Analysts: Iran advancing nuclear program as Western sanctions erode

  • Analysts: Iran advancing nuclear program as Western sanctions erode
  • Egypt and Israel send signals to Hamas demanding it lock down Gaza border
  • Hezbollah blasted by domestic opponents for threatening strike, risking war with Israel
  • New poll: Israelis overwhelmingly favor pursuing peace deal


    • ·          USA Today on Friday catalogued a range of indications that "Iran [is] advancing its nuclear program despite [a] pact with West," describing how the Islamic Republic was "moving ahead with a nuclear program that U.S. officials said would be frozen" even as the sanctions relief granted under an interim agreement was eroding Washington's leverage in nuclear negotiations. The outlet quoted Gary Samore, a former top arms control advisor for the Obama administration, assessing that "[if] Iranians believe they can erode the sanctions without making additional nuclear concessions, then the improvement in the economy makes a comprehensive deal less likely." It also conveyed remarks from Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, assessing that "[t]he likelihood of a comprehensive deal on acceptable terms diminishes" as Iranian scientists advance the country's nuclear program. The combination of dynamics - ongoing erosion in financial pressure on Iran, coupled with continuing nuclear progress - has undermined the Obama administration’s insistence that it has sufficient pressure to compel Tehran into making substantive concessions. Critics have instead pointed to growing piles of evidence indicating the opposite. Under the terms of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) Iran is permitted to conducted unlimited enrichment of uranium up to low-enriched levels, considered the most difficult step on the way to creating weapons-grade material, as long as it oxidizes that portion of its stockpile and metaphorically puts it on the shelf. From there it can be taken down, quickly reconverted, and then further enriched. Tehran is also allowed to bolster its plutonium-producing facility at Arak, to develop next-generation centrifuges which would enhance its ability to rush across the nuclear finish line, and to advance its ballistic missile program. Meanwhile steadily growing energy exports appear to be stabilizing the country's economy, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif recently bragged that Iran was "open for business" despite pledges by Washington to retain so-called "core sanctions" against the regime.


    • ·         Both Egypt and Israel have reemphasized to Hamas that the Palestinian terror group will be held responsible for violence emerging from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, with various outlets having reported in recent days on signals sent by Cairo and Jerusalem designed to underline that sentiment. The Times of Israel conveyed reports, originally aired Friday on Israeli radio, describing messages sent to Hamas by Egyptian security officials telling the Palestinian faction that the movement of goods and weapons between Gaza and the Egyptian-controlled Sinai Peninsula would not be tolerated, and that Hamas would moreover be accountable for any border incidents. Cairo in general, and the Egyptian army in particular, has long blamed Hamas for facilitating the movement of jihadist personnel and materials into the Sinai. Meanwhile the Israeli Air Force (IAF) on Friday attacked what the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) described as "a rocket launching site" posing "an imminent threat against Israel." Palestinian media outlets reporting on the strike noted that "Israel says it holds [Hamas], which seized power in Gaza in 2007, responsible for such attacks." Hamas's efforts to enforce quiet along its borders with Egypt and Israel have been uneven. The group has occasionally made a point of theatrically pulling security forces back from the Israeli-Gaza fence - a stunt earlier this month was one example - but The New York Times reported on Friday that Hamas's "limited choices in confrontation with Israel" have induced the group to sharply limit the possibilities for escalation with Jerusalem.


    • ·         Israeli officials have put Lebanon on notice that the country will be held responsible should Hezbollah launch attacks against the Jewish state, after the Iran-backed terror group declared that it would "choose the time and place and the proper way to respond" to what it said was an Israeli Air Force (IAF) strike against one of its outposts along the Syrian border. Lebanon is militarily dominated by Hezbollah, and the group holds positions in Beirut's cabinet. Reports had emerged on Thursday that IAF jets interdicted advanced Syrian weapons stored at a Hezbollah facility along the Lebanese-Syrian border. Israeli analysts on Friday sketched various scenarios of Hezbollah action: a missile attack on Israeli cities, an assassination attempt against Israeli leaders, an overseas bombing of Israeli tourists, or - as in June 2012 - a terrorist attempt against Israeli civilians. The March 14 alliance, a coalition of Lebanese political parties and movements aligned against Hezbollah and its Syrian ally, blasted the group on Thursday for its threats. A message posted on an alliance channel demanded to know "what right do they (Hezbollah) have to involve the people of Lebanon against their will in the Syrian struggle," and asserted that the Lebanese army should be allowed to take control of areas along the border militarily dominated by the Shiite group.


    • ·         Israelis overwhelming favor pursuing a regional peace deal, and would even support an Israeli prime minister who formed a new political party aimed at securing such an accord, according to a new poll conducted by the Israeli Peace Initiative Group. Lopsided numbers included 70 percent of respondents supporting various aspects of a peace deal and 72 percent declaring that Israelis were interested in securing an agreement that would end hostilities with Israeli antagonists. When asked about the terms of a U.S.-backed framework deal being pushed by Secretary of State John Kerry, 76 percent of Israelis responded positively. The figures came a day after news emerged that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas had "exploded with rage" at Kerry, describing Washington's proposals for advancing talks as "insane." The confrontation, which occurred during a meeting between the two figures in Paris, came after Palestinian leaders explicitly signaled that they would reject Kerry's terms. Reports published in the last few days indicate that President Barack Obama intends to deepen his personal involvement in trying to hammer out a peace deal, most immediately by pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an upcoming Oval Office meeting.

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