- Reuters: U.N. report deepens concerns Iran has "learned how to outsmart security and intelligence services"
- AP: "once-promising" U.N. probe into Iranian weapons activity "faltering" amid Iranian foot-dragging
- Analysts ridicule Palestinian ascension to anti-corruption treaty, as worries spike over "scorched earth" campaign to politicize international institutions
Reuters on Monday leaked a confidential new report from a U.N. Panel of Experts documenting a range of Iranian efforts aimed at circumventing international restrictions on its acquisition of illicit material, with the wire highlighting parts of the report in which experts worried that the Islamic Republic has "learned how to outsmart security and intelligence services in acquiring sensitive components and materials." Tehran's tactics were described as including everything from "concealing titanium tubes inside steel pipes to using its petrochemical industry as a cover to obtain items for a heavy-water nuclear reactor," and Reuters summarized the experts as recommending among other things that "governments exercise greater vigilance over freight-forwarding firms," which are allegedly being used by Iran to obfuscate the final destination of various materials. The news comes as Obama administration officials have begun floating a possible deal between Iran and the P5+1 global powers under which Tehran would be left within a year or even six months of producing weapons-grade nuclear material - Secretary of State John Kerry explicitly defended the scenario to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month - which has in turn generated concerns that the Islamic Republic would be able to sprint across the nuclear finish line undetected. The U.S. intelligence community has in recent years been criticized for miscalling key dynamics in the Middle East and beyond, from Russia's invasion of Ukraine to the various Arab Spring revolutions. The Washington Free Beacon on Monday published remarks from top Israeli leaders emphasizing that Jerusalem would not take on the existential risk of an Iranian nuclear bomb on the faith that Washington's intelligence apparatus would this time succeed. The outlet cited former Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Amidror noting that "“American intelligence officials have publicly admitted that they cannot guarantee identification in real time of an Iranian breakout move to produce a nuclear weapon."
The Associated Press (AP) on Monday reported that what it described as "a once-promising U.N. attempt to probe suspicions that Tehran worked on atomic arms" - a reference to long-standing United Nations Security Council demands that the Islamic republic among other things disclose possible military dimensions (PMD) of its nuclear work - was "faltering" amid Iranian foot-dragging on its obligations. A full accounting of PMD activities is considered a vital prerequisite to ensuring that the West has even the minimal awareness necessary to detect a future Iranian attempt to dash across the nuclear finish line, and Washington Institute Managing Director Michael Singh was unequivocal last November in assessing that "[w]ithout insight into the full extent of Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities, no amount of monitoring and inspection can provide true confidence that Iran lacks a parallel program beyond inspectors' view." The Monday AP report bluntly noted that, despite the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) agreement that was aimed at facilitating a comprehensive agreement over Iran's nuclear program, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog (IAEA) has in recent months come "no nearer to closing the books on persistent allegations that Iran worked on nuclear arms in the past." Analysts have become increasingly vocal in worrying that the administration is allowing itself to be maneuvered into negotiating over PMD issues at the very end of comprehensive talks, at which point Iranian negotiators may simply refuse to make further concessions and functionally dare the West to scuttle talks over something that would be characterized as having occurred in the past. A Reuters report published in February, which suggested that the IAEA had shelved a report exposing weapons-related Iranian work, deepened concerns that Western diplomats intend to look the other way regarding PMD activities.
Palestinian outlet Ma'an reported Monday that the United Nations had officially accepted the Palestinians as members of the U.N. Convention against Corruption, one of scores of international institutions that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has committed to joining and - of those treaties and bodies - one of many that analysts have noted the PA is already in violation of. The convention obligates signatories [PDF] to codify criminal offenses related to graft, direct resources into enforcing those laws, and cooperate with international partners in detecting and uprooting corruption. The news - which came a week after the revelation that EU officials have begun to direct "an unprecedented degree of scrutiny" at the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a result of an audit concluding that that the PA had misspent billions of Euros in aid - triggered eye rolls from analysts and scholars. Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tweeted the announcement with thinly disguised sarcasm, and Nina Musgrave, a PhD scholar studying War Studies at King's College, responded by describing the dynamic as laughable. The government of PA President Mahmoud Abbas has been blasted by analysts as riddled with corruption, and critics have cited everything from [PDF] mismanagement at the highest levels to anecdotes in which Palestinian officials were caught with bags containing millions of dollars and cars filled with thousands of cell phones. The seemingly straightforward untenability of meeting the treaty's obligations has raised concerns that the Palestinians are engaged in what has been labeled a scorched-earth campaign, where they seek not to participate fully in international institutions but rather to politicize them into weapons of legal warfare against the Jewish state. Doing so in the context of UNESCO - after the Palestinians joined, the body immediately moved in an anti-Israel direction - left the UN organization financially crippled and subject to censure.
Lebanon's NOW Media on Sunday conveyed statements by a top figure from the anti-Hezbollah March 14 bloc worrying that political maneuvering by Hezbollah would lock in a political vacuum at that country's presidential level over the medium term, after the Iran-backed group and its allies last week managed to stymie a third attempted vote to fill the vacant seat. Future bloc MP Assem Araji emphasized that the parties within the March 14 bloc had unified behind a candidate, and that Hezbollah was working to peel votes away to ensure the election "of a consensus president who does not represent anyone." Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel had warned last week that "not electing a president prior to May 25 is a dangerous thing," after Lebanese President Michel Suleiman blasted the Hezbollah-allied March 8 for endangering "the continuity of the [Lebanese] entity" by preventing moves aimed at bolstering political stability. Nawwaf al-Moussawi, a member of parliament from Hezbollah's Loyalty to the Resistance bloc, declared on Sunday that any presidential candidate would have to support "the resistance," a euphemism for Hezbollah's military activities and its heavily armed state-within-a-state across Lebanon. It is difficult to align the organization's stance on Lebanese elections with assertions - which for decades found supporters in corners of the Western foreign policy establishment - that Hezbollah is an indigenous Lebanese organization working to bolster Lebanese institutions.
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