New Wars for the New Year?

While the government of Iran reels under the continuing pressures of a popular uprising, whose character is inexorably changing from protest at a rigged election, contrived by the ambitious and obscurantist Revolutionary Guard, into a challenge to the Islamic government itself, the American-backed campaign for further sanctions on the economy, and inevitably the people, continues, to punish Iran’s resistance to further international inspection of its nuclear facilities.

The Israeli threat of military intervention also has been intensified, despite the public uprising against the Tehran regime and the perfectly real possibilities of a government upheaval that could prove of great and even pacific significance in the country’s relationship with its neighbors, the U.S., and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

It should be understood that there are two reasons why Iran’s rivals would wish to attack that country. The first is to destroy a supposed nuclear threat to other countries. The other would be simply to cripple Iran as an industrial economy and major actor in the affairs of the region, as has happened to Iraq.

In this respect, supposedly official documents demonstrating the military nature of the Iranian nuclear program continue to be distributed by unidentified sources. The latest, published in the Times of London on Dec. 14, purports to show that Tehran has worked upon or is working on a "nuclear initiator," a component in a nuclear weapon. The document is challenged by some independent intelligence sources because of its lack of an identifiable source, implausibility in the document itself, and because of its suspicious dating.

American intelligence officials say that the document "has yet to be authenticated." Its claimed date, later than November 2007, would be consistent with an effort to undermine the conclusion that Iranian work on nuclear weapons has ceased, which was the finding of the United States intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate in 2007, which Washington has never repudiated.

If this were not cheer enough for New Year’s Eve 2010, we have news of a new American military intervention into an Arab country of which Americans know next to nothing, the land of the Queen of Sheba, Yemen.

The young son of a prominent Nigerian banker and former official, who studied engineering at the distinguished University College London, seems to have passed by Yemen in the peregrinations that on Christmas Eve took him to Amsterdam and Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit, which he attempted to blow up. This drew attention to Yemen, where a terrorist group has claimed that he is indeed one of their agents.

This was no surprise to American security specialists, who have had their eye on Yemen for some time, with special forces operators reportedly active in a $70 million plan to train counterterrorism forces, while unofficially assisting in certain operations against this group, which calls itself "al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula."

Sen. Joe Lieberman and other officials visited Yemen in August, and Lieberman declared that "Yemen now becomes one of the centers" of the fight against lawlessness. Gen. David H. Petraeus had been there earlier in the summer.

U.S. officials are quoted by the New York Times as saying that the country could become "al-Qaeda’s next operational and training hub, rivaling the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan," which suggests that the American "surge" in Afghanistan may soon find a rival claim on American resources from Yemen, a country engaged in regional civil war until 1990.

That year, Arab League mediation culminated in a constitutional agreement between Yemen’s rival republics, the nationalist and Marxist People’s Democratic Republic and the nationalist and Nasserist Yemen Arab Republic, mainly identifiable as representing, respectively, northerners and southerners. Yemen also enjoys the anxious regard of its large and not particularly friendly neighbor, Saudi Arabia.

In the time of the Queen of Sheba, in the first millennium B.C., Yemen was known for its rich and prosperous trade in spices and incense. Today its exportable resources are cotton, salt, gypsum and stone. It had some oil, but this reportedly is running out. There are possibly exploitable natural gas resources. The estimated population is 24 million, with a per capita annual individual income with a purchasing power equivalent to $870.

The reliable Statesman’s Yearbook reports that Yemen possesses an estimated four firearms for every person in its population and is therefore "arguably the world’s most heavily-armed country." The United States and Israel will be relieved to know that it is a signatory to the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

(c) 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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