Saudi-Iranian deal: Tehran takes first step, stops arms shipment to Yemen’s Houthis
Saudi and US officials say Iran is cutting off supplies to the rebel group, a decision that could mark the end of fighting and be the first step for a stable and lasting truce. First reactions come from Israel, where Mossad’s former chief describes the deal as a “startling” step and calls on Israeli leaders to shift the country’s policy vis-à-vis Iran.
Riyadh (AsiaNews) – Action on the Yemen war should have been first real step in the thaw between Saudi Arabia and Iran, experts say. And this seems to be the case.
Iran has in fact agreed to stop sending weapons to Houthi rebels who are fighting the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, Saudi and US officials say.
According to the Wall Street Journal, by stopping to arm the Houthis, Iran could put pressure on the militant group to strike a deal to end the war.
For years, Saudi Arabia and Iran have backed the warring parties in Yemen, fuelling a conflict that has had disastrous humanitarian consequences beyond the country's borders, with Houthis firing rockets into Saudi territory.
The spokesman of the Iranian delegation to the UN refused to answer any question relating to arms shipments since Tehran has always denied that it has militarily aided the Houthis.
Nevertheless, when Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to resume diplomatic relations last week, Yemen was a key part of the deal; what is more, a Saudi official, on condition of anonymity, said that he expected Tehran to respect the existing UN arms embargo.
For experts, this would make it harder for the Houthis to continue fighting and would enable the parties to respect a truce that expired a few months ago.
Both the United States and Saudi Arabia can now focus on Iran, to see if it keeps its commitment while the two rivals reopen their respective embassies in the next two months.
The resumption of Saudi-Iran relations “gives a boost to the prospect of a [Yemen] deal in the near future,” while Iran’s approach to the conflict will be “kind of a litmus test” for the success of last week’s diplomatic deal, one US official is quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, Hans Grundberg, the UN special envoy for Yemen, flew first to Tehran earlier this week to discuss Iran’s role in ending the war, then to Riyadh.
Last Wednesday, special US envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking met with Saudi officials in Riyadh to make another attempt to jumpstart stalled peace talks and breathe new life in the formal truce that expired last October. However hard, the aim is to get a ceasefire before Ramadan, which begins next week.
The Chinese-brokered agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia has also had some echoes in Israel. For Efraim Halevy, the former director of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, this is an opportunity for his country to explore the possibilities of a rapprochement with Iran following what he calls a “very startling” development.
Speaking to CNN, he said that Israeli leaders should put aside any “prejudice” about the agreement itself, but focus instead on finding ways of working with it.
For the former Mossad boss, Israel should “understand what it is that brought the Iranians to their rapprochement with Saudi Arabia,” and realise that “the time has come [. . .] to seek a different policy towards Iran” by exploring in a “concealed manner” ways to bridge the gap with its erstwhile enemy.