- 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.
Reports: Iran stages "largest anti-U.S. rally in years," amid new reports of military activity in Syria
- Reports: Iran stages "largest anti-U.S. rally in years," amid new reports of military activity in Syria
- Observers: Hamas stockpiling advanced missiles, seeking to renew violence
- On Middle East fence-mending tour, Kerry praises Saudi Arabia and military-backed Egyptian government
- Top pro-Israel groups, including AIPAC, recommit to seeking new sanctions on Iran
What we’re watching today:
- Tens of thousands of anti-American Iranian protesters marched today on the former U.S. embassy in Iran, part of what the Associated Press described as "Tehran’s largest anti-U.S. rally in years." Reports noted pervasive chants of "death to America," and called attention to a speech by Saeed Jalili, a senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which Jalili described fighting the "hostile policies of America" as "the symbol of [Iran's] national solidarity." The protests threaten to deepen skepticism regarding the degree to which Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is willing or able to substantially reform Iran's foreign and domestic policies. They come on the same day as reports emerged that a commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was killed in Syria, where Iran has provided critical logistical and military support to the Bashar al-Assad regime. Last week the BBC aired a video documenting what the outlet described as "the extent of Iran's involvement," in Syria, including active participation by top IRGC figures. Rouhani himself has repeatedly and explicitly pledged to stand by the Assad regime, opposite U.S. calls for the strongman to step aside in order to facilitate a peaceful resolution to Syria's almost three-year-old conflict.
- Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon warned over the weekend that Hamas was arming itself and seeking to conduct what the Israeli official called "a renewal of violence," echoing increasingly pitched analyst concerns that the Palestinian terror group - which has recently suffered a precipitous decline in domestic popularity and regional influence - may be seeking to restore its stature via a spectacular terror attack. The warning came a week after Elior Levy, the Palestinian affairs correspondent for Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth, published analysis describing how Hamas would seek, in its next war against Israel, to saturation-bomb Israeli population centers. The group will likely use indigenously produced M-75 rockets, which can reach Israel's densely packed Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Levy also outlined how Hamas "has hundreds of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles" that it will have the option of deploying.
- Secretary of State John Kerry sought this weekend and today to downplay spiking tensions between Washington and its traditional Arab allies, traveling to Egypt and Saudi Arabia to address sharp and increasingly public differences with those countries on a range of issues including the political situation in Egypt, the U.S's stance on the Syrian conflict, and the West's posture toward Iranian negotiations. Cairo and Riyadh have watched Washington's recent Middle East moves with confusion and increasing frustration, as the Obama administration staked out positions that they argued were in tension with both their and America's interests. Recent months have seen the solidification of three opposing regional blocs: a traditional pro-U.S. camp composed of Israel and the U.S.'s Arab allies, an extremist Shiite bloc anchored by Iran and including its proxies in Lebanon and Syria, and an extremist Sunni bloc involving Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood. Washington's criticism of the Egyptian army's moves against the Brotherhood, its reluctance to support rebels in Syria, and its approach to Iran have, according to critics, shown insufficient sensitivity to fundamental regional dynamics. Over the weekend the Washington Post published an overview of Arab moves designed to circumvent American policies by more aggressively boosting rebel groups in Syria fighting the Iran-aligned Bashar al-Assad regime. In Egypt Kerry sought to mend ties with the military regime - The New York Times evaluated that his rhetoric "reflected the Obama administration’s determination to work with a military leadership" - while in Saudi Arabia he praised Riyadh's diplomacy.
- Controversy swirled this weekend and into Monday regarding the positions of major pro-Israel groups toward efforts by the Obama administration to delay the imposition of new sanctions against Iran, with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) issuing a rare on-the-record statement Saturday night emphasizing that there would be "no pause, delay or moratorium" in its support of new legislation designed to increase pressure against the Islamic republic. The statement was a response to reports, sourced to Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Director Abraham Foxman, describing an October 29th meeting between White House officials and representatives of four top pro-Israel groups. Foxman stated that groups had committed to taking a "time out" in their lobbying efforts. Representatives from other groups who were in the room, notably AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee (AJC), categorically denied making such commitments. Pro-Israel groups not directly involved in the controversy also issued statements calling for new sanctions. The Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a letter stating that "the only hope of stopping the program in the eleventh hour, is the threat of an even more powerful sanctions program," while Christians United for Israel executive director David Brog stated that "there will be a political price to be paid by every leader in Congress that stood by, delayed, or dithered while Iran became a nuclear power." Fallout from the dispute also included a pro-Israel official described as "close to the debate" characterizing the ADL as "collaborating with a far left Israeli newspaper [Haaretz], one that in recent days compared Zionist films to Nazi propaganda, to minimize the deep concern that almost everyone in the Jewish community has" over the administration's Iran policy.
- Reports: Top Senators brush off Obama administration calls to delay Iran sanctions push
- Secretary of State to visit Egypt this weekend, amid reports of Cairo pivot to Russia
- Five Israeli soldiers injured in Hamas attack on anti-tunnel operation
- Experts: Hamas claims around shut down power plant "insane"
What we’re watching today:
- Meetings held yesterday between Obama administration officials and a range of Senators failed to persuade top Senate figures to delay a push for new sanctions against Iran, according to statements and analysis published this morning by Bloomberg. New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez bluntly stated that he'd "have to hear something far more substantive" to back off a push for legislation aimed at pressuring the Islamic republic, while Illinois Republican Mark Kirk described upcoming talks with Iran over its nuclear program - which the White House argues would be endangered by heightened economic pressure - as "a long rope-a-dope." Kirk also declared that "sanctions are the only way to prevent a war," echoing an pushback increasingly made in recent days by lawmakers, analysts, and journalists: inasmuch as the administration believes that Iran has been coerced into entering negotiations because of economic pressure, it is unclear how more economic pressure will cause Tehran to walk away from the table. Kirk and others have also pointed out that Iran is continuing to strengthen its hand by installing new nuclear technology and enriching more material, and that it would be difficult for the Iranians to claim that the U.S. doing the same constitutes a deal-breaker.
- Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Egypt this weekend amid new reports that the Obama administration's posture toward the army-backed interim government is risking a pivot by Cairo toward the U.S.'s geopolitical rivals. Washington has among other things frozen the delivery of military assistance, including Apache helicopters of the type used by Egypt's military in ongoing anti-terror campaigns. Last Thursday an Egyptian good will delegation went to Moscow to "show [Egypt's] gratitude for the cautious and objective positioning of Russia," and there have been subsequent trips by both Egyptian and Russian intelligence figures surrounding what media reports describe as a $15 billion deal to purchase Russian-made MiG-29 planes and other equipment. Tom Nichols and John R. Schindler, foreign policy scholars who emphasize that they rarely agree on policy prescriptions, had already in September co-published an article criticizing the administration for undermining "nearly seven decades" of bipartisan American efforts aimed at "limiting Moscow's influence" in the Middle East. Voice of America reported today that Kerry's trip to Cairo "would only last several hours."
- Five Israeli soldiers were wounded when Hamas fighters bombed an operation to destroy a tunnel likely built by the terror group to facilitate a spectacular upcoming attack. The soldiers, one of whom was seriously injured, were evacuated to Israel's Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba. Israeli military forces responded to the attack, killing one gunman, and Israeli pilots subsequently struck another Hamas tunnel, killing three more Palestinian fighters. All four were claimed by Hamas, which declared through spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri that the Israelis had been taught a "painful lesson." Analysts have been issuing increasingly pointed warning that Hamas is seeking to stage large-scale attacks in an effort to restore the terror group's crumbling domestic and regional position, the result of a series of failed diplomatic gambles that saw the Palestinian faction align itself with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey. Cairo's post-Brotherhood government has in recent months actively moved to isolate Hamas, and a senior official from the organization recently complained that the group had been "sentenced to death" by Egypt.
- Hamas is lashing out against Egypt and the Palestinian Authority (PA) - the latter controlled by the rival Palestinian Fatah faction - in the aftermath of power outages that gripped the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Friday. Energy authority deputy chairman Fathi el-Sheikh Khalil told journalists that Gaza's power plant had been shut off due to lack of fuel, the result of what he insisted where prohibitive taxes levied by the PA and anti-smuggling actions taken by Egypt. Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, called the Hamas accusations "insane," noting that "the PA pays for [fuel] with donor funds, Hamas bills Gazans for it, and then pockets the cash." This is not the first time that Hamas has been criticized for manufacturing a humanitarian crisis by shutting down Gaza's power plant. In 2008 the terror group made a similar move, plunging Gaza into darkness and claiming that Israel was preventing sufficient fuel from reaching the territory. Israeli officials pointed out that electricity was still getting into the territory from Israeli plants and that Hamas deliberately causing the blackout. The organization has in the past also been criticized for deliberately risking humanitarian crises by refusing fuel shipments and stealing fuel for its terror operations, including from hospitals.
- TIME: Iran's heavy-water reactor "invulnerable to military attack" once it goes online
- Bipartisan Congressional frustration over WH aid cutoff grows, as Egypt army escalates campaigns against Islamic radicals
- Abu Dhabi media: Iran uses "regular clandestine flights" to supply Syria with troops, weapons
- Hamas official declares terror group "sentenced to death" as Egypt moves deepen isolation
What we’re watching today:
- A heavy-water plutonium reactor that Iran has committed to bringing online would become "invulnerable to military attack" once Iranian scientists activated it, according to analysis conveyed today by TIME, inasmuch as any such attack would release radioactivity that might be "catastrophic." Work toward activating the reactor, which is part of the Arak facility that also includes a heavy water production plant, has been described as part of Iran's "Plan B" for developing a nuclear weapon. Material produced by the reactor could be used to make a plutonium-based bomb, alongside the uranium-based bomb that the international community fears Iran is seeking to construct with material produced via enrichment facilities. Former IAEA Deputy Director Dr. Olli Heinonen, speaking Monday on a conference call organized by The Israel Project, noted that Iran's construction at Arak "appears to be an alternative, at least for a rainy day, to have fissionable material, which could be, for example used for nuclear weapons." There are also fears, according to TIME, that Iran will attempt to surreptitiously activate the reactor under the ruse of conducting a test run, avoiding Western intervention. In May, Iranian officials filed paperwork with the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog to conduct a test run . U.S. lawmakers have demanded that Iran halt work on the reactor as a condition for lifting sanctions, but Iran has thus far shown no willingness to do so. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in fact recently boasted that a diplomatic charm offensive conducted by his government had left Tehran "consolidating its nuclear rights step by step, and removing hurdles from the path of the nation's progress."
- The Hill reported today on heightening bipartisan Congressional criticism of the Obama administration's decision to temporarily freeze some military assistance to Egypt, a move made in response to - albeit months after - mass anti-government protests that led the Egyptian army to depose the country's Muslim Brotherhood-linked former president Mohammed Morsi. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, slammed the White House’s decision, echoing analyst concerns that the cutoff was degrading U.S.-Egyptian ties at the expense of "our security interests." Both Engel and Committee Chairman Ed Royce declared that the army-backed interim government was preferable to what had become increasingly autocratic Brotherhood rule, with Engel emphasizing that he'd "take the military every time" over the Brotherhood and Royce declaring that the Brotherhood's "hostil[ity] to American interests binds" the U.S. to Cairo. In addition to launching a decapitation campaign against the Brotherhood, the military has also been engaged in a concentrated campaign to uproot jihadist infrastructure in the Sinai Peninsula. Those campaigns have relied heavily on American military assistance - including and especially American-supplied air assets such as Apache helicopters, which were used as recently as last month to target arms depots in the northern Sinai. The White House has insisted that its partial freeze explicitly exempts counterterrorism assistance bound for the Sinai, but critics have questioned the feasibility of distinguishing between Sinai-bound aid versus other kinds of weaponry, and pointed out that the administration is in fact blocking the delivery of Apache helicopters.
- Abu Dhabi media yesterday described "regular clandestine flights between Tehran and Damascus" allegedly being conducted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which transport among other things "fighters to help regime forces battle rebels." The National described as many as three flights a week that have been taking place for months. Syrian opposition leaders have claimed that Iran has 60,000 fighters stationed in Syria, while Iran has flatly denied having any boots on the ground in the country. Though the opposition number is considered high, the revelation of clandestine flights will deepen skepticism regarding the categorical Iranian denials. The report will also fuel growing doubts that newly inaugurated Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is willing or able to broadly moderate Iranian policies. Rouhani had already explicitly vowed to support the Bashar al-Assad regime - a commitment that aligns well with reports of continuing shipments from Iran to the regime - and had floated grand conspiracy theories regarding Western intentions toward Syria. Rouhani has recently aligned his rhetoric with that of the Assad regime and with Russia, arguing that the Syrian opposition is composed of "terrorists" who must be expelled from the country.
- The left-leaning Israeli paper Haaretz quotes a Hamas official declaring that the Palestinian terror organization has been functionally "sentenced to death" by Egypt, as Israeli and Egyptian measures to degrade Hamas's capabilities - coupled with a series of disastrous geopolitical gambles - keep the group bottled up and isolated in the Gaza Strip. Hamas spent weeks in fall 2012 deliberately escalating the amount and sophistication of rockets and missiles it launched against Israelis, triggering an eight-day bombing campaign against Israel that severely degraded the group's command and control infrastructure. Meanwhile Hamas aligned itself with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which was then in control of Egypt, putting itself on the wrong side of the Egyptian military, which was already at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood-linked government of President Mohammed Morsi. Egyptian military officials waged a media war to erode Hamas's standing inside the country, and - after Morsi fell - moved to close both Gaza's smuggling tunnels and border crossings, cutting off Hamas's access to the outside world. By mid-2013 regional blocs were forming in the Middle East, pitting the the U.S.'s traditional Israeli and Arab allies opposite a Shiite extremist Iranian/Syrian/Hezbollah axis, and both of them opposite a Sunni extremist bloc that included the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey, and Qatar. Hamas tried to triangulate between the Shiite and Sunni extremist blocs and ended up alienating both. Evaluating Hamas's precipitous decline weeks ago, Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argued that Western policymakers have a narrow window of opportunity to strike a death blow to the group.
- Former IAEA deputy director: Iran could produce enough material for nuke in two weeks
- Hezbollah blamed for Tripoli violence that kills scores as army deploys to contain blowback
- Associated Press: Netanyahu faces "political uproar" over prisoner release meant to boost U.S.-backed peace talks
- Hamas fires rockets at Israel after Egypt closes border crossing "indefinitely," Israel targets underground launchers
What we’re watching today:
- Top diplomats are warning that Iran is capable of purifying its stockpile of 3.5% low enriched uranium to 90% weapons grade levels in a matter of weeks, underscoring the complications involved in trying to sufficiently check the country's advanced nuclear program so as to render Tehran incapable of sneaking across the nuclear finish line. Iran has spent much of the last year installing more, and more sophisticated, centrifuges in its nuclear enrichment facilities, and the U.S.-based ISIS think tank has recently estimated that Iran will be able to purify enough uranium, at a sufficient pace, to conduct an undetectable breakout by the middle of next year. The Israel Project held a conference call on the issue this morning with Dr. Olli Heinonen, a former Deputy Director of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog and currently a senior fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School. Evaluating Iran's newly installed centrifuges, Heinonen revised the ISIS estimate, declaring that "if certain arrangements are done, [the breakout time] can even go down to two weeks." Heinonen separately emphasized that Iran's stockpile of 3.5% enriched material, which is farther away from weapons grade levels than its 20% enriched material, nonetheless still puts the regime more than half way toward what "you need to do in order to produce weapons-grade uranium." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had on Sunday outlined how Iran's "technological improvements" now allow Tehran "to enrich uranium from 3.5 percent to 90 percent in a number of weeks." Netanyahu's assessment echoes that of U.S.-based analysts, and officials from ISIS have said as much to Congress. U.S. lawmakers have called on Iran to dismantle its nuclear program, as demanded by half a dozen U.N. resolutions, by among other things exporting all of its enriched material out of the country and halting enrichment activities. Iran for its part has insisted that it will not give up its 3.5% low enriched uranium, and an Iranian MP this weekend also foreclosed concessions on Iran's underground military bunker - which has been converted into a uranium enrichment facility - at Fordow.
- A spike of violence in Tripoli - driven by the conflict in Syria and including both sniper attacks and mortar fire - has claimed the lives of at least 18 people and renewed criticism of Hezbollah for expanding Syria's nearly three year conflict into Lebanon. A Lebanese MP today slammed the Iran-backed terror group's leader Hassan Nasrallah for his "obvious" responsibility for the fighting, stating that Nasrallah is sending "weapons towards Tripoli" for delivery to Hezbollah-backed groups. Nasrallah for his part called on the Lebanese Armed Forces to seize control of Tripoli, and the army on Mondaybegan to deploy to the city. This is not the first time that Hezbollah has leveraged LAF assets to contain blowback generated by its involvement in the Syrian conflict. Hezbollah backed the Lebanese army last summer in storming a Sunni mosque where a radical cleric and his followers had holed up. The terror organization was forced to militarize its urban strongholds, establishing checkpoints and boosting on-the-street frisking procedures, after jihadists detonated car bombs in Hezbollah-dominated neighborhoods, with some checkpoints eventually being manned by Lebanese security forces.
- Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing what the Associated Press describes as a "political uproar" and a "storm of criticism" over plans to free 26 Palestinian terrorists convicted of murdering Israelis, part of a package of concessions that Jerusalem has offered to Palestinian Authority (PA) officials in order to entice them to continue engaging in U.S.-brokered peace talks. The move is the second of four planned releases, and comes despite the first wave being met by Palestinian statements hailing the released murderers as "political prisoners" and blasting Israelis as terrorists. In fact the Associated Press notes that "this week's release appeared especially charged because Israel is receiving little in return except for the opportunity to conduct negotiations." The decision is also controversial inasmuch as the weeks following the first release saw an upsurge in Palestinian terror incitement and activity in the West Bank from the two top Palestinian factions, the Fatah faction that controls the PA and its rival Hamas. The Hamas campaign is reportedly being directed from Turkey by Saleh al-Arouri, himself a previously freed prisoner, while Fatah officials are being blamed for inciting a wave of terror attacks. Three Israelis have been killed, and a young girl has been shot in front of her parents' home, in the violence.
- Both Israeli and Egyptian officials took actions this weekend and into Mondayaimed at Hamas and its capabilities, amid Palestinian rocket and mortar fire targeting Israel and originating in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. On Sunday Palestinians launched mortars at Israeli communities, and then Monday morning fired two rockets. One of today's rockets was intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system and another slammed into an open area in southern Israel. The Israeli Air Force subsequently struck two underground rocket launchers in the Gaza Strip. Separately and earlier on Saturday, Egyptian officials declared that the Rafah crossing connecting the Egyptian-controlled Sinai Peninsula to the Gaza Strip would be closed indefinitely. Cairo blames Hamas for facilitating the movement of personnel and materials used by jihadist groups operating in the Sinai against both Egyptian and Israeli targets.
Security insiders worry U.S. "relaxing position Iran must halt uranium enrichment," "moving to a containment strategy"
- Security insiders worry U.S. "relaxing position Iran must halt uranium enrichment," "moving to a containment strategy"
- Turkey PM lashes out at NATO after West criticizes China missile deal
- Israel set to release Palestinian prisoners in goodwill gesture, despite upsurge in terrorism
- Reports: Israel strikes convoy of advanced weapons heading toward Hezbollah
What we’re watching today:
The insidery security bulletin NightWatch overnight
assessed that the U.S. appears to be "relaxing its longstanding policy position that Iran must halt uranium enrichment" and is instead "moving to a containment strategy, which it has rejected consistently and as recently as last summer," with the turning point marked by "President [Hassan Rouhani's] election and change of style not substance." The evaluation comes a week after a round of nuclear negotiations between the international community and Iran in Geneva, during which time Iran reportedly presented a proposal that one former official described as "allow[ing] them to keep their whole program and all their enriched uranium." The New York Times subsequently explained that Iran has in the last year installed thousands of new centrifuges, many of them more sophisticated than ones installed in the past, and that the country's "nuclear abilities have advanced so far" that letting Iranian scientists continue to enrich uranium would leave Tehran with the ability to sneak across the nuclear finish line. Nonetheless Iran has publicly signaled that the international community's demands that it halt enrichment, codified in half a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions, is a non-starter. Instead Iranian negotiators reportedly offered to allow more intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities. Even that concession, however, may be beyond the willingness or ability of Rouhani to provide. The Iranian foreign ministry declared on Tuesday that approval of the so-called Additional Protocol that would codify such inspections was reserved for the Iranian parliament. Last Saturday, however, Iranian Parliament Member Mansour Haqiqatpour declared that the Iranian parliament would not consider the Additional Protocol unless the U.S. lifted sanctions. It is unlikely that U.S. lawmakers would consent to shattering the sanctions regime on the hope that Iran would reciprocate by making what would in any case be a limited concession. One alternative under consideration, created by Foundation for Defense of Democracies Executive Director Mark Dubowitz and first outlined by Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, would have the U.S. provide limited non-sanctions financial relief, in the form of now-frozen Iranian assets, in exchange for limited Iranian concessions.
- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday lashed out against NATO in response to criticism regarding a $3.4 billion deal for Chinese missiles, the integration of which would according to Western officials functionally introduce a "virus" into NATO's command and control infrastructure. The deal would see Turkey purchase missile assets from the China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp (CPMIEC), a company that is currently under U.S. sanctions for violations of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had emphasized on Tuesday that Turkey's international and NATO partner commitments require that it conduct arms purchases with an eye toward interoperability. Erdogan brushed aside the criticism, declaring - per Turkish media - that "there was no problem with the deal in terms of Turkey’s national preferences." NATO officials had previously declared themselves "speechless" over the Turkish move, and the State Department had expressed "serious concerns" over the deal. The controversy has deepened worries of Turkish realignment, away from its traditional allies in the West and toward the West's geopolitical rivals. A recent Washington Post expose revealed that Erdogan's government had deliberately burned 10 Iranian operating on behalf of the Israeli Mossad in Iran, an act that experts and former intelligence officials evaluated would badly damage Turkey's intelligence-sharing relationships.
- Israel is set to release more than two dozen Palestinians next week, the latest of a series of goodwill gestures designed to boost U.S.-backed peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Fatah faction that controls Palestinian areas of the West Bank. The releases come at a particularly controversial time, amid a spike in terrorism in the West Bank that has seen three Israelis killed and a young girl shot in front of her parents' home. The upsurge is in part the result of concentrated efforts by Hamas to rebuild its West Bank terror infrastructure, a campaign reportedly being coordinated out of Turkey by top Hamas operative Saleh al-Arouri - himself a released prisoner. Palestinian violence has also been linked to renewed anti-Israel incitement by top Fatah officials. The incitement and violence may complicate the upcoming prisoner release, which is being done in the context of negotiations with Fatah.
- Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida is reporting that the Israeli air force on Tuesdaydestroyed a shipment of missiles near the Syrian-Lebanese border and bound for the Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah. If confirmed, the interception would not be the first time that Jerusalem has reportedly acted to enforce its long-declared red line against the transfer or capture of advanced Syrian weapons either by the Bashar al-Assad regime's Hezbollah allies or by jihadist groups battling to overthrow the regime. U.S. sources confirmed to The New York Times in July that Israel had launched an air attack against a convoy of advanced antiship cruise missiles that had originally been provided to Syria by Russia. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week described Hezbollah's arsenal as a "matter of grave concern," and called on the group to demilitarize and place its weapons under Beirut's direct control.
Experts: Partial deal on Iranian enrichment "more likely to increase... tensions than to defuse them," risks nuclear arms race
- Experts: Partial deal on Iranian enrichment "more likely to increase... tensions than to defuse them," risks nuclear arms race
- Turkey blasted as U.S. officials confirm Erdogan government burned Israeli spies working in Iran
- Two young girls among four dead in attack on Egypt Christians
- Observers: Assad regime waging "terror-famine" against Syrian civilians
What we’re watching today:
- Washington Institute Managing Director Michael Singh late last week sought to outline what a nuclear deal with Iran would look like if the Obama administration and its allies pursue a strategy that holds out on sanctions relief until Iran takes long-understood steps to meet roughly a half-dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions calling on it to dismantle its nuclear program. Singh emphasizes that a partial deal on uranium enrichment would, to be meaningful, require Iran to undertake a variety of transparency measures that Tehran seems unwilling to consider. In recent days Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani has in fact warned that Iran could step up work at its nuclear facilities if the West presses too hard for concessions related to the country’s atomic program. In the absence of a "strategic shift by Iran" to open up its program, Singh describes how the U.S.'s regional allies "would distrust Iranian intentions" even as Iran "would bristle at the intrusiveness of inspections" necessary to assure the deal. Under those conditions "a deal on limited enrichment" structured around sanctions relief would be "more likely to increase... tensions than to defuse them," and would risk a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Singh instead outlines "a second, more straightforward path to an agreement," under which Iran would have to fully dismantle its program. Singh's description comes as U.S. lawmakers are said to be increasingly warming to a proposal under which Iran would be provided with financial non-sanctions relief in exchange for confidence-building measures related to its nuclear program. The framework was first proposed by Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and described by Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg.
- U.S. officials have confirmed to The Daily Beast the details of a Washington Postreport revealing that Turkey last year deliberately burned roughly 10 spies who were working for Israel in Iran on the country's nuclear program. The Daily Beast quotes former Israeli Mossad chief Danny Yatom describing the move as "an act that brings the Turkish intelligence organization to a position where I assume no one will ever trust it again," while a CIA officer compared the incident to the betrayal of the Cambridge Five, the network of Soviet moles who provided highly sensitive intelligence to Moscow at the dawn of the Cold War. Ankara has categorically denied that it shopped the Iranians to Tehran, but over the weekend Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu lashed out at critics and declared that - if the story is true - then Turkey's intelligence chief Hakan Fidan would have been just "doing his job" by "not letting other intelligence agencies operate in Turkey." It is unlikely that Turkish allies will gladly greet the announcement that Turkish soil is closed to friendly intelligence operations targeting rogue regimes. Meanwhile Turkish diplomatic correspondent Cumali Onal slammed the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for economic and geopolitical missteps that have resulted in Ankara's prestige and influence sliding precipitously. Onal warned that Erdogan's Islamist government was risking diplomatic isolation, and specifically cited Erdogan's continuing hostility toward Israel.
- Two young girls were among the four people killed outside a church Sunday in the Egyptian city of Giza, the latest in what the Associated Press described in early August as a "stepped-up hate campaign" against the country’s Coptic Christian community. Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, subsequently described the wave of anti-Christian attacks as the worst organized violence that Egyptian Copts have faced in 700 years. Islamist supporters of Egypt's former president Mohammed Morsi had within weeks of his early July overthrow begun targeting Christians across the country, blaming them in part for the overthrow of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood-linked government. Scores of Christian churches, homes, businesses, and community centers have been destroyed, and roughly 10 Christians have been murdered in the violence. The concentrated, continuing violence is likely to deepen skepticism that the Muslim Brotherhood is willing to form a pluralistic government guaranteeing equal rights and protections to Egypt's religious minorities.
The Bashar al-Assad regime is engaged in what journalists are describing as a "terror-famine," with half a dozen people already confirmed dead from starvation and the situation likely to worsen as winter takes hold. Regime forces have been strangling rebel-held towns of all humanitarian supplies for almost a year, and a group of Syrian clerics recently had to issue a fatwa allowing war victims to eat cats, dogs, and donkeys for sustenance. Violence has complicated efforts by regime opponents and humanitarian workers to deliver aid to besieged Syrians. Over the weekend, more than 30 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a military checkpoint in central Syria. The attack was linked to the Al Nusra front, an Al Qaeda offshoot, and came just a day after another suicide bombing in Damascus killed more than a dozen people. Seven Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers were recently kidnapped in northwestern Syria, and the fighting has prevented medical personnel from conducting immunization campaigns. The World Health Organization reports that it is receiving reports of a polio outbreak, the first in more than a decade, inside Syria.
Former Mossad chief on reports Turkey deliberately burned Israeli spies in Iran: "Who is going now to trust them?"
- Former Mossad chief on reports Turkey deliberately burned Israeli spies in Iran: "Who is going now to trust them?"
- Intel analysts respond to leaked Iran offer: snap inspections "deceptively easy concession," reflect strategy of "small compromises"
- At least 59 killed in "spate of attacks" in Iraq, as government struggles to deal with Syria spillover
- Extended IAF exercises underscore "apparent message to Iran"
What we’re watching today:
- Turkish officials, including the country's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and its intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, deliberately burned "up to 10 Iranians who had been meeting inside Turkey with their [Israeli] Mossad case officers" by alerting Iran of their existence, according to an expose published late last night by the Washington Post's David Ignatius.The Washington Post cited "knowledgeable sources" as describing "significant" damage to Israeli intelligence. Former Mossad head Maj. Gen. (res) Danny Yatom, speaking on an afternoon conference call organized by The Israel Project, predicted that friendly intelligence agencies would limit their cooperation with Turkey's National Intelligence Organization in the future, saying that the betrayal of trust was "unheard of" in the intelligence community. "Who is going now to trust them? Who is going now to cooperate with them? Who is going now to share sensitive information with them?" Yatom asked. The incident is at least the second reported time that Ankara leaked sensitive Western intelligence to Iran within three years. The Wall Street Journal last week disclosed that Fidan had "pass[ed] to Iran sensitive intelligence collected by the US and Israel." The revelations come at a time of heightened concern regarding Turkish plans - which Ankara doubled down on earlier this month - to pursue a $3.4 billion deal that would see Turkey purchase missile systems from a Chinese firm currently under U.S. sanctions. The Chinese system would require integration with existing NATO systems stationed in Turkey, and according to NATO sources would functionally implant a "virus" in NATO's command and control infrastructure.
- For a second day in a row, coverage of nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran emphasized expressions of optimism while noting that Iranian negotiators have not in fact offered anything substantively concrete or new. Officials quoted by Reuters yesterday described "no apparent narrowing of differences" and worried that what was known about Iran's offer would "allow them to keep their whole program." The Washington Post's Anne Applebaum evaluated "the sudden good cheer" and contrasted it with the lack of any "radical new strand of Iranian thinking about nuclear power" represented by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani or any "profound break from those who have run the Islamic Republic since its inception." She specifically cited concerns over Rouhani's Justice Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, who has for years been subject to intense criticism by human rights groups for his participation in the mass murder of anti-regime dissidents. Leaked details of Iran's offer to the P5+1 indicated that Iran had offered a three-stage plan that would allow Tehran to keep enriching uranium in exchange for snap inspections of known nuclear facilities. The insidery KGS NightWatch security bulletin unpacked the offer and noted that "snap inspections of declared facilities is a deceptively easy concession to make" because "Iran already has been found to have built at least one facility that was not declared." NightWatch compared the offer to ones made by Rouhani when he led Iran's nuclear negotiations in the mid-2000s, during which Iran would "offer small compromises by Iran in return for major concessions by the West and others."
- At least 59 people were killed in what Reuters describes as a "spate of attacks" on mainly Shiite communities across Iraq on Thursday, the latest in a spike in violence driven both directly and indirectly by fighting in neighboring Syria. The more than two-year conflict has deepened sectarian tensions and inflamed national divisions, and has also seen fighters participate in attacks on both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border. Today's blasts, which included a bombing that killed five people on a playground, came in the middle of the Eid al-Adha holiday and also targeted members of the country’s Shabak minority. The bombings are the latest attacks in tit-for-tat violence that has pitted Sunni jihadists against both the Shiite-led government and Shiite militias. Analysts have been worried for months that Iraq is slipping back into the all-out sectarian warfare of 2005-2006, with some concluding that Iraqi violence is "no longer containable" and will itself escalate regionally. The United Nations reported that 979 people were killed Iraqi violence in September, and that more than 4,000 people have been killed since April.
- A major Israeli Air Force exercise continued into its second week today, refocusing attention on what the Washington Post last week called "an apparent message to Iran" that the Jewish state - which has committed to preventing the Islamic republic from succeeding in what is widely seen as a drive to acquire nuclear weapons - was capable of militarily degrading Iranian nuclear assets. The Jerusalem Post described the drills as "aimed at giving the air force the ability to carry out both broad and pinpoint long-range missions." Recent polling indicates that large majorities of Israelis would support unilateral military action against Iran if it became necessary to prevent the country from going nuclear. In line with the assessments of U.S.-based analysts and senators, the Israelis have emphasized that any deal with Iran must put nuclear weapons beyond the regime's reach by forcing Tehran to export its enriched nuclear material and to cease uranium enrichment and plutonium-related activity.
Western policymakers: "No apparent narrowing of differences" in Iran negotiations, Iranian offer "allows them to keep their whole program"
- Western policymakers: "No apparent narrowing of differences" in Iran negotiations, Iranian offer "allows them to keep their whole program"
- Lebanese Shiite cleric urges government to disarm domestic militia groups, as Hezbollah continues fighting in Syria
- Second Hamas tunnel uncovered, deepening fears of terror escalation
- EU officials slam Turkey for "excessive use of force" and "overall absence of dialogue" with opposition
What we’re watching today:
- Talks which concluded today between Iran and the P5+1 in Geneva are being described with optimism in some quarters and pessimism in others, as analysts and policymakers struggled to figure out what exactly the Iranians offered and if the offer would be sufficient to put nuclear weapons beyond the reach of the Iranian regime. Reuters noted that while talks were "serious and candid," senior officials who spoke to the outlet warned that "no breakthroughs had been achieved and many disagreements remained" and that "there had been no apparent narrowing of differences between Tehran and the six nations." The descriptions seem to confirm assessments made a day earlier by Gary Samore, the U.S.'s "WMD Czar" during President Barack Obama's first term, on a conference call hosted by The Israel Project. Samore told the journalists and diplomats on the call that what Iran was publicly offering was "really no different than what we’ve heard from the previous government... from Ahmadinejad’s government" and that "it may be necessary for the U.S. and its allies to proceed with additional sanctions before he recognizes the need to make any really significant concessions." U.S. policymakers who spoke to the Washington Post today echoed Samore's suggestion that further pressure might be called for, with one former official worrying that "what the Iranians appear to have offered allows them to keep their whole program and all their enriched uranium." The Guardian described the Iranian plan as having multiple stages, with confidence-building deals involving "unspecified limits" on Iranian enrichment during early months, followed by acts in the second stage which would "further consolidate" the trust that had been built, ultimately creating a "new equilibrium" for the third stage that would involve intrusive inspections by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi subsequently clarified that limits on enrichment would not actually not be part of the first stage. Members of Congress, top analysts, and the editorial board of the Washington Post have all in recent days noted that such a deal - which would leave Iran with enriched material and the capacity to enrich more - would be unacceptable and would leave the regime with the ability to follow North Korea's example and dash across the nuclear finish line. Citing American weakness, General Hassan Firouzabadi, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, bluntly advised President Obama to take the deal Iran is offering. The next round of negotiations in Geneva is scheduled for November 7-8.
- A top Shiite cleric in Lebanon on Tuesday called for groups within the country to completely disarm, piling on mounting pressure facing Hezbollah to dismantle the militarized state-within-a-state that it has maintained inside Lebanon for decades. Higher Shiite Council deputy head Sheikh Abdel Amir Qabalan demanded that the government "strip all the people of arms," a call that in the context of Lebanese politics functionally means disarming Hezbollah. The Iran-backed Shiite terror group has for decades justified its military and political domination of Lebanon by insisting that it had to maintain its arsenal in order to defend Lebanese territory from Israel. That brand has been shattered, however, by the organization's critical fighting in Syria on behalf of the Iran-allied Bashar al-Assad regime. Blowback from that involvement - including jihadist attacks on Hezbollah strongholds and cross-border attacks on Lebanese territory - has also contributed to criticism of the group. Hezbollah has nonetheless refused to untangle itself from the conflict. Hezbollah-backed Syrian forces today reportedly seized the town of Bweida, after nearly a week of fighting, while the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) claimed today that it killed 50 foreign fighters in Syria, among them members of Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite groups.
- The IDF has announced the discovery and destruction of a second tunnel dug underneath Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, following one disclosed earlier this week that had been built to open up near a kindergarten which authorities believe Palestinian terrorists intended to target. The new tunnel stretched dozens of yards into Israel, and Hamas terrorists may have intended to pack it with explosives in the process of launching a spectacular attack. Veteran Israeli war correspondent Ron Ben Yishai suggested that the tunnel indicates ongoing efforts by Hamas to conduct terrorism against Israelis, an evaluation that aligns with the worries of analysts who worry that the Iran-backed terror group may be trying to halt a slide in its stature by conducting a spectacular terror attack.
An annual European Union report dedicated to assessing Turkey's progress in ascending to the bloc has slammed Ankara for an array of human rights and civil rights violations, though the European Commission which released the report Wednesday did back a long delayed plan to open a new policy area for talks. The Commission described "serious concerns" over "the excessive use of force by police and the overall absence of dialogue" that marked mass anti-government protests in May and June. The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has violently cracked down on demonstrators, suppressed coverage of the events, restricted even social media coverage, lashed out at critics as conspiracists, instigated
counter-protests at the risk of violence, conducted mass arrest sweeps, and in general embraced what critics blasted as a majoritarianism that bordered on authoritarianism. The international community had already months ago reached the point where German Chancellor Angela Merkel was openly suggesting that Ankara’s domestic repression would damage Turkey’s efforts to join the E.U.
Discovery of advanced Hamas tunnel, suspected kindergarten terror plot deepens fears of spectacular terror attack
- Discovery of advanced Hamas tunnel, suspected kindergarten terror plot deepens fears of spectacular terror attack
- Hezbollah accused of pushing oil drilling to start conflict with Israel, scrambles to mobilize allies
- Senator, Washington Post, top analysts pile on criticism of plan to let Iran keep enriching uranium
- Dozens injured as family throws hand grenade into Iranian prison to try to halt execution
What we’re watching today:
- Israeli soldiers this weekend uncovered a mile-and-a-half-long tunnel running between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and ending near an Israeli kindergarten, underscoring concerns that the Iran-backed terror group is seeking to rebuild its fractured credibility with a spectacular terror attack. The left-leaning Israeli paper Ha'aretz reported that the tunnel was "part of a broader tunnel-building project that is estimated to have cost millions of dollars." Hamas has used more primitive tunnels in the past to conduct operations on Israeli soil, most notably the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, which was followed by Israel's 2006 Operation Summer Rains. Security officials estimate that this tunnel – which IDF Spokesman Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai described as "one of the most advanced terror tunnels to be uncovered in recent years" – was intended to facilitate an attack on the nearby kindergarten. Hamas's regional and domestic positions have been in free fall for almost a year. Israel's November 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense has by all appearances deterred the Palestinian group from launching rockets and missiles and Israel, cutting off a traditional source of credibility. Meanwhile Cairo's post-Muslim Brotherhood government has put Hamas on notice that activity in the Sinai Peninsula will not be tolerated. Analysts fear that, having been stymied in the Sinai and unable to bear the costs of another rocket war, Hamas will shift to a strategy of targeted terror attacks. A spokesman for Hamas's Al-Qassam Brigades posted on Twitter that "thousands" of tunnels would be dug in response to the discovery.
- The Washington Post's editorial this morning emphasizes that Iran's "advanced centrifuges and the Arak [plutonium] reactor must now be part of any deal" that would provide Tehran with sanctions relief, since the "new facts" established by Iran's recent installation of advanced uranium and plutonium technology have "torn some big holes" in what might have been a more reliable deal even a year ago. Iran has signaled that it is prepared to offer limited concessions in exchange for Western concessions on sanctions, including limiting uranium enrichment to 3.5%. The Post notes that Iran's advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges "can process uranium far more quickly [than before, and] these new machines create a threat of an Iranian nuclear breakout beyond that posed by the 20 percent stockpile." This evaluation is in line with analyst estimates that Iran could go from 3.5% purity to weapons-grade purity quickly enough to evade Western detection. Meanwhile Iran's Arak complex, which involves both a heavy water production facility and a reactor that would use that heavy water for plutonium production, would give Iran the material for two nuclear bombs every year. U.S. lawmakers have called on Iran to, among other things, completely dismantle its nuclear program and - critically - to ship out all enriched uranium. Iran has brushed aside the expectations, with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi noting on Sunday that Tehran would not agree to export its stockpile of enriched uranium. The posture has been dubbed by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Mark Dubowitz and Reuel Marc Gerecht as Iran's strategy of simultaneously pursuing both nuclear weapons and sanctions relief. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) took to The Telegraph this weekend to similarly blast suggestions that the West should accept "superficial concessions" such as limiting enrichment to 3.5%, describing such a potential agreement as "appeasement."
- Hezbollah allies are scrambling to fend off charges that the Iran-backed terror group is pushing underwater drilling in order to manufacture a conflict with Israel, with Michel Aoun saying late last week that Lebanon's caretaker government was not moving fast enough to open up disputed underwater areas to exploration. Aoun is head of the Hezbollah-allied Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). At stake are three 'blocks' along the contested Israeli-Lebanese maritime border. Both Hezbollah and Lebanon's caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil - who, like Aoun, is a member of the Hezbollah-allied FPM - have been pushing Beirut to issue tenders to energy companies that would explore and eventually drill in those areas. The move would be a de facto claim of sovereignty over the contested territory, and as a matter of black letter international law, Israel would be forced to act either legally or militarily or both. Energy companies had last week expressed trepidation over drilling in the disputed areas, after which Hezollah and Hezbollah-allied politicians doubled down. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea last week blasted the group for trying to create "another front with Israel" by forcing the issue of drilling in contested waters, and National Liberal Party leader Dori Chamoun the same day criticized Hezbollah for trying to cause "another clash with Israel" using oil rights. Hezbollah's brand as a Lebanese organization protecting Lebanese territory from Israel has been shattered by its involvement in the Syrian conflict on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime, and observers fear that the group may be trying to drag Lebanon into war with Israel so as to restore its image.
- Twenty-eight people were injured when relatives of an Iranian prisoner set to be executed threw a hand grenade into the prison where he was being kept in a failed attempt to prevent the execution. The attack will be read against the backdrop of ongoing executions and human rights violations being committed by the administration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The regime is on pace to match last year's mark of 500 executions, and reform leaders in Iran have in recent weeks called attention to the plights of still-imprisoned political dissidents. Rouhani had already triggered alarm bells among human rights activists when he nominated Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi - long a target of human rights criticism for his role in the mass murders of political prisoners - to be his Justice Minister. Rouhani himself has a history of calling for the execution of anti-regime activists.