- Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei lashes out, deepening fears that Tehran may pocket concessions and walk away from talks
- AP: U.S. posture on Iran generating "strange alliance" between Israel and Gulf states
- Sinai Peninsula attack kills 11 Egyptian soldiers and wounds dozens, renewing debate over Obama administration aid cut-off
- Senior Palestinian official: U.S. gave green light for Israel to assassinate Arafat
What we’re watching today:
- Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today lashed out at a range of actors and elements long described by Tehran as antagonists - including Israel and global powers seeking to negotiate a settlement over Iran's nuclear program - leading Agence France Press to report that talks scheduled to begin shortly in Geneva "may be fraught." The New York Times reported and then deleted quotes by Khamenei describing Israelis as "untouchable rabid dogs, and the Jerusalem Post had more extensive passages where Khamenei declared that "Zionist officials cannot be called humans, they are like animals" and that Israel "is doomed to failure and annihilation." Regarding the substance of the upcoming Geneva talks, the Supreme Leader set out "red lines" beyond which he would not permit Iranian negotiators to compromise, remarks likely to deepen analyst concerns that Khamenei is preparing to pocket Western interim concessions and ban Iranian diplomats from striking an agreement under which Tehran would meet its obligations under half a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding it cease its uranium- and plutonium-related programs. The Associated Press described Khamenei's remarks as "Iran's leader backs nuke talks, with conditions."
- The Associated Press describes a burgeoning "strange alliance" between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the latest development in what has become a cascade of regional adjustments by traditional U.S. allies concerned that Washington is ceding its traditional role as a regional power. Jerusalem and Gulf nations have reportedly been shaken by the Obama administration's decision-making in Egypt, where the White House vacillated and then eventually punished Cairo over the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Mohammed Morsi government; in Syria, where the White House vacillated and then failed to attack after its "red line" against chemical weapons use was crossed; and Iran, where the White House is widely seen as vacillating on its pledge to only strike an interim deal with Iran that prevents Tehran from making progress in pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. The AP tersely noted that "the stepped-up anxieties on Iran could bring new space for the Gulf-Israel overlap." CNN yesterday carried analysis by Barak Seener, Associate Middle East Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute, describing how "GCC States and Israel have increased their intelligence sharing to counter an Iranian threat."
- A massive car bomb detonated today in the Sinai Peninsula killed at least eleven Egyptian military personnel and injured dozens more, amid a months-long effort by the Egyptian army to uproot jihadist infrastructure and fighters from the increasingly anarchic territory. Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi committed to responding to the attacks, and the BBC reported that communications were shut down around the area near el-Arish, the city near where the roadside bomb attack took place, and that military helicopters were seen circling the area searching for attackers. Cairo has sought to heavily leverage its air assets, including and particularly its U.S.-built Apache fleet, as part of its campaign in the Sinai Peninsula. The critical role that U.S. security assistance plays in Egypt's anti-terror campaigns was a key reason why analysts widely blasted an October decision by the Obama administration to partially freeze aid to Cairo. The risk to U.S. interests - American troops have long relied on the preferential access to the Suez Canal and to Egyptian airspace that bilateral military ties enabled - was another critical consideration. Cairo has in recent weeks made open moves to pivot toward Russia as a substitute for the U.S., and a Kuwaiti paper today described a $4 billion Russian arms deal that Egyptian officials are said to be pursuing. In what was widely seen as an effort at damage control, Secretary of State John Kerry today declared that Egypt's 2011 Arab Spring revolution was "stolen" by the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt's military in July deposed the Muslim Brotherhood-linked government that took over after the revolution, eventually prompting the Obama administration's aid cut-off.
- Reports emerged late this evening that Jibril Rajoub - a senior Palestinian official and for decades a top figure in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process - had earlier this month accused the United States of permitting Israel to assassinate former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Conspiracy theories regarding the 2004 death of the Palestinian leader received new life earlier this month when a Swiss lab published a 108-page report that some media outlets characterized as concluding that Arafat was "probably poisoned with polonium." Analysts and scientists rolled their eyes at the suggestion that tests conducted in 2012 could detect polonium poisoning committed in 2004 - there are exactly zero plausible scenarios under which that could be the case - but the controversy has shed light both on internal Palestinian divisions and now on the posture of long-time Palestinian diplomats toward the United States.
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