- New U.S. intelligence: Hezbollah smuggling advanced missiles into Lebanon for war with Israel
- Der Spiegel: "droves of Western business people are already flocking to Tehran" in expectation of Iran sanctions relief
- Beirut car bomb targets Hezbollah, deepens worries that Syrian war has already spilled over into Lebanon
- Egyptian Crisscrossing alliances complicate Turkish political warfare
What we’re watching today:
- The Wall Street Journal this evening published an extensive report, based on previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence, assessing that Hezbollah is smuggling advanced anti-aircraft, anti-ship, and surface-to-surface missiles into Lebanon, potentially - per the outlet - "alter[ing] the region's military balance." Israel has long emphasized that it will take military action to block the Iran-backed terror group from acquiring such game-changing weapons, amid continued boasts by top Hezbollah officials that the organization will saturation bomb Israeli population centers during future conflicts. Most immediately, and the Journal is explicit in conveying estimations saying as much, "Israel's next air campaign... would have to be broad" to account for Hezbollah's upgraded capabilities. The organization's moves, however, risk introducing broader geopolitical, military, and diplomatic disruptions into the increasingly-unstable Levant. The Journal disclosed that "current and former U.S. officials say Iran's elite Quds Force has been directly overseeing the shipments to Hezbollah warehouses in Syria." Orde Kittrie – a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a tenured professor of law at Arizona State - pointed out this evening that the revelation puts Iran in violation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1747, which orders Iran not to "supply, sell or transfer...any arms or related materiel," and UNSC resolution 1701, which requires states to "prevent... [the] sale or supply to any entity or [individual] in Lebanon of arms and related material." The ongoing violation of multiple UNSC resolutions may complicate Iran's efforts to re-enter the international community as a member in good standing. Inside Lebanon, meanwhile, there has been growing opposition to Hezbollah in the wake of blowback generated by the group's involvement in the Syrian conflict. Evidence that Hezbollah is also actively risking a conflict with Israel by testing long-established Israeli red lines is likely to deepen that opposition. For their part the Israelis may become wary of accepting international security assurances, including those that U.S. and E.U. diplomats might offer in the context of the peace process, in the face of evidence that the international security force deployed in southern Lebanon to prevent Hezbollah arms smuggling has not been successful.
- Der Spiegel this afternoon published analysis - headlined in part "International Investors Flock to Tehran" - describing a scramble by companies and nations to re-enter Iran's market in anticipation of the removal of sanctions. The paper quoted Daniel Bernbeck, head of the German-Iranian Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Tehran, characterizing the financial and economic opportunities potentially opening up as "chance of a century." It assessed that "it looks like the nuclear negotiations could spark an economic upswing in Iran" and - even more pointedly- that "[a]lthough none of the sanctions have been lifted, droves of Western business people are already flocking to Tehran." The descriptions are in line with concerns, voiced explicitly and repeatedly by skeptics before and immediately after the announcement of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) between Iran and the P5+1 powers, that even the limited sanctions relief envisioned by the JPA would spiral out of control, as entities feared being left behind as Iran's markets opened. The scenario was ridiculed as "fanciful" by analysts with ties to the Obama administration, who insisted that international investors would be foolhardy to flock to Tehran. There are direct political stakes involved in the policy debate over the robustness of the sanctions regime. A bipartisan group of Senators, following the lead of the House of Representatives, recently introduced legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran if the Islamic republic either cheated during the JPA's six month negotiation period or, at the end of that period, refused to put its nuclear program verifiably beyond use for weaponization. The White House has fought those sanctions, insisting that the remaining sanctions on Iran are holding.
- A massive car bomb - which today tore through Hezbollah's south Beirut stronghold of Dahiyeh killing at least five people and injuring scores - marked the point at which Lebanon succumbed to the almost three year Sunni-Shiite conflict raging in neighboring Syria, according to an extended regional analysis published today in the Weekly Standard. Hudson Institute senior fellow Lee Smith described the dynamic as one in which U.S. efforts to stay out of the sectarian conflict have generated an impression, across the region, in which "the United States is seen to be siding with Iran and its allies." Inside Lebanon the attack will heighten criticism of Hezbollah for dragging Lebanon into the Syrian conflict and thereby generating a wave of jihadist blow-back that has already killed scores. The Christian Science Monitor today headlined its coverage as "Sunni payback for Hezbollah's help to [Syrian ruler Bashar] Assad?" Meanwhile Hezbollah deputy chief Naim Qassem focused on Israel, declaring that the identity of the attackers was of "no significance" and that the true importance of the bombing lay in how it "divert[ed] attention away from Israel."
- The Washington Post this weekend began openly worrying that the political crisis shaking Turkey - in which a corruption probe driven by judiciary officials linked to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen has ensnared elites from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), who have in turn responded by moving to purge the judiciary of their opponents - may do long-term damage to "Turkey's already fragile political institutions." The Post specifically sketched out a scenario under which Erdogan succeeded in consolidating political authority, "press[ing] ahead with plans to increase the powers of the presidency before running for the job later this year." Meanwhile the Turkish army has filed a sweeping complaint calling for an investigation into the trials of hundreds of retired and active-duty officers convicted over the years of anti-government activities. Erdogan and the AKP have used coup plot cases over the last decade to break the back and eventually exert control over Turkey's once-powerful military. The political calculations in play are not straightforward. The systematic campaigns against the military were grounded in and justified by conspiracy theories of a "deep state" promoted by Erdogan and his AKP allies. That said, prosecutors and judges linked the Gulen movement played no small part in the mass convictions, and the new defense complaint directly accuses them of ignoring and misusing evidence. Opportunistic or tactical alignments between the army and the Gulenists are not impossible against the AKP - there is broad speculation that the Gulenist camp, though Islamist, will support secularists in the next election precisely to counterbalance the AKP - but such configurations are unlikely to be robust. Shifting alliances within and across rival Turkish camps may stymie efforts aimed at political stabilization.
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