Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday boasted that the international sanctions regime against Iran was "already unraveling" and would be "shattering in the coming months," echoing a theme that he has been consistently emphasizing since the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) - which provided Tehran with badly-needed financial relief - was signed in November. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had as recently as late February bragged that Iran was "open for business," a gesture toward explicit Obama administration statements - made by among others Treasury Department Under Secretary David Cohen, State Department Under Secretary Wendy Sherman, and various anonymous administration officials - insisting that the Islamic republic was "not open for business." Reuters noted at the bottom of its article on Rouhani's speech that "Iran exported oil at levels higher than allowed under the sanctions for a fourth straight month in February," noting that Washington lawmakers may decide a crackdown is in order if "economic pressure is being relaxed too quickly." Figures from recent days indicate that Iran successful extended its sanctions-busting streak into a fifth straight month in March. The degree to which Rouhani genuinely believes that sanctions are crumbling is unclear. International reintegration and economic improvement were critical campaign themes for the revolutionary-era cleric, and some theories hold that he has been touting the collapse of sanctions as the fulfillment of campaign pledges. Skeptics have pointed out that overpromising sanctions relief to Iranian audiences dramatically increases the leverage that Western diplomats have in facing down Iranian negotiators: a halt or reversal in the relief would subsequently take place within a domestic environment of heightened expectations. It is not certain that Rouhani would have the will or political ability to raise the stakes for the Iranians in ongoing nuclear talks.
Gaza-based Palestinian groups on Tuesday celebrated the West Bank terror attack that the day before had killed one Israeli and injured two more, while other Palestinian organizations - including the internationally-backed Fatah faction that controls the Palestinian Authority (PA) - generated controversy by pointedly declining to condemn the atrocity. A statement issued by Palestinian Islamic Jihad described the shooting - which saw the family's car riddled with bullets, killing a father of five and injuring his wife and child - as a "natural" reaction to Israeli actions. Meanwhile Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh hailed the murders as having "brought back life to the path of resistance," declaring that "the West Bank will be the future point of our struggle with the enemy." Israeli officials have expressed increasingly pitched concerns that Hamas - having been bottled up in the Gaza Strip by an Israeli naval blockade and a persistent Egyptian campaign to destroy underground smuggling tunnels - may launch a dramatic terror attack in the West Bank to bolster its sagging stature . The PA for its part choose not to denounce the attack, a move which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu linked to ongoing incitement by Palestinian officials that had already generated other acts of violence against Israelis. Palestinian media reported on Sunday that a PLO committee had been dispatched to the Gaza Strip to facilitate reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. The two factions have been at odds at least as far back as 2006, when Hamas emerged ahead in Palestinian legislative elections.
An relatively unusual incident in Jordan - in which an angry protester on Monday hurled a pair of shoes at the country's Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur - has refocused analyst attention on potentially widening rifts inside the monarchy, which as recently as last year was thought to be on the brink of following Egypt down a path of Muslim Brotherhood-driven destabilization. Analysis since then has somewhat shifted, after the Brotherhood seemed to badly overreach in its criticism of King Abdullah II. One particular incident had an activist setting a picture of Abdullah on fire. The activist was arrested and shortly afterward issued a public apology that among other things declared his support for "his majesty's vision" and called on lawmakers “to be tough against whoever may ride roughshod over this country and its resources." The Brotherhood in March made formal and informal moves to bolster its relationship with Abdullah. Analysts will watch the aftermath of the Monday shoe throwing incident to see if it follows a similar pattern. Police detained the 65 year old protester, claiming that it was "for his own protection because some of the attendees threatened to take action against him." The incident occurred against the backdrop of wider protests and strikes, which erupted in the aftermath of fuel price hikes overseen by the Nsur government. The Obama administration has declared Jordanian stability to be a key American interest, and has in recent years actively funneled troops and financial assistance to Amman.
A top United Nations human rights investigator on Monday demanded that Iran call off what is thought to be the impending execution of 26 year old Reyhaneh Jabbari, who had been convicted of killing an employee of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security under circumstances that international watchdog groups insist constituted self-defense. Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, noted that "reliable sources" had established that the stabbing of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi happened after he sexually assaulted the then-19 year old Jabbari. The controversy comes against the backdrop of a spike in Iranian executions since the summer election and inauguration of President Hassan Rouhani. Shaheed has repeatedly called attention to that surge, and has more broadly sought to emphasize that Iran's human rights situation has not improved under Rouhani's government. Last October heassessed that there had been no fundamental improvements in Iran’s human rights between administrations, and then last January theNew York Times quoted him reiterating that "the more moderate tone adopted on human rights since... Rouhani's election last year has yet to yield any moderation in the country’s punitive practices." Last March he went further, insisting that despite "rhetoric and modest steps" I ran had yet to institute the reforms necessary to address "the human rights concerns raised by the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, the UN Secretary-General, Treaty Bodies, all Special Procedures, human rights defenders and international organizations." Some analysts have suggested that Rouhani is actually trying really hard to reform Iran, but that hardliners are ordering executions to smear him. The theory has fallen short of winning broad assent. Skeptics have pointed out that Rouhani himself appointed Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi - a hardliner hated by reformers for having overseen the executions of literally tens of thousands of jailed dissidents in the years immediately following Iran's 1979 revolution - to oversee the country's Justice Ministry. Rouhani's own history as a revolutionary-era cleric who subsequently called for the mass roundup of political dissidents has also, in this context, not gone unnoticed.