- Calls grow for strong Congressional voice in shaping Iran deal
- Former U.S. Ambassador: Turkey ignored calls made at "highest levels" to assist in counter-terrorism, blocking Al Qaeda
- Dutch pension fund brushes off calls to cut off Israeli banks, undermines "increasing public perception that Israel is on the verge of wholesale boycotts": reports
- Concerns grow that Israel losing U.S.-backed Qualitative Military Edge in Middle East
- Senators from across the political spectrum, including some who have largely stayed on the sidelines during recent debates revolving around Iran, on Thursday called on the White House to ensure that Congress is given a significant voice is shaping a comprehensive nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic. Politico conveyed a letter to White House and State Department officials from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) - who the outlet noted "has declined to antagonize the president legislatively on" Iran - to demand that "any further agreement... that lifts statutory sanctions on Iran should require approval by the Congress before taking effect." Politico contextualized Paul's concern as a reaction to recent statements by State Department Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, in which Sherman was asked about the possibility of unilateral Obama administration moves on Iran. Paul declared in his letter that "the intent of Congress was not simply to allow the President to waive all the sanctions in perpetuity at his behest." Meanwhile Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) took to the floor to sketch out the contours of what an acceptable deal with Iran would have to include, stating that Tehran must be forced to dismantle its atomic program to such an extent that "alarm bells will sound - from Vienna to Washington, Moscow and Beijing - should Iran restart its program anytime in the next 20 to 30 years." More precisely, the New Jersey Democrat emphasized that "a final agreement should move back the timeline for nuclear breakout capability to beyond-a-year - or more and insist on a long-term, 20 year plus, monitoring and verification agreement" and noted that David Albright, the head of the non-partisan U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), has calculated that "for Iran to move from an interim to a final agreement, it would have to close the Fordow facility and remove between 15,000 and 16,000 of its 20,000 centrifuges." Menendez committed to ensuring that "any deal the Administration reaches with Iran is verifiable, effective, and prevents them from ever developing even one nuclear weapon."
- National Journal on Thursday published analysis detailing how terror activities being facilitated by the Turkish government - Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other top officials have provided "protection and access" to terrorist members from a range of groups, including Hamas and Al Qaeda - have now reached a point where they "threaten future cooperation on security issues." Revelations have been steadily emerging for months that Turkey is harboring Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas's West Bank chief and the one reportedly responsible for overseeing an uptick in violence in the territory. Recently leaked evidence also connects Erdogan to Saudi businessman Yasin al-Qadi, who the U.S. has designated for being an Al Qaeda financer. In one example, al-Qadi was provided VIP treatment and protection by Erdogan's security detail as he traveled through Turkey. Ilhan Tanir, the Washington correspondent for Turkey’s Vatan outlet, specifically called attention to quotes in the piece from former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey, who represented Washington from 2008 to 2010. Jeffrey was quoted describing efforts at "the highest levels" to ask Ankara to detail Al Qaeda members transmitting through Turkey, and notes that Turkish officials not only largely failed to comply but in fact "use terror if Turkey sees their political goals as commendable."
- The Jerusalem Post reported on Thursday that the Dutch pension fund ABP - one of the largest such funds in the world - has publicly rejected calls to disassociate from Israeli banks, with the Post describing the decision as running "firmly against the grain of the increasing public perception that Israel is on the verge of wholesale boycotts by European financial institutions." ABP had been pressed by anti-Israel activists to bend to the so-called Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and to cut its ties with three Israeli financial institutions. Even long-time detractors of Israel have criticized BDS advocates for dishonestly characterizing Israeli activities and for too openly seeking the elimination the Jewish state, and for its part ABP flatly asserted that the Israeli banks "do not act contrary to international law and regulations." The pension fund's decision is the latest in a string of setbacks for the BDS movement. Efforts to secure academic boycotts of Israel by U.S. institutions have triggered an intense backlash from literally hundreds of U.S. intuitions, and those efforts by now have become something of a punch line. Commercial boycott efforts - which seek to economically suffocate Israeli Jews, a strategy that the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center has identified as soaked in anti-Semitism - have been covered heavily in recent weeks after an extended public campaign to urge Scarlett Johansson to drop her association with Israeli company SodaStream backfired badly. Johansson not only rejected those calls but also disassociated herself from Oxfam, where she had been a goodwill ambassador, over the group's increasingly public ties to pro-BDS groups. The Israel Project (TIP) received broad coverage for a Super Bowl campaign mobilizing support for Johansson. The campaign, conducted largely on Facebook and Twitter, offered links to a "Thank Scarlett" page where activists and others could send letters of support to the American actress, model, and singer. The TIP campaign continued into this week, and the page is here.
- A string of recent developments and revelations in the Middle East has refocused attention on the degree to which a long-time national security priority of the United States - ensuring that Israel maintains its so-called Qualitative Military Edge (QEM) in the region - is being eroded. The Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) this week published its insidery The Military Balance 2014 report, documenting among other things that Saudi Arabia has risen to #4 in global defense spending, 10 slots ahead of Israel. Video of IISS Director-General John Chipman discussing the report and its main themes is here. Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), last Monday published an assessment evaluating a dozen regional trends and concluding that while "the balance of power in the Middle East is getting increasingly difficult to determine," there are indicators that Israel's "vaunted qualitative edge" - especially and specifically in the context of air power - "may now be diminishing." Schanzer also revealed that FDD has "spent the last six months compiling data for a new website that helps visitors to visualize the complex balance of power the Middle East," and has created a site that "allows users to compare open-source data on armaments and capabilities by country or by coalition" in order to understand the shifting dynamics. That website is here.
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