- Congress pushes forwards with new Hezbollah sanctions, as reports emerge of group helping Syrian forces attack Lebanese towns
The Jerusalem Post reported Friday that bipartisan efforts to impose sanctions on Hezbollah were progressing in both chambers of Congress, with parallel legislation that would qualitatively and quantitatively increase financial pressure on the Iran-backed terror group having "quickly attained 280 co-sponsors – a number that more than doubled in a matter of weeks and far exceeds the 218 needed for a majority – in the House of Representatives and 36 in the Senate." The new bills draw on instruments and tactics developed to target Iran, and would provide the White House "with tools to target and impose sanctions on foreign banks that conduct business with Hezbollah and its enablers." Al Monitor's insidery Congress Pulse had described the moves in early May as aimed at "snuff[ing] out the Shiite militia," which has been widely blamed for providing critical support for Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime and for dragging Lebanon into that country's civil war in the process. Lebanon's NOW Media indicated Thursday that roughly forty Hezbollah fighters had been killed fighting around the Syrian city of Rankous. The outlet also published a piece by Beirut-based journalist Nadine Elali updating the situation in Tfail, a Lebanese town that has for months been besieged and bombarded by Hezbollah-backed Syrian forces. Elali conveyed reports indicating that Hezbollah has actively joined the fighting on the side of the Syrians, quoting a source declaring that "battles have been raging for two consecutive nights. Hezbollah forces are in direct battle with the village residents. Hezbollah is fighting Lebanese residents." The developments - from endangering the Lebanese banking system to actively assisting in foreign attacks on Lebanese soil - are in tension with years of efforts by Hezbollah to brand itself as a Lebanese organization protecting Lebanese sovereignty. Those characterizations were at times echoed by influential Western foreign policy experts.
More than a week after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped, observers are focusing on the increasingly strained ties between Hamas, the terror group that is believed to be behind last week’s abduction, and Fatah, the rival faction with whom Hamas entered into a unity agreement last month. Veteran Arab affairs reporter Avi Issacharoff noted that Hamas involvement in the kidnappings would spell disaster for Palestinian reconciliation efforts – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday publicly condemned the abductions – and called the attack “a blow not only to Israel, but also to Abbas and the promises he made to the international community.” Issacharoff remarked that top Fatah officials including Abbas “have realized that Hamas has simply manipulated them” by failing to adhere to commitments it made to the Palestinian Authority by among other things continuing to carry out terror attacks. Analysts in early May openly expressed concerns that a unity agreement between the two factions would throw Hamas a badly needed lifeline and provide the organization with a foothold in the West Bank.
Representatives from the P5+1 global powers and Iran emerged from nuclear talks Friday without having made any major breakthroughs, and with Iranian negotiators reportedly rejecting “excessive demands” from the West. It remains unclear if the parties will reach a final deal by the interim Joint Plan of Action’s (JPA) July 20 deadline - and in fact conventional wisdom is hardening to the effect that they will not - but the Wall Street Journal noted that all parties left the talks with a working document that the outlet described as "the first concrete advance in months." There has been robust public debate regarding the nature and extent of what are widely described as large gaps between Tehran and the international community. Public attention, aided by leaks from all sides, has in recent weeks focused on the number of the number and sophistication of centrifuges the Islamic republic will be allowed to maintain. Tehran currently has 19,000 centrifuges, and in February a former top nuclear negotiator from the country boasted that Iran "will never" dismantle portions of its nuclear infrastructure. Disputes over Iranian intransigence regarding what are referred to as the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of its atomic program have been more muted but are considered substantively just as significant. Iran is obligated by United Nations Security Council resolution 1929 to come clean over the degree to which the country's military is entangled in its atomic program, a requirement that is considered crucial if international inspectors are to establish the baselines for a robust verification regime. Iran has made moves indicating that it is seeking to skirt those obligations even in the context of comprehensive negotiations. Talks are set to resume in early July, less than three weeks before the July 20 deadline.
Israeli high school students made history last night with the successful launch of the Duchifat 1 nano-satellite, which they developed and built as part of an educational project. The secondary school students at the Space Laboratory of the Herzliya Science Center, with help from the Israeli Space Agency in the Ministry of Science, launched the 840-gram satellite from the Yasny launch base in Russia at 22:10 on June 19. The Duchifat 1, which is solar powered, was attached to a 34-ton rocket during launch. The goal is for the satellite to remain in orbit for 20 years. It is the first Israeli spacecraft of its kind to orbit earth. “The main mission of the satellite is to transmit real-time information via radio amateur packets from a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) using the Automatic Position Reporting System (APRS) protocol. Duchifat-1 will allow remote traveler’s to access the satellite for worldwide position/status reporting and messaging even in the case of using simple handheld or mobile radios with Omni-directional whip antennas. Distant travelers, boats at sea, and stations in many parts of the world are presently unable to use the APRS system when on distant trips,” reads the Duchifat 1 mission statement. “The launch today marks the beginning of the nano-satellite era in Israel,” Minister of Science, Technology and Space Yaakov Peri said in a statement. (via Israel21c)
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