Shia- Sunni Conflict throws entire Middle East on the brink of full scale military conflict.
(ICRR Shia- Sunni Conflict)
Multiple suicide drone attacks on Saudi Arabia's biggest oil refinery has dealt lethal blow to Saudi's pride. The attack cut Aramco's oil production to half. It was moral, military and financial shock to Saudi and Islamic Military Alliance too, which was promoted by Saudi and led by Pakistani retired Gen Raheel Sharif. Yemen war is something that Saudi wants to forget. Houthis gave a bloody nose to reformist- hawkish Prince Mohammad Bin Salman- MBS. Earlier too, Iran supported Yemeni Shia rebels frequently launched directionless missile strikes on Saudi and UAE, but those attacks ended up only in creating news and had no financial repercussions. Aramco attack is unique in quantum, precision and effectiveness. Possibly earlier failed missile attacks have helped Shia Houthi rebels and their advisers- possibly Iranians military commanders to achieve precision during Aramco attack.
As per pre- Aramco popular thinking, Saudi- Iran rivalry would remain confined to deadly proxy war waged on each others soil or on third party war theaters such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen. But Aramco strikes completely upended thinking within strategic experts and full scale military confrontation seems reality in near future. By directly hitting Saudi's economic interests on Saudi soil; Iran has scored first goal in Shia- Sunni conflict. But, compared to whatever US did with Iraq during 1991 and 2002 war against Saddam, they have very limited military options against Iran.
US-Saudi Military options against Iran..
Iran has its own advance indigenous ballistic missile program and modern military industrial production capabilities. Also it has tacit Russian and Chinese support in military hardware production. Few months ago Iran shot down world's most advance, most costly predator drone, which was even costlier than most advanced US fighter jet. So called unbeaten drone was shot down by Iran over Strait of Hormuz with surface to air missile. SAM missile system might be modified version of Russian S-300 air defense missile system as many believe. But that is not an issue. The point to be noted is Iran can shoot US fighter jets too. So, devastating bombing raids against Iran as conducted against Saddam Regime has limited scope. US can use it missile prowess against Iran, but in return Iran could bring Saudi oil industry to knees by raining fire on it. It would take Saudi at least few decades back, though Iranian missiles can't reach US mainland. Also Iranians would certainly hit US military bases within Arabian Peninsula in retaliation.
Moreover Iranian nuclear capabilities, which are still not revealed would deter US- Saudi from striking them in preemption. Then how US- Saudi- Israel would payback Iran for Aramco attack?
Ground action from Balochistan? Cross border action against Iran
As we have discussed few months ago in "Is Anti Iran Axis taking shape on Pakistani soil?", US- Saudi- Israel would try to entrench themselves in Balochisatn to unsettle Iran through bloody proxy war using anti Iranian forces from Pakistan. Only Balochistan is the place from where they can harass Iran. On another side there is no land approach to wage proxy war and frankly speaking no Arab nation wants to host such dirty war from own soil.
Balochistan's freedom fighters claim that Iran is illegally occupying Sistan- Balochistan province which hosts considerable Baloch population. But annexing it with future independent Balochistan is not that much easy task. Iran frequently suppress Baloch of Sistan province. And radical Sunni group Jaish-Ul-Adl fighting against Iranian regime has considerable Baloch following. US- Saudi- Israel or The Axis would try its best to exploit this feeling to wage war against Iran from Balochistan. Will Pakistan and Baloch allow it?
US plays carrot and stick with Baloch freedom fighters, for?
US designated oldest and most potent Baloch freedom group Baloch Liberation Army- BLA as global terrorist group. Actually US had no conflict of interests with BLA. After proscribing it as terrorist group many Baloch commanders and thinkers openly termed it as "Carrot and Stick" ploy by US. That means US wanted something from Baloch groups to go soft against them. What was Americans expecting from Baloch? Most probably US wants to convince Baloch armed groups to cooperate The Axis to counter and harass Iran from Baloch soil. It's highly difficult to convince Baloch to dance on the tunes of The Axis. Still American ban on BLA was first stage towards establishing proxy launch pads on Baloch soil. Ideally Balochistan is best location for the purpose as it has very scarce population and has direct boundary with Iran. Large swathes of uninhabited land minimizes possibility of collateral civilian damage and secrecy of operations is ensured.
Iran- Taliban bonhomie
Though there is no sign of The Axis preparations in Balochistan so far, latest developments indicating US motives. When ISIS started gaining foothold in Afghanistan, Iran started working with Taliban. Though Taliban is known as radical Sunni Islamic group, it mended the fences with Shia Iran and harvested benefits in terms of weapons, money and diplomatic support. Iran provided them with safe sanctuaries on Iranian soil and as a quid pro quo, Taliban fought ISIS in Afghanistan. Latest Trump announcement of walking out of peace talks with Taliban and subsequent bombing campaigns against Taliban with Afghan forces has much more meanings. These were first air raids after almost a year of lull in which US forces actually participated along side Afghan special forces. If these operations becomes more common and effective, Iran is most likely to give shelter to fleeing Talibans, only to push them back with more enforcement and logistics.Thus Afghan and Balochistan border will be on boil if The Axis decides to use it against Iran.
Still, as far as Taliban presence and tactical potency in Afghanistan is concerned, Balochistan is the best bait for them to serve the purpose. And The Axis is definitely going to exploit it.
Expansion of Shia Crescent through Saudi Arabia...
Earlier, spread of hypothetical Shia Crescent was from Lebanon to Baharin. During Yemen war it extended from Lebnon to Yemen via Baharin through sea route. If initial reports of role of Saudi Shias in Aramaco attacks are true; then it's almost certain that Iran has successfully expanded Shia Crescent influencing Saudi's Shia population. It has much more ramifications on Yemen war. So far, Iran was replenishing Yemen's Houthi rebels through sea route ( Via Hudaida Port), If Shias living in Saudi are joining hands with Iran, then it would help it in Yemen war. Also Saudi would get trapped between home grown Shia unrest and international hostility with Iran.
It means situation is much more dangerous for Saudi Arabia. UAE has judged the situation early and dumped Saudi in Yemen war. If Saudi winds up from Yemen to save dollars going down the drain, emboldened Iran would take the fire to Saudi soil and much more attacks like Aramco would be executed. If The Axis imposes war on Iran, it would destroy Saudi, which is within reach of Iranian missiles. If Saudi keeps quiet, that would put it on back-foot.
Then what is the option?
War looms over Balochistan- Lebanon- Yemen delta...
The only option open for The Axis; least costly though much more effective is to establish foothold in Balochistan. Convince Baloch people of independence from oppressive Pakistan and try to liberate Sistan- Balochistan from Iran to expand proposed Balochistan. Baloch have never acted as proxies of someone and they are free thinking people. Still dream for independent Balochistan and prospects of liberating Sistan- Balochistan from Iranian occupation are two things which could convince them to cooperate with The Axis to let wage war against Iran without interruption.
If The Axis fires up Iran- Balochistan border; cascading effect would be felt across Durand Line where Pashtuns from Pakistani soil have made up their mind against Pakistan. Also safe ISI sanctuaries of Taliban dotting Durand Line could be destroyed to help Afghanistan ensure lasting peace.
Effects and Aftershocks of upcoming Shia- Sunni War
World economies which are already showing signs of recession would feel pain of Shia- Sunni war, as majority of the top oil producing countries would be directly involved in it. And crude price would see steep rise jeopardizing already shaken economies. Entire Arabian Peninsula would feel the heat and many Arab countries would see rearrangement of their maps. Ripple effects would leave geographical effects on Pakistan and likely to doom China's investment in Pakistan and Iran. Chinese are already under pressure in Hong Kong, if their Pakistani and Iranian investments comes under threat, then how they would respond?
Strait of Hormuz, which is jugular for oil and trade of entire Asia and conduit for Asia to Europe-USA maritime trade would be badly affected, which means the Shia- Sunni hostilities are certainly going to strike entire world trade in a single stroke.
One thing is absolutely clear- proxy war, military hostilities, terror strikes would be executed against each other's economic and military interests over vast area of Balochistan- Lebanon- Yemen delta... Very dangerous and unpredictable situation indeed!
--- Vinay Joshi