Russia threat to shift Iran stance puts White House assurances on "compartmentalization" at risk



The U.S. and EU's response to the crisis in Ukraine may induce Russia to "raise the stakes" by revising its stance on nuclear talks with Iran, per statements by nuclear Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov conveyed on Wednesday by Reuters. The Obama administration has for months held up legislation from Congress that would impose new sanctions on Iran should nuclear talks fail, telling American lawmakers and journalists that any new pressure - even if conditioned on the potential future failure of negotiations - would fracture the P5+1 group negotiating with Iran. The group of international powers includes the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany. When the Ukraine crisis broke out, and relations between Russia and the West plummeted, White House officials emphasized their belief that the Russians would "compartmentalize" the dispute, preventing it from affecting international cohesion in the context of Iran. Ryabkov's statements seem at a minimum in tension with those assurances. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday described a just-concluded round of talks as "useful."  The next round of has now been scheduled for April 7th.


Israeli officials are urging the United States to release ten Apache helicopters for sale to the Egyptian army, assets that according to Haaretz the Israelis believe are "crucial to Egypt's fight against jihadist organizations in the Sinai [Peninsula]." Israeli assessments conveyed by the outlet hold that delivering the helicopters is critical to "improve[ing] regional security." The controversy transferring the Apaches stretches to late 2013, when the Obama administration partially froze military aid to Cairo in response to the army's overthrow of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood-linked then-President Mohammed Morsi. The White House’s move - which was met with something approaching open disbelief by U.S. lawmakersdomestic analysts, and foreign allies - was subsequently reversed, but leaks this week from Egyptian military officials indicated that the weapons were still being held up by the administration. The Egyptian army, which has relied on Apaches during multiple operations targeted insurgents in the Sinai, is struggling to uproot the jihadist infrastructure in the region. Reuters over the weekend published an assessment suggesting that "victory for the state feels a long way off," and an Egyptian general and a colonel were killed on Wednesday as security forces moved in on a jihadist base.


The Israeli army moved overnight Tuesday to restore deterrence along the country's border with Syria, launching air strikes against multiple Syrian army installations after a steady stream of attacks against Israeli military personnel in March culminated on Tuesday in a roadside bombing that injured four soldiers. This month had already seen three additional violent incidents along the Israeli-Lebanese and Israeli-Syrian borders - including rocket attacks on Israeli territory and the explosion of another bomb placed deep in Israeli territory - originating in regime- or Hezbollah-controlled Syrian territory. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared after the strikes that "Syrian elements not only allowed but also cooperated in the attacks on our forces" – analysis echoed by top Israeli analysts - and emphasized that the Israeli actions were designed to reestablish calm along Israel's northern border. Coverage coming out of Israel converged on Jerusalem's commitment to preventing escalation. Veteran Israeli military correspondent Amos Harel had noted even before Israel’s overnight action that it was "no longer an exaggeration to speak of a resurgent northern front," that Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime was cooperating with Hezbollah to attack Israelis, and that the Jewish state might be forced to act decisively "to set a higher price tag for attacks from the Syrian border." Ben Caspit, another veteran Israeli journalist, provided an extensive description of the Israeli diplomatic-security meeting that preceded the Israeli strikes, and concluded that Israel has "drawn up a new map of red lines and a balance of terror and deterrence vis-a-vis Assad and Hezbollah."


Lebanese media on Wednesday described Hezbollah-controlled areas of Beirut as having settled into "an atmosphere of contentment" - with the mood being particularly prominent "among Hezbollah party leaders, cadres, and partisans" - after Hezbollah fighters seized the Syrian border town of Yabroud on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime. The Iran-backed terror group has been struggling to contain blowback generated by its involvement in Syria on behalf of the regime, and Lebanon's Daily Star noted that the party's "most pressing task is to give [Beirut's] southern suburbs peace of mind after the nightmare of rigged cars and suicide bombers." Control over Yabroud is set to enable the organization to among other things choke off the "Syrian source" of anti-Hezbollah violence flowing into Lebanon. Observers fear that, in addition to stemming jihadist movements, Hezbollah has been moving to restore its shattered brand as an anti-Israel pro-Lebanon organization by provoking the Jewish state into a conflict. Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff reported Tuesday that Hezbollah may be shifting resources "in an attempt to draw blood from Israelis on the Golan Heights and the surrounding areas."

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