- Failed Iran talks refocus debate on Iranian plutonium activity, risks of "ruse" that would activate reactor
- Unknown political fallout after White House implies sanctions votes would put U.S. on "march to war" with Iran
- Analysts: One year after Israeli military campaign, Hamas in "one of its worst positions since its founding"
- Reuters expose describes "massive financial empire" built by Iranian Supreme Leader
What we’re watching today:
- Various theories on why last weekend's negotiations with Iran failed to bridge differences between Tehran and the international community continued to swirl today, with some new reports pointing to Iranian demands that the West acknowledge that it has a right to enrich uranium - it doesn't - and others emphasizing French concerns over Iran's demand it be allowed to continue bolstering its plutonium facility at Arak. The Arak complex has a heavy water production facility and a heavy water reactor, and once the reactor goes "hot" it can't be destroyed but will produce two bombs worth of plutonium per year. Writing in the Huffington Post yesterday, Foundation for Defense of Democracies scholar Michael Ledeen emphasized that while "France wants a deal with Iran," Paris has a decade-long history of rejecting deals that it is convinced are "destined to fail." French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was reported as having rejected a planned deal with Iran as a "sucker’s deal" due to terms related to Arak, which would have allowed Iran to continue developing Arak as long as they didn't activate the reactor. But Tehran had already acknowledged that it wasn't going to activate the reactor until mid-to-late 2014. Even more dangerously, Iran would have been allowed to run tests during the interim period, amid analyst concerns - based on bizarre Iranian descriptions of how the tests would be conducted - that the trial runs will be a ruse to turn the reactor on. Dr. Bruno Tertrais, senior Research Fellow at the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique (FRS), advised observers on Saturday to understand the French position by starting with “the Strange Tale of Dummy Fuel Assemblies and Light Water Testing.”
- Politico late tonight published analysis describing various Senate views on legislation that would "slap an immediate new round of sanctions on Iran," a day before Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew are set to brief senators on last weekend's failed negotiations in Geneva and hours after White House Press Secretary Jay Carney implied - according to the Los Angeles Times - that lawmakers pushing for new sanctions against Iran were putting Washington on "a march to war." Carney also declared, again per the Los Angeles Times, that American citizens may "turn their anger on lawmakers" who seek to increase the kind of financial pressure on the Islamic republic that the administration until recently was emphasizing had coerced Iranian leaders into seeking compromise. Iranian state media picked up and rebroadcast Carney's statements both in print and on television, stating that Carney had "warned Congress, which is currently mulling tougher sanctions on Iran... that opposing a deal with Tehran could lead to war." It is not known whether any of the 178 House Democrats who voted in July to increase sanctions on Iran were briefed beforehand about the White House stance.
- Analysts and diplomats used the one-year anniversary of Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense - which was launched against terror groups in the Gaza Strip after months in which Palestinian groups had escalated both the amount and the sophistication of weapons fired at Israel - to unpack a marked deterioration in Hamas's position since the campaign. The week-long operation last November has been described by observers as a clinic in how to wage modern urban warfare, with Israel substantially degrading the Palestinian terror group's command and control infrastructure. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today toured the Israeli Defense Force's Gaza Division and noted that rocket attacks from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip had dropped 98 percent in the last year, totaling to just 35 instances, most of which had "been ineffective." David Barnett, a research associate at Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), yesterday published an extended analysis of Hamas's position a year after Pillar of Defense. Barnett assessed that "a year later, Hamas is in one of its worst positions since its founding in 1987" and that Israeli statements asserting that Jerusalem had established a deterrent against attacks from Gaza have "been largely true." Hamas is nonetheless known to be positioning itself for an upsurge in violence, and FDD Vice President of Research Jonathan Schanzer has called for the U.S. and its allies to strike a financial death blow to the organization before it can reconsolidate.
- Reuters is in the midst of publishing a three-part investigative expose on the "massive financial empire" created by Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei, who among other things guided an organization ostensibly dedicated to assisting the poor into amassing tens of billions of dollars and inserting itself into "nearly every sector" of Iran's economy including "finance, oil, telecommunications, the production of birth-control pills and even ostrich farming." The first part of the series details how property seizures conducted by Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam – Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam - enabled the organization to "become one of the most powerful organizations in Iran" and to acquire holdings across Iran's economy. Setad was allowed by Khamenei to confiscate and then leverage the real estate of thousands of properties owned by religious minorities and Iranians living abroad, until today it "holds a court-ordered monopoly on taking property in the name of the supreme leader, and regularly sells the seized properties at auction or seeks to extract payments from the original owners." The second part of the series details how Setad's diversification across the Iranian economy - a chart developed by the organization and leaked to Reuters is posted here - has "provide[d] an independent source of revenue and patronage for Supreme Leader Khamenei" despite Western efforts to squeeze the Iranian economy.
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