China And Russia Playing Military And Diplomatic Cards In The Middle East

China And Russia Playing Military And Diplomatic Cards In The Middle East

The Western public, especially the Americans, while focused intensely on the Israeli war with Hamas, is paying little attention to what China and Russia are doing in the region to support Iran. There is strong sentiment among the political class in the United States to take advantage of this moment and attack Iran.

What they are failing to take into account is that China, using a flotilla of its navy, sent a clear signal that it is no longer a passive observer in the war between Israel and Hamas. Six Chinese war ships sailed into the Persian Gulf, spending five days in Kuwait, and then sailed south to Oman. Following their visit to the port of Muscat, the Chinese ships raised anchors and sailed into the Arabian Sea, destination unknown.

This is not a sudden, spur of the moment initiative. China and Russia have conducted four joint military exercises since 2019. Why? China and Russia were warning the West that they would not allow the West to attack Iran or shutdown oil exports from Saudi Arabia and Iran destined for China. It is important for readers in the West to understand that planning for each of these exercises began at least 12 to 18 months before they were carried out. In other words, Chinese, Russian and Iranian military officials began working on the first joint naval exercise in mid to late 2017.

Here is the rundown of these exercises:

December 2019

Iran, China and Russia began joint naval drills on Friday in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman, in what Moscow said was an unprecedented exercise in naval cooperation and training. . . .

“The message of this exercise is peace, friendship and lasting security through cooperation and unity… and its result will be to show that Iran cannot be isolated,” Iranian flotilla admiral Gholamreza Tahani said on state television.

September 2020

Chinese, Iranian and Russian forces are to participate in joint military exercises in southern Russia later this month, alongside troops from Armenia, Belarus, Myanmar and Pakistan. India cancelled its involvement over mounting cross-border tensions between Delhi and Beijing.

The “Caucus 2020” drills will focus on defensive tactics, encirclement and battlefield control and command, according to China’s Defence Ministry yesterday. The drills have special significance “at this important moment when the entire world is fighting the pandemic,” the ministry said.

February 2021

Iranian forces have concluded a two-day naval exercise with Russia in the northern part of the Indian Ocean.

Forces and vessels from the navy divisions of both the Iranian army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) participated in the drill, which kicked off on Tuesday, alongside several vessels from the Russian navy.

February 2022

China and Russia, America’s increasingly aligned great power adversaries, teamed up with Iran last month to hold a trilateral naval exercise in the Gulf of Oman and northern Indian Ocean, which Tehran dubbed Maritime Security Belt 2022. While the exercise itself was of limited importance militarily, the drill provides the latest evidence of growing security cooperation between China, Russia, and Iran that should sound alarm bells in Washington, Jerusalem, and key Arab capitals.

The exercise’s stated purpose was to focus on anti-air, counter-piracy, and nighttime maritime operation skills — fairly standard objectives for maritime exercises. It was clear, however, that the exercise had a larger purpose for the three governments, which are unified in their opposition to the United States.

The Global Times, a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party, cited “restrictions on major sea routes from some major powers, especially the US,” as one of the reasons for the exercise. That represents a transparently cynical effort to flip the script given Beijing’s illegitimate territorial claims in the South China Sea and efforts to curtail freedom of navigation there.

March 2023

Naval forces from China, Iran and Russia — all countries at varying degrees of odds with the United States — are staging joint drills in the Gulf of Oman this week, China’s Defence Ministry has announced.

Other countries are also taking part in the “Security Bond-2023” exercises, the ministry said Tuesday without giving details. Iran, Pakistan, Oman and the United Arab Emirates all have coastline along the waterbody lying at the mouth of the strategic Persian Gulf.

“This exercise will help deepen practical cooperation between the participating countries’ navies … and inject positive energy into regional peace and stability,” the ministry statement said.

While it is true that the U.S. Naval presence in the Mediterranean dwarfs the Chinese and Russian naval forces, the Chinese and Russian forces represent a trip wire that the United States and Israel must weigh as they contemplate an attack on Iran, such as hitting its oil refineries.

The Chinese are flexing a little military muscle, but their real power is in the expansion of diplomatic relations with the Gulf Arabs and Iran. China played a decisive role in the rapprochement this year between longtime adversaries, Saudi Arabia and Iran. China’s diplomatic initiative destroyed the U.S. policy of trying to ramp up friction between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The U.S. Institute for Peace (irony alert) tried to downplay the importance of this development in March:

Iran and Saudi Arabia announced last Friday a Chinese-brokered deal to restore relations. After decades of enmity and a formal cutting of ties in 2016, the rapprochement has been touted as a momentous development in the region. But how it ultimately impacts the Middle East remains a very open question, as the long adversarial powers are fighting a proxy war in Yemen and continue to support opposing sides across the region. Amid perceived U.S. retrenchment from the Middle East, the deal is a diplomatic win for China as it increasingly seeks to present an alternative vision to the U.S.-led global order.

It is no longer an “open question” how this affects policy in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia and Iran are siding with the Palestinians and condemning Israel’s actions. They have dethroned Washington, DC as the dominant force in the Middle East.

U.S. military outposts from Djibouti to Syria and Iraq are being regularly shelled and droned in the wake of the start of Israel’s military actions in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. While it is likely that China and Russia are counseling Iranian authorities to exercise patience and restraint while they pursue diplomatic moves to defuse the war in Gaza, neither of these countries are suggesting that Iran sit idly if it is attacked.

The problem in the United States is not just the fecklessness of the Biden clown show. There is strong bi-partisan rhetoric portraying both Russia and China as enemies of the United States. That kind of hostile language from Democrats and Republicans makes it almost impossible to engage Russia and China in constructive negotiations. If Biden and his inept national security team try to deal with Russia and China, the Biden Administration would likely be denounced as appeasers and sell outs. It is domestic politics in the United States that is adding to the danger of the war in Israel spinning out of control and engulfing the world in a genuine conflagration.

I remain hopeful that Russia and China, through a coordinated diplomatic effort, can isolate the United States and Israel and compel them to back down. Maybe I am just naive.


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Author: Larry Johnson