Controversy swirls in Congress as House moves to reframe Iran agreement, Senate delays sanctions legislation
- Controversy swirls in Congress as House moves to reframe Iran agreement, Senate delays sanctions legislation
- European Union audit blasts Palestinian funding, demands overhaul of program elements
- Amid controversy over negotiations, investigators confirm chemical weapons use in Syria
- NYT: Suez attack latest in "string of car bombs and suicide attacks" in Egypt, as government moves toward vote on new constitution
What we’re watching today:
- The Washington Free Beacon late on Wednesday published details of measures emerging from the House of Representatives seeking to - per the outlet - "reset the terms of a controversial nuclear accord reached between Iran and Western nations several weeks ago in Geneva." Language that emerged Thursday evening from the office of Rep. Peter Roskan (R-IL) sought to circumscribe a future deal between global powers and the Islamic republic, and received bipartisan backing from Reps. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Gene Green (D-TX), and Dan Lipinski (D-IL). It insisted that any comprehensive agreement between Iran and the international community should demand that the Islamic republic "completely dismantle all enrichment facilities and cease all centrifuge production" and "completely dismantle its heavy-water plutonium reactor at Arak." The language is in line with half a dozen United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions calling on Tehran to suspend its nuclear program. It comes amid developments in both the House and Senate which conceded to demands from the Obama administration to take no action to increase pressure on the Islamic republic for at a minimum months. In the Senate Bob Corker (R-TN) explained that the White House had prevailed upon lawmakers, via what The Hill described as a "full-scale effect," to put off new sanctions against Iran. In the House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer withdrew previously announced support for motions that would impose conditions on negotiations.
- The Wall Street Journal yesterday noted that few programs funded by the European Union are marked by as much controversy as "EU assistance to the Palestinian Authority," with the bloc having provided more than five and a half billion Euros to the Palestinians since the peace process began in the mid 1990s. The Journal described funding as having "long been the target of a string of claims and counter-claims," and described criticism as having pinpointed not just graft - which has long been a target of internal and external Palestinian Authority (PA) critics - but more specifically the diversion of funds to the pockets of Palestinian terrorists and their families. Evaluation of EU's Pegase plan, according to an audit released this week, indicated that "a number of aspects of the current approach are increasingly in need of overhaul." The Times of Israel late on Thursday conveyed frustration from EU officials and quoted Hans Gustaf Wessberg, the Swedish head of the auditors’ team, saying that "when people who do not work are being paid, this goes against the agreement with Pegase." The robustness of Palestinian economic institutions has been a central pivot point in debates over whether a sustainable Palestinian state is achievable in the short or medium terms. Analysts have expressed doubts over whether an independent state could sustain itself in the absence of international funding, and regarding whether international donors would be willing to continue funding such an entity in the absence of checks on among other things corruption.
- The United Nations late on Thursday confirmed that chemical weapons had been used in the almost three year Syrian conflict, with experts investigating more than half a dozen alleged uses of proscribed weapons and - in what CNN described as "the case that was most clear" - documenting an August incident near Damascus. CNN also described "graphic video footage showed rows of bodies without apparent injury, as well as people suffering convulsions or apparently struggling to breathe." The report comes amid deepening controversy over the context and scope of upcoming Geneva II talks designed to facilitate a resolution to the conflict, with news emerging that over 30 countries, among them Iran and Saudi Arabia, invited to attend. The two states are respectively the key backers of the Bashar al-Assad regime and of elements of the opposition seeking the regime's overthrow. Riyadh has been accused, less so than Turkey and Qatar but more so than the West, of providing support to extremist elements at the expense of more moderate Western-backed forced. The consistent erosion of U.S.-backed fighters became particular pointed this week, with a top commander of the Free Syrian Army being forced out of the country as Islamists overran the positions of the Free Syrian army (FSA). Reuters reported today that the relative power dynamics inside Syria had forced the opposition to seek the protection of Al Qaeda-linked groups.
- The New York Times reported late on Thursday that a bomb had exploded near Egypt's Suez Canal, with one person being killed and dozens being wounded. The NYT contextualized the bombing as one of a "string of car bombs and suicide attacks" that have occurred since the Egyptian military on July 3 deposed the country's Muslim Brotherhood then-president Mohammed Morsi. The violence came shortly after an announcement by the country's military-backed government that a draft constitution designed to facilitate a democratic transition would be put to a national vote in a matter of weeks. English-language Egyptian media outlets wrote that an article in the new constitution dealing with civil liberties "could be seen as an improvement on the equivalent articles from the 1971 and 2012 constitutions as it limits the types of cases for which a civilian could stand trial before a military court," though a different article in the same outlet documented criticism by activists regarding "the potential for future labour action under the provisions of the draft charter." The Israel-oriented Algemeiner outlet noted on Thursday that the draft constitution deemphasized Islamic law, though the outlet acknowledged that the new version had not completely removed mentions to Sharia.
WH concedes Iran will be allowed to enrich uranium even under comprehensive agreement, fueling fears of global cascade
- WH concedes Iran will be allowed to enrich uranium even under comprehensive agreement, fueling fears of global cascade
- Politico: State Department pressed on misleading reporters over Iran diplomacy
- Bloomberg View: "daunting" concerns as Iran deal remains unfinished while economic pressure erodes
- Scientists rule out Arafat polonium poisoning conspiracy theories, again
What we’re watching today:
- The White House late Tuesday issued a statement declaring that the Obama administration is prepared to allow Iran to continue enriching uranium in the context of a comprehensive agreement over Tehran's nuclear program, after a report on the issue published by the Washington Free Beacon generated questions from journalists seeking further clarification. Critics have expressed concerns that such a stance, which has the U.S. functionally abandoning at least half a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding that the Islamic republic fully suspend its nuclear program, will undermine confidence in global nonproliferation norms. The Wall Street Journal had over the weekend published analysis from experts and diplomats worrying that allowing Iran to continue enrichment would open "the floodgates for other countries to demand the same right." The United States had previously worked out arrangements with several allies - including South Korea, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates - under which those countries would receive nuclear assistance only if they ceded enrichment capabilities. The Journal quoted Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Washington-based Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, assessing that "Obama's nuclear team thinks it can let Iran make nuclear fuel, but get others like Saudi Arabia and South Korea to forswear doing so" and predicting that "we're all in for a rude awakening."
- Politico yesterday reported on a confrontation between State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki and Fox News's Chief Washington Correspondent James Rosen, in which Rosen pressed Psaki on statements made in February by State's then-spokesperson Victoria Nuland, in which Nuland was asked about the existence of "direct, secret bilateral talks with Iran." Nuland denied the existence of such talks, a characterization that has become strained in the aftermath of stories revealing that senior U.S. officials, up to and including Secretary of State Bill Burns, held months of meetings with top Iranian officials. When asked whether she would "stand by the accuracy" by Nuland's statements, Psaki responded that she had "no new information... today." Politico described Rosen as requesting clarification "on the thinking of State Department briefers on whether it would be appropriate to mislead reporters about matters such as sensitive diplomatic negotiations." The credibility of administration assurances to lawmakers, allies, and journalists has been questioned in recent weeks, after the White House seemingly abandoned its long-time stance that Iran would be expected to fully suspend its nuclear program under the terms of a comprehensive deal.
- Bloomberg View columnist Jeffrey Goldberg published an article late Tuesday outlining "six reasons to worry about the Iranian nuclear deal," beginning with the revelation - acknowledged by the State Department last week as journalists probed when Iran would be held to the terms of the Geneva agreement - that the deal hasn't been finalized yet. Goldberg described the realization that "the Iranians are going about their business as if they've promised nothing" as "daunting." Promised Western concessions have in contrast already eased Tehran's economic isolation, triggering fears that the sanctions regime may fall prey to a "feeding frenzy" in which companies and nations rush to beat each other back into Iran's market. Goldberg assessed that "many companies and the Iranians themselves are seeing this agreement as the beginning of the end of the sanctions regime," a concern raised very early by some analysts but dismissed as "fanciful" by the deal's supporters. The asymmetry, described by the Washington Post last Thursday as one that "leaves the United States and its partners at a disadvantage in negotiating the comprehensive settlement," has generated calls for Congress and the Treasury Department to redress the imbalance. Goldberg also expressed concerns over what has been widely interpreted as a concession codified in the Geneva language that envisions Iran being allowed to enrich uranium indefinitely, as well as related language implying that the constraints that would seek to limit such enrichment would eventually be lifted such that "Iran could run however many centrifuges it chooses to run."
- French forensic specialists investigating the death of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat have concluded that he died of natural causes, ruling out conspiracy theories that sought to link the terrorist's decline to polonium poisoning. The French findings are in tension with media reports published last month describing the results of a Swiss lab that had also probed the 2004 death. The lab generated an inconclusive forensics report regarding the presence of polonium in Arafat's personal effects, a result that inexplicably received broad international coverage, with outlets reporting that the results lent credibility to suggestions that Arafat may in fact have been poisoned. Stories to that effect were published by among others the Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, the BBC, the Telegraph, Salon. There are exactly zero plausible scenarios under which tests conducted in recent years could have detected polonium poisoning from 2004, and critics implied that journalists had fallen for a publicity campaign orchestrated in part by Al Jazeera. The Qatari outlet had aired an investigation titled "What Killed Arafat" in 2012, and was at the time gearing up to air a second broadcast that the station - on a poster emblazoned with the word "poisoned" - promised would reveal "the secret of [Arafat's] death." .
Concern heightens that unbalanced Iran deal will weaken U.S. negotiators, as downward spiral threatens to take hold of sanctions regime
- Concern heightens that unbalanced Iran deal will weaken U.S. negotiators, as downward spiral threatens to take hold of sanctions regime
- U.N. nuclear watchdog reemphasizes concerns on Iran nuclear weaponization
- Israeli officials insist violence won't derail development efforts in country's south
- AP: Hamas cancels anniversary celebration over Egypt-driven 'deep economic woes
What we’re watching today:
- The Washington Post on Thursday described the interim agreement signed between the global P5+1 powers and Iran as "notable for its omissions," and expressed concern that the combination of Western concessions and Iranian victories has left "the United States and its partners at a disadvantage in negotiating the comprehensive settlement." Analysts have been expressing increasingly pointed worries that the reduction of sanctions has triggered a downward spiral that will substantially erode the entire regime, even as Iran in recent days has doubled down on advancing both its uranium and plutonium facilities. The Associated Press reported over the weekend that weakened sanctions on automobile components "could see Iran’s stalled car production again take off," providing not just a "boon" to Iranian automakers but also "potentially draw[ing] in more foreign investment from other manufacturers hoping to break into the market." The AP quoted Patrick Blain, president of the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, as predicting that "international investors are expected to re-enter Iran’s market soon," an evaluation in tension with Obama administration assurances, provided to allies and lawmakers, insisting that investors would be irrational to re-enter Iran's market in the near term. Blain was further quoted by Agence France-Presse asserting that "there is no reason not to come back." Meanwhile Reuters this morning reported on Iranian moves to "reassert Tehran's authority in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries" on basis of expectations that it will soon "return as the cartel's second biggest producer." Iranian state media today conveyed statements from Abbas Araqchi, the country's deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs, boasting that Tehran expects to receive $15 billion in oil revenues from the implementation of the Geneva deal. The Obama administration in contrast has assessed that the total relief granted by the agreement is roughly $7 billion, with only $4.2 billion in frozen oil assets being released.
- A statement issued last week by the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, emphasizes that the organization continues to be concerned about possible clandestine elements in Iran's nuclear program oriented toward the production of a nuclear weapon. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told the organization's board of governors that the agency was not "in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities." The statement was followed by declarations from top Iranian officials committing the Islamic republic to making continued progress on both Tehran's uranium and plutonium infrastructure, and insisting that the country would never suspend uranium enrichment or its plutonium ambitions, as has been called for by half a dozen United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s nuclear chief, declared over the weekend that Iran would never cease work on its Arak facility, which top analysts - including those sympathetic to engagement with the Islamic republic - have described as a plutonium bomb factory. For their part - per a weekend report by the Wall Street Journal - U.S. officials "have said they no longer believe it is feasible or practical to reach an agreement with Iran that completely dismantles its nuclear program," and more specifically Iran's uranium enrichment efforts.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres this weekend declared that Israel would continue pursuing a multi-year plan to economically develop the country's southern Negev region and politically integrate the Bedouin populations that live in the area, after activists late last week staged violent rallies opposing the so-called Prawer-Begin plan. Israel's Negev region constitutes almost half of the country's pre-1967 territory. It is home to roughly 200,000 Bedouin, as many as 90,000 of whom live in conditions of chronic underdevelopment. Close to half of all Bedouin citizens in the Negev live in 40 encampments with little to no access to basic municipal services such as water and sanitation, and some villages are illegally located on lands reserved for public use, including near Israel’s main toxic waste depository. The unemployment rate for Israeli Bedouins is 70 percent, compared with a national average of 7 percent, and only 4 percent of Bedouins graduate from higher education institutions. The Prawer-Begin plan would require Jerusalem to invest almost $2 billion in developing the Negev and moving some Bedouin communities to areas with education, health care, water, and electricity, where were they could legally live and in many cases claim ownership over their land. Organizations and activists critical of Israel, however, last week urged a so-called "day of rage" to oppose the plan, which they insisted was an instance of Israel dispossessing Palestinians. Media outlets pointedly described the Israeli cities being constructed in the Negev as "Jewish settlements" and the Israeli Bedouins were called "Palestinian Bedouins." Critics blasted such rhetoric as part of an effort to conflate the Bedouin cause with the Palestinian issue, noting that it was being done in the context of efforts to mainstream notions that Israel was targeting Palestinians. Analysts fear that the conflation will harm both the Bedouin cause and efforts to establish a Palestinian state. Regarding the Bedouins, the violence has threatened passage of the Prawer-Begin bill, potentially leaving the Negev underdeveloped. Regarding efforts to achieve a Palestinian state, the conflation is likely to deepen worries that the claims of Palestinians and their allies extend between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and into territories that have been Israeli since the country's birth and are internationally recognized as such.
- The Associated Press reported this weekend that Hamas had cancelled the terror group's previously scheduled 26th anniversary rally, with the terror group citing what the outlet described as 'deep economic woes' in the Gaza Strip territory that it rules. The AP linked Hamas's financial troubles to moves made by the Egyptian military to destroy the smuggling tunnels running between Gaza to the Egypt-controlled Sinai Peninsula, which the Egyptians blame for facilitating the movement of personnel and materials used by jihadists to conduct attacks in the Sinai. Egyptian security officials had began seeking to undermine both the tunnels and the Hamas officials who they blame for maintaining and profiting from them even before the July ouster of then-president Mohammed Morsi, who along with his Muslim Brotherhood-linked government was widely seen as a regional ally of Hamas. After Morsi was removed from power in the wake of massive anti-government rallies, the army stepped up its efforts to destroy the tunnels. Palestinian and Egyptian media outlets over the weekend conveyed reports of what the Jerusalem Post described as 'intensifying tensions between Egypt and Hamas,' specifically citing efforts by Egyptian authorities to revoke the citizenship and passports of of Hamas leaders.
Israeli team to travel to U.S. after Obama call "to begin consultations immediately" over final Iran deal
- Israeli team to travel to U.S. after Obama call "to begin consultations immediately" over final Iran deal
- After revelations that interim Iran deal not finalized, worries deepen Tehran may pocket concessions and abandon further talks
- Israeli leaders echo Netanyahu doubts over interim Iran deal
- U.S.-Iran dispute over enrichment concessions threatens comprehensive talks
What we’re watching today:
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that an Israeli team would be traveling to the United States to - per the Jerusalem Post - 'work on a final status nuclear deal with Iran,' amid growing criticism of moves by the Obama administration to lock Israel out of months of previous negotiations between Washington and Tehran. Netanyahu made the statements at a meeting of his Likud party today, also emphasizing that Israel's position would be oriented toward promoting and securing a comprehensive agreement that "must bring about one outcome: the dismantling of Iran's military nuclear capability." The Israeli prime minister had earlier spoken with President Barack Obama on Sundayregarding the details of this weekend's interim agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. A White House readout of the call indicated that Obama told Netanyahu "that he wants the United States and Israel to begin consultations immediately regarding [U.S.] efforts to negotiate a comprehensive solution."
- News broke mid-Monday that the final details of this weekend's interim agreement between the P5+1 and Iran had not yet been agreed upon, and that the six month period during which Iran is expected to negotiate over a comprehensive deal - and during which U.S. negotiators had committed to preventing the imposition of new nuclear-related sanctions - had not yet started. Evaluating the development, The Hill pointedly noted that the interim deal's announcement had nonetheless already boosted Iran's economic position, "with the Iran's currency, the rial, jumping three percent on Sunday and oil markets sagging in expectation of increased supply." News also emerged today that the European Union may remove certain sanctions on Tehran within weeks. The sum of the developments may deepen worries that asymmetries built into the interim deal - the terms of which only require Iran to 'freeze' its nuclear program as-is, but provide irreversible concessions to Tehran - may allow the Islamic republic to pocket interim concessions and eventually walk away from further negotiations. Most straightforwardly, Iran will get to pocket the billions in financial relief its gets, which Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), estimated this weekend would ultimately amount to roughly $20 billion. Dubowitz and FDD senior fellow Orde Kittrie today outlined how "the agreement greatly weakens Western economic sanctions" inasmuch as "Iranian sanctions-busters will be in position to exploit the changing market psychology and newly created pathways to reap billions of additional dollars in economic relief beyond those projected by the Obama administration." The New York Times echoed the point, conveying the concerns of critics in "Congress, the Arab world and Israel" to the effect that "the roughly $100 billion in remaining sanctions will gradually be whittled away [by wily] middlemen, Chinese eager for energy sources and Europeans looking for a way back to the old days." Iran may calculate that the direct injection of capital, coupled with the economic benefits of currency gains, are sufficient to wait for the disintegration of the international community's sanctions regime.
- Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum are echoing deep skepticism expressed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding this weekend's interim deal between the P5+1 and Iran, after Netanyahu blasted the agreement as a "historic mistake" and committed Jerusalem to acting in the "diplomatic arena" and "in other areas" to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who as head of Israel's center-left Hatnuah party ran against Netanyahu and his Likud party in the last elections, described the agreement as a "terrible deal that will threaten not only us, but the entire world." Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, who as head of Israel's center-right Jewish Home party also ran against Netanyahu, not only described the agreement as a "bad deal" but emphasized that it would "increase the need for Israeli [military] action." Minister of Intelligence Yuval Steinitz, from Netanyahu's own Likud party, declared that "the present agreement could actually bring Iran closer to building the bomb."
- A dispute over the degree to which Iran won enrichment concessions in this weekend's interim deal has pitted Iran and Russia on one hand against the U.S. and Britain on the other, and is threatening to severely complicate talks aimed at achieving a comprehensive agreement over Tehran's nuclear program. Iranian leader - including Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif - boasted over the weekend that the U.S. had caved on its long-standing position that Iran would not be permitted to enrich uranium under a final accord. The U.S. and Britain both flatly denied Iran's interpretation. The interim language, however, describes a future comprehensive solution as involving "a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the program." Observers including the Washington Post's Jackson Diehl, the Post's David Ignatius, and the Daily Beast's Eli Lake all noted that a plain reading of the language favors the Iranian interpretation. The diverging interpretations will present a challenge for U.S. diplomats pursuing a comprehensive deal. The U.S. will either have to compel Iran to change its position, which will be difficult inasmuch Iranian leaders are trumpeting the language as a core victory, or the U.S. will have to concede Iran’s position, abrogating assurances made by the administration to U.S. lawmakers and allies, and giving up on half a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to suspend enrichment. In 2009 the New York Times reported that "administration officials... said that any new American policy would ultimately require Iran to cease enrichment, as demanded by several United Nations Security Council resolutions." In 2010 then-White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs ruled out allowing Iran to enrich because "if the Iranians are sincere in a peaceful program, their needs can be met without undertaking its own enrichment program, which call into question its motives." The same year Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley emphasized that Iran "continues to enrich uranium and has failed to suspend its enrichment program as has been called for in UN Security Council resolutions; that’s our core concern." The administration's lead negotiator Wendy Sherman told Congress as recently as last month that "the President has circumscribed what he means by the Iranian people having access… access, not right, but access to peaceful nuclear energy in the context of meeting its obligations."
Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei lashes out, deepening fears that Tehran may pocket concessions and walk away from talks
- Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei lashes out, deepening fears that Tehran may pocket concessions and walk away from talks
- AP: U.S. posture on Iran generating "strange alliance" between Israel and Gulf states
- Sinai Peninsula attack kills 11 Egyptian soldiers and wounds dozens, renewing debate over Obama administration aid cut-off
- Senior Palestinian official: U.S. gave green light for Israel to assassinate Arafat
What we’re watching today:
- Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today lashed out at a range of actors and elements long described by Tehran as antagonists - including Israel and global powers seeking to negotiate a settlement over Iran's nuclear program - leading Agence France Press to report that talks scheduled to begin shortly in Geneva "may be fraught." The New York Times reported and then deleted quotes by Khamenei describing Israelis as "untouchable rabid dogs, and the Jerusalem Post had more extensive passages where Khamenei declared that "Zionist officials cannot be called humans, they are like animals" and that Israel "is doomed to failure and annihilation." Regarding the substance of the upcoming Geneva talks, the Supreme Leader set out "red lines" beyond which he would not permit Iranian negotiators to compromise, remarks likely to deepen analyst concerns that Khamenei is preparing to pocket Western interim concessions and ban Iranian diplomats from striking an agreement under which Tehran would meet its obligations under half a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding it cease its uranium- and plutonium-related programs. The Associated Press described Khamenei's remarks as "Iran's leader backs nuke talks, with conditions."
- The Associated Press describes a burgeoning "strange alliance" between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the latest development in what has become a cascade of regional adjustments by traditional U.S. allies concerned that Washington is ceding its traditional role as a regional power. Jerusalem and Gulf nations have reportedly been shaken by the Obama administration's decision-making in Egypt, where the White House vacillated and then eventually punished Cairo over the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Mohammed Morsi government; in Syria, where the White House vacillated and then failed to attack after its "red line" against chemical weapons use was crossed; and Iran, where the White House is widely seen as vacillating on its pledge to only strike an interim deal with Iran that prevents Tehran from making progress in pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. The AP tersely noted that "the stepped-up anxieties on Iran could bring new space for the Gulf-Israel overlap." CNN yesterday carried analysis by Barak Seener, Associate Middle East Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute, describing how "GCC States and Israel have increased their intelligence sharing to counter an Iranian threat."
- A massive car bomb detonated today in the Sinai Peninsula killed at least eleven Egyptian military personnel and injured dozens more, amid a months-long effort by the Egyptian army to uproot jihadist infrastructure and fighters from the increasingly anarchic territory. Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi committed to responding to the attacks, and the BBC reported that communications were shut down around the area near el-Arish, the city near where the roadside bomb attack took place, and that military helicopters were seen circling the area searching for attackers. Cairo has sought to heavily leverage its air assets, including and particularly its U.S.-built Apache fleet, as part of its campaign in the Sinai Peninsula. The critical role that U.S. security assistance plays in Egypt's anti-terror campaigns was a key reason why analysts widely blasted an October decision by the Obama administration to partially freeze aid to Cairo. The risk to U.S. interests - American troops have long relied on the preferential access to the Suez Canal and to Egyptian airspace that bilateral military ties enabled - was another critical consideration. Cairo has in recent weeks made open moves to pivot toward Russia as a substitute for the U.S., and a Kuwaiti paper today described a $4 billion Russian arms deal that Egyptian officials are said to be pursuing. In what was widely seen as an effort at damage control, Secretary of State John Kerry today declared that Egypt's 2011 Arab Spring revolution was "stolen" by the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt's military in July deposed the Muslim Brotherhood-linked government that took over after the revolution, eventually prompting the Obama administration's aid cut-off.
- Reports emerged late this evening that Jibril Rajoub - a senior Palestinian official and for decades a top figure in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process - had earlier this month accused the United States of permitting Israel to assassinate former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Conspiracy theories regarding the 2004 death of the Palestinian leader received new life earlier this month when a Swiss lab published a 108-page report that some media outlets characterized as concluding that Arafat was "probably poisoned with polonium." Analysts and scientists rolled their eyes at the suggestion that tests conducted in 2012 could detect polonium poisoning committed in 2004 - there are exactly zero plausible scenarios under which that could be the case - but the controversy has shed light both on internal Palestinian divisions and now on the posture of long-time Palestinian diplomats toward the United States.
- 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.
Experts: Iran nuke program well-hidden, concessions on enrichment put non-proliferation efforts at risk
- Experts: Iran nuke program well-hidden, concessions on enrichment put non-proliferation efforts at risk
- Top House figures call on Senate to move forward with Iran sanctions
- New video documents Iran arming, training, and directing pro-regime Syrian forces
- Reports: IAF strikes Syrian missile cache bound for Hezbollah
What we’re watching today:
- Iran has made significant progress in concealing components of its nuclear program, and is "getting better" at the construction and protection of potential undisclosed enrichment facilities, according to statements by senior intelligence officials and analysts published yesterday by the Daily Beast. David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), described the Islamic regime as "better at keeping better secrets, better at compartmentalization of their program and they are better at cyber security," while a retired senior U.S. intelligence official explained - per the Beast - that 'it would be easy to hide a secret enrichment facility in downtown Tehran' through technological means. Tehran has also boosted its cybersecurity capabilities, in the aftermath of the discovery of several computer viruses used to sabotage and monitor the Iranian nuclear program. The existence of undisclosed facilities would dramatically change assessments regarding Iran's ability to dash across the nuclear finish line, which Olli Heinonen - a former Deputy Director of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog and currently a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School - this week pegged at two weeks. Heinonen and Washington Institute fellow Simon Henderson yesterday published a call urging Washington to "negotiate expeditiously" and emphasizing that any concessions offered to Iran - including the right to continue enriching uranium, which Tehran has repeatedly indicated it will demand - will "soon be demanded by other countries that have previously been denied those rights." The United Nations Security Council has demanded a full end to Iranian enrichment in half a dozen binding resolutions, and Heinonen and Henderson that "rewarding Iran in this way for noncompliance with its nonproliferation commitments would seem indulgent." Indeed Gulf states have repeatedly signaled that they intend to acquire nuclear weapons if they perceive that Iran is doing the same. Speaking last week in Washington, former Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to Washington Prince Turki al-Faisal declared that Iran’s obtainment of a nuclear weapon "will make nuclear arms proliferation in the Middle East the norm" and suggested that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Riyadh is a member, should consider acquiring a "nuclear deterrent" of its own.
- Top Republicans and Democrats from the House of Representatives are calling on their Senate colleagues to move forward with legislation to increase sanctions on Iran, brushing aside concerns being expressed by administration figures that new pressure will damage efforts to negotiate with the Islamic republic over its nuclear weapons program. Experts and diplomats had already this week questioned the logic of the administration argument, pointing out that, inasmuch as heightening sanctions-driven pressure had coerced Iran to come to the negotiating table, increasing that pressure could hardly cause them to walk away. The Hill yesterday quoted Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) emphasizing that "the only reason that [the Iranians] are negotiating now is because of the success of the sanctions in place... need to enhance the pressure" and Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) saying that "existing sanctions have forced Tehran to the negotiating table, and we should be building more pressure instead of slowing down." The House passed its own sanctions legislation in July by a margin of 400-20, and parallel legislation is currently waiting for mark up by Senate Banking Committee. On the Senate side, Mark Kirk (R-IL) questioned why the U.S. should forgo strengthening its negotiating position while Iran was strengthening its hand by installing new nuclear technology, pointedly telling Reuters that "if Iran is capable of negotiating while violating international law, the United States should be equally capable of negotiating while imposing new sanctions pressure."
- The BBC yesterday posted footage captured from an Iranian cameraman who had been embedded with a unit of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) fighters in Syria, documenting how top Iranian military figures are on the ground in the war-torn country not just supplying but also "instructing and organizing" pro-regime forces against rebels seeking the overthrow of the Bashar al-Assad regime. BBC experts verified the video, which included interviews with a top IRGC figure explaining that he viewed the war as one between "Islam and the infidels," and describing how domestic and foreign fighters had been trained in Iran before being dispatched to Syria. Meanwhile Assad today complained to Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations' special envoy to Syria, about the presence of foreign fighters in the country. The Syrian strongman reportedly told Brahimi that "[o]nly the Syrian people are authorized to shape the future of Syria." It is not known whether Brahimi or any other official queried Assad about the crucial assistance provided to the regime by Iran and by Iran's Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, which is known to have been critical in helping Damascus steadily erode nearly two years of rebel gains in the nearly three year war.
- Israeli Air Force (IAF) jets today struck a Syrian military base with advanced missiles that Israel may have thought were intended for Hezbollah, according to an Obama administration official who spoke to CNN. If confirmed the move would be the most recent of several times that the IAF has reportedly acted to enforce Jerusalem's long emphasized double red line against the transfer of advanced Syrian weapons to, or their capture by, terror groups. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon last week reemphasized that Israel would continue "strictly adhering to our 'red lines' in regards to Syria," and emphasized that Israel was monitoring the situation. Ya'alon's comments had come hours after Kuwait's Al-Jarida newspaper reported that Israel had intercepted a convoy of missiles being transferred to Lebanon from Syria. Asked to comment last May on Israeli airstrikes against Syria, President Barack Obama declared that "the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah."
- Russia: Deal with Iran would allow regime to keep enriching uranium
- Turkish intelligence sharing, technology transfer agreements endangered after Ankara burned Israeli spies
- WSJ: Saudi Arabia scaling back U.S. ties due to administration's "Syria, Iran and Egypt policies"
- Syrian opposition conditions talks on Assad stepping aside, as Assad doubles down on not stepping aside
What we’re watching today:
- Russian sources are signaling that a potential deal between the international community and Iran over the latter's nuclear program could allow Tehran to continue enriching uranium up to 5% purity. The rumor is consistent with repeated Iranian statements - reiterated this week by the country's Deputy Foreign Minister Araqchi Abbas - declaring that Iran will not agree to halt its enrichment activities as U.S. lawmakers and roughly half a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions have demanded. Iran is known to possess sufficient enrichment technology to dash across the nuclear finish line starting from 3% enrichment, and it is unlikely that a deal allowing the regime to continue enriching up to 5% will be acceptable to members of Congress or to the U.S.'s Israeli and Arab allies. Writing in theWashington Post this week, Washington Institute Managing Director Michael Singh outlined how any such partial deal - which would exchange sanctions relief for a limit but not a ban on enrichment - would fail in the absence of transparency measures that Tehran seems unwilling to take. Foundation for Defense of Democracies Executive Director Mark Dubowitz has offered an alternative framework for financial relief that would be based on nonsanctions relief, and would provide the Obama administration with a mechanism for partially rewarding Iran for partial concessions without endangering the international sanctions regime. The Dubowitz proposal includes measures for imposing additional, harsh sanctions if Tehran remains intransigent.
- Saudi Arabia intends to scale back the degree to which it cooperates with the United States in arming and training Syrian rebels, a decision that comes amid what the Wall Street Journal describes as "a growing dispute between the U.S. and one of its closest Arab allies over Syria, Iran and Egypt policies."Riyadh late last week declined a seat on the United Nations Security Council for similar reasons, with Prince Bandar Bin Sultan al-Saud reportedly telling diplomats that the decision "was a message for the U.S., not the U.N." The move was broadly praised by Saudi Arabia's regional allies, including Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE. Arab governments have become increasingly public in expressing frustration with the Obama administration, which they fault for withholding aid from Egypt's anti-Muslim Brotherhood interim government and for being overeager to cut a deal with Iran on the country's nuclear program. Privately, Saudi officials in Washington have expressed that they "increasingly feel cut out of U.S. decision-making on Syria and Iran." Secretary of State John Kerry met with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal on Monday in Paris in an effort to reassure the Saudis that the administration takes seriously the concerns of its long-time allies.
- Turkish media outlets are reporting that Washington canceled the delivery of 10 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Turkey after Ankara deliberately burned 10 Iranian spies operating inside Iran on behalf of the Israeli Mossad. The move - which is being described by Israeli observers as "the basest act of betrayal imaginable" and by U.S. intelligence officials as a staggering loss - was first reported by the Washington Post and was reportedly carried out by Turkish spy chief Hakan Fidan with the knowledge and support of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If confirmed, the UAV cancellation would provide another data point indicating that global intelligence agencies were scaling back cooperation with Turkey in general, and with Turkey's intelligence agency (MIT) in particular. Foundation for Defense of Democracies Senior Fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht explained to USA Today that the incident would be taken as a signal that Ankara could not be trusted with intelligence information. The Post's revelation comes amid another intelligence-based controversy, this one generated by Ankara's decision to purchase Chinese missile assets. The missile batteries would need to be integrated into Turkey's current infrastructure, functionally introducing what one official described as a Chinese "virus" into NATO's command and control systems.
- Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba is signaling that elements of the Syrian opposition will boycott proposed peace talks unless the negotiations' goal is to facilitate the removal from power of the Bashar al-Assad regime, after Assad stated that not only is he not considering stepping down, but that he sees no reason why he shouldn't run for reelection in 2014. The juxtaposition will likely deepen skepticism about the potential for a breakthrough at the talks, which are oriented toward ending almost three years of bloody conflict in Syria. Interviewed by Syria's Al Mayadeen TV, Assad also criticized the opposition for working on behalf of foreign powers to undermine Syria. Meanwhile, two fighters from the Iran-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah were reportedly killed in Syria during clashes against rebel forces.
Experts: Partial deal on Iranian enrichment "more likely to increase... tensions than to defuse them," risks nuclear arms race
- Experts: Partial deal on Iranian enrichment "more likely to increase... tensions than to defuse them," risks nuclear arms race
- Turkey blasted as U.S. officials confirm Erdogan government burned Israeli spies working in Iran
- Two young girls among four dead in attack on Egypt Christians
- Observers: Assad regime waging "terror-famine" against Syrian civilians
What we’re watching today:
- Washington Institute Managing Director Michael Singh late last week sought to outline what a nuclear deal with Iran would look like if the Obama administration and its allies pursue a strategy that holds out on sanctions relief until Iran takes long-understood steps to meet roughly a half-dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions calling on it to dismantle its nuclear program. Singh emphasizes that a partial deal on uranium enrichment would, to be meaningful, require Iran to undertake a variety of transparency measures that Tehran seems unwilling to consider. In recent days Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani has in fact warned that Iran could step up work at its nuclear facilities if the West presses too hard for concessions related to the country’s atomic program. In the absence of a "strategic shift by Iran" to open up its program, Singh describes how the U.S.'s regional allies "would distrust Iranian intentions" even as Iran "would bristle at the intrusiveness of inspections" necessary to assure the deal. Under those conditions "a deal on limited enrichment" structured around sanctions relief would be "more likely to increase... tensions than to defuse them," and would risk a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Singh instead outlines "a second, more straightforward path to an agreement," under which Iran would have to fully dismantle its program. Singh's description comes as U.S. lawmakers are said to be increasingly warming to a proposal under which Iran would be provided with financial non-sanctions relief in exchange for confidence-building measures related to its nuclear program. The framework was first proposed by Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and described by Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg.
- U.S. officials have confirmed to The Daily Beast the details of a Washington Postreport revealing that Turkey last year deliberately burned roughly 10 spies who were working for Israel in Iran on the country's nuclear program. The Daily Beast quotes former Israeli Mossad chief Danny Yatom describing the move as "an act that brings the Turkish intelligence organization to a position where I assume no one will ever trust it again," while a CIA officer compared the incident to the betrayal of the Cambridge Five, the network of Soviet moles who provided highly sensitive intelligence to Moscow at the dawn of the Cold War. Ankara has categorically denied that it shopped the Iranians to Tehran, but over the weekend Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu lashed out at critics and declared that - if the story is true - then Turkey's intelligence chief Hakan Fidan would have been just "doing his job" by "not letting other intelligence agencies operate in Turkey." It is unlikely that Turkish allies will gladly greet the announcement that Turkish soil is closed to friendly intelligence operations targeting rogue regimes. Meanwhile Turkish diplomatic correspondent Cumali Onal slammed the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for economic and geopolitical missteps that have resulted in Ankara's prestige and influence sliding precipitously. Onal warned that Erdogan's Islamist government was risking diplomatic isolation, and specifically cited Erdogan's continuing hostility toward Israel.
- Two young girls were among the four people killed outside a church Sunday in the Egyptian city of Giza, the latest in what the Associated Press described in early August as a "stepped-up hate campaign" against the country’s Coptic Christian community. Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, subsequently described the wave of anti-Christian attacks as the worst organized violence that Egyptian Copts have faced in 700 years. Islamist supporters of Egypt's former president Mohammed Morsi had within weeks of his early July overthrow begun targeting Christians across the country, blaming them in part for the overthrow of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood-linked government. Scores of Christian churches, homes, businesses, and community centers have been destroyed, and roughly 10 Christians have been murdered in the violence. The concentrated, continuing violence is likely to deepen skepticism that the Muslim Brotherhood is willing to form a pluralistic government guaranteeing equal rights and protections to Egypt's religious minorities.
The Bashar al-Assad regime is engaged in what journalists are describing as a "terror-famine," with half a dozen people already confirmed dead from starvation and the situation likely to worsen as winter takes hold. Regime forces have been strangling rebel-held towns of all humanitarian supplies for almost a year, and a group of Syrian clerics recently had to issue a fatwa allowing war victims to eat cats, dogs, and donkeys for sustenance. Violence has complicated efforts by regime opponents and humanitarian workers to deliver aid to besieged Syrians. Over the weekend, more than 30 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a military checkpoint in central Syria. The attack was linked to the Al Nusra front, an Al Qaeda offshoot, and came just a day after another suicide bombing in Damascus killed more than a dozen people. Seven Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers were recently kidnapped in northwestern Syria, and the fighting has prevented medical personnel from conducting immunization campaigns. The World Health Organization reports that it is receiving reports of a polio outbreak, the first in more than a decade, inside Syria.
- Obama administration said to be warming to non-sanctions financial relief proposal for Iran
- WaPo: Iran doesn't have enrichment "right," West must consider more pressure to secure genuine concessions
- Spy-burning scandal raises new questions over Turkey's status as Western ally
- U.S. announces $10.8 billion in Gulf arms sales, underscoring Iran-driven arms race fears
What we’re watching today:
- The Obama administration is said to be considering a proposal that would provide non-sanctions financial relief to Iran in exchange for Iranian nuclear program concessions, giving the administration the flexibility to reciprocate confidence-building measures without threatening the delicate sanctions regime widely credited for bringing Tehran to the bargaining table. The framework - outlined by Foundation for Defense of Democracies Executive Director Mark Dubowitz and first published by Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg - would see the U.S. loosen restrictions that have kept roughly $50 billion frozen or semi-frozen in banks around the world. The proposal would functionally place a dollar value on Iranian concessions. The structure would partially address concerns of the kind expressed yesterday by the insidery security bulletin KGS NightWatch, which worried that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would replicate the negotiating strategy he led in the mid-2000s and "offer small compromises by Iran in return for major concessions by the West and others." It would also allow policymakers to sidestep broadly held concerns that chipping away at the regime will quickly cascade into a full collapse. Goldberg also noted that Dubowitz's basket of carrots would be accompanied by a stick: If Iran doubled down on its intransigence, that administration would pursue a provision denying foreign financial institutions access to U.S. markets if they released financial reserves to Iran for any non-humanitarian reasons. The New York Times this morning followed up on the proposal, quoting a Senate aide praising it as preferable to earlier frameworks.
- The Washington Post on Thursday brushed off repeated Iranian assertions that the Islamic republic has an absolute "right" to enrich uranium, matter-of-factly noting that "no 'right' to enrich uranium exists in the Non-Proliferation Treaty," that enrichment is not "needed for a nuclear program," that "many countries using nuclear power do not enrich their own uranium," and - quoting a 2005 speech by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani - that a "country that possesses this capability is able to produce nuclear weapons." The Post tersely evaluated that "Iran's insistence on enrichment appears meant to preserve a capability for nuclear breakout after sanctions are lifted," and called on the West to pursue "far greater concessions than the regime appears to be contemplating." Another article in the Post, this one by Jennifer Rubin, quoted Cliff May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, emphasizing that Iran will only offer further concessions if Congress and the White House move immediately to "ratchet up sanctions pressure." The analysis came amid reports that even Iran's current offer - which already falls short of a half-dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions calling on Tehran to dismantle its nuclear program - has failed to bridge the gaps between the P5+1 and the Islamic republic.
- Turkish diplomats scrambled for a second day to contain the fallout from a Washington Post bombshell published lateWednesday night, as journalists published more details surrounding allegations that top Turkish officials - including the country's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and its intelligence chief Hakan Fidan - deliberately burned 10 Iranians who had been working with Israel's Mossad to reveal details of Iran's nuclear program. The Wall Street Journal had already revealed that Fidan passed classified U.S. intelligence to Iran, and the Long War Journal blog yesterday expanded on long-standing concerns over the spy chief's ties to Iran and to other anti-Western elements. Turkish officials were already trying to dampen an ongoing controversy over Ankara's plans to purchase and integrate Chinese missile assets - Western defense officials say the plan will introduce a "virus" into NATO's command and control infrastructure - and the allegations regarding Fidan will deepen suspicions regarding Turkey's status as a U.S. and NATO ally. They will also have diplomatic impacts.The New York Times noted this morning that the controversy has strained an already faltering U.S.-backed effort to restore ties between Israel and Turkey. Turkey had steadily eroded the country's relationship with Israel over several years, and formally downgraded ties after a U.N. investigation found Israel justified in intercepting a Turkish vessel that had been trying to break Israel's blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Israeli commandos intercepting the ship had been attacked by its passengers, and nine people died in the subsequent fighting. Ankara's interpretation of the events were at odds with what the U.N. concluded, and Turkish officials lashed out against the findings and against Israel. The Times quoted a senior Israeli official saying that "Israel very much wanted to renew the relationship" and to pursue mediation initiated by President Barack Obama, but that "in public statements, Turkish officials had added more and more conditions, like a demand that Israel accept responsibility for the deaths in the raid."
- The Department of Defense announced on Thursday that it intends to sell $10.8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with Bloomberg describing the move as designed to send "a message of support" to Gulf allies known to be increasingly critical of the Obama's administration's general posture in the region and, more specifically, over what Arab leaders believe is a too-credulous approach to Iran. The moves may however reignite fears that instability already being generated by Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, even with Tehran stopping short of nuclearization, will trigger an arms race throughout the Middle East. If Iran ever did acquire a nuclear device, of course, Riyadh has already signaled that it will follow suit. The near-certainty of nuclear breakout is behind analysis and statements, including those made by President Barack Obama, emphasizing that Iranian nuclear weapons acquisition would shred the international non-proliferation regime.