has largely been the result of a desire to buy more time to address the concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear programme through verification and roll back any probable progress Iran has made in building a nuclear weapon.

The deal also underscores the US’s endeavour to balance its efforts to push back Tehran’s regional rise on one hand,and build bridges of some kind after a hiatus of over three decades on the other. Taking a bird’s eye-view of the overall geo-political scenario, the move stems from the growing dissonance between US and its allies (Saudi Arabia and Israel) on major issues like the Israel-Palestine conflict, Syrian civil war and chemical weapons issue, as well as the handling of the Arab Spring aftermath.

For the complete article (in PDF) click here

Prof. Mohammed Ayoob on Geostrategic Significance of the Arab Spring

Prof. Mohammed Ayoob, University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University visited the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) Bangalore on February 10, 2014. He interacted with the ISSSP faculty and research staff.

Later in the evening he delivered a public lecture on the topic Geostrategic Significance of the Arab Spring.

Abstract of the Public Lecture by Prof. Mohammed Ayoob

The unfolding drama of the Arab Spring has demonstrated that it was not as autonomous a process as it appeared at first sight – that it was not merely a struggle between the forces of democratization and authoritarianism, the good guys and the bad guys. More often than not external powers, both regional and extra-regional, determined the outcomes of these uprisings to a much greater degree than did the local forces: Yemen (Saudi Arabia and the US), Libya (NATO), Bahrain (Saudi Arabia), even Egypt (US, Saudi Arabia, Israel) demonstrate the veracity of this proposition. This has become clear above all in Syria with the US, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, supporting the opposition and Iran and Russia supporting the regime. The Saudi-Iranian, US-Iranian, and US-Russian proxy wars are in full swing in Syria making the conflict intractable. Consequently, what started as domestic processes of democratic transformation in many of the countries have become hostage to multiple proxy wars going on in the Middle East – between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the US and Iran, Russia and the US. The ironies of these proxy wars are not lost on keen observers of the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia leading the counter-revolutionary brigade when it comes to Bahrain and Egypt but supporting the “democratic” opposition in Syria. External powers support to one side or the other has far less to do with supporting democracy and much more to do with their own strategic objectives in the region.

The audio of Prof. Ayoob’s public lecture as well as pictures of his visit are available below

Audio : Introductory Remarks by Ambassador Saurabh Kumar 


Audio : Prof. Mohammed Ayoob’s Public Lecture



Photos of Prof. Mohammed Ayoob interactions with ISSSP members

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 Photos of Public Lecture by Prof. Mohammed Ayoob at NIAS

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Round Table: Iran A War has Begun: Day Two

Videos of the Round Table “Iran: A War has Begun”

May 31-June 1, 2013, JRD Tata Auditorium, NIAS Bangalore

Day II: June 1, 2013

Session I

World Dependence on Iranian Oil:

Sanctions and impact on India and ways to alleviate the impact


Session I: Discussion and Q & A


Roundup and Vote of Thanks

Round Table: Iran A War has Begun: Day One

Videos of the Round Table “Iran: A War has Begun”

May 31-June 1, 2013, JRD Tata Auditorium, NIAS Bangalore

Day I: May 31, 2013

Opening Remarks: Prof. VS Ramamurthy, Director, NIAS

Outlining the concept of the Round Table: Vice Admiral (retd.) Vijay Shankar

Session I

The Nature of this war: Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar


Iranian Nuclear Programme: An overview : Dr. Arun Vishwanathan


Technical Aspects of Iranian Nuclear Programme: Dr. LV Krishnan


Session I: Discussion and Q&A


Session II

Iranian Missile Programme: Prof. Rajaram Nagappa


Iran’s Military Capability, Asymmetric warfare & its efficacy : Vice Admiral (retd.) PJ Jacob


Iran: An Insider’s Account: Dr. Masoud Imani Kalesar


Session II: Discussion and Q & A



Troubling Tehran: Book discussion at IPCS, New Delhi

Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, 30 April 2013

Rajaram Nagappa, Head, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme

Arun Vishwanathan, Assistant Professor, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme


Copyright: IPCS, New Delhi

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies organised a discussion on the book Troubling Tehran: Reflections on Geopolitics co-edited by Arun Vishwanathan and Rajaram Nagappa. The discussants were Dr. Manpreet Sethi, ICSSR Senior Fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), New Delhi and Prof. Anwar Alam, Center for West Asian Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia. Apart from the editors, two contributors to the book, Dr. LV Krishnan and Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar also participated in the discussions.

The discussion tried to highlight the central focus of the book, which was to foster a discussion which brought in an Indian perspective on Iran, with respect to its nuclear and military capabilities and its implications for India.

Troubling Tehran: Reflections on Geopolitics

Troubling Tehran: Reflections on Geopolitics, Pentagon Press, 2013, pp.xviii+140, ISBN: 978-81-8274-723-4

Editors: Arun Vishwanathan and Rajaram Nagappa

The book can be bought from Flipkart | Bookadda | Amazon | Amazon India

Troubling TehranWhat is the best approach for resolving differences over the Iranian nuclear programme and preventing a conflict? How would a conflict possibly unravel given Iranian military, asymmetric and missile capabilities? What does a military conflict over Iran mean for international order and India in particular? These are some of the questions that the book, Troubling Tehran: Reflections on Geopolitics analyses and seeks answers to.

The Iranian nuclear programme is a complex subject plagued by fundamental differences on how best to resolve it. While some advocate diplomacy and economic sanctions as a way forward, others push for a military response arguing that pursuing diplomacy provides Iran additional time to achieve a break-out capability. However, military coercion may not yield desired results, given the dispersed nature of Iranian nuclear facilities. A strike in fact is likely to accelerate Iranian nuclear weaponisation programme. The recent sanctioning of Iran’s oil sector adds to the regime’s cup of woes which is already overflowing due to a host of economic problems. However, the jury is still out on the question of whether sanctions would spark public disaffection against the regime.

The implications of a military conflict involving Iran are serious for Asia, particularly India. About 85 percent of Iranian oil exports are eastward bound. Dependence on crude and natural gas imports from the Middle East and North Africa region including Iran poses a dilemma for Indian policy makers. New Delhi thus needs to strike a fine balance while basing its policy on realpolitik and national interest.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction – Arun Vishwanathan and Rajaram Nagappa
  2. Iran: A War has Begun – Vijay Shankar
  3. Iran’s Nuclear Programme: Where is it headed? –  Arun Vishwanathan
  4. Iran’s Nuclear Activities: A Technical Appraisal of Declared Intentions and Reality – L V Krishnan
  5. Iran’s Missile Capabilities – Rajaram Nagappa and S. Chandrashekar
  6. Iran’s Military Capability, Asymmetric Warfare and its Efficacy – P J Jacob
  7. Iran: An Insider’s Account – Masoud Imani Kalesar
  8. World Dependence on Iranian Oil: Sanctions on Iran and Impact on India – V Raghuraman
  9. Iran: The Road Ahead – K C Singh
  10. Conclusion and Recommendations – Arun Vishwanathan and Rajaram Nagappa

Arun Vishwanathan is Assistant Professor, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.

Rajaram Nagappa is Head, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.

Conducting Academic and Policy Research related to National and International Security Issues
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