Reuters: New China-Iran oil contract may boost exports to pre-2012 levels, gut efforts to cap nuke deal's financial relief
- Reuters: New China-Iran oil contract may boost exports to pre-2012 levels, gut efforts to cap nuke deal's financial relief
- Bloomberg: Turkey's political war tanking economy, risks reversing decade of economic progress
- Analysts: Israel set for unprecedented year of startup IPOs
- Egyptian moves against Muslim Brotherhood put Hamas on the brink
What we’re watching today:
- A new oil contract being negotiated between China and Iran, which would see the Chinese state-trader Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp purchase light crude from Tehran, could according to Reuters boost imports from the Islamic republic "to levels not seen since tough Western sanctions were imposed in 2012," in the process undermining Western efforts to limit financial relief provided to Iran under the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) announced weeks ago in Geneva. Critics of the JPA had almost immediately raised concerns that even a limited erosion in the international sanctions regime would trigger a feeding frenzy, as nations and companies scrambled to ensure that they were not left behind in reentering Iran's markets. Those concerns were derided as "fanciful" by analysts linked to the Obama administration, while administration officials themselves blasted skeptics as uninformed. White House assurances have since come under significant strain. Most straightforwardly, the administration's assessment that the JPA would provide Iran with only $7 billion in relief appears to have neglected fundamental economic considerations including multiplier effects and the benefits of currency stabilization. Fears that a feeding frenzy will erode the sanctions regime even beyond what U.S. negotiators originally envisioned, meanwhile, have also gained traction. Actors ranging from automobile investors to Dubai have rushed to reestablish themselves inside Iran. News of the Chinese oil contract - which Reuters assesses would "go against" the JPA's emphasis on limiting Iranian oil imports to "current average amounts" - are likely to deepen fears that a downward spiral is taking hold.
- Bloomberg this week reported that the open political warfare rocking Turkey, which has pitted the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) against followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, is endangering the country's economy, "driving the currency to unprecedented lows" and tanking Istanbul's stock exchange. Turkish bonds are being dumped by investors at a pace not seen in two years, and the Borsa Istanbul 100 Index this month lost 15 percent of its value, marking Turkey's stock market literally "the world’s worst performer" in recent weeks. The outlet evaluated that the crisis, which it assessed threatens to reverse nearly a decade of economic progress made by Turkey, is at risk of becoming a downward spiral of tit-for-tat moves by the two rival Islamist camps. Gulen-influenced prosecutors have been pursuing and widening a corruption probe that has already ensnared top AKP elites, and those elites - up to and including Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan - have responded by seeking to purge the judiciary of Gulenists. Turkish media reported yesterday that the battle was "entering a new phase," per an announcement by deputy prime minister Bulent Arınc that the government was developing a plan to "do whatever necessary – legal or judicial – against" opponents in the judiciary.
- The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that, in contrast to previous years in which successfully Israeli startups had focused on mergers and acquisitions, 2014 is shaping up to be a year in which similar companies attempt to go public. 2013 saw more Israeli startups acquired by foreign companies than any other year since 2006, with The Tower assessing in October that "announcements of multi-million and even billion-dollar acquisitions of Israeli startups [had become]... routine." The news site specifically referenced Google's billion-dollar acquisition of maps application Waze and Facebook's $100 million acquisition of data compression technology Onavo. The Journal projected that 2014, in contrast, will see Israeli startups switch to an IPO strategy. The outlet quoted Nimrod Kozlovski, a partner at Jerusalem Venture Partners, describing how "more companies in Israel now are lining up, trying to go to Nasdaq." The story also described a recent IPO by website development platform Wix.com, which last month debuted in the U.S. and raised about $127 billion. After a 70% increase in its stock, Wix.com now has a market valuation of over $1 billion. Wix.com had recently been in the news for non-financial reasons after an investigation discovered that many websites advocating anti-Israel boycotts were built on the Israeli-created platform.
- The Times of Israel reported today that Hamas is being forced to reposition itself in relation to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood - of which it is an off-shoot - in the wake of Cairo's recent decision to brand the Brotherhood a terrorist organization, with the shift likely to deepen an emerging consensus that the Palestinian faction is adrift after a series of failed geopolitical gambles. Hamas's regional influence had enjoyed something of a high-water mark during the year-long tenure of Egypt's Brotherhood-linked former president Mohammed Morsi, but has all but collapsed since Morsi's government was removed by the army in the wake of massive anti-government rallies. The army quickly moved against not just the Brotherhood but also Hamas, which it blamed for helping the Brotherhood and for facilitating jihadist attacks in the Egyptian-controlled Sinai Peninsula. An army campaign cut off access between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the outside world, and Cairo explicitly threatened a "harsh response" should the Palestinian organization continue to be implicated in terrorism on Egyptian soil. Egyptian Ambassador to the Palestinian Authority Yasser Othman this week pointedly told Palestinian media that Hamas would be expected to untangle itself from Egyptian affairs, and that - as far as deciding which groups are terror entities - "the criterion for implementing the law on anyone is their behavior toward Egypt and the extent of their intervention in internal Egyptian affairs." Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, suggested this summer that Hamas's weakened position provides Western lawmakers with the opportunity to strike a financial death blow to the group.
Senators double down on new sanctions legislation as questions mount over inconsistencies in White House posture
- Senators double down on new sanctions legislation as questions mount over inconsistencies in White House posture
- Turkish corruption probe spills over into U.S.-Turkey relationship, as government-linked campaign targets U.S. ambassador
- Reports: Kerry to present Israeli-Palestinian framework agreement, after Palestinians rejected bridging proposals
- Massive bomb targets Egyptian police station amid sweeping anti-terror campaign
What we’re watching today:
- The Hill reported mid-Sunday that leading Senate Democrats are doubling down on a bipartisan push to impose sanctions on Iran should the Islamic republic either cheat on the terms of the Joint Plan of Action during an upcoming six-month negotiating period or, at the end of that period, refuse to verifiably put its nuclear program beyond use for weaponization. A bipartisan group of 26 senators last week unveiled the legislation, which provides the president the flexibility to put off the sanctions for a year as negotiations progress. Responding to explicit accusations that the sitting U.S. senators were trying to drag America into war, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) explained that "there are many of us, Democrats and Republicans in this Senate, who believe the best way to avoid war and get Iran to give up nuclear weapons is by ratcheting up sanctions, not by reducing them." Schumer went on to gesture toward a long-simmering controversy regarding tensions in the Obama administration's position on Iran sanctions: The White House insists that while past sanctions successfully coerced the Iranians into negotiating against their will, future sanctions will derail negotiations by draining good will. The Wall Street Journal this weekend also commented on the tension, noting that "Mr. Obama keeps saying that previous sanctions... are what brought Iran to the bargaining table... this [legislation] sharpens the incentive for Iran to dismantle its illegal nuclear facilities." The Journal noted that "the bill would do nothing to undermine the talks unless Iran isn't serious" and flatly evaluated that, by threatening to veto the legislation as a threat to negotiations, "the President is siding with Iran against a bipartisan majority in the US Congress."
- An escalating political struggle between two dominant Islamist camps inside Turkey - which in recent days has rocked the country and now threatens to destabilize the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) government - has spilled over into the U.S.-Turkey relationship and generated a sharp rebuke from Washington regarding "continued false and slanderous attacks" targeting U.S. officials. A corruption probe conducted largely by figures linked to the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers have broad sway inside Turkey's state and non-state institutions, has in recent days ensnared top figures in the AKP hierarchy on a range of charges. AKP figures, up to and including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have spoken darkly of a "dirty operation" and moved to purge Gulen-linked figures from police and security services. Another 25 police chiefs were dismissed this weekend. Erdogan has also declared that "some foreign envoys" were helping to coordinate the moves against the AKP. Ilhan Tanir, the Washington correspondent for Turkey's Vatan outlet, today blogged that the lines are thinly veiled references to U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone, and that Ricciardone has also been the target of attacks from multiple pro-AKP newspapers. Tanir conveyed State Department statements pushing back against the attacks, with a U.S. official condemning "the continued false and slanderous attacks by some elements of the Turkish media against our Ambassador, other senior U.S. officials, international media representatives, and private American citizens and groups." Critically, U..S officials are calling on Ankara to "disavow and condemn such attacks."
- Reports emerged on Sunday that Secretary of State John Kerry is set to present a framework agreement to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators designed to balance Palestinian demands for sovereignty with Israeli security requirements, amid revelations that direct peace talks were suspended after Palestinians rejected previous U.S. proposals for security arrangements along the Jordanian border. Jerusalem has emphasized for years that it must be permitted to maintain a security presence in the Jordan Valley to prevent destabilization and terrorist infiltration, a view reportedly endorsed by Jordan and codified in a recent bridging proposal presented by Kerry to Israeli and Palestinian diplomats. The Palestinians publicly rejected Kerry's proposal - describing it as marking the "total failure" of peace talks - and on Sunday chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat revealed that direct negotiations with Israel have been frozen. Erekat also told journalists that a framework agreement, rather than a final deal, is the best that can be hoped for by the end of the current nine-month period set for the talks.
- Suspected jihadists detonated a massive bomb early Tuesday morning local time outside a police headquarters in Egypt's increasingly restive Nile Delta region, collapsing the five-story building, killing at least 11 people, and deepening concerns that Islamist fighters are mobilizing to disrupt a January 14th constitutional referendum designed to transition the country to a democratically elected government. The car bombing of the Daqahliya security headquarters came a day after an Al Qaeda-linked group demanded that Egyptian security forces desert their posts lest they be targeted as infidels for supporting the current military-backed, relatively secular interim government. The army is locked in a pitched battle with jihadists. Islamist fighters have in recent months steadily escalated a terror campaign that coalesced after the army this summer deposed the country's Muslim Brotherhood-linked then-president Mohammed Morsi. Earlier today military spokesman Ahmed Mohammed Ali described Cairo's progress in uprooting the jihadist infrastructure in the northern Sinai Peninsula, outlining that 184 terrorists had been killed and over 800 arrested. The Obama administration controversially froze parts of Egypt's security assistance basket earlier this year in response to Cairo's moves against the Muslim Brotherhood. The White House at the time explicitly attempted to insulate Egypt's anti-terror operations from the freeze, but analysts expressed skepticism that such efforts were "actually feasible."
- France throws doubt on whether Iran committed to genuine nuclear concessions
- Turkey PM lashes out against critics as corruption scandal shakes government
- Experts: Iran government will hijack banking sector sanctions relief
- Former Egyptian president to stand trial on terrorism-related charges
What we’re watching today:
- The Wall Street Journal this evening published comments made by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in which the Paris official expressed skepticism that Iran is willing to verifiably dismantle its nuclear program, quoting Fabius emphasizing that "it is unclear if the Iranians will accept to definitively abandon any capacity of getting a weapon or only agree to interrupt the nuclear program." Talks aimed at disabling the Iranian nuclear program - which half a dozen United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions have demanded be suspended - are due to take place during a six-month interim period following the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) worked out in Geneva. The State Department conceded under reporter questioning weeks ago that the JPA's six-month clock has not begun ticking since Iran has not agreed on how the deal should be implemented. Talks to clarify implementation were suspended by Tehran in recent days. Lawmakers and analysts have expressed increasingly pointed concerns that Iran may be preparing to extract as many concessions as it can from the JPA and then walk away from talks on the basis of some pretext, thereby pocketing the West's JPA concessions without slowing Iran's nuclear program.
- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan today lashed out against a corruption probe that he described as a "dirty operation" designed to smear him and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration, a day after more than 50 people - drawn from the families of politicians and businessmen close to Erdogan - were detained by police forces. The detentions were met with steps that The New York Times described as "perceived as a striking back," with dozens of senior officers - including and especially many involved with battling corruption - being expelled from their posts. Turkey expert Dr. Michael Koplow commented that "it's incredible that Erdogan doesn't see that sacking all of these police officials is going to make things so much, much worse." Meanwhile the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a report today documenting that, for the second year in a row, Turkey has jailed more journalists than any other country. CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon declared in a statement issued with the report that "jailing journalists for their work is the hallmark of an intolerant, repressive society." Coupled with the corruption crisis, the criticism is likely to deepen concerns that the AKP's decade-long control over Turkey's top political institutions has deepened corruption and eroded human rights.
- Criticism continues to mount regarding the scope and likely effects of financial relief granted to Iran as part of the recently announced Geneva interim agreement, with concerns being raised not just about the value of unfrozen assets but more broadly about how the so-called Joint Plan of Action (JPA) is likely to impact the international sanctions regime. Emanuele Ottolenghi and Saeed Ghasseminejad - respectively a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a Ph.D. candidate in finance at City University of New York - yesterday published an assessment outlining how the JPA's banking provisions are likely "to undermine the existing sanctions' architecture." International restrictions had substantially circumscribed Iran's access to financial markets, both cutting off resources that Tehran was using to advance its nuclear program and preventing the Islamic republic from shoring up its economy. The JPA unfreezes a banking channel that Iran is supposed to use to facilitate the purchase of humanitarian assistance, and Western diplomats have expressed confidence that the relaxation will only benefit undesignated entities. The assurances have been met with skepticism by financial analysts, and Ottolenghi and Ghasseminejad emphasize that "Iranian banking institutions are hardly private, independent or able to withstand regime manipulation." They worry that Iranian entities including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps will be able to siphon significant funds from the transactions. Meanwhile Turkish outlet Zaman today revealed that Iranian-Azeri businessman Reza Zerrab has been swept up in an anti-corruption probe, and that he "is accused of being involved in irregular money transactions, mostly from Iran, that total some 87 billion euros."
- Egyptian officials announced today that the country's Muslim Brotherhood-linked former president Mohammed Morsi will stand trial on terrorism-related charges, declaring that he and 35 other Brotherhood figures will face charges for among other things conspiring with Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to sow instability within and beyond Egypt's borders. More specifically, prosecutors accuse the defendants of "collaborating with foreign organisations to commit terrorist acts in Egypt, revealing defence secrets to a foreign country, funding terrorists and military training to achieve the purposes of the international organisation of the Brotherhood." The Associated Press evaluated the new charges as representing "a new level" in ongoing tussles between the Brotherhood and the army-backed interim government that replaced Morsi after he was deposed by the Egyptian military, and quoted the prosecution announcing that the trial would target "the biggest case of conspiracy in Egypt." The coming weeks will also see Egyptians vote in a referendum on a new constitution, designed to replace the a previous document that Islamists had controversially drafted and rushed into passage during Morsi's tenure.
Controversy swirls in Congress as House moves to reframe Iran agreement, Senate delays sanctions legislation
- Controversy swirls in Congress as House moves to reframe Iran agreement, Senate delays sanctions legislation
- European Union audit blasts Palestinian funding, demands overhaul of program elements
- Amid controversy over negotiations, investigators confirm chemical weapons use in Syria
- NYT: Suez attack latest in "string of car bombs and suicide attacks" in Egypt, as government moves toward vote on new constitution
What we’re watching today:
- The Washington Free Beacon late on Wednesday published details of measures emerging from the House of Representatives seeking to - per the outlet - "reset the terms of a controversial nuclear accord reached between Iran and Western nations several weeks ago in Geneva." Language that emerged Thursday evening from the office of Rep. Peter Roskan (R-IL) sought to circumscribe a future deal between global powers and the Islamic republic, and received bipartisan backing from Reps. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Gene Green (D-TX), and Dan Lipinski (D-IL). It insisted that any comprehensive agreement between Iran and the international community should demand that the Islamic republic "completely dismantle all enrichment facilities and cease all centrifuge production" and "completely dismantle its heavy-water plutonium reactor at Arak." The language is in line with half a dozen United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions calling on Tehran to suspend its nuclear program. It comes amid developments in both the House and Senate which conceded to demands from the Obama administration to take no action to increase pressure on the Islamic republic for at a minimum months. In the Senate Bob Corker (R-TN) explained that the White House had prevailed upon lawmakers, via what The Hill described as a "full-scale effect," to put off new sanctions against Iran. In the House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer withdrew previously announced support for motions that would impose conditions on negotiations.
- The Wall Street Journal yesterday noted that few programs funded by the European Union are marked by as much controversy as "EU assistance to the Palestinian Authority," with the bloc having provided more than five and a half billion Euros to the Palestinians since the peace process began in the mid 1990s. The Journal described funding as having "long been the target of a string of claims and counter-claims," and described criticism as having pinpointed not just graft - which has long been a target of internal and external Palestinian Authority (PA) critics - but more specifically the diversion of funds to the pockets of Palestinian terrorists and their families. Evaluation of EU's Pegase plan, according to an audit released this week, indicated that "a number of aspects of the current approach are increasingly in need of overhaul." The Times of Israel late on Thursday conveyed frustration from EU officials and quoted Hans Gustaf Wessberg, the Swedish head of the auditors’ team, saying that "when people who do not work are being paid, this goes against the agreement with Pegase." The robustness of Palestinian economic institutions has been a central pivot point in debates over whether a sustainable Palestinian state is achievable in the short or medium terms. Analysts have expressed doubts over whether an independent state could sustain itself in the absence of international funding, and regarding whether international donors would be willing to continue funding such an entity in the absence of checks on among other things corruption.
- The United Nations late on Thursday confirmed that chemical weapons had been used in the almost three year Syrian conflict, with experts investigating more than half a dozen alleged uses of proscribed weapons and - in what CNN described as "the case that was most clear" - documenting an August incident near Damascus. CNN also described "graphic video footage showed rows of bodies without apparent injury, as well as people suffering convulsions or apparently struggling to breathe." The report comes amid deepening controversy over the context and scope of upcoming Geneva II talks designed to facilitate a resolution to the conflict, with news emerging that over 30 countries, among them Iran and Saudi Arabia, invited to attend. The two states are respectively the key backers of the Bashar al-Assad regime and of elements of the opposition seeking the regime's overthrow. Riyadh has been accused, less so than Turkey and Qatar but more so than the West, of providing support to extremist elements at the expense of more moderate Western-backed forced. The consistent erosion of U.S.-backed fighters became particular pointed this week, with a top commander of the Free Syrian Army being forced out of the country as Islamists overran the positions of the Free Syrian army (FSA). Reuters reported today that the relative power dynamics inside Syria had forced the opposition to seek the protection of Al Qaeda-linked groups.
- The New York Times reported late on Thursday that a bomb had exploded near Egypt's Suez Canal, with one person being killed and dozens being wounded. The NYT contextualized the bombing as one of a "string of car bombs and suicide attacks" that have occurred since the Egyptian military on July 3 deposed the country's Muslim Brotherhood then-president Mohammed Morsi. The violence came shortly after an announcement by the country's military-backed government that a draft constitution designed to facilitate a democratic transition would be put to a national vote in a matter of weeks. English-language Egyptian media outlets wrote that an article in the new constitution dealing with civil liberties "could be seen as an improvement on the equivalent articles from the 1971 and 2012 constitutions as it limits the types of cases for which a civilian could stand trial before a military court," though a different article in the same outlet documented criticism by activists regarding "the potential for future labour action under the provisions of the draft charter." The Israel-oriented Algemeiner outlet noted on Thursday that the draft constitution deemphasized Islamic law, though the outlet acknowledged that the new version had not completely removed mentions to Sharia.
Reports: Senators closing in on new sanctions legislation amid deepening bipartisan skepticism toward Iran
- Reports: Senators closing in on new sanctions legislation amid deepening bipartisan skepticism toward Iran
- Senior PLO official: Kerry proposal to address Israeli security concerns means "total failure" of peace talks
- Backed by Hezbollah, Syrian army on the verge of consolidating control over Lebanon border region
- Turkish FM survives opposition censure motion over mishandling foreign policy, aligning Turkey with Muslim Brotherhood
What we’re watching today:
- Reuters this afternoon reported on accelerating efforts in the Senate to pass legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran if progress in dismantling the country's atomic program stalls over a coming six-month interim period, during which global powers are to negotiate with Tehran over what is widely believed to be Iran's drive to develop nuclear weapons. Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the latter being the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are reportedly set to agree on measures that "would target Iran's remaining oil exports, foreign exchange reserves and strategic industries." The news comes amid widening skepticism on the Hill that the U.S. has sufficient leverage to coerce Iran to meaningfully limit its nuclear program, in the aftermath of language in the Geneva deal that has undermined the international sanctions regime while allowing Tehran to continue progressing on its uranium and plutonium programs. On the House side, Republican Rep. Mike McCaul and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff both expressed skepticism on Sunday that the interim deal will be successful, with Schiff criticizing the administration for already having made critical concessions regarding Iranian enrichment. The Iranians, for their part, have not gone out of their way to signal that Tehran is willing to adopt a less bellicose posture. In recent days Iranian officials have announced that they are pushing ahead with next-generation enrichment technology and that they have installed laser systems improving the accuracy of their ballistic missiles by fully two orders of magnitude, from 200 meters to 2 meters.
- Palestinian leaders today doubled down on weekend declarations in which they categorically rejected U.S. bridging proposals designed to balance Israeli security needs - including Jerusalem's concerns about a security vacuum that might emerge in the strategically important Jordan Valley in the context of a comprehensive peace deal - with Palestinian demands for autonomy over the West Bank. Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official, told Agence France-Presse that security arrangements suggested by Secretary of State John Kerry would lead to the "total failure" of the U.S.-backed peace talks. Jordanian officials, in contrast, have reportedly sided with the U.S. and Israel in endorsing Jerusalem's continued presence along the border. Veteran Israeli military correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai had last week outlined at length the basis for Israel's insistence that it be allowed to maintain a security presence in the Jordan Valley. Ben-Yishai described how "Israeli control over the border crossings between the West Bank and Jordan has it been possible to prevent a massive spillover of al-Qaeda activists and explosive devices into the West Bank and Israel" and emphasized that "even more important is thwarting terror in the West Bank by collecting intelligence and conducting arrests" of terrorists who threaten both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
- Hezbollah and Syrian army forces battling on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime are close to seizing the town of Nabuk, one of the last areas in the Lebanon-adjacent Qalamoun region still controlled by opposition forces, amid renewed concerns from Lebanese officials that blowback generated by Hezbollah's participation in Syria's nearly three-year war will trigger violence inside their own country. Agence France-Presse (AFP) today assessed that taking control of Nabuk - where Al Qaeda-linked rebels have a large presence, and which the Syrian army and its Hezbollah allies have been attacking for two weeks - "would cement regime control of territory linking Damascus province with Homs province in central Syria." The gains would be the latest since the Syrian army, with critical backing from Hezbollah, launched a sustained offensive last summer with an eye toward eroding years of opposition gains. Several Hezbollah figures including Ali Bazzi, a senior commander, have reportedly been killed in recent days fighting in Syria. Meanwhile Lebanese media this weekend reported on comments made by the country's Interior Minister, Marwan Charbel, in which Charbel worried that Al Qaeda was seeking to consolidate its presence inside Lebanon after several attacks on Hezbollah and Iranian interests. Ya Libnon conveyed quotes from Sirajuddin Zureiqat, the head of the Lebanese branch of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades, committing his group to conducting continued "operations" inside Lebanon "until two things are achieved: withdrawing the members of Iran's Party [i.e. Hezbollah] from Syria, and releasing our prisoners from the prisons of oppression in Lebanon."
- English-language Turkish media reported this afternoon that the country's parliament, which the Daily News described as "dominated by deputies from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)," rejected an opposition-filed censure motion filed against AKP Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu over his role in generating the recent precipitous decline in Turkey's regional stature. The motion cited among other things souring relations between Ankara and Cairo, which collapsed after Egypt's army removed from power the country's Muslim Brotherhood-linked then-president Mohammed Morsi in the wake of mass anti-government protests. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan subsequently and repeatedly lashed out against Cairo's army-backed government, accusing the army of acting against the Brotherhood as part of a Jewish plot - a statement defended by Davutoglu - and pledging to continue supporting Morsi. The posture was part of a broader policy that saw the AKP aligning Turkey with Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, in opposition to a bloc of more moderate Sunni states and Israel, and with both opposing a Shiite camp anchored by Iran and including its Syrian client and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. The Republican People's Party (CHP) gestured toward the dynamic, declaring in its censure motion that "the international public almost identifies [Turkey's] Justice and Development Party government with the Muslim Brotherhood." The Asia Times theorized this morning that Davutoglu is looking to "partner up" with his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, in order to break Turkey out of its growing isolation.
Concern heightens that unbalanced Iran deal will weaken U.S. negotiators, as downward spiral threatens to take hold of sanctions regime
- Concern heightens that unbalanced Iran deal will weaken U.S. negotiators, as downward spiral threatens to take hold of sanctions regime
- U.N. nuclear watchdog reemphasizes concerns on Iran nuclear weaponization
- Israeli officials insist violence won't derail development efforts in country's south
- AP: Hamas cancels anniversary celebration over Egypt-driven 'deep economic woes
What we’re watching today:
- The Washington Post on Thursday described the interim agreement signed between the global P5+1 powers and Iran as "notable for its omissions," and expressed concern that the combination of Western concessions and Iranian victories has left "the United States and its partners at a disadvantage in negotiating the comprehensive settlement." Analysts have been expressing increasingly pointed worries that the reduction of sanctions has triggered a downward spiral that will substantially erode the entire regime, even as Iran in recent days has doubled down on advancing both its uranium and plutonium facilities. The Associated Press reported over the weekend that weakened sanctions on automobile components "could see Iran’s stalled car production again take off," providing not just a "boon" to Iranian automakers but also "potentially draw[ing] in more foreign investment from other manufacturers hoping to break into the market." The AP quoted Patrick Blain, president of the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, as predicting that "international investors are expected to re-enter Iran’s market soon," an evaluation in tension with Obama administration assurances, provided to allies and lawmakers, insisting that investors would be irrational to re-enter Iran's market in the near term. Blain was further quoted by Agence France-Presse asserting that "there is no reason not to come back." Meanwhile Reuters this morning reported on Iranian moves to "reassert Tehran's authority in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries" on basis of expectations that it will soon "return as the cartel's second biggest producer." Iranian state media today conveyed statements from Abbas Araqchi, the country's deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs, boasting that Tehran expects to receive $15 billion in oil revenues from the implementation of the Geneva deal. The Obama administration in contrast has assessed that the total relief granted by the agreement is roughly $7 billion, with only $4.2 billion in frozen oil assets being released.
- A statement issued last week by the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, emphasizes that the organization continues to be concerned about possible clandestine elements in Iran's nuclear program oriented toward the production of a nuclear weapon. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told the organization's board of governors that the agency was not "in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities." The statement was followed by declarations from top Iranian officials committing the Islamic republic to making continued progress on both Tehran's uranium and plutonium infrastructure, and insisting that the country would never suspend uranium enrichment or its plutonium ambitions, as has been called for by half a dozen United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s nuclear chief, declared over the weekend that Iran would never cease work on its Arak facility, which top analysts - including those sympathetic to engagement with the Islamic republic - have described as a plutonium bomb factory. For their part - per a weekend report by the Wall Street Journal - U.S. officials "have said they no longer believe it is feasible or practical to reach an agreement with Iran that completely dismantles its nuclear program," and more specifically Iran's uranium enrichment efforts.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres this weekend declared that Israel would continue pursuing a multi-year plan to economically develop the country's southern Negev region and politically integrate the Bedouin populations that live in the area, after activists late last week staged violent rallies opposing the so-called Prawer-Begin plan. Israel's Negev region constitutes almost half of the country's pre-1967 territory. It is home to roughly 200,000 Bedouin, as many as 90,000 of whom live in conditions of chronic underdevelopment. Close to half of all Bedouin citizens in the Negev live in 40 encampments with little to no access to basic municipal services such as water and sanitation, and some villages are illegally located on lands reserved for public use, including near Israel’s main toxic waste depository. The unemployment rate for Israeli Bedouins is 70 percent, compared with a national average of 7 percent, and only 4 percent of Bedouins graduate from higher education institutions. The Prawer-Begin plan would require Jerusalem to invest almost $2 billion in developing the Negev and moving some Bedouin communities to areas with education, health care, water, and electricity, where were they could legally live and in many cases claim ownership over their land. Organizations and activists critical of Israel, however, last week urged a so-called "day of rage" to oppose the plan, which they insisted was an instance of Israel dispossessing Palestinians. Media outlets pointedly described the Israeli cities being constructed in the Negev as "Jewish settlements" and the Israeli Bedouins were called "Palestinian Bedouins." Critics blasted such rhetoric as part of an effort to conflate the Bedouin cause with the Palestinian issue, noting that it was being done in the context of efforts to mainstream notions that Israel was targeting Palestinians. Analysts fear that the conflation will harm both the Bedouin cause and efforts to establish a Palestinian state. Regarding the Bedouins, the violence has threatened passage of the Prawer-Begin bill, potentially leaving the Negev underdeveloped. Regarding efforts to achieve a Palestinian state, the conflation is likely to deepen worries that the claims of Palestinians and their allies extend between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and into territories that have been Israeli since the country's birth and are internationally recognized as such.
- The Associated Press reported this weekend that Hamas had cancelled the terror group's previously scheduled 26th anniversary rally, with the terror group citing what the outlet described as 'deep economic woes' in the Gaza Strip territory that it rules. The AP linked Hamas's financial troubles to moves made by the Egyptian military to destroy the smuggling tunnels running between Gaza to the Egypt-controlled Sinai Peninsula, which the Egyptians blame for facilitating the movement of personnel and materials used by jihadists to conduct attacks in the Sinai. Egyptian security officials had began seeking to undermine both the tunnels and the Hamas officials who they blame for maintaining and profiting from them even before the July ouster of then-president Mohammed Morsi, who along with his Muslim Brotherhood-linked government was widely seen as a regional ally of Hamas. After Morsi was removed from power in the wake of massive anti-government rallies, the army stepped up its efforts to destroy the tunnels. Palestinian and Egyptian media outlets over the weekend conveyed reports of what the Jerusalem Post described as 'intensifying tensions between Egypt and Hamas,' specifically citing efforts by Egyptian authorities to revoke the citizenship and passports of of Hamas leaders.
Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei lashes out, deepening fears that Tehran may pocket concessions and walk away from talks
- 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.
Israeli PM urges France to resist pressure, hold to conditions on Iran's uranium and plutonium progress
- Israeli PM urges France to resist pressure, hold to conditions on Iran's uranium and plutonium progress
- Journalists press State Department on tensions within Israel, Iran policies
- Washington Post: after U.S. aid freeze, Egypt moving "further away from its traditional place within the U.S. sphere of influence"
- Syrian army takes strategic towns, now positioned to advance toward country's largest city
What we’re watching today:
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today urged France to maintain its position on the terms for an acceptable interim agreement on between Iran and the P5+1 global powers Tehran's nuclear program, a week after Paris's objections to what it described as a "sucker's deal" reportedly contributed to blocking a deal that would have swapped relief from international sanctions for limited Iranian concessions. Patrick Maisonnave, France's ambassador to Israel, had earlier in the week outlined the main guarantees that France was demanding. Regarding Iranian progress toward a uranium-based bomb, Maisonnave outlined Paris's demands for more robust enrichment restrictions, and he rejected Iran's claim that it has a right to enrich nuclear material on its soil. France's position on continued Iranian enrichment echoes that of former nuclear inspectors and experts, who have estimated that allowing Iran to narrow the already-short window it needs to rush across the nuclear finish line. The rejection of enrichment rights tracks with analysis from legal experts, think tank scholars, and U.S. lawmakers: not only does Iran simply not have a right under international law to enrich uranium, but accepting its position otherwise - according to a 2006 analysis by Robert Zarate, now the policy director at the Foreign Policy Initiative - would endanger the global non-proliferation regime. Regarding Iran's progress toward a plutonium-based bomb, Maisonnave emphasized the French demand that work cease at Iran's Arak facility, which houses a heavy-water production facility and a reactor. Once the reactor goes "hot" it becomes functionally impervious to military attack due to expected fallout, and it produces two bombs' worth of plutonium per year. Iranian negotiators were said to have worked out language that would have allowed Iranian scientists to continue bolstering the facility as long as Tehran committed to not turning on the reactor for six months, something that Tehran had already declared it wasn't going to do anyway. This aspect of the agreement in particular led to comments by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius describing a "fool's game" at the talks.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today took to Twitter today with an post and info-graphic blasting the likely contours of an understanding being pursued by major global powers and Iran on the latter's nuclear weapons program, concluding that "Iran is getting everything and giving nothing!" The post - which garnered international coverage and made its way to the top of the State Department's daily press Q&A - urged Western powers not to "rush into a bad deal with Iran." At the briefing multiple reporters pushed spokesperson Jen Psaki on the degree to which the United States was managing to assure the Israelis that an agreement being pursued with Iran would not endanger the security interests of our allies. Journalists challenged Psaki to justify the administration's repeated and controversial statements implying that advocates of new sanctions on Iran were putting the U.S. on a path to war with the Islamic republic. Among those who have in recent months supported sanctions are the 178 House Democrats who last July voted for new sanctions and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) who yesterday rejected White House calls to delay new financial pressure. It is not known if any of these elected U.S. lawmakers have been briefed specifically on the administration's strange regarding their position. Thursday's briefing had already at times generated confusion, with the State Department simultaneously claiming that U.S. diplomats were closely coordinating with the Israelis over the details of a proposed deal and that the Israelis - who were publicly critical of the negotiations' course - didn't know the details of a proposed deal.
- Egypt yesterday hosted a delegation of top Russian diplomatic and military figures, including Moscow's foreign and defense ministers, in what the Washington Post described as a sign that Cairo was edging "further away from its traditional place within the U.S. sphere of influence." The Obama administration has in recent months distanced itself from Egypt's army-backed interim government, among other things by freezing parts of Washington's aid package to the Egyptian military. The White House has justified its moves as a response to the army's July overthrow of then-president Mohammed Morsi, which came after a week of unprecedented anti-government protests by millions of Egyptians who called for the removal Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-linked government. Washington's decision had been blasted by analysts as not only unlikely to secure substantive results - Egypt's generals view their struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood as an existential one, and it is difficult to imagine how they could reverse their ongoing decapitation campaign against the Islamist group's leadership - but as geopolitically unwise. In a narrow sense the U.S. had in the past few decades enjoyed enormous benefits from close military-to-military ties with Cairo, which provided U.S. forces with preferential overflight rights and preferential access to the Suez Canal. More broadly, ties between the U.S. and Egypt had prevented geopolitical rivals from encroaching on the U.S.'s interests in the region. Earlier in November Tom Nichols and John R. Schindler, foreign policy scholars who emphasized that they rarely agree on foreign policy prescriptions, bluntly criticized the Obama administration for undermining “nearly seven decades” of bipartisan American efforts aimed at “limiting Moscow’s influence” in the Middle East.
- Rebels sources report that forces loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime have seized five towns near Damascus over the last 10 days, strengthening the regime's position in advance of upcoming peace talks, as Syrian state television meanwhile announced that the army had captured three towns around Aleppo and were preparing to continue onto the city itself. Aleppo is Syria's largest city and observers have feared since last summer that Syrian forces, backed on the ground by Iranian fighters and fighters drawn from Iran's Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, would move to expel opposition forces which have controlled parts of the city since at least 2012. Rami Abdelrahman, an expert from the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, predicted that that "it's a matter of time before the army has full control of Tel Hasel," a reference to a contested town 6 miles south-east of Aleppo. A Syrian air strike on Aleppo earlier this week killed a top opposition commander. Reuters described the death as "a setback to rebels defending the city against a loyalist attack."
- U.S. allies blast likely "very bad deal" on Iran
- Top Egypt officials outline progress toward democracy, election timeline
- Turkey govt moves raise new fears of authoritarianism, Islamism
- Day 2 of analyst, scientist eye-rolling over Arafat conspiracy theories
What we’re watching today:
- The U.S.'s Israeli and Arab allies are said to be furious over a deal, which the West is widely reported to be close to finalizing with Iran, which would see Iran make limited concessions on its nuclear program in exchange for financial relief that Mark Dubowitz, executive director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says "totally eviscerates the sanctions regime." Dubowitz also emphasized that the cash infusion that Iran would receive could be used to boost Tehran's nuclear program - which the deal is aimed at limiting - and to promote global terrorism. Widely leaked details of the deal indicate that Iran will be permitted to continue enriching uranium up to 3.5% and does not force Iran to dismantle its existing uranium infrastructure, a scenario that experts, journalists, and U.S. lawmakers have all emphasized will leave the Islamic republic with the capability to sneak across the finish line once a political decision is made to do so. Iran will also be allowed to continue developing its Arak facility, which the Washington Post and others recently insisted must be part of any deal because it will produce plutonium Iran could use for nuclear bombs. Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, bluntly described recent remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry, made in the run-up to the deal, as having "likely reinforced the Saudi, as well as the Israeli, view that when it comes to Iran, the White House is so dead-set on an agreement that it will not only part ways with its traditional allies, but will also make sure they don't get in the way." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told Kerry that Israel would not be bound by what Netanyahu had elsewhere called a "very bad deal" in which Iran "got everything and paid nothing." The developments come days after the Wall Street Journal assessed that the secrecy with which the Obama administration had approached the talks had already "alienated several Mideast allies, notably Israel and Saudi Arabia" and quoted a senior Arab official as saying that "in the current environment, our fears [of Iran] have only been exacerbated.”
- Analysts are focusing on deepening concerns that Turkey may be moving away from the West and pivoting both toward geopolitical rivals such as China and regional antagonists such as Iran. Newsweek describes Ankara's moves as a shift grounded both in diplomatic considerations and in "a new model in which Islam trumps democracy." The outlet also gestures toward emerging regional dynamics which have pitted the U.S.'s traditional Israeli and Arab allies against a Shiite bloc anchored by Iran against extremist Sunni elements including the Muslim Brotherhood, and notes that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have moved to embrace the Brotherhood and aligned parties. Recent months have seen Ankara move closer to signing a $3.4 billion missile defense deal with China that European diplomats have bluntly said would insert a Chinese "virus" into NATO's command and control system. Ankara's deliberations come amid an expose published last month by the Washington Post reporting that Turkey had passed Western intelligence to Iran, including the identities of nearly a dozen Iranians who were working with the Mossad to expose clandestine elements of Iran's nuclear program. Meanwhile Erdogan this week announced a policy that would outlaw coed housing at state universities. The move - which comes after similar ones that included alcohol consumption and crackdowns on books that described evolution - is likely to deepen concerns over AKP Islamism.
- Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy announced on Friday that the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, would be allowed to take part in upcoming parliamentary elections in the country. The announcement comes less than a year Egypt's Brotherhood-lined former president Mohammed Morsi was removed from power by the army amid historically unprecedented popular anti-government protests calling for his removal. Fahmy also outlined elections that are to take place in either February or March of next year. It is unclear whether the Brotherhood will participate in the elections: the organization and its offshoots have historically sought to boycott elections in order to undermine the legitimacy of subsequent governments. The Brotherhood over the summer rejected reconciliation efforts by Cairo’s interim government and at the time vowed to continue protests until Morsi was reinstated. The move will be read against recent statements by Secretary of State John Kerry suggesting that Washington had assessed that the Egyptians were moving toward reestablishing formal democracy in the aftermath of the army's moves against the Brotherhood.
- Observers and scientists spent a second day mocking media coverage - including headlines and copy printed in some of the world's top outlets - suggesting that there is even a possibility that Swiss scientists had detected evidence of polonium-210 poisoning by studying the remains of former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. This week the University Centre of Legal Medicine in Switzerland released a 108-page report that Dan Kaszeta – a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) veteran analyst - described as containining "many caveats and much room for doubt." For their part media outlets instead interpreted the report as concluding that Arafat was "probably poisoned with polonium." Kaszeta also reminded his Twitter readers today that "Polonium 210 exists in nature" and that "Polonium traces need not have come from a nuclear reactor." There are in any case zero plausible scenarios under which Arafat could have been poisoned in 2004 with a sufficient amount of polonium to be detectable when scientists studied his body last year, a mathematical fact that Navy War College professor Tom Nichols wryly gestured at today with the quip that "science is hard." It's also worth noting that tests conducted by Russian scientists on samples from Arafat's body had earlier revealed no abnormal traces of radioactive polonium. Al Jazeera, which has been a driving force behind the investigation, brushed off the Russian findings by suggesting that the Russian foreign minister interfered with the investigation for reasons unknown. The Al Jazeera article reminded readers that the station's documentary "Killing Arafat" will soon be available for viewing.
- Experts, diplomats: Impose more sanctions on Iran to strengthen the West's hand
- In latest regime walk-back, Iran nuke chief denies rumored concession on enrichment
- Egypt arrest sweep nets last top Muslim Brotherhood figure
- Israeli Air Force preps first hosted trilateral air exercise, shrugging off Turkish attempts at military isolation
What we’re watching today:
- Members of Congress and a range of analysts are emphasizing the importance of existing and new sanctions on Iran, as the U.S. and the international community prepare to negotiate with the Islamic republic over its nuclear program, which is widely considered to have clandestine weaponization components. This morning's Los Angeles Times saw an article - co-written by former White House Middle East Advisor Dennis Ross, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman, and former Defense Department official Michael Makovsky - calling on the U.S. to "negotiate from a position of strength" by among other things "intensify[ing] sanctions and incentiviz[ing] other countries to do the same." Meanwhile the Washington Post published a recent speech by Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (NJ) declaring that sanctions "have been the single most powerful tool in bringing Iran to the table and bringing us to this pivotal point." Menendez's assessment echoes a broad consensus to the effect that sanctions have been critical in eroding Iran's economy and coercing Iranian leaders to at least engage in negotiations. Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg noted this morning that, given the expert consensus that heightened sanctions brought Iran to the table, it's difficult to credit claims that further sanctions will cause Iran to walk away from the table. The same point was suggested by Associated Press reporter Matthew Lee in last Friday's State Department press briefing, with Lee noting that "one of the main reasons, or maybe the only reason, that Iran agreed to come to the table this time was the sanctions" and asking "so wouldn't it be logical that once you’ve got them to the table, adding more pressure would help and would make them more willing to compromise than saying – than holding off." A Senate bill still in committee would aim to cut Iranian oil sales in half. Administration figures are pushing to hold off on the new sanctions. Asked about a push, Menendez questioned the logic of unilaterally suspending pressure while Iran "continues to move forward" by installing new nuclear-related technology.
- Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi clarified today that Iran is continuing to enrich uranium up to 20%, denying widely conveyed reports that the Islamic republic has ceased adding to its stockpile of 20% purity uranium, with which top experts believe it can sprint across the nuclear finish line in as little time as two weeks. Conservative MP Hossein Naqavi Hosseini had been cited as the source of the original rumor, and now claims he was misquoted. The chair of the Iranian parliament's foreign affairs committee, Allaeddine Boroujerdi, had previously denied suggestions of a halt. The original suggestion had raised hopes - per The New York Times - that Iran was "edging closer to accepting one of the main demands of world powers." The dynamic - in which optimistic coverage produced in Western outlets was quickly followed by an explicit Iranian walkback - repeats a pattern that has become almost routine since the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. A Twitter account reportedly linked to Rouhani generated what the Washington Post described as a "frenzied response" when it was used to wish Jews a happy Jewish New Year. Rouhani's office subsequently denied any connection to the post. A little later Iranian citizens were for the first time in years able to directly access social media networks, generating speculation from Western journalists that "Iran’s Berlin Wall of internet censorship crumbling." The ban was reimposed a day later. In September a German paper published rumors that Rouhani was prepared to shut down Iran's underground enrichment bunker at Fordow, a suggestion that regime outlets swatted down. Even walkbacks on Iranian willingness to negotiate over its 20% enriched stock are not new. In early April the Associated Press quoted Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani suggesting that Iran may make concessions on uranium enriched to that level, only to see itself called out by name and condemned by regime figures for misquoting Larijani.
- Egyptian security forces today arrested one of the few prominent Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood figures who have thus far escaped the wide-ranging decapitation campaign being waged against the Islamist group by Egypt's army-backed interim government, a move likely to fuel ongoing analyst discussions outlining scenarios under which Cairo may succeed in largely collapsing the Islamist group's influence inside Egypt. Essam el-Erian, arguably the last senior Brotherhood official who had escaped being seized, had been a top adviser to Egypt's former Brotherhood-linked president Mohammed Morsi. While in that position he blamed Jews for the Boston terror attack, the war in Mali, the war in Syria, and the war in Iraq. Though top officials in the interim government continue to press for reconciliation between competing Egyptian factions - Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa El-Din on Tuesday pressed the case in the context of the Brotherhood - rapprochement remains unlikely. Brotherhood members have repeatedly rejected national reconciliation, and for their part military officials likely believe that the reassertion of Brotherhood power would lead to retaliation against the army.
- Israel will host its first multilateral air drill next month, assembling nearly 1,000 personnel from three nations for two weeks of air-to-air and air-to-ground exercises modeled on the U.S. Air Force's annual Red Flag military training exercise. Dubbed Blue Flag, the drill will take place at the Ovda training range in the Jewish state's south. The identity of the participants is being withheld on security grounds, but Defense News notes that the Israel Air Force has recently conducted bilateral training with the U.S., Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Poland. Each of those countries has been suggested as a possible participant. The IAF had for years trained with Turkey's air force, until Turkey cut off relations with Israel and began making concentrated efforts to prevent the Jewish state from participating in security forums and multilateral military exercises. Ankara was criticized for seeking to isolate Israel at the expense of Israeli-European interoperability. Jerusalem subsequently began to explore a series of bilateral and multilateral exercises outside frameworks Turkey could affect. Israel's navy for instance recently participated in trilateral search-and-rescue exercises with Cyprus and Greece, and in August the Israeli Defense Forces and U.S. European Command ran two weeks of military exercises.