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Why the US-Iran Nuclear Deal May Still Fail

The ceaseless efforts of U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia to undermine the Iran nuclear negotiations may ultimately pay off and prevent a deal from being reached by the end of June.

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Inter Press Service

The euphoria that spread though the world after the Iran nuclear agreement reached in Lausanne in April this year with the United States, Russia, China, France, United Kingdom and Germany, plus the European Union, is proving short-lived.

Republicans in the U.S. Congress have made it clear that they will spare no effort to block it.  Hilary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s presidential hopeful, is keeping her options open. Whispers are escaping from European chancelleries that the sanctions on Iran will only be lifted in stages. Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani have responded by insisting that they must be lifted “at once”.

But the agreement’s most inveterate enemy is Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel. In the week that followed the Lausanne agreement, he warned the American public in three successive speeches that the agreement would “threaten the survival of Israel” and increase the risk of a “horrific war”. This is a brazen attempt to whip up fear and war hysteria on the basis of a spider’s web of misinformation.

Netanyahu is not new to this game. At the U.N. General Assembly in 2012, he unveiled a large cartoon of a bomb and drew a red line across it, just below the neck. This was how close Iran was to making a nuclear bomb, he said. It could get there in a year. Only much later did the world learn that Mossad, Netanyahu’s own intelligence service, had told him that Iran was very far from being able to build a bomb.

Mossad probably knew what a U.S. Congress Research Service (CRS) report revealed two months later:  that although Iran already had enough five percent, or low-enriched,  uranium in August 2012 to build  five to seven bombs, it had not enriched enough of it to the intermediate level of  20 percent to meet the requirement for even one  bomb. The CRS had concluded from this and other evidence that this was because  Iran had made no effort to revive its nuclear weapons programme after stopping it ‘abruptly’ in 2003.

Another of Netanyahu’s deceptions is that he only wants to punish Iran with sanctions until it gives up trying to acquire not only nuclear weapons but any nuclear technology that could even remotely facilitate this in the future. However, he knows that no government in Iran can agree to this, so what he is really trying to steer the world towards is the alternative – a military attack on Iran.

What is more, because he also knows that destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities will not destroy its capacity to rebuild these in the future, he does not want the attack to end until it has destroyed Iran’s infrastructure (as Israel destroyed southern Lebanon’s in 2006), its industry, its research facilities and its science universities.

He knows that Israel cannot undertake such a vast operation without the United States. But there is one stumbling block – President Barack Obama – who has learned from his recent experience that, to put it mildly, U.S. interests do not always tally with those of its allies in the Middle East.

So Netanyahu is following a two-pronged strategy: first to get the U.S. Congress to insert clauses in the nuclear treaty draft that Iran will be forced to reject, and second to take advantage of the spike in paranoia that will follow to push the West into an attack on Iran.

He has been joined in this endeavour by another steadfast friend of the United States – Saudi Arabia. At the end of February, Saudi Arabia quietly signed an agreement with Israel that will allow its warplanes to overfly Saudi Arabia on their way to bombing Iran. This has halved the distance they will need to fly. Then, four weeks later, on Mar. 26, it declared war on the Houthis in Yemen, whom it has been relentlessly portraying as a tiny minority bent upon taking Yemen over through sheer terror, with the backing of Iran.

This is a substantial oversimplification, and therefore distortion, of a complicated relationship.

Iran may well be helping the Houthis, but not because they are Shias.  The Houthis, who make up 30 percent of Yemen’s population, are Zaidis, a very different branch of Shi’a-ism than the one practised in Iran, Pakistan and India. They inhabit a region that stretches across Saada, the northernmost district of Yemen, and three adjoining principalities, Jizan, Najran and Asir, that Saudi Arabia annexed in 1934.

The internecine wars that Yemeni Houthis have fought since the 1960s have not been sectarian, or even against the Saudis specifically, but in quest of independence and, more recently, a federal state. This is a goal that several other tribes share. 

The timing of Saudi Arabia’s attack, four weeks after its overflight agreement with Israel, and its incessant portrayal of the Houthis as proxies of Iran, hints at a deeper understanding between it and Israel. The Houthis’ attacked Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, in September last year. So why did Saudi Arabia wait until March this year before sending its bombers in?

Iran has kept out of the conflict in Yemen so far, but the manifestly one-sided resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council and the immediate resignation of the U.N. special envoy for Yemen, Jamal Benomar, who had been struggling to bring about a non-sectarian resolution of the conflict in Yemen and been boycotted by the country’s president Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi for his pains, cannot have failed to raise misgivings in Tehran.

Iraqi President Haydar Abadi’s sharp criticism of the Saudi attack in Washington on the same day reflects his awareness of how these developments are darkening the prospect for Iran’s rehabilitation, and therefore Iraq’s future.

To stop this drift Obama needs to tell his people precisely how far, under Netanyahu’s leadership, Israel’s interests have diverged from those of the United States, and how single-mindedly Israel has used its special relationship with the United States to push it into actions that have imperilled its own security in the Middle East.

Instead of dwelling on how the nuclear treaty will make it practically impossible for Iran to clandestinely enrich uranium or produce plutonium, he needs to remind Americans of what Netanyahu has been carefully neglecting to mention: that a nuclear device is not a bomb, and that to convert it into one Iran will need not only to master the physics of bomb-making and reduce its weight to what a missile can carry, but conduct at least one test explosion to make sure the bomb works. That will make escaping detection pretty well impossible.

Finally, the White House needs to remind Americans that Iranians also know the price they will pay if they are caught trying to build a bomb after signing the agreement. Not only will this bring back all and more of the sanctions they are under,  but it will vindicate Netanyahu’s apocalyptic predictions and make a pre-emptive military strike virtually unavoidable.

Should a military strike, whether deserved or undeserved, destroy Iran’s economy, it will add tens of thousands of Shi’a Jihadis to the Sunni Jihadis already spawned in Libya, Somalia, Chechnya and the other failed states and regions of the world. The security that Netanyahu claims it will bring will turn out to be a chimera.

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