- Former IAEA deputy director: Iran could produce enough material for nuke in two weeks
- Hezbollah blamed for Tripoli violence that kills scores as army deploys to contain blowback
- Associated Press: Netanyahu faces "political uproar" over prisoner release meant to boost U.S.-backed peace talks
- Hamas fires rockets at Israel after Egypt closes border crossing "indefinitely," Israel targets underground launchers
What we’re watching today:
- Top diplomats are warning that Iran is capable of purifying its stockpile of 3.5% low enriched uranium to 90% weapons grade levels in a matter of weeks, underscoring the complications involved in trying to sufficiently check the country's advanced nuclear program so as to render Tehran incapable of sneaking across the nuclear finish line. Iran has spent much of the last year installing more, and more sophisticated, centrifuges in its nuclear enrichment facilities, and the U.S.-based ISIS think tank has recently estimated that Iran will be able to purify enough uranium, at a sufficient pace, to conduct an undetectable breakout by the middle of next year. The Israel Project held a conference call on the issue this morning with Dr. Olli Heinonen, a former Deputy Director of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog and currently a senior fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School. Evaluating Iran's newly installed centrifuges, Heinonen revised the ISIS estimate, declaring that "if certain arrangements are done, [the breakout time] can even go down to two weeks." Heinonen separately emphasized that Iran's stockpile of 3.5% enriched material, which is farther away from weapons grade levels than its 20% enriched material, nonetheless still puts the regime more than half way toward what "you need to do in order to produce weapons-grade uranium." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had on Sunday outlined how Iran's "technological improvements" now allow Tehran "to enrich uranium from 3.5 percent to 90 percent in a number of weeks." Netanyahu's assessment echoes that of U.S.-based analysts, and officials from ISIS have said as much to Congress. U.S. lawmakers have called on Iran to dismantle its nuclear program, as demanded by half a dozen U.N. resolutions, by among other things exporting all of its enriched material out of the country and halting enrichment activities. Iran for its part has insisted that it will not give up its 3.5% low enriched uranium, and an Iranian MP this weekend also foreclosed concessions on Iran's underground military bunker - which has been converted into a uranium enrichment facility - at Fordow.
- A spike of violence in Tripoli - driven by the conflict in Syria and including both sniper attacks and mortar fire - has claimed the lives of at least 18 people and renewed criticism of Hezbollah for expanding Syria's nearly three year conflict into Lebanon. A Lebanese MP today slammed the Iran-backed terror group's leader Hassan Nasrallah for his "obvious" responsibility for the fighting, stating that Nasrallah is sending "weapons towards Tripoli" for delivery to Hezbollah-backed groups. Nasrallah for his part called on the Lebanese Armed Forces to seize control of Tripoli, and the army on Mondaybegan to deploy to the city. This is not the first time that Hezbollah has leveraged LAF assets to contain blowback generated by its involvement in the Syrian conflict. Hezbollah backed the Lebanese army last summer in storming a Sunni mosque where a radical cleric and his followers had holed up. The terror organization was forced to militarize its urban strongholds, establishing checkpoints and boosting on-the-street frisking procedures, after jihadists detonated car bombs in Hezbollah-dominated neighborhoods, with some checkpoints eventually being manned by Lebanese security forces.
- Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing what the Associated Press describes as a "political uproar" and a "storm of criticism" over plans to free 26 Palestinian terrorists convicted of murdering Israelis, part of a package of concessions that Jerusalem has offered to Palestinian Authority (PA) officials in order to entice them to continue engaging in U.S.-brokered peace talks. The move is the second of four planned releases, and comes despite the first wave being met by Palestinian statements hailing the released murderers as "political prisoners" and blasting Israelis as terrorists. In fact the Associated Press notes that "this week's release appeared especially charged because Israel is receiving little in return except for the opportunity to conduct negotiations." The decision is also controversial inasmuch as the weeks following the first release saw an upsurge in Palestinian terror incitement and activity in the West Bank from the two top Palestinian factions, the Fatah faction that controls the PA and its rival Hamas. The Hamas campaign is reportedly being directed from Turkey by Saleh al-Arouri, himself a previously freed prisoner, while Fatah officials are being blamed for inciting a wave of terror attacks. Three Israelis have been killed, and a young girl has been shot in front of her parents' home, in the violence.
- Both Israeli and Egyptian officials took actions this weekend and into Mondayaimed at Hamas and its capabilities, amid Palestinian rocket and mortar fire targeting Israel and originating in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. On Sunday Palestinians launched mortars at Israeli communities, and then Monday morning fired two rockets. One of today's rockets was intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system and another slammed into an open area in southern Israel. The Israeli Air Force subsequently struck two underground rocket launchers in the Gaza Strip. Separately and earlier on Saturday, Egyptian officials declared that the Rafah crossing connecting the Egyptian-controlled Sinai Peninsula to the Gaza Strip would be closed indefinitely. Cairo blames Hamas for facilitating the movement of personnel and materials used by jihadist groups operating in the Sinai against both Egyptian and Israeli targets.
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