Sushma Swaraj’s statement on Palestine in the Rajya Sabha so pleased Jerusalem that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman thanked her that evening over the telephone. But the goodwill thus generated was fading when New Delhi, having changed its mind, voted with the resolution at the UN “condemning Israel for disproportionate use of force in Gaza”.
The expanding Shia-Sunni conflict in the Muslim world is exposing vast gaps in popular understanding of the schism. For example when Zaine El Abedine Ben Ali, the Tunisian strongman was ousted, people thought a Shia dictator had fallen. From this they extrapolated that the Arab Spring was an anti-Shia plot.
On the Muslim world’s centre stage, the Nayef-Brzezinski duet roped in Pakistan’s Zia ul Haq for a mass production of Mujahideen in Afghanistan. These would fight the Soviets and be a bulwark against Shia Iran. Zia would help Arabize Pakistani Islam and wrench it from India’s composite culture.
Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt were given severe sentences because that is the way the Saudis wanted it. The Qatari channel was always an eyesore to the Saudis but was recently being tolerated, even encouraged, by Riyadh for the limited purpose of stalling the Arab Spring. A channel built on liberal, democratic values owned by the Emirate of Qatar is a colossal contradiction in terms.
As I mentioned at the outset, the attack on Syria, should it happen, will be the umpteenth US-led military action against a Muslim country since the collapse of the Soviet Union. I mention the Soviet Union repeatedly because unprecedented military might in the possession of a nation in decline is a dangerous new global reality. New Delhi’s silence in such situations may be commended by those who place a value on cunning and craft. But cunning and craft towards what end? I like to imagine neither Jawaharlal Nehru nor Atal Behari Vajpayee would have remained silent if there any risk to Damascus, the world’s oldest, continuous habitation and the great civilization of which it is the capital.
If there is one group the Saudis fear and suspect more than Iran and Shiaism, it is the Muslim Brotherhood. Iran is an outside power. Brothers are available even within Saudi society and they despise monarchies just as the Prophet of Islam despised monarchies. So, the coffers of the House of Saud have been opened for Gen. Abdel Fattah el Sisi to break the back of the Brothers in Egypt. Al Jazeera, which became a mouthpiece for the Brothers during the year that Morsi was in power, is in the process of packing up its bags in Egypt.
The key to a Riyadh-Tehran rapprochement is Bahrain. A 37 Km causeway links Saudi Arabia’s oil bearing, Shia dominated Eastern province to this small Kingdom, which is also home to the US Fifth Fleet. Neither the Saudis nor the Americans will abandon their key interests. This much is clear. Likewise, it is inhuman that the staunchly Sunni regime in Bahrain, should treat 80 percent of the population, all Shias, as the “opposition”. This majority population has faced state repression for demanding their human rights since the Arab Spring first stirred.
A narrow-focus policy centered on Gulf remittances and oil was devised which bent New Delhi in one direction like the tower of Pisa.
The Western media has been predicting the fall of Bashar al Assad for the past year. An externally induced civil war is on the cards but the collapse of the regime has not materialized.