- Experts, diplomats: Impose more sanctions on Iran to strengthen the West's hand
- In latest regime walk-back, Iran nuke chief denies rumored concession on enrichment
- Egypt arrest sweep nets last top Muslim Brotherhood figure
- Israeli Air Force preps first hosted trilateral air exercise, shrugging off Turkish attempts at military isolation
What we’re watching today:
- Members of Congress and a range of analysts are emphasizing the importance of existing and new sanctions on Iran, as the U.S. and the international community prepare to negotiate with the Islamic republic over its nuclear program, which is widely considered to have clandestine weaponization components. This morning's Los Angeles Times saw an article - co-written by former White House Middle East Advisor Dennis Ross, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman, and former Defense Department official Michael Makovsky - calling on the U.S. to "negotiate from a position of strength" by among other things "intensify[ing] sanctions and incentiviz[ing] other countries to do the same." Meanwhile the Washington Post published a recent speech by Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (NJ) declaring that sanctions "have been the single most powerful tool in bringing Iran to the table and bringing us to this pivotal point." Menendez's assessment echoes a broad consensus to the effect that sanctions have been critical in eroding Iran's economy and coercing Iranian leaders to at least engage in negotiations. Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg noted this morning that, given the expert consensus that heightened sanctions brought Iran to the table, it's difficult to credit claims that further sanctions will cause Iran to walk away from the table. The same point was suggested by Associated Press reporter Matthew Lee in last Friday's State Department press briefing, with Lee noting that "one of the main reasons, or maybe the only reason, that Iran agreed to come to the table this time was the sanctions" and asking "so wouldn't it be logical that once you’ve got them to the table, adding more pressure would help and would make them more willing to compromise than saying – than holding off." A Senate bill still in committee would aim to cut Iranian oil sales in half. Administration figures are pushing to hold off on the new sanctions. Asked about a push, Menendez questioned the logic of unilaterally suspending pressure while Iran "continues to move forward" by installing new nuclear-related technology.
- Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi clarified today that Iran is continuing to enrich uranium up to 20%, denying widely conveyed reports that the Islamic republic has ceased adding to its stockpile of 20% purity uranium, with which top experts believe it can sprint across the nuclear finish line in as little time as two weeks. Conservative MP Hossein Naqavi Hosseini had been cited as the source of the original rumor, and now claims he was misquoted. The chair of the Iranian parliament's foreign affairs committee, Allaeddine Boroujerdi, had previously denied suggestions of a halt. The original suggestion had raised hopes - per The New York Times - that Iran was "edging closer to accepting one of the main demands of world powers." The dynamic - in which optimistic coverage produced in Western outlets was quickly followed by an explicit Iranian walkback - repeats a pattern that has become almost routine since the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. A Twitter account reportedly linked to Rouhani generated what the Washington Post described as a "frenzied response" when it was used to wish Jews a happy Jewish New Year. Rouhani's office subsequently denied any connection to the post. A little later Iranian citizens were for the first time in years able to directly access social media networks, generating speculation from Western journalists that "Iran’s Berlin Wall of internet censorship crumbling." The ban was reimposed a day later. In September a German paper published rumors that Rouhani was prepared to shut down Iran's underground enrichment bunker at Fordow, a suggestion that regime outlets swatted down. Even walkbacks on Iranian willingness to negotiate over its 20% enriched stock are not new. In early April the Associated Press quoted Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani suggesting that Iran may make concessions on uranium enriched to that level, only to see itself called out by name and condemned by regime figures for misquoting Larijani.
- Egyptian security forces today arrested one of the few prominent Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood figures who have thus far escaped the wide-ranging decapitation campaign being waged against the Islamist group by Egypt's army-backed interim government, a move likely to fuel ongoing analyst discussions outlining scenarios under which Cairo may succeed in largely collapsing the Islamist group's influence inside Egypt. Essam el-Erian, arguably the last senior Brotherhood official who had escaped being seized, had been a top adviser to Egypt's former Brotherhood-linked president Mohammed Morsi. While in that position he blamed Jews for the Boston terror attack, the war in Mali, the war in Syria, and the war in Iraq. Though top officials in the interim government continue to press for reconciliation between competing Egyptian factions - Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa El-Din on Tuesday pressed the case in the context of the Brotherhood - rapprochement remains unlikely. Brotherhood members have repeatedly rejected national reconciliation, and for their part military officials likely believe that the reassertion of Brotherhood power would lead to retaliation against the army.
- Israel will host its first multilateral air drill next month, assembling nearly 1,000 personnel from three nations for two weeks of air-to-air and air-to-ground exercises modeled on the U.S. Air Force's annual Red Flag military training exercise. Dubbed Blue Flag, the drill will take place at the Ovda training range in the Jewish state's south. The identity of the participants is being withheld on security grounds, but Defense News notes that the Israel Air Force has recently conducted bilateral training with the U.S., Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Poland. Each of those countries has been suggested as a possible participant. The IAF had for years trained with Turkey's air force, until Turkey cut off relations with Israel and began making concentrated efforts to prevent the Jewish state from participating in security forums and multilateral military exercises. Ankara was criticized for seeking to isolate Israel at the expense of Israeli-European interoperability. Jerusalem subsequently began to explore a series of bilateral and multilateral exercises outside frameworks Turkey could affect. Israel's navy for instance recently participated in trilateral search-and-rescue exercises with Cyprus and Greece, and in August the Israeli Defense Forces and U.S. European Command ran two weeks of military exercises.
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