- Discovery of advanced Hamas tunnel, suspected kindergarten terror plot deepens fears of spectacular terror attack
- Hezbollah accused of pushing oil drilling to start conflict with Israel, scrambles to mobilize allies
- Senator, Washington Post, top analysts pile on criticism of plan to let Iran keep enriching uranium
- Dozens injured as family throws hand grenade into Iranian prison to try to halt execution
What we’re watching today:
- Israeli soldiers this weekend uncovered a mile-and-a-half-long tunnel running between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and ending near an Israeli kindergarten, underscoring concerns that the Iran-backed terror group is seeking to rebuild its fractured credibility with a spectacular terror attack. The left-leaning Israeli paper Ha'aretz reported that the tunnel was "part of a broader tunnel-building project that is estimated to have cost millions of dollars." Hamas has used more primitive tunnels in the past to conduct operations on Israeli soil, most notably the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, which was followed by Israel's 2006 Operation Summer Rains. Security officials estimate that this tunnel – which IDF Spokesman Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai described as "one of the most advanced terror tunnels to be uncovered in recent years" – was intended to facilitate an attack on the nearby kindergarten. Hamas's regional and domestic positions have been in free fall for almost a year. Israel's November 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense has by all appearances deterred the Palestinian group from launching rockets and missiles and Israel, cutting off a traditional source of credibility. Meanwhile Cairo's post-Muslim Brotherhood government has put Hamas on notice that activity in the Sinai Peninsula will not be tolerated. Analysts fear that, having been stymied in the Sinai and unable to bear the costs of another rocket war, Hamas will shift to a strategy of targeted terror attacks. A spokesman for Hamas's Al-Qassam Brigades posted on Twitter that "thousands" of tunnels would be dug in response to the discovery.
- The Washington Post's editorial this morning emphasizes that Iran's "advanced centrifuges and the Arak [plutonium] reactor must now be part of any deal" that would provide Tehran with sanctions relief, since the "new facts" established by Iran's recent installation of advanced uranium and plutonium technology have "torn some big holes" in what might have been a more reliable deal even a year ago. Iran has signaled that it is prepared to offer limited concessions in exchange for Western concessions on sanctions, including limiting uranium enrichment to 3.5%. The Post notes that Iran's advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges "can process uranium far more quickly [than before, and] these new machines create a threat of an Iranian nuclear breakout beyond that posed by the 20 percent stockpile." This evaluation is in line with analyst estimates that Iran could go from 3.5% purity to weapons-grade purity quickly enough to evade Western detection. Meanwhile Iran's Arak complex, which involves both a heavy water production facility and a reactor that would use that heavy water for plutonium production, would give Iran the material for two nuclear bombs every year. U.S. lawmakers have called on Iran to, among other things, completely dismantle its nuclear program and - critically - to ship out all enriched uranium. Iran has brushed aside the expectations, with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi noting on Sunday that Tehran would not agree to export its stockpile of enriched uranium. The posture has been dubbed by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Mark Dubowitz and Reuel Marc Gerecht as Iran's strategy of simultaneously pursuing both nuclear weapons and sanctions relief. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) took to The Telegraph this weekend to similarly blast suggestions that the West should accept "superficial concessions" such as limiting enrichment to 3.5%, describing such a potential agreement as "appeasement."
- Hezbollah allies are scrambling to fend off charges that the Iran-backed terror group is pushing underwater drilling in order to manufacture a conflict with Israel, with Michel Aoun saying late last week that Lebanon's caretaker government was not moving fast enough to open up disputed underwater areas to exploration. Aoun is head of the Hezbollah-allied Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). At stake are three 'blocks' along the contested Israeli-Lebanese maritime border. Both Hezbollah and Lebanon's caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil - who, like Aoun, is a member of the Hezbollah-allied FPM - have been pushing Beirut to issue tenders to energy companies that would explore and eventually drill in those areas. The move would be a de facto claim of sovereignty over the contested territory, and as a matter of black letter international law, Israel would be forced to act either legally or militarily or both. Energy companies had last week expressed trepidation over drilling in the disputed areas, after which Hezollah and Hezbollah-allied politicians doubled down. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea last week blasted the group for trying to create "another front with Israel" by forcing the issue of drilling in contested waters, and National Liberal Party leader Dori Chamoun the same day criticized Hezbollah for trying to cause "another clash with Israel" using oil rights. Hezbollah's brand as a Lebanese organization protecting Lebanese territory from Israel has been shattered by its involvement in the Syrian conflict on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime, and observers fear that the group may be trying to drag Lebanon into war with Israel so as to restore its image.
- Twenty-eight people were injured when relatives of an Iranian prisoner set to be executed threw a hand grenade into the prison where he was being kept in a failed attempt to prevent the execution. The attack will be read against the backdrop of ongoing executions and human rights violations being committed by the administration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The regime is on pace to match last year's mark of 500 executions, and reform leaders in Iran have in recent weeks called attention to the plights of still-imprisoned political dissidents. Rouhani had already triggered alarm bells among human rights activists when he nominated Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi - long a target of human rights criticism for his role in the mass murders of political prisoners - to be his Justice Minister. Rouhani himself has a history of calling for the execution of anti-regime activists.
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