President George W. Bush will find a Persian Gulf region moving on – and slipping away – when he lands there on Jan. 12, 2008.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s regional sources report that the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates have taken on board the realization that President Bush does not intend to uphold the commitment he and vice president Dick Cheney made to them to solve the Iranian nuclear problem before the end of their term.
They attribute this retraction to a direct US dialogue with Iran, which every ruler, secret service and military leader in the Gulf region is convinced is underway and bound to override administration decision-making on Iran, Lebanon, the Palestinians and therefore the Middle East at large in the year to come.
The Gulf emirs, as the US president will discover on the spot, have responded by diversifying their security options. Although willing to host US military forces on their soil and across the Middle East, they are no longer willing to rely exclusively on the United States for their security. The Gulf Cooperation Council heads have accordingly gone shopping around for new protectors against military aggression.
In particular, they want a shield against the clandestine nuclear menace which they feel is breathing down their necks from Iran. No responsible Gulf official credits the US National Intelligence Estimate assertion that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003. None doubts that the Islamic Republic is still deeply engaged in this quest. Washington’s release of the NIE report is seen as a key component of the package of understandings and accommodations it is forging with Tehran.
Bush is reconciled to a nuclear-armed Iran
It is taken to mean that the Bush administration, and therefore the United States, has come to terms with a nuclear-armed Iran.
This conviction impelled the Gulf en bloc to embark in recent weeks on a desperate quest for new protectors outside the American orbit, and cast their net farther afield than ever before. In discreet approaches through undercover channels of communication, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources reveal that Russia, China, Japan, India and Indonesia, were requested by GCC members to submit proposals for military pacts embodying guarantees for their security.
Most of the replies were negative or evasive, signifying a reluctance to go up against the United States which, despite the knocks to the administration’s credibility over Iraq, the war on terror in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Gulf and the Middle East, is still by and large respected as the world’s No. 1 superpower. Even the Russian and Chinese nay-sayers were wary of openly throwing down the gauntlet against America in one of its principal spheres of influence.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s exclusive sources disclose the content of the replies reaching the six Gulf governments:
Although President Vladimir Putin freely and public flexes Russia’s military muscle at every opportunity (see separate article in this issue), he avoided a commitment to allay the anxieties of the Gulf rulers. Without saying yes or no, he stressed that Moscow is already bound to certain Gulf nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, by military accords covering Russian arms sales to those countries. Nonetheless, Moscow is not averse to amendments that in the future would have the effect of military cooperation treaties.
The Gulf saw this as polite refusal: Moscow has no interest at this point in openly taking on the United States in the Gulf.
Beijing bluntly informed the Gulf applicants that it has no interest in any military pacts in the near future. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources explain why this response was predictable: China has no navy, air force or army contingents capable of long-range deployment as far distant as the Gulf or the Middle East. Furthermore, since 2006, Beijing’s ties with Tehran, especially in energy, have evolved from ordinary business links to a strategic relationship which Beijing is not prepared to hazard at this point.
Another straight no came from Tokyo, primarily because Japan is likewise short of the military resources to back up a military treaty.
Jakarta turned the Gulf emirates down on a treaty, but offered to train their armies.
The only affirmative reply to the Gulf plea came from New Delhi. Indeed, Manmohan Singh‘s government had two optional proposals ready:
1. A military treaty that would spread India’s nuclear umbrella over the entire bloc.
2. Alternatively, separate pacts entailing the same nuclear shield between India and each of the six GCC members.
New Delhi learns of secret Saudi-Pakistan pact
New Delhi, it was noted, is in the middle of a major expansion of India’s naval, air and marine forces. They are perfectly capable of detaching the units needed for deployment in the Persian Gulf, the Oman and Arabian Seas and the Indian Ocean.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sub-continental sources report that no time was lost in taking up the offer: Gulf military and intelligence officers have started meeting with senior Indian security officials to develop the terms of the military pact.
Our sources add that New Delhi’s eagerness to go forward with the new strategic association was quickened by intelligence received that Saudi Arabia had signed a secret defense pact with Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf, including a nuclear protection clause.
The GCC has not yet sent its collective response to the Indian proposals. But our sources report at least two of its members, one of which is Qatar, have entered into separate talks with New Delhi.
The upshot of these moves, if they mature fully, may see India and Pakistan sharing the Gulf region between them as providers of defense guarantees and nuclear shields.
India’s added interest in planting a foothold in the Gulf region comes from the conservatively estimated three million Indian expatriates living and working in those countries.
Indian citizens make up one-fifth of Bahrain’s population; 15 percent of Oman’s, a quarter of Qatar’s inhabitants and 32 percent in the United Arab Emirates.
While 70 percent do unskilled jobs, one fifth are white collar workers and 10 percent professionals. Hundreds of Indian associations function in Kuwait and the UAE.
In Kuwait, the Indian Art Circle has built an auditorium for an audience of 1,200 for cultural programs and performances. High-income Indian workers, who are allowed to bring their families over, have opened dozens of schools which follow the Indian curriculum in the Gulf emirates.