- Analysts: Israeli capture of Gaza-bound Iran arms ship was intelligence coup, prevented likely war
- Congressional Quarterly: "groups on opposite sides of the Iran debate" converge on consensus that Obama needs Congress to lift Iran sanctions
- Reports: Hezbollah bolstering advanced infrastructure in Lebanon, has acquired advanced anti-ship missiles
- U.S. Arab allies recall envoys from Qatar, as Middle East regional blocs harden
- · Analysts and journalists spent Wednesday assessing the geopolitical, diplomatic, and military significance of the overnight interdiction of an Iranian vessel carrying advanced missiles bound for the Gaza Strip, after reports began to trickle out of the Middle East early in the morning that the Panamanian-flagged Klos-C merchant ship had been boarded by elite Israeli commandos roughly 1,500 kilometers off the Israeli coast. The Israeli Defense Forces released a torrent of information, including videos of the raid, throughout the day. The cargo of advanced M302 missiles - which have a range of 200km, enabling any group that possessed them to reach across Israel - reportedly originated in Syria, and then transited through Iran and Iraq, before eventually being intercepted on the high seas by Israel. Israel's left-leaning Haaretz headlined its coverage of the intelligence coup with "In seizing Gaza-bound ship, Israel postponed the war no one wants," suggesting that the successful delivery of the weapons to Gaza-based terrorists would have forced the Israelis to make moves aimed at militarily deterring their use or directly degrading them. Veteran Jerusalem Post national security reporter Yaakov Lappin read the incident against the backdrop of a covert war between the Iranian government, which seeks to put advanced weapons in the hands of anti-Israel terror organizations, and Israeli intelligence agencies, which have moved to stem the flow of rockets, missiles, and other weapons. Lappin projected that Jerusalem's ability to deter the use of whatever weapons are slipping through - and he noted that weapons are undeniably doing so - will eventually erode, and that "the IDF will have to activate its unprecedented firepower, to spare Israeli civilians from the rockets and missiles that Iran and its affiliated organizations are preparing for them."
- Congressional Quarterly (CQ) on Wednesday assessed that "groups on opposite sides of the Iran debate" were converging on the need to give Congress a strong voice in the Obama administration's diplomacy with Iran, just days after bipartisan letters to the White House from both the House and the Senate were read as moves designed to reassert Congressional prerogatives amid ongoing negotiations. CQ noted that a letter written by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and the chamber's Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) - which outlined Congressional expectations for any final deal inked with Iran over its nuke program - was backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and had garnered praise from National Iranian American Council (NIAC). NIAC is widely considered to be among the most pro-Iranian lobbies in Washington, and has been slammed by members of Congress for peddling "propaganda put out by the Iranian regime." CQ specifically quoted a NIAC statement declaring that the Administration must go to Congress in order to eventually lift nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, and that "authorizations do not current exist" which would enable the President to do otherwise. The outlet conveyed statements by Jamal Abdi criticizing various proposed alternatives to Congressional assent. Abdi criticized one proposed alternative, which would have the President indefinitely issuing waivers on sanctions, for locking in a fragile deal. He noted that another proposed alternative, which would have the President simply conclude that he can lift sanctions, would inevitably generate a Congressional backlash that risked scuttling any deal. Mark Dubowitz, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, noted that the NIAC statement marked agreement between both "pro-Israel and pro-Iran lobbies" on the point that "Obama cannot lift sanctions without Congress."
- Hezbollah is bolstering its infrastructure inside Lebanon and has acquired advanced missiles capable of reaching across Israel, according to multiple reports published in recent days in a range of international outlets. The various stories are bound to be read against the backdrop of heightened concerns that any eventual conflagration with Israel will see Israeli forces move swiftly to degrade that infrastructure and interdict those missiles, potentially endangering what has become a vast network of human shields behind which Hezbollah have been placed. Lebanese outlet Ya Libnan on Tuesday conveyed reports describing Hezbollah as having built an airport, alongside warehouses and secret tunnels, in the Bekaa Valley it dominates. Ya Libnan specifically cited a report in the Al-Mustaqbal describing the infrastructure, noting that it was built under Iranian supervision, and revealing that it has been used to launch drones that surveilled Hezbollah's domestic opponents. The report comes a few days after Israeli media outlets reported on Israeli assessments under which Hezbollah has already acquired and deployed advanced Yakhont missiles. Yakhonts are over-the-horizon, sea-skimming, supersonic missiles with a range of 300 kilometers. Their acquisition by Hezbollah would enable the Iran-backed terror group to strike Israel's off-shore energy infrastructure, endanger Israeli naval assets, and attack anywhere along the Jewish state's coastline. The Israelis are widely expected to quickly move to destroy any known stockpiles of the weapons in the context of any future conflict, regardless of where they are hidden.
- The Egyptian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday described Qatar as aligned against the bulk of the Arab world and emphasized that Cairo would not be returning its ambassador to the Gulf state, on the same day that three Gulf monarchies - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain - withdrew their own envoys from Qatar in a coordinated move. The move was broadly seen as a reaction to Qatari support for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and the three Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries issued a statement blasting Doha for interfering in other countries' "internal affairs." Qatar quickly declared that it would not be retaliating by withdrawing its own envoys from its fellow GCC members. The diplomatic rupture has been a long time coming. Recent years have seen Middle East geopolitical dynamics revolve around the formation and interaction of three broad regional blocs, with Israel and the U.S.'s traditional Arab allies in one camp, Iran and its proxies in another, and radical Sunni elements - Turkey, Qatar, and various Muslim Brotherhood movements - in a third. Qatar's relationship to Egypt has in particular seen dramatic shifts. When Egypt was ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood-linked government of then-President President Mohammed Morsi, Qatar sought to boost Cairo and was castigated for it by the U.S.'s traditional Gulf allies. Morsi's July 2013 overthrow moved Cairo back into the Israeli-Arab camp of U.S. allies, immediately triggering deep tensions with Doha. Washington Institute fellow Simon Henderson assessed Wednesday that the withdrawal of Gulf envoys from Qatar "is a setback to U.S. diplomacy with its Gulf allies and another item for the president's upcoming meeting with Saudi King Abdullah, the council's unofficial leader."
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