- U.S. lawmakers sign letter calling on E.U. to fully blacklist Hezbollah
- Support for Israeli strike on Iran reportedly increasing inside White House
- Al Qaeda conference sheds light on group structure, including role of Al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula
- Four Israeli soldiers injured in Lebanese border explosion, triggering fears of security deterioration
What we’re watching today:
- Forty-nine U.S. lawmakers have signed a letter praising the European Union for its decision last month to partially blacklist Hezbollah, while urging the bloc to fully designate the Iran-backed group. The E.U. listing was limited to Hezbollah's so-called military wing, and excluded what the E.U. described as the group's political wing. Hezbollah officials have explicitly rejected the E.U.'s distinction, emphasizing both before and after the blacklisting that the group's military and political wings are the same. The July designation came less than a year after Bulgarian officials linked Hezbollah to a July 2012 bus bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria that killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian. A Cypriot court subsequently convicted a confessed Hezbollah operative on terrorism-related charges, the suspicion being that Hezbollah seemed ready to carry out a similar attack against Israeli tourists in Cyprus. The combination generated substantial pressure on the E.U. to overcome the reluctance of some members and to formally acknowledge that an organization that commits terror acts on E.U. soil that kill E.U. citizens ought, for the purposes of the E.U., be considered a terror group. The bipartisan letter notes that the ban and accompanying sanctions "will help disrupt Hezbollah’s dangerous operations around the world," which include attempted and at times successful terror attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Thailand, Georgia, India, Azerbaijan, Singapore, and Turkey.
- The Obama administration is softening reported past resistance to a potential Israeli military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, shifting from "the brightest red [light]" to "definitely yellow," according to statements made by former chief of the IDF’s Intelligence Directorate Amos Yadlin. The revelation comes during a week when the Wall Street Journal reported on "significant advances" that Iran has made in building the infrastructure necessary to construct a nuclear bomb. Earlier this year, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution reaffirming U.S. support for Israel if the Jewish state were to take action to defend itself against Tehran. The election victory and subsequent inauguration of revolutionary cleric Hassan Rouhani as president has triggered sharp divisions in the foreign policy community. Rouhani's gestures toward the need for nuclear negotiations have engendered optimism among some analysts, while other analysts have pointed out that Rouhani has long bragged about using such negotiations to buy time for Iran to lock in its nuclear infrastructure.
- National security journalists Eli Lake and Josh Rogin broke a story today about a terrorist conference call intercepted by U.S. officials, which was reportedly behind the numerous terror alerts and the closings of U.S. embassies and consulates across the Middle East and North Africa. The call involved more than 20 Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda-linked operatives, including those stationed in the Sinai Peninsula. The Al Qaeda presence in the Egyptian-controlled territory has been deepening and consolidating in recent months, and the group is now reportedly led by Ramzi Mowafi, a former physician for Osama bin Laden. Other Al Qaeda-linked operatives on the call reportedly hailed from Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the Pakistani Taliban, the Islamic Maghreb, Uzbekistan, Iraq, and Yemen. The group reportedly spoke in vague terms about plans for an upcoming attack.
- Four Israeli soldiers were injured today in an explosion near the country’s border with Lebanon. Lebanese security sources declared that the blast, likely the result of a landmine explosion, may have taken place on the Israeli side of the designated "Blue Line" border that separates the two countries. The claim was echoed by a second security source. Observers increasingly fear that the Israeli-Lebanese border will follow Israel's border with Syria in becoming destabilized by spillover from the Syrian conflict. As with the Syrian border, the United Nations peacekeeping force tasked with maintaining security has threatened to withdraw as a security vacuum develops in the area.
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