Saudi Planes Pound Houthis in Yemen, Invasion Force on Standby, Arab Allies Taking Part — Pushing Back on Iran Just Before a Nuclear Deal?

[This analysis is adapted from an article that Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, wrote for The Jerusalem Post newspaper.]

The fall of Yemen’s major cities into the hands of the Houthi rebels — who are Shi’ite rebels and are supported and directed by Iran — is not unrelated to the nuclear talks.

A CIA map of Yemen

A CIA map of Yemen

Saudi Arabia’s decision to start bombing the Houthis in Yemen’s capital Sanaa — with the stunningly impressive participation of Jordan, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and other Sunni-majority Muslim countries in the air campaign — is certainly a shot at Iran, too, at this significant and sensitive time.

Iran is striving to establish hegemony in the Middle East. It already either partially dominates or fully controls Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and now has made inroads in Yemen on the Red Sea.

In a perfect world — in view of the dramatic events in Yemen and other crises (where Iran’s aggressive hands could easily be exposed) — the United States and its European allies would have suspended the nuclear talks with Iran. At the least, the West’s position in the negotiations could have been toughened.

If this new and most crucial round of nuclear talks in Switzerland results in a framework agreement among the word powers (US, Russia, China, UK, France, and Germany) and Iran, it will further consolidate Iran’s hegemony.

It is no wonder that the Arab world led by Saudi Arabia now shares with Israel a strong fear: that the deal in the making might delay, but eventually could guarantee, that Iran create nuclear weapons.

The shared interests between the Arabs and Israel — even if only hinted at by leaders and not explicitly declared — are stunning and significant.

They claim that the pending deal is “a very bad deal” that will further enhance Iran as a nuclear threshold state and recognize its right to keep enriching uranium, despite its long history of deceptions and violations of its obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The negotiation focuses on reaching — by the end of this month — a framework agreement that would lay out the major principles of the final deal. They include the reduction of Iran’s operational centrifuges for uranium enrichment from 10,000 to roughly 6,000, intrusive inspection of all its nuclear sites for 10 years (or perhaps more), limitations on its enriched uranium stockpiles, and some other important points.

If a deal is reached, this would lead to “technical talks” aimed at concluding with a comprehensive agreement by the end of June.  That would replace the interim agreement reached nearly a year and half ago — a partial deal that left Iran pushing hard to total abolition of sanctions, rather than the partial relief that Iran received.

Reaching an agreement is not a sure thing.  Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has publicly demanded that economic sanctions be lifted at the moment that a nuclear agreement is signed.  Russia and China probably support that notion, but the Europeans — led by a highly skeptical France — stand against instant relief for Iran

Another hurdle is Iran’s demand to develop, though not to operate, new versions of centrifuges which would spin faster and be more efficient.

Even if these two major obstacles are settled, the agreement will most probably leave loopholes and unresolved issues. These include the demands by the IAEA that Iran show transparency in regard to its past activities in the area of weaponization.

The Agency also wants its inspectors to visit suspected sites such as Parchin, and to interview key nuclear scientists such as Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, considered to be the “father” of Iran’s future nuclear bomb.

Resolving these issues would enable the world to have a better understanding of how advanced Iran is in its efforts to master the knowledge of building a nuclear bomb.

So far Iran has rejected the demands.

The US argues that if a deal is clinched this month and finally sealed in June, Iran will be pushed back up to a year from the ability to assemble a bomb.  That would be the “break-out time,” in case it breaches the agreement and tries to dash to be a nuclear weapons state.

The Obama Administration suggests it — and perhaps Israel — would have time to react, either militarily or by reimposing harsh sanctions.  Many experts argue, however, that effective sanctions could never be clamped back onto Iran’s economy so quickly.

In addition, Israeli and some American experts are concerned that the limits being considered as adequate by the U.S. would actually leave the “break-out time” at only a few months.

With or without a bomb, the dramatic developments in Yemen are yet another example of events that may pave the way for Iran to be an unstoppable regional superpower — especially if U.S. and European responses continue to be insufficient and soft.

March 26, 2015

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