Iran atomic agency spokesman: Uranium enrichment concessions could be reversed "within two to three weeks"
- Iran atomic agency spokesman: Uranium enrichment concessions could be reversed "within two to three weeks"
- Beirut claims progress in relieving Lebanese town besieged by Hezbollah, bombed by Hezbollah-backed Syrian forces
A top official linked to Iran's atomic agency bragged this week that a critical uranium-related concession made by Tehran under the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) could be reversed "within two to three weeks," part of a broader speech that included boasts about the quality of new Iranian centrifuges - a twentyfold increase in enrichment capacity - and the creation of new Russian-built energy plants. Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), declared that oxidizing portions of Iran's 5 percent stockpile - which Iran is obligated to do under the JPA - does not prevent Iran from "transform[ing] our 5% uranium to 20% within two to three weeks if needed." Sohrab Ahmari, an Iranian-born analyst and currently an editorial page writer for the Wall Street Journal Europe, bluntly assessed the speech as a statement that the Iranian regime views the JPA as a deal in which "all the advantages accrue to Tehran." The JPA requires Iran to turn portions of its 5 percent and 20 percent pure uranium stockpiles into uranium oxide, temporarily preventing that stock from being enriched further. Regarding its 20 percent stockpile, Iran is obligated to either dilute the material back down to 5 percent ("downblending") or to oxidize it at 20 percent. Regarding its 5 percent stockpile, Iran is obligated to ensure that - at the end of the JPA's six-month negotiation period - there is only as much of that stock on hand as there was at beginning of the deal's implementation. Iran is permitted unlimited enrichment to 5 percent, but the new material that's created has to be oxidized until the total amount of 5 percent pure stock is equal to what it was when the JPA period began. The deal was touted by the Obama administration as putting "time on the clock" by "freezing" the Iranian nuclear program, ensuring Tehran could not use the negotiation period to inch closer to creating 90 percent enriched weapons-grade uranium. Skepticism regarding the robustness of the JPA emerged in the days immediately following the announcement agreement, was sharpened by what appeared to be several places in which the administration had either misunderstood or misled the public about Iranian obligations, and will be fueled further by Kamalvandi's comments. His remarks about the enrichment capacity of next-generation centrifuges are likely to prove particularly problematic, inasmuch as Iran controversially maneuvered the West into allowing continued development of advanced centrifuges under the JPA. A report published last week by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) introduced an additional complication, revealing that the commissioning of a facility designed to convert 5 percent enriched gas into oxide - this is the facility that was supposed to ensure that Iran stayed under the JPA's cap for un-oxidized uranium, even as its scientists continued to enrich unlimited amounts of the material - had been put off. No reason was given for the delay. Kamalvandi's remarks will in any case be seen as underscoring that the JPA may well leave Iran with more enriched uranium and with more centrifuges, which will themselves be more advanced than previous technology. Should the conversion facility finally open, the difference will be that the additional enriched material will be in oxide form. Mark Hibbs, writing on the Arms Control Wonk blog partially sponsored by the left-leaning Ploughshares Fund, had already pointed out last April that Iran could use existing facilities to reverse the oxidization process, and that such reconversion would only take a few weeks.
The Associated Press on Tuesday described Syrian rebels as "making their last desperate stand in Homs," as forces loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime pressed what has been an unsteady march of advances across the war-torn country. The wire conveyed assessments by analysts predicting that the city could fall to the regime "[i]n the next few days." Homs, which is Syria's third largest city, has been a strategically critical hotspot for much of the country's roughly three-year-long conflict. It links Damascus with Aleppo, the country's largest population center, and a city that itself saw dozens killed this week by Syrian airstrikes. The attacks reportedly deployed mass casualty barrel bombs, helicopter-deployed shrapnel-packed IEDs that have been condemned as "barbaric" by Secretary of State John Kerry and as a "war crime" by British Foreign Secretary William Hague. Meanwhile Mohammad al-Lahham, the president of the Syrian parliament, announced Monday that the country's presidential elections would be held on June 3, promising that the process would be "free and fair." Al Arabiya opened its coverage of the statement by noting that "[t]he United Nations harshly criticized" the decision, conveying comments from both U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi to that effect. Opposition elements for their part denounced the election as a "farce." A range of observers, including Brahimi himself, expressed concerns that spectacles aimed at consolidating the legitimacy of the Assad regime would undermine negotiations aimed at ending the conflict. Talks held earlier this year, which took place alongside reports of new atrocities being committed by Syrian forces, ended in deadlock.
Top Palestinian figures spent much of Tuesday walking back statements - aired in recent days by a range of Palestinian Authority (PA) figures, including reportedly by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas himself - threatening to dissolve the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) if Israel refused to make sufficient concessions to entice Ramallah to rejoin peace talks. The comments had generated exasperated eye rolls from the Israeli political echelon, and led State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki to emphasize that Washington would be forced to reevaluate its relationship with the Palestinians should they make good on their threats. Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told Agence France Presse (AFP) that "[n]o Palestinian is speaking of an initiative to dismantle" the PNA, a move that would force either the Israeli government or the international community to fill in and take control. Abbas himself echoed the point in talks with reporters. Veteran Israeli analyst Avi Issacharoff noted that threats to dissolve the PNA are part of a "recurrent ritual" leveraged by Palestinian negotiators, and outlined both political and financial considerations that would likely constrain such a move. Issacharoff specifically suggested that "PA officials benefit financially from the existence of the PA and, in addition to their salary, enjoy many economic bonuses that come with their jobs — via connections with Israel, involvement in economic projects, and so on." The Israel HaYom newspaper editorialized that - more specifically - Palestinian leaders waiting in the wings to take over for Abbas, and thereby to gain access to "the royal honors and red carpets... [and] the donations from around the world," would not permit him to dissolve the PA.
The Lebanese government on Tuesday reported progress in providing relief to residents of the besieged border town of Tfail, a remote Lebanese outpost functionally accessible only via Syrian roads, has been subject to isolation and bombardment by Hezbollah-backed forces fighting on behalf of Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime. The Iran-directed terror group has sought to seal portions of the Lebanon-Syria border as part of an effort to contain sectarian blowback generated by its support of Assad. A Lebanese army official explained to the Associated Press that, as a result of Hezbollah's tactics, Tfail had at times been severed from the rest of Lebanon. The country's NOW outlet went further, describing how over 4,000 Lebanese citizens and thousands of Syrian refugees in the town had "lived without supplies of food, electricity, shelter, or aid for four months." The siege had in recent days escalated to active cross-border shelling, sending residents fleeing into the surrounding landscape. Beirut had committed to trying to alleviate the situation and on Tuesday a convoy of food and aid was able to enter the town. The Syrian attack on Tfail took place alongside several other recent cross-border attacks by Assad-linked forces. The dynamic is particularly problematic for Hezbollah, which for years had sought to brand itself - occasionally with help from elements of the Western foreign policy establishment - as an indigenous Lebanese organization protecting Lebanese territory from military violations. There are open debates, however, about the degree to which damage to Hezbollah's image will affect its political position inside Lebanon generally, or more specifically its maneuvering in anticipation of upcoming presidential elections. The group has not been subtle in leveraging its superiority in arms and infrastructure to politically paralyze Lebanon in order to achieve its objectives. It is widely expected that Beirut faces at least a short-term deadlock in selecting a new president.
Reports: "Surprise move" by Palestinians to renew UN diplomatic warfare endangers peace process, U.S. interests
- Reports: "Surprise move" by Palestinians to renew UN diplomatic warfare endangers peace process, U.S. interests
- New figures estimate over 150,000 dead in Syria, as analysts warn Hezbollah involvement "could fan flames into a wider regional conflict"
The Associated Press reported late Tuesday on what the outlet described as a "surprise move" by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to go to a range of United Nations bodies requesting membership for the "State of Palestine." The AP noted that the declaration came "despite a promise to suspend such efforts during nine months of negotiations with Israel," and that it risked collapsing the delicate U.S.-backed effort to push forward a framework peace agreement. Israel had in recent days made an offer to extend talks, and had even reportedly teed up another prisoner release aimed at securing further negotiations. The Israelis had undertaken three previous rounds of releases to bring the Palestinians to the table and keep them there. The Israeli offer to extend talks was rejected, and the Palestinian announcement that they were turning to the UN came within days. Abbas said that he would like to continue pursuing negotiations with the Israelis despite the Palestinian gambit. The position is likely to come off as too clever by half. The entire basis of the nine month-long U.S.-backed peace initiative was that the Palestinians would abstain from seeking membership in UN institutions. Kerry almost immediately canceled a planned trip to Ramallah, which had been scheduled for Wednesday, in light of Abbas's decision. Any Palestinian success would immediately trigger black-letter U.S. laws that cut off funds to UN bodies that give the Palestinians membership. U.S. diplomats, hoping to avoid such confrontations, have long opposed unilateral moves by the Palestinians to gain membership in UN institutions. A Heritage Foundation report co-authored by Brett D. Schaefer and James Phillips a few years ago went even further, bluntly identifying past unilateral moves as "threaten[ing] United States and Israeli interests" and "undermin[ing] all internationally accepted frameworks for peace." Palestinian gambits at the UN have more pointedly been seen as corroding the basic framework of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The land-for-peace formula requires the Israelis to give up tangible, functionally irreversible concessions in exchange for Palestinian commitments. The fear has always been that the Palestinians will negotiate only as long as they can extract territory or prisoners, and that they will then pocket what they've gained and walk away. Abbas’s moves seem set to confirm those fears.
Iran's Fars News outlet reported on Tuesday that Tehran is aggressively courting foreign investors, conveying among other things statements made by Valiollah Afkhamirad, the head of Iran’s Trade Development Organization, declaring that the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) inked last November in Geneva had created "a suitable atmosphere... [for] investors in Iran and they have become highly interested in business" with the Islamic Republic. The article more specifically discussed a call made on Monday by Mahmoud Vaezi, Iran's Minister of Communications and Information Technology, emphasizing that "Iran has invited world countries to invest and collaborate in projects to establish partnerships for ultra broadband corridors" across the country. The calls echo a February boast by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif announcing that the sanctions relief outlined by the JPA had transformed Iran into a place that was "open for business." They came alongside other reports describing a "steady flow of Western executives" into Iran. Meanwhile British financial reporter Matt Lynn assessed on MarketWatch that Iran seems primed to become "one of the hottest investment opportunities of the next two decades." The Iranian strategy seems primed to deepen a very particular worry regarding the possibility that the JPA's partial erosion of the international sanctions regime will prevent financial pressure from being reimposed on Iran: Foreign entities that become invested in Iranian markets are likely to mobilize political pressure to prevent any moves to close those markets back off. Brookings fellow Michael Doran had already in January speculated that the JPA "has created an influential economic lobby in the West dedicated to ensuring" that sanctions are not tightened again. Such concerns have become more pitched in recent months, as Iran has moved in to encourage foreign investment across a range of industries.
Turkish security officials on Tuesday turned water cannons on protestors marching in reaction to widespread allegations that this weekend's local elections - which saw the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan secure a plurality of the votes - were marked by fraud, intimidation, and mysterious power outages in opposition-heavy districts. Residents of the Turkey’s Duzici district, where the AKP candidate beat his nearest opponent by 440 votes, reported finding discarded ballots marked for an opposition party in at least six area polling stations. Reports of power outages were brushed off by municipal authorities as mostly the result of bad weather or - in one case - a rogue feline. Ankara, where the AKP candidate defeated the next opponent by less than a percentage point, was one of several cities in which protestors demanded recounts. The election had already been marked by irregularities, most prominently a government ban against Twitter and YouTube that had generated global ridicule and international condemnation. The new controversies, to say nothing of the government's response to those controversies, are unlikely to dampen growing criticism that Turkey has more or less ceased to be a functioning liberal democracy. In late February over 80 top U.S. foreign policy figures called on President Barack Obama to take action to halt "Turkey’s current path," and declared that "silence will only encourage Prime Minister Erdogan to diminish the rule of law in the country even further."
Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Tuesday conveyed recent figures from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) assessing that more than 150,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict, amid another string of prominently reported gains by forces fighting on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime. Exact figures have been notoriously difficult to come by - the United Nations has quite literally stopped trying to tally the deaths - but SOHR calculated that the numbers include over 7,900 children. On Monday Al Arabiya reported that pro-regime forces had "recaptured on Monday a key position in the coastal province of Latakia," a victory that came shortly after "government forces, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters... triumphed against the opposition along the border area with Lebanon." The victories were seen as critical to Hezbollah's effort to stop the transit of Sunni jihadists across the Lebanon-Syria border, and triggered what local media described as "an atmosphere of contentment" in areas of Lebanon controlled by the Iran-backed terror group. Washington Institute Senior Fellow Andrew Tabler on Tuesday nonetheless emphasized that Hezbollah's activities in Syria were hardening sectarian divisions in Lebanon, with the result being "increased suicide car bombings, Sunni-Shiite tension, and armed clashes." The resulting political instability, according to Tabler, "could fan the flames into a wider regional conflict that Hezbollah and Iran cannot put out and cannot afford."
- Sisi formally announces presidential run, commits to battling terrorism "not only [in] Egypt but the whole region"
- Before Kerry visit, Abbas rejects "even holding a discussion" over Israeli mutual recognition conditions
Reuters reported on Wednesday that Iran will exceed the amount of oil it is permitted to export under the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) for the fifth month in a row, a development set to deepen concerns that the West is losing control of the sanctions relief granted to the Islamic republic under the JPA and to fuel calls for measures designed to reassert such control. The JPA permits Iran to export limited amounts of oil without violating energy sanctions that had until recently sharply limited the country's energy exports. The limit is set for the entire duration of the interim agreement, however, and the Obama administration - per Reuters - "believes that exports will fall in coming months and on average will fall to the 1 million bpd level stipulated" by the JPA. Observers have expressed concerns that excess Iranian exports in the meantime will nonetheless undercut the leverage of Western negotiators, and perhaps even incentivize the Iranians to pocket what concessions they've gained and walk away from negotiations. It is not clear by when the White House anticipates oil exports to have fully averaged out, and it is similarly uncertain whether the administration would - by then - be willing take punitive measures after what will have been months of negotiations. The news comes amid renewed Congressional moves to secure a substantive role in determining the direction of negotiations with Iran, with bipartisan groups from both the House and the Senate recently sending letters to President Barack Obama outlining what Congress considers to be the minimum requirements for a comprehensive deal.
Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Wednesday declared that he will run in the country's next presidential election, formally launching what is widely expected to be an easy glide into the presidency for the politically Teflon figure but potentially complicating Cairo's future relationship with the Obama administration. A transcript of the resignation speech was provided by the Egyptian army, and saw Sisi opening by announcing his resignation before pivoting to issues related to security and stability. Observers have drawn particular attention to portions of the speech that dealt with terrorism, which Sisi described as being conducted by those who "seek the destruction of our life, safety and security," in which he committed to "fight every day for Egypt free of fear and terror... not only [in] Egypt but the whole region." The Egyptian army is in the midst of a wide-ranging campaign in the Sinai Peninsula targeting terrorist infrastructure that has taken root in the territory. Top Egyptian figures have blasted the White House for blocking the transfer of Apache helicopters that Egyptian officials consider crucial to staging anti-terror campaigns, and Sisi himself has described Egyptian frustration with what he characterized as Americans having "turned [their] backs on the Egyptians." Sisi subsequently traveled to Moscow to among other things pursue weapons deals. The incident was broadly read as bolstering the concerns of analysts who have criticized the administration for repeatedly snubbing the Egyptians and risking a rupture between in bilateral relations between Cairo and Washington.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas told the Arab League on Tuesday that he rejects "even holding a discussion" over Israel's long-standing requirement that any comprehensive peace deal must see the Palestinians acknowledging Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, according to a transcript of his speech conveyed in a longer analysis published today by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The stance has the potential to deeply complicate the peace process. The Obama administration in general, and the State Department in particular, has repeatedly emphasized that the U.S. framework designed to move the talks forward would include such "mutual recognition," which the Israelis have emphasized is necessary as a signal that the Palestinians are genuinely prepared to cease pursuing territorial claims against Jerusalem. Secretary of State John Kerry has been working for months to overcome Abbas's intransigence on the condition. Kerry met with Abbas on Wednesday in what Bloomberg described as "a bid to avert a breakdown in his peacemaking efforts as an April 29 deadline nears." A February meeting between the two had reportedly seen Abbas "explode with rage" at what he termed Kerry's "insane" proposals.
A Turkish court on Wednesday overturned a government ban on Twitter, the latest blow to a globally ridiculed and largely ineffective campaign launched last week by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to block access to the popular microblogging platform. The decision came in response to formal complaints by Turkish lawyers and journalists decrying the move as a violation of basic freedoms, and amid a determined pushback by media outlets. The restrictions had quickly generated international condemnation - the British ambassador to Turkey piled on yesterday, and the U.S. announced it was demanding formal multilateral discussions over the decision - and efforts by Erdogan and his allies to defend them had become increasingly strained. The Turkish leader on Tuesday declared that "Twitter is "a company [and] actually YouTube is behind it." Erdogan's accusation - which is difficult, in a technical sense, to defend as accurate - appears to be the result of lawyer Gonenc Gurkaynak, who is representing Twitter, having previously represented Google's YouTube platform from a government ban. The New York Times noted that that "it was not immediately clear whether the ruling would be appealed or overtaken by a new court order."
New York, Sept 20 – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has not nailed down the nine votes he needs in the United Nations Security Council to even get the world body to vote on his unilateral bid for full U.N. membership, western diplomats said this week.
One western ambassador said that according to his count, the Palestinians were at least one and possibly two votes short, with several members of the Security Council yet to announce their positions. Abbas has said he would formally submit the membership bid after delivering a speech to the United Nations on Friday.
“After all this time, the Palestinians have still not secured nine votes,” the senior diplomat said in a conversation with representatives from The Israel Project. Other sources said an actual vote might be put on hold for several weeks to allow the parties to avoid a showdown.
The Palestinian bid for membership is certain to fail in any case because the United States has promised to veto the resolution if necessary. Like Israel, President Barack Obama has made it clear that the U.N. move is a distraction and that peace can only be achieved through negotiations.
Under Security Council rules, a resolution requires nine positive votes and no vetoes from any of the permanent five members in order to win approval. The United States, Germany and Colombia are expected to oppose. Britain, France, Portugal, Bosnia, Nigeria and Gabon have not announced their positions.
"We decided to take this step and all hell has broke out against us,"Abbas said on Monday. "From now until I give the speech, we have only one choice: going to the Security Council. Afterwards, we will sit and decide."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the United Nations shortly after Abbas on Friday. “I think we should go there and present our truth… of a people attacked over and over by those opposed to their very existence. That is the most basic truth," he said before leaving Israel.
Also on Tuesday, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, said in an interview that Israel “is ready to negotiate tomorrow,” with the Palestinians.
Prosor discussed attempts to arrange a meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu while they were both in New York.
“We repeat that we are ready for negotiations with no conditions even early tomorrow morning,” the Israel envoy said.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said diplomats were still hoping to avert a crisis. A vote would be unlikely to take place on Friday, giving time for diplomacy aimed at restarting peace talks, he told Europe 1 radio.
"There's a procedure for dealing with such requests and it can take a few days or weeks more, which means there is room for other initiatives," Juppe said. "We hope to find a way of convincing all involved to get back around the negotiating table, and in a serious fashion."
If Abbas fails to muster nine votes in the Security Council, that would be seen as a stinging defeat. He could then go to the General Assembly and win a symbolic majority with the backing of non-aligned states, many of which are also non-democratic – but GA decisions are not binding on the world body and have no significance under international law.
Abbas also has to deal with the possible economic fallout of his move for the people of the West Bank. The U.S. Congress may cut the roughly $500 million in U.S. aid per year to the Palestinians if they go ahead with their U.N. bid.
"Really, the risk of PA collapse is very real under the financial strain," said Jihad al-Wazir, the Palestinian Authority's central bank chief.
Saudi Arabia said on Monday it would pay the Palestinian Authority $200 million, which could help in the short term but would not fully replace lost U.S. funding.
Top Iranian military figure boasts about destroying Israel, after former presidential adviser says Obama forced to take nuke deal to avoid annihilation of Israel
- Top Iranian military figure boasts about destroying Israel, after former presidential adviser says Obama forced to take nuke deal to avoid annihilation of Israel
- Lebanese army fires on Syrian aircraft, risking potential international and domestic escalation
- Rocket volley slams into Israel from Lebanon, deepening worries that blow-back from Syria may destabilize Israeli-Lebanese border
- In effort to boost U.S.-backed peace talks, Israel conducts third release of convicted Palestinian terrorists
What we’re watching today:
- Iranian media on Monday conveyed statements from Iranian Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri - the deputy chief of staff of Iran's armed forces - boasting that the Islamic republic is prepared to "destroy US and Israeli" interests in the Middle East, and adding that "the ominous Zionist regime dreads such capabilities day and night" and that "the entire expanse of the Zionist regime (of Israel)" is within range of Iranian weapons. Top Iranian leaders have regularly threatened to target Israeli population centers for bombardment. Jazayeri's statements come a few weeks after the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) - a nonprofit that monitors Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Pashto, and Turkish media reports - released a translated video in which Iranian political analyst Sadeq Al-Hosseini boasted that U.S. President Barack Obama accepted a diplomatic loss in exchange for Iran agreeing to the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) worked out in Geneva. Al-Hosseini, who was a top advisor to former Mohammad Khatami, insisted that Obama would have otherwise been forced to beg Iranian leaders - the exact phrase was that the President would have had to "kiss the hands of [Hezbollah chief] Hassan Nasrallah and [Iranian Supreme Leader] Imam Khamenei" - to prevent them from annihilating Israel.
- The Lebanese military announced today that it had fired on Syrian aircraft violating Beirut's airspace, a move that analysts speculated was designed in part as a public response to efforts - driven by both sides of the almost three-year Syrian conflict - to expand that war into Lebanese territory. Local officials from areas targeted by Syria pointedly told Lebanese media that they hoped the anti-aircraft fire 'would pave the way for the army to act as the sole defender of Lebanese land and sovereignty against any assaults.' Damascus has on more than one occasion launched attacks against targets inside Lebanon's borders allegedly linked to rebels fighting inside Syria to overthrow the Bashar al-Assad regime. For their part opposition elements inside Syria, reacting to the critical role that Hezbollah has played in enabling the Assad regime to claw its way back to controlling as much as 80% of Syria, have sought to retaliate against the Iran-backed terror group's Lebanese strongholds. Internationally, clashes between Lebanese and Syrian forces have the potential to open another front in the increasingly open proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran: Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman revealed this weeekend that the Saudis have pledged $3 billion in military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces. Domestically, the dynamic has the potential to further corrode Hezbollah's position in the country. The organization had claimed for decades that it was a Lebanese organization fighting for Lebanese sovereignty, rather than - as critics charged - an Iranian proxy promoting Iranian interests, if necessary at Lebanon's expense. Hezbollah had already seen that brand shattered as its participation in the Syrian conflict, widely understood to be done at Tehran's behest, generated blow-back and violence inside Lebanon. Sustained clashes between the LAF and Syrian forces would position Hezbollah on the side of a nation actively in conflict with Lebanese state and military institutions.
- Elements inside Lebanon on Sunday fired a volley of rockets into Israel, drawing Israeli artillery fire reportedly targeting the launch site. The attack comes a few weeks after a cross-border sniper attack in which a Lebanese soldier targeted and killed an Israeli soldier driving to base. That attack caused analysts to focus on elements in the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) sympathetic to Hezbollah, which had days before vowed to strike the Jewish state. Observers are speculating that this weekend's rocket attack, in contrast, was launched not by Hezbollah but by one of the Sunni jihadist groups that have infiltrated recently Lebanon - that infiltration, in turn, being blow-back generated by Hezbollah's critical role in helping Syria's Shiite-backed Bashar al-Assad regime roll back the largely Sunni opposition. Hezbollah has ignored ultimatums from Sunni groups to untangle itself from the conflict, with the result being a wave of blow-back targeting Lebanon. Speaking to reporters on a conference call organized by The Israel Project, veteran Israeli intelligence analyst Aviv Oreg speculated that, based on the location from which the rockets were launched, the attack may have originated with jihadist groups hoping to draw Israel into a confrontation with Hezbollah. Destabilization along Israel's borders - the Jewish state is now facing deteriorating security conditions along its borders with Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza, and within the West Bank - may negatively impact Jerusalem's ability to make diplomatic and territorial concessions to adversaries. Speaking to reporters in part about the rocket attacks from Lebanon, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon emphasized Monday that he would accept a "European boycott" if it was the only alternative to "rockets from Nablus, Ramallah and Jenin [falling] onto Ben-Gurion Airport." The reference is to European threats to degrade relations with Israel if it does not make concessions acceptable the Palestinians.
- Israel overnight Tuesday released 26 Palestinian prisoners convicted of terror-related crimes, the third of four such gestures designed to boost U.S.-backed peace talks. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been explicit with Secretary of State John Kerry last spring that the Palestinians would not sit down for peace talks without a broad prisoner release, with Palestinian media describing the position as one in which Abbas 'insisted that 107 Palestinians detained before the Oslo agreement must be released before the PLO will return to negotiations with Israel.' Subsequent requests to Israeli leaders to meet the demand proved controversial for Kerry, though the releases were eventually agreed to by Israel's cabinet. Domestic controversy inside Israel has escalated with each round of releases. Critics worry that Palestinian leaders are gearing up to pocket the four releases and then incite a wave of violence against Israel, hoping to extract further concessions away from the negotiating table. Continued Palestinian threats to walk away from the talks, coupled with ongoing incitement, have deepened such concerns.
- U.S.-based think tank outlines bare minimum for robust interim deal on Iran nuclear program
- No progress in negotiations over Syria peace talks, as reports emerge of secret undisclosed Syrian chemical weapons cache
- Israel expresses worries to Kerry over peace talks as Palestinian leaders reject Jewish state recognition, celebrate murderer release
- Iranian prisoners go on hunger strike over health conditions as Iran deepens execution wave
What we’re watching today:
- The New York Times late Wednesday published as assessment from an Obama administration official describing the West as close to a temporary deal with Iran regarding the country's nuclear program, amid increasingly assertive Congressional moves to circumscribe the White House's ability to ease sanctions in the absence of meaningful concessions from the Iranians.The administration is said to be close to accepting a deal that would trade what the Times described as "limited relief from economic sanctions" in exchange for undisclosed concessions from Iran on nuclear enrichment and its stockpile of enriched material. Congressional lawmakers had already criticized any deal that would permit Iran to continue enrichment activities or would leave parts of Tehran's enriched stockpile intact, and today Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) floated legislation that would prevent the loosening of sanctions in the absence of Iran meeting United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for a full halt in the country's enrichment activities. For their part analysts had already outlined how a deal that left enrichment intact would, given Iran's current enrichment technology, allow the Islamic republic to dash across the nuclear finish line at will. The resulting uncertainty, according to Washington Institute managing director Michael Singh, would risk a full-blown a regional nuclear arms race. Yesterday the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) published an assessment [PDF] describing the minimum details of any interim agreement that would meaningfully extend Iran's breakout time. The ISIS report described five prerequisites which Iran would have to undertake: (1) halting all centrifuge installation and production, and disabling all but 9,000 existing centrifuges (2) halting all production of 20% uranium and putting beyond use all 20% enriched uranium (3) disabling all centrifuges at the country's underground military enrichment bunker at Fordow (4) halting progress at its Arak complex, which includes a plutonium reactor and a heavy-water production facility (5) accepting new inspection and monitoring requirements, up to and including cameras at all centrifuge plant locations or daily inspections.
- Reports emerged overnight and throughout Tuesday of new challenges to Western efforts meant to dampen Syria's almost three year conflict and to dismantle the Bashar al-Assad regime's chemical weapons arsenal. CNN reported last night that U.S. officials were examining classified documents showing that Damascus had hidden some of its chemical weapons, potentially leaving the Assad regime with "a secret cache" that would slip through the international agreement - hammered out as the U.S. signaled it was preparing to attack Syria - to destroy the country's stockpile. Top U.S. policymakers have not yet openly commented on the substance of the allegation, which would have involved a rogue regime lying about its rogue activities. Meanwhile Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nation's top envoy to Syria, briefed reporters regarding ongoing talks between the United States and Russia designed to create the framework for the so-called Geneva II talks between Syria's warring camps. Brahimi emphasized that though the global powers "still striving" to hold a conference before the end of the year, Washington and Moscow had failed to reach an agreement on the participation of Assad's ally Iran. Tehran is widely seen as having provided crucial military and logistical support enabling the regime to survive. Meanwhile Gulf states, which have supported rebels seeking the Assad regime's overthrow, took aim at the run-up to Geneva II and emphasized that talks could not be "unconditional" and "shouldn't just go on indefinitely." The reports came amid new violence that included the bombing of a railway company in Damascus that killed eight and wounded roughly 50 people
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed worries to Secretary of State John Kerry over the willingness of Palestinian leaders to make peace with the Jewish state, days after Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated long-standing statements that he would never consent to recognizing the legitimacy of the Jewish state. Kerry's visit was preceded by a stumble in talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, with Palestinians negotiators threatening to walk out of talks due to Israeli construction of Jewish communities beyond its 1948 armistice lines and the Israelis accusing their counterparts of manufacturing pretexts to break off talks. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations had for years gone on in the absence of a construction freeze by the Israelis. The Palestinian signal that they may walk away from the table comes after Israel conducted the second of four planned releases of Palestinian prisoners convicted of murdering Israelis. TIME noted that there were "joyful Palestinian celebrations welcoming the prisoners home as heroes," which the outlet said "added to the Israeli public’s anger." More precisely, among other things, Fatah leader Abbas Zaki told Israeli victims' families to "go to your cemeteries and recite over your dead whatever you recite" and described the released murderers as "fighters, knights, free men!"
- More than eighty Iranian prisoners have gone on a hunger strike to protest a lack of medical care, according to a statement released yesterday by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Defenders of Human Rights Center (DRRC), and League for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI). The statement also described "torture during pre-trial detention and harsh sentences after extremely unfair trials" and stated that "the Iranian authorities are silently preparing the death of prisoners of conscience." It came on the same day as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that another 12 Iranian prisoners had been executed amid what the outlet described as "a surge in the use of the death penalty there." The United Nation's special rapporteur on human rights in Iran had reported weeks ago that there have been no fundamental improvements in Iran's human rights situation since the election of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. Instead a wave of executions had already caused Iranian dissidents to declare the "end of reform." Rouhani had appointed as his justice minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, a figure despised by human rights advocates and anti-regime dissidents for helping to oversee the 1988 executions of thousands of political prisoners. Rouhani, himself a revolutionary-era cleric, has a history of advocating the mass roundup and imprisonment of dissidents.
- Hagel: Israeli pressure was key to bringing Iran to the table, Netanyahu not trying to derail talks
- EU legislation, U.S. sting operations call attention to Iranian regime exploitation of civilian infrastructure
- Palestinian president doubles down on refusal to recognize Jewish state, threatening peace talks
- WSJ: Iranian-American businessman met with Iranian president to map out anti-sanctions push
What we’re watching today:
- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel this week brushed off suggestions that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to derail talks between the international community and Iran, emphasizing instead that Netanyahu is "legitimately concerned" over the Islamic republic's nuclear ambitions and that - in any case - Iran had come to the table partly due to "the constant pressure from Israel." Hagel noted that U.S. sanctions had also "done tremendous economic damage." The point, made in a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, echoes years of analysis suggesting that a credible threat of force should be leveraged to minimize what benefits Iran could expect from continued nuclearization. President Barack Obama has also consistently reiterated that diplomatic initiatives must be coupled with a credible threat of force in order to compel Iran to negotiate over its program. Washington Institute Executive Director Robert Satloff took particular note of how Hagel had implied that "Israel's credible threat, not America's, helped bring Iran [to] the table." Golberg's questions, and Hagel's responses, came against the backdrop of comments by Secretary of State John Kerry - widely perceived to be aimed at Netanyahu - criticizing "fear tactics" used by skeptics of Iranian intentions. Kerry's comments were made at an event sponsored by the Ploughshares Fund, an organization that Goldberg described as one "which sometimes seems overly relaxed about the danger of a nuclear Iran."
- The Wall Street Journal yesterday described efforts being made by European Union (EU) officials to maintain pressure against Iran's national cargo fleet, and more specifically against the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), after the EU General Court overturned sanctions on the fleet last September. The U.S. Treasury Department in 2008 imposed sanctions on IRISL and on 123 of its ships for the company's and vessels' roles in "providing logistical services to Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics." IRISL officials subsequently moved to evade U.S. sanctions via a campaign of what Adam Szubin, the director of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, described as "deception, fraud and dangerous activities on behalf" of Iran. The Journal also notes - in addition to cataloging an array of other ways that IRISL has allegedly collaborated with the Iranian regime - that sanctions have nonetheless "had a visible effect on the group's usefulness to the Iranian regime," underscoring the degree to which pressure has limited the utility of ostensibly private and civilian infrastructure to Tehran. The story came on the same day as the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security published a report outlining how U.S. sting operations have netted Iranian operatives seeking to evade missile export restrictions. Reza Olangian is alleged to have been a so-called "'core' Iranian procurement agent," which is to say one who "who works with relative immunity from inside Iran placing orders directly for the Iranian military or for companies procuring for it." He had been lured outside the safety of Iranian territory by a U.S. operation revolving around the ostensible sale of surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles.
- Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated on Monday his refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state even in the context of a final peace agreement, complicating the efforts of negotiators engaged in U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to reach a formula acceptable to both sides. The fundamental Israeli demand stretches back years, and in 2011 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the condition as a "basic demand," imploring Abbas to "accept a Jewish state" after Netanyahu had "stood before [his] people and said [he] would accept a Palestinian state." Israeli officials have gone so far as to foreground the issue as one covering "90% of the conflict." Abbas has consistently refused to meet those requests - to the point where meetings have been adjourned due to his stance - raising fears that Palestinian leaders view the conflict as one of Israel's existence rather than as a limited territorial dispute. Specifically the Israelis fear that Abbas's instransigence is borne of a desire to maintain territorial claims on Israeli territory even after a peace deal is hammered out. Rumors floated yesterday by Israeli politicians hinted that the U.S. is preparing its own bridging proposals in case the Israelis and Palestinians are unable to forge such an agreement.
- A Wall Street Journal opinion piece reveals that top Iranian officials - including Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and his chief of staff Mohammad Nahavandian - met in September in New York with Iranian-American businessman Ekram Manafzadeh and that, according to the Journal, they 'hatched' an idea described by Manafzadeh as having him "register... an organization" in his U.S. office to "advance trading with Iran." Manafzadeh indicated to the Journal that he will use the recently founded Iran America Chamber of Commerce Inc to "lobby the people who are considering relaxing the sanctions," a move that the Journal suggested indicates Tehran "is already positioning itself to profit from" concessions that it expects American lawmakers to offer during upcoming talks. Meanwhile, The Hill today described the Obama administration as having "played down" a recent anti-America rally in Iran - the largest in years - in which U.S. flags were burned and the crowds chanted "Death to America." Observers had suggested that the evidence of Iranian hostility might give pause to advocates of engagement
- Syrian opposition attacks Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiite forces in Damascus
- Iran disappears seventeen after raid on "network of homosexuals and Satanists"
- Murder of Israeli retired colonel is third murder, fourth terror attack by Palestinians in recent days
- Israeli military conducts long-range flight exercises as Iran brushes off U.S. "no enrichment" condition
What we’re watching today:
- Opposition forces battling to overthrow Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime launched an attack Thursday on regime-allied forces - drawn from Iraq and Syria, and fortified near a Shiite shrine in Damascus - underscoring the regional and sectarian dimensions of what Reuters described as "an increasingly internationalized conflict." Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite forces stationed in the Saida Zainab suburb of Damascus were attacked with mortar and gunfire, as rebel leaders struggled to launch a counter-attack in response to the loss of several Damascus suburbs over recent days. Hezbollah's role in the Syrian conflict has also come under heightened scrutiny in recent days. A video posted online appeared to show Hezbollah soldiers pulling severely wounded Syrian rebels out of vans and executing them, possibly during the Iran-backed terror group's fighting in Qusayr, where Hezbollah support was critical in the regime's successful efforts to seize control. Blowback from Hezbollah's entanglement - which has included both opposition strikes on Hezbollah positions and jihadist attacks on Hezbollah-dominated Shiite neighborhoods - has shattered Hezbollah's image as an indigenous Lebanese party promoting Lebanese interests. The group is rumored to be partially withdrawing from Lebanon, though sources who spoke to Lebanon's Daily Star yesterday were explicit and adamant that the group is remaining inside Syria.
- A Tuesday night raid at a birthday celebration in Iran resulted in the arrest of what regime officials described as "a network of homosexuals and Satanists," according to an announcement issued Thursday by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. The arrested Iranians - among whom were people "who had tattoos, make-up, or were wearing rainbow bracelets," - were blindfolded and taken to an unknown location. LGBT outlet Queerty covered the story and noted that "in Iran, anyone suspected or confirmed of being gay, or being associated with homosexuality in any way, can be punished," including by death, and that the "arrests have prompted more alarm over the treatment of LGBT people in the Islamic republic." The arrests underscore systematic human rights abuses routinely conducted by the regime. Anti-regime activists have blasted Iranian president Hassan Rouhani for a wave of executions that have occurred since his election, and Green movement figures have called attention to the ongoing imprisonment of political prisoners. Observers are unsure whether Rouhani is able or willing to moderate Iran's human rights abuses. The revolutionary-era cleric has in the past called for the mass incarceration and execution of political dissidents.
- A retired Israeli colonel was bludgeoned to death overnight by two Palestinians wielding iron bars and axes, the latest in a string of deadly terror attacks that have generated fears that a spike in violence against Israelis is being deliberately driven both by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its rival Hamas. Recent weeks have also seen two other Israelis killed by Palestinians, and a nine-year-old girl was shot last week by attackers who approached her family's home. Top-ranking PA officials, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, have among other things paid tribute to convicted terrorists, praised them on social media, and called on terrorists to launch attacks on Israelis. Meanwhile, in a statement on Wednesday, senior Hamas leader Husam Badran also called for renewed violence against Israelis. Analysts have linked what Jerusalem Post National Security reporter Yaakov Lappin describes as an "unmistakable increase" in attacks to Hamas's efforts to rebuild its terror infrastructure in the West Bank. Those efforts, according to U.S.-based counterterrorism specialists and Hamas's own material, are being orchestrated out of Turkey.
- The Israeli military on Thursday made a point of highlighting a "special long-range flight exercise," posting footage of the drill online and allowing journalists to draw their own conclusions as Iran prepares to offer a basket of concessions that fall far short of what analysts have said would be required to put nuclear weapons out of the regime's reach. Jerusalem has consistently said that it will act alone if necessary to prevent nuclear weapons acquisition by Iran, a country whose top leaders have repeatedly called for the Jewish state's annihilation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave interviews yesterday and today to a series of European outlets, warning of the dangers of offering a "bad deal," which the prime minister described as "a partial agreement which lifts sanctions off Iran and leaves them with the ability to enrich uranium or to continue work on their heavy water plutonium." Meeting with Netanyahu last month, President Barack Obama reaffirmed that that the U.S. was keeping all options on the table in order to force Iran to meet its international obligations, while National Security Advisor Susan Rice clarified that the U.S. would not accept any deal that allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium. Iranian officials have repeatedly brushed off the U.S. condition, emphasizing what they describe as an "absolute right" to enrich uranium.
- Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps statement deepens controversy over U.S.-Iran negotiations
- Iran Parades Advanced Missiles, Boasts It Can "Destroy" U.S. Naval Assets
- Palestinian officials blamed for incitement after two Israeli soldiers murdered
- Israel sends personnel to help end Kenya terror crisis
What we’re watching today:
- Top officials from Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) warned Iranian diplomats over the weekend that they were courting danger by diplomatically engaging the United States. A statement issued by the IRGC stated that "those who favor interaction" must "skeptically monitor the behavior of White House officials so that the righteous demands of our nation are recognized and respected." Newly inaugurated Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is traveling this week to the United States for what is expected to be a diplomatic whirlwind, while analysts are struggling to untangle the degree to which he has the freedom - let alone the intention - of negotiating with the West in a fruitful manner. Iran's foreign policy is set by the country's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has been very explicit and precise that he will permit Rouhani to negotiate with the West, but not if such negotiations approach making fundamental concessions. Earlier this year Khamenei explicitly forbade the eventual winner of Iran’s June presidential election from making concessions to the West. Ali Akbar Velayati, a top advisor to Khamenei on nuclear issues, told the Associated Press that – because Khamenei is ultimately in charge of Iran’s nuclear policy – Rouhani’s government would follow "the same trend strategically as the former government" and that Iran would "have to talk with a different language" and pursue the "same purposes but a different language." Last week a senior Iranian official ruled out the possibility that Tehran would curb its enrichment program.
- Iran on Sunday paraded through Tehran dozens of advanced missiles with ranges of up to 2,000 km, with Iranian media conveying boasts from Iranian military officials that they "have the necessary equipment to destroy American aircraft carries [sic] and warplanes in the Gulf." The military display, which coincided both with the anniversary of the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war and with what has been touted as an irenic trip to New York by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, involved 30 Ghadr and Sejil missiles, solid-fueled ballistic missiles. Iranian media outlets also carried boasts to the effect that such rockets had transformed Iran into a global power. A Pentagon report released earlier this year estimated that that Tehran could test an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015, especially given assistance it is widely suspected of receiving from rogue regimes.
- Two Israeli soldiers were killed by Palestinians in recent days, rattling U.S.-backed peace negotiations and renewing criticism of Palestinian leaders accused of inciting violence and failing to prepare the Palestinian public for co-existence with the Jewish state. A 20-year-old soldier was kidnapped and murdered by a Palestinian co-worker on Friday and a second soldier was killed by a sniper on Sunday while protecting Jewish worshipers celebrating the holiday of Sukkot in the town of Hebron. Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders pointedly declined to condemn the murders, with PA President Mahmoud Abbas's office going so far as to declare itself unaware of any condemnations that may or may not have been issued by Palestinian officials. Another Palestinian official, Fatah central committee member Abbas Zaki, actually blamed Israel for the sniper attack. Observers have, for decades, expressed concerns that the glorification of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish terrorism - which has been conducted at the highest levels of the Palestinian political echelon - would endanger the prospects for a final negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israeli personnel joined the efforts of Kenyan officials seeking throughout the day to end a bloody three-day jihadist assault on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi. Early news reports described everything from active Israeli involvement in the fighting to Israeli assistance in helping the Nigerians formulate a "negotiating strategy," and by the end of the day Kenya's Interior Ministry announced that its forces were "in control" of the mall. Dozens in the mall have already been identified as killed. The attack on the reportedly Israeli-owned mall was widely blamed on Al-Shabaab, an Al Qaeda offshoot, but late-breaking reports describe Kenyan officials as blaming Al Qaeda and not Al-Shabaab proper. The Somalia-based Al-Shabaab has in recent years threatened to directly attack the Jewish state and its interests. For its part Al Qaeda is widely suspected of being involved in several terror attacks against Israeli targets in Kenya, including the 2002 bombing of an Israeli-owned Mombasa hotel that killed 15 people and was timed to coincide with the failed downing of an Israeli holiday jet carrying 261 passengers. Al-Shabaab condemned Israel for seeking to help Kenyan officials end the crisis.
- Leaked U.N. Report Piles on Evidence Assad Regime Conducted Mass Chemical Weapons Attack
- Amid Renewed Threats From Hezbollah, Israel Reemphasizes Chemical Weapons Transfer “Red Line”
- Greek Ambassador Blasts Turkey for Vetoing NATO-Israeli Cooperation
- Palestinian Gunmen Open Fire on Soldiers Protecting Worshippers After Fatah Officials Call for Attacks
What we’re watching today:
- A leaked United Nations report, likely set for publication on Monday, piles on evidence linking the Bashar al-Assad regime to the August 21 mass chemical attack on opposition-controlled Damascus suburbs. While the report will not explicitly implicate the regime, diplomats indicate that it will offer a "wealth" of evidence implicating Assad's forces. Analysts had already identified what kind of evidence might tie the Syrian army to the attack, and had emphasized that the detection of chemical stabilizers and dispersal agents would signal sophistication unavailable to other parties fighting in Syria's more than two-year war. Secretary of State John Kerry met Thursday with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, as well as a large team of arms control specialists, to begin exploring a Russian plan to defuse the crisis by placing Syria's chemical weapons arsenal under external control. Analysts have broadly - and increasingly - expressed skepticism regarding the workability of any such international effort. Also today, Syria announced that it had formally asked to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which would require Damascus to give up its weapons. By means of clarification however, Assad indicated that Damascus would not implement the treaty's requirements in the absence of U.S. guarantees that it would not attack Syria.
- Israeli officials reemphasized today that Jerusalem would enforce its long-established "red line" against any Syrian efforts to transfer advanced weapons, including portions of Damascus's chemical weapons arsenal, to the Bashar al-Assad regime's Hezbollah allies. Hezbollah leaders have in recent days repeatedly and explicitly threatened to attack the Jewish state, doubling down on rhetoric and threats that had already heightened over the summer. Hezbollah has also in recent days moved to redeploy troops into locations near to Israel's border. Meanwhile on Thursday, several mortar shells fired from Syria landed in Israel’s Golan Heights near the Israeli-Syrian border, increasing concerns that spillover from the war will threaten stability along Israel’s borders.
- Turkey continues to veto "even the most innocent" cooperation between Israel and NATO - extending a policy that stretches back years and which diplomats had hoped would cease amid a U.S.-backed reconciliation effort - according to Greek Ambassador Spiros Lampridis. The Jerusalem Post notes that the programs Turkey has nixed include 'joint exercises, intelligence exchanges, and research and technological development programs.' Turkey's efforts to undermine ties between Israel and NATO had been blasted for damaging interoperability between Israeli and Western forces, undermining among other things America's power projection capabilities in the region. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had explicitly bragged about his government's repeated successes in cutting off Israel from NATO initiatives, but a rapprochement facilitated by President Barack Obama was to see Ankara suspend efforts to diplomatically and militarily isolate Jerusalem. Lampridis lauded Israel for making a series of gestures designed to facilitate reconciliation, and - addressing increasingly vocal accusations that Erdogan is driven by anti-Jewish animus - declared that the Islamist Turkish prime minister "can do it privately if he wants... [but shouldn't] do it openly and expose a whole country."
- Officials linked to the Palestinian Fatah faction declared yesterday that Friday will be the "first day of popular resistance" against Israel, and have called for attacks against Jewish Israelis and the Jewish state. The statement by the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade was followed today by clashes that broke out after Palestinians opened fire on Israeli soldiers protecting some 1,400 worshippers at the Jewish holy site of Joseph's Tomb. Israeli soldiers returned fire, injuring one of the gunmen and eventually capturing another. The Palestinian government-linked media outlet Wafa earlier this week published an article blasting the rabbi of "Jewish fanatics" for asserting that Judaism's ancient Second Temple was built in Jerusalem. Palestinian officials - including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - have repeatedly and specifically sought to deny the existence of an ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and to vitiate the Jewish connection to Israel's capital. The position has been widely criticized as incitement, and is difficult to reconcile with public Palestinian pronouncements regarding the PLO's willingness to make concessions in the interest of a negotiated final settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.