In a strong show of force, early Thursday morning Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies launched Operation Storm of Resolve against the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis in Yemen. The rebel group’s advancement into the southern port city of Aden, where the current President of Yemen, Abdo Rabu Mansour Hadi, was taking refuge, sparked Saudi’s rapid intervention. Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S., Adel al-Jubeir, said that “a 10-country coalition had joined in the military campaign in a bid ‘to protect and defend the legitimate government’.”
Reuters described the Saudi-led incursion into Yemen as “a gamble by the world's top oil exporter to check Iranian influence in its backyard without direct military backing from Washington.” The latest flare-up of instability and chaos in Yemen comes at a vitally important time in the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. The Sunni Arab states and more specifically, Iran’s regional foe, Saudi Arabia, have articulated their deep anxiety over what they see as the grave concessions given to Iran. According to The Times of Israel’s Avi Issacharoff, “Arab leaders and decision makers in Israel are still struggling with the White House’s insistence on demonstrating exceptional weakness in its ongoing talks with Tehran.” If a final agreement is reached, Iran will be allowed to keep thousands of centrifuges and continue enriching uranium. Issacharoff explained that the GCC states expect Iran to behave as it does therefore their anger is primarily directed at the U.S. for allowing Iran to go unchecked, while they are in the midst of nuclear negotiations. He also wrote that in any final agreement, the Sunni Arab states and Israel expect “the world’s major powers will at least try to pressure Tehran to halt its military operations in a variety of destinations in the Middle East.”
American’s Sunni allies see Iran’s growing influence and intervention in the region as a direct affront to their security. In early March, Saudi’s Prince Turki al-Faisal told the BBC that “Iran is already a disruptive player in various scenes in the Arab world, whether it's Yemen, Syria...[or] Iraq.” With Yemen sitting at the Gulf Monarch’s backdoor, the Saudis have already declared their readiness for a ground operation and reportedly have 150,000 soldiers deployed on their southern border.
The Associated Press has reported that the United States is considering allowing Iran to continue to operate hundreds of centrifuges at Fordow, an underground nuclear complex outside of the city of Qom. The Iranians would reportedly be able to feed elements such as zinc, xenon, or germanium at the site, rather than uranium, which could be used for science or industry but not a nuclear weapon.
However, experts are concerned that the retained technology could easily be repurposed to enrich uranium. David Albright, a nuclear proliferation expert at the Institute for Science and International Studies, said that this concession “keeps the infrastructure in place and keeps a leg up, if they want to restart (uranium) enrichment operations,” Last week, the AP reported that American officials were fearful of that very fact. It is also of concern that the concession would be made at the Fordow site, located in a fortified mountainside, “making it resistant — possibly impervious — to air attack.”
In April 2012, the United States and European countries demanded that the Fordow site be dismantled as a condition for lifting sanctions. An Iranian official declared in February 2013, “Fordow will never be shut down because … our national duty is to be able to defend our nuclear and vital centres against an enemy threat.” The official went on to say that the demands to close the site were “meant to help the Zionist regime.” The Times of Israel and AP reported on March 16 that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had made “a sudden… demand that the Fordo nuclear facility, buried deep underground, be allowed to keep hundreds of centrifuges that are used for enriching uranium — material that can be used in a nuclear warhead.”
Last year, Iran’s insistence on keeping its enrichment infrastructure intact prompted commentator Fareed Zakaria to call Iran’s position a diplomatic “train wreck.”
In addition to the reported reversal on Fordow, the Western nations involved in the nuclear negotiations are considering backtracking on the demand that Iran come clean about its past nuclear research. (via The Tower.org)