- New figures: Iran will bust through caps on energy exports for 7th month in a row, as State Dept. pressed for response
- Unprecedented Palestinian political arrangement coalesces as leader for consensus government announced
New figures published late Thursday indicate that Iran will bust through caps on crude exports set by the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) for the seventh month in a row - with the exported amounts in May, ostensibly limited to 1 million barrels per day (bpd), actually increasing over April's output - as the State Department was pressed for the second time in three days on how the administration is addressing the Iranian violations. Iran has exceeded the allowed amounts every single month since the JPA was announced in November, but administration officials have categorically insisted that the Islamic republic's output would soon crash so precipitously that by the end of the JPA's six-month enforcement period the total exports would average out to 1 million bpd's. Last week Timothy Wilson, a visiting fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), assessed that such a scenario was now mathematically impossible, promoting journalists to query State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki on the issue on Tuesday. Psaki promised to "talk to [State's] team and see what their view is," and today - in response to followup questions - declared that "it’s way too early to make [the] conclusion" that Iran won't eventually somehow reduce output to such an extent that it will meet the JPA's limits. Meanwhile Steve H. Hanke, a professor of Applied Economics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, revealed new numbers showing that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has managed to pull the country "out of its [economic] death spiral" even as the economic conditions for average Iranians remained stagnant. At stake are increasingly pitched worries that the P5+1 global powers, which are seeking to secure a comprehensive deal over Iran's nuclear program in the coming weeks, lack sufficient leverage to coerce Tehran into putting its atomic program verifiably beyond use for weaponization.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday officially asked sitting Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to lead a planned government agreed to by the rival Fatah and Hamas factions, as analysts expressed deepening worries that the terms of the unity deal would lock in an unprecedented arrangement fundamentally altering the status of Palestinian governance. Reuters noted that Hamas has an interest in the unity pact, which would allow the terror group to make progress in its "struggle to prop up the [Gaza Strip] economy and pay its 40,000 employees." Such concerns - under which Abbas has been described as throwing a lifeline to Hamas amid what has otherwise been a downward spiral - have been one of at least three dynamics that observers have found troubling. Abbas has also been blasted for risking the financial viability of any Palestinian government, inasmuch as moves to embrace Hamas risk running afoul of blackletter American conditions on financial assistance. The economy in Fatah-controlled portions of the West Bank would collapse without outside aid. Recent days have also seen increasing focus on the security arrangements of the unity agreement, which will allow Hamas to maintain control over its security forces and its arsenal of tens of thousands of Iran-supplied rockets and missiles. The arrangement had already been dubbed a "Hezbollah model" by analysts. On Wednesday Matthew Levitt and Neri Zilber - respectively the director of The Washington Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence and a visiting scholar at the Institute - assessed that "Hamas is likely following the well-worn and successful path of... Hezbollah... likely trying to negotiate an arrangement in which it retains its arsenal and independent "resistance" militia even as its members participate in the unity government -- similar to Lebanon, where Hezbollah ministers serve in government."
Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Thursday conveyed reports that forces loyal to Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime had "rain[ed] barrels bombs on Aleppo" over the course of the day, part of what the wire described as "a campaign against rebels in the northern city where dozens have been killed this week." The anti-regime Syrian Observatory for Human Rights did not immediately release numbers of dead and wounded from the attack, though the organization had already tallied 58 civilian deaths due to barrel bombs on Tuesday and Wednesday, including 15 children. The use of the helicopter-deployed, shrapnel-packed IEDs - which can level entire buildings with a single explosion - has been condemned as "barbaric" by Secretary of State John Kerry and as a "war crime" by British Foreign Secretary William Hague. Meanwhile The Hill reported that the United Nations has admitted that the regime will fail to meet the June 30 deadline under which it was supposed to turn over its chemical weapons (CWs), part of a deal hammered out last year to avert what had widely been expected to be impending Western strikes. The conventional and nonconventional dynamics have converged as the Syrian war has begun to reemerge as a proxy for the administration's foreign policy credibility. TIME Magazine’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Michael Crowley assessed last Friday that the issue seems set to "again test [President Barack Obama's] credibility, and renew talk of U.S. military action in Syria." A Wednesday speech given by the president was broadly criticized for being insufficiently clear regarding Washington's stance toward the over three-year war.
English-language Arabic media outlets on Thursday conveyed reports that Saudi Arabia had officially implemented the Kingdom's first financial sanctions against Hezbollah, months after the Saudis - along with allies inside the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - had designated the Iran-backed terror group and committed to moving against its financial assets. Assessments at the time had broadly held that Gulf countries had the ability to financially suffocate Hezbollah's base country of Lebanon should it choose. The move is one of several recently taken by Arab states, as they orient themselves against what has become a 'new normal' in the region: a Shiite bloc stretching from Iran to the Levant opposite a camp of the U.S.'s traditional Arab and Israeli allies opposite a camp made up of Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood, and more often than not Qatar. Earlier this week Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced the creation of a "supreme committee" that would confront what a statement from the parties described as "regional challenges." That announcement had come only a few weeks after the GCC formally invited Jordan and Morocco to integrate themselves into a conventional military alliance, which would see the Gulf states trade aid for up to 300,000 new troops that would contribute to collective efforts. The Obama administration has faced sustained criticism for declining to forthrightly side with its traditional allies against, on the one hand, the Muslim Brotherhood and, on the other hand, forces that are seen as promoting Shiite expansionism.
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