While Yemeni legitimate forces march towards Hodeida, which is the most important port for the rebels, Tehran is offering its desire to negotiate on Yemen.
Abbas Araghchi, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, said they reject Washington’s demands to link the nuclear deal and their manufacturing of ballistic missiles with their influence in the region, but they are ready to negotiate over Yemen.
The Iranian government is trying to dance around Washington’s demands and only execute them superficially. It’s negotiating over Yemen because it has become a losing card as the coalition advances and Iran’s ally, the Houthis, suffer from accelerated losses.
Iran and the 12 US demands
Meanwhile in Syria, we can see Iran retreating as it vows not to head south which contradicts what it said following its final victory. After it destroyed the Palestinian Yarmouk camp on Damascus’ outskirts, Iran announced that it will lead its militias towards Daraa, adjacent to Jordan.
Notice how Iran's tactic is first based on selling what it loses, as for instance the Houthi defeat will make it necessary for Iran to give them upAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Iran backed down and its ambassador to Amman said his country will not be stationed in areas close to Jordan or even in areas close to Israel. This comes, of course, due to the massive losses Iran suffered during the past two weeks as a result of the Israeli shelling and the new Russian stance to no longer provide an air cover for Iran.
It is clear that the Iranians, with their well-known realism, respect power more than they respect international agreements and customs. They would not have accepted to agree over Yemen if it hadn’t been for their ally’s accelerating losses there. They would not have repositioned their forces away from northern Jordan and eastern Israel if it hadn’t been for the painful losses they suffered.
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This means we have to expect Tehran to make a series of “concessions” in the next phase to convince the US to halt or mitigate economic sanctions and reactivate the nuclear deal.
There are three major demands in the 12 conditions the US set and they are: halting the production of ballistic missiles, like those which targeted Saudi cities from Yemen, withdrawing from fighting zones that target US allies, i.e. Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, and the third is for Iran to stop interfering in Iraq’s affairs.
These three conditions in particular represent a major challenge to the core of Iran’s foreign policy. Notice how its tactic is first based on selling what it loses, as for instance the Houthi defeat will make it necessary for Iran to give them up.
Syria, however, is more precious to Tehran than to give up on it as Iran has invested billions of dollars in its war there and lost a large number of its commanders and militia fighters there. Withdrawing from Syria will threaten its influence in Lebanon where it spent at least $30 billion since the 1980’s and which it deems essential to its policy to have a regional balance with Israel and the US.
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We will probably witness Iran rearranging the deployment of its troops and militias in Syria in agreement with Israel and in influence zones that Iran is far from. This is what the news website Elaph published about indirect secret negotiations between the two parties in Amman. Iran’s ambassador to Jordan confirmed this in an interview with the Al Ghad daily adding that they do not plan to fight in the South.
The Iranian negotiator’s tactic may be to give up these red zones because they cannot be present there and to commit that its forces and militias will not attack Israel, making the same pledge which the Syrian regime has made during the disengagement negotiations after the 1973 war. Syria has not attacked Israel since then and it chose Lebanon to be the alternative arena for confrontation.
We must not forget that Iran, through its proxy Hezbollah, has engaged in negotiations and agreed to pull out its fighters, vowing not to deploy beyond the Litani River towards Israel’s borders during the agreement to stop the war in 2006.
Iran holds on to Syria and views it as a strategic regional fulcrum to protect its influence in Iraq and Lebanon and increase its negotiating capabilities against Israel and the US. It must try to propose its ideas to prevent the disaster that will ensue as a result of sanctions, through a series of messages via countries like the Sultanate of Oman and Switzerland or mediators like France.
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We expect from Iran to propose ideas that specify the nature of its military presence and positions in Syria and claim that it is to support the Damascus regime that has a weakened military and security authority. Iran will find justifications for this and say Egypt rejected America’s call to send troops there to replace them. The other option is that Iran will accept to fully withdraw from Syria but after an average period of time, three years, under the excuse of rehabilitating the regime’s military and security capabilities.
As for Yemen, we do not rule out the possibility that Tehran will repeat its two demands in order stop the fighting: to give the Houthis a share in the government and parliament seats, a share bigger than their size, and allowing the Houthis to keep their heavy weapons. These two demands are certainly rejected by the Yemenis and the coalition countries.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.