- U.S., European, and Israeli officials blast Iran for obstructing U.N. nuclear transparency investigations
- Turkey development minister: Iran looking to deepen role of Turkish banks in billion-dollar energy schemes
- Analysts: Hezbollah diversifying threats against Israel, may attempt spectacular invasion of Israel in next war
American and European officials on Wednesday deepened their criticism of what is increasingly being seen as deliberate Iranian foot-dragging on Tehran's obligations to come clean regarding the so-called possible military dimensions (PMDs) of Iran's atomic program, a reference to a range of activities from the military's involvement in producing nuclear material to outright work on potential nuclear munitions. The UN's nuclear watchdog (IAEA) has for years been striving to increase transparency around those activities, and has more recently conducted negotiations with Iran in parallel to talks between the Islamic republic and the P5+1 global powers aimed at putting Iran's nuclear program beyond use for weaponization. PMD issues are nonetheless considered a core component of the P5+1's overall efforts, and a Wednesday Reuters article on the issue noted that "U.S. officials say it is vital for Iran to resolve the IAEA's questions if parallel negotiations" are to continue. A Thursday Reuters article conveyed statements from Israeli officials echoing the sentiments, condemning what they described as "false" accounts by Iranian officials regarding PMD-related issues. Long-standing Western demands that Tehran fully account for PMD-related work - codified among other places in United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1929 - have emerged as a central component of ongoing talks between the P5+1 global powers and Iran. The PMD issue has also become tangled in broader controversies regarding Washington's role in the region and the world. Analysts - to say nothing of the U.S.'s traditional Middle Eastern allies - have in recent weeks become increasing clear in insisting that Iran's willingness to disclose its past activities is now functionally a test of whether Washington is willing or able to extract genuine concessions from the Islamic republic.
Comments made on Wednesday by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - which had the cleric boast that Iran has successfully maneuvered Washington past the possibility of using military force against Tehran's nuclear program - continued to garner attention through Thursday, with the New York Daily News describing the comments as a "direct affront to President Obama's military strategy" and noting that they were made as Khamenei stood in front of banners proclaiming "America Cannot Do a Damn Thing." The Iranian leader's remarks were widely viewed as a direct response to President Obama's recent West Point speech, in which he declared that "some of [America's] most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures." The New York Daily News noted that, when asked to comment on Khamenei's read of the President's West Point remarks, the White House returned a statement that the White House "reserve[s] all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." Khamenei's speech came a few weeks after a different one, in which he had described the expectation that Iran will address concerns related to its ballistic missile program - an expectation long emphasized by Obama administration officials, and one that Tehran is legally bound to meet - as "stupid" and "idiotic." The stream of comments risk cascading beyond the diplomatic arena, and impacting the ongoing debate between the White House and Congress over the appropriate amount of pressure to bring to bear on Iran. Administration officials have leaned heavily on assertions that new legislation targeting Iran was unacceptable, lest it erode a delicate "Spirit of Geneva" established by the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA). Repeated speeches in which the Iranian Supreme Leader mocks the American president are potentially in tension with those arguments.
Hurriyet Daily News reported Thursday that Iran is looking to deepen the involvement of the Turkish financial sector in its oil and gas trade with Ankara, and is more specifically seeking "another Turkish lender to take part in its oil transactions along with the state-owned Halkbank." Tehran's moves were revealed by Turkey's Development Minister Cevdet Yilmaz, who explained that the Iranians were uncomfortable with Halkbank being the single channel for the $30 billion in expected trade. Hurriyet read the new developments alongside years of energy-driven transactions between Turkey and Iran in which "Turkey has bought natural gas and oil from Iran through an indirect system whereby Iranian exporters received payments through Halkbank Turkish Lira accounts and used that money to buy gold," after which "[t]he bulk of that gold was then shipped from Turkey to Dubai, where Iran could import or sell it for foreign currency." Those trade arrangements had in turn long been heatedly condemned by Western analysts and diplomats not just for busting through Western sanctions on Iran - though certainly for that - but also for exposing large swaths of the international banking system to illicit finance schemes. Top figures from Halkbank itself had last December been implicated in a massive graft scandal that involved accusations involving billions of dollars related to energy and gold schemes. Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Thursday conveyed a leak sourced to an Iranian official revealing that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would visit Turkey.
Veteran Israeli military analyst Amos Harel on Thursday assessed that a future war between Israel and Hezbollah seems increasingly likely - his exact language was that the relative quiet that has existed along the Jewish state's northern border "since the end of the Second Lebanon War nearly eight years ago... won't necessarily last long" - and that Hezbollah may use the deterioration to launch a spectacular ground operation against Israel. The suggestion is not a new one, and was being publicly analyzed by Israeli military experts well over a year ago. Harel unpacked a more recent anonymously penned analysis in Israel's military magazine Maarachot - penned by N., a lieutenant colonel in intelligence - pointing to boasts by Hezbollah leaders about "conquering the Galilee" that may be reflective of genuine intentions. The article in turn described an August 2012 Hezbollah military exercise that involved 10,000 fighters and included attacks on targets deep in Israeli territory. The concerns come alongside other ones involving Hezbollah boasts - by and large backed by genuine capabilities - that the Iran-backed terror group intends to saturation-bomb Israeli population centers. Israeli leaders have for their part been explicit that they will take whatever measures are necessary to shorten a future conflagration with Hezbollah, and that Lebanese institutions and infrastructure used by the organization will not be immune.
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