- Analysts: Syria retains 95% of chemical arsenal, can likely produce bio-weapons, and has restored missile production to pre-war levels
- Fears of Iran "gold rush" deepen as Tehran moves to bolster European and Asian financial ties, Switzerland drops range of restrictions
- Top Israeli military officials: Hezbollah has installed "thousands" of military bases in civilian buildings, set to use vast network of human shields in future conflict
- Palestinian Fatah official declares hope for boost in Iran ties
- Syria retains the vast majority of its chemical arsenal, can likely weaponize biological agents, and has restored the pace of its missile production to pre-war levels, according to a stream of analysis and reporting published on Tuesday and Wednesday. A written statement by James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, disclosed that U.S. intelligence analysts "judge that some elements of Syria’s biological warfare programme might have advanced beyond the research and development stage and might be capable of limited agent production." Reporting on Clapper's disclosure, The Telegraph noted that Syria's program is sufficiently advanced that Syrian scientists may be able to create biological weapons even out of existing viruses, including out of strains of small pox. Meanwhile the Times of Israel conveyed assessments from Jane's Defence Weekly describing Syria's success in reconstituting its missile and rocket program, after Iran, North Korea, and Belarus provided assistance in circumventing international restrictions. The Jane's report indicates that the Bashar al-Assad regime has boosted production to address both its own and Hezbollah's need for projectiles. Regarding chemical weapons, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons revealed today that less than five percent of Assad's chemical arsenal has been removed from Syria.
- Israel's air force chief Major-General Amir Eshel today described "thousands" of military installations created by Hezbollah in residential buildings across Lebanon, declaring that Israeli forces would be forced to "deal aggressively" with the Iran-backed terror group’s infrastructure during any future conflict. Eshel gestured toward what has traditionally been described as Hezbollah's double war crime - using Lebanese civilians as cover for rocket and missile attacks on Israeli civilians - and blasted the group for systematically creating a network of behind human shields. Hezbollah is thought to possess more 100,000 projectiles, including what Israeli Military Intelligence Chief Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi today described as "hundreds of different kinds of advanced antitank missiles, advanced mortar shells." Hezbollah leaders have threatened to saturation bomb Israeli cities should another conflict with Jerusalem break out, and a senior Iranian military commander recently bragged to Iranian media that the group's arsenal can "pinpoint" targets anywhere in Israel. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah late last year explicitly called for the destruction of the Jewish state, stating that it was "a cancerous presence" and that "the only solution when it comes to cancer is to eradicate it."
- The Swiss government today fully suspended some trade bans on Iran and relaxed mandatory reporting requirements across a range of additional sectors, a day after news emerged that Iran intends to use banks in Japan, South Korea, and Switzerland to reestablish ties to the international financial system. Agence France-Presse reported on Tuesday that Tehran had settled on the banks it seeks to use as sanctions relief mandated by the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) takes hold, after years in which American and European restrictions "had effectively shut Iran out of the international banking system, making all foreign trade difficult." Today Switzerland's Federal Council announced that the country was suspending its ban on the trade of precious metals with Iran, relaxing mandatory reporting requirements on sectors associated with the trade of Iranian petroleum, and increasing tenfold the threshold for declaring money transfers to the Islamic Republic. The suspensions are set to remain in effect at least through August 2014. The developments come as Obama administration officials scramble - most recently and publicly in Turkey - to convince countries and companies that Iran is not yet "open for business" despite the JPA-driven erosion in the international sanctions regime. Washington's success in conveying the sentiment has been uneven, and empirical evidence is growing of a global race to reenter Iranian markets. Meanwhile Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan today hailed the rebirth of Turkey-Iran ties, and a group of British lawmakers revealed that a delegation of Iranian parliamentarians would soon visit Britain. Tehran’s moves to shrug off its economic and political isolation came as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reported today to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that Iran "has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons."
- A top official from the Palestinian Fatah faction declared on Wednesday that his organization may move to bolster ties with Iran, after years in which Tehran had largely eschewed backing Fatah and had opted instead to provide military, financial, and diplomatic support to the more radical Hamas faction. Fatah negotiators are currently engaged in peace talks with Israeli counterparts, while Iran and Hamas remain committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. Jibril Rajoub, a top Palestinian official considered by Western diplomats to be a relatively moderate voice inside Palestinian polity, told a Lebanese outlet that the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) was "willing to consider a renewal of Palestinian-Iranian ties." Iranian state media boasted that Rajoub had 'praised the important role of the Islamic Republic in supporting the Palestinians and their cause and said Fatah and other Palestinian groups consider Iran as a main and influential player in the Middle East.' Rajoub's comments may prove particularly controversial if read alongside statements made by the Palestinian official last May, in which he reportedly declared "in the name of Allah, if we [the Palestinians] had nuclear weapons, we’d be using them." Iran is widely assumed to be pursuing a nuclear weapon, and top global intelligence officials have long feared - per a 2012 Telegraph story on the issue - that "a nuclear-armed Iran would increase the chances of terrorists using a 'dirty bomb' in the future."
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