Iran installs over 1,000 next-generation centrifuges, regime positioned for undetectable breakout by mid-2014
- Iran installs over 1,000 next-generation centrifuges regime positioned for undetectable breakout by mid-2014
- Iran: "Flames of outrage" will engulf Israel if West strikes Syria
- In regional deja vu, Sinai instability threatens international peacekeeping force
- Organisation of Islamic Cooperation calls for "decisive action" against Syria
What we’re watching today:
- Iran has made progress in locking in the nuclear infrastructure needed to rush across the nuclear finish line undetected, installing over 1,000 IR-2m centrifuges at its Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant, according to a report [PDF] released today by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The quarterly report from the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog also notes that Tehran has installed another 1,861 less-advanced IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz, which the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) notes puts the regime on track to achieve a "'critical capability' as of mid-2014, or perhaps sooner." At stake are the evaluations of some analysts that the West would be able to detect a political decision by Tehran to go nuclear and intervene to block it. Iran's enhanced uranium enrichment capabilities strain those assumptions. Instead, Iran is set to achieve a pace and scope of enrichment that would allow it to enrich a sufficient amount of weapons-grade nuclear material "before inspectors could detect the breakout." ISIS does note "positive aspects" in the report, describing an IAEA assessment that Iran has made only 10 fuel assemblies for its Arak heavy water reactor, falling short of its goal of having 55 assemblies. The reactor is part of a larger Arak complex, which includes a reactor that - if brought online - would enable Iran to produce plutonium sufficient for two nuclear bombs every year.
- Iranian officials reemphasized Tuesday that Israel would be targeted in the aftermath of Western strikes against Syria, echoing threats made by both Iran and Syria throughout the weekend and into Monday. Mansur Haqiqatpur, who The New York Times describes as 'an influential member of Parliament', announced that a U.S. strike against Damascus would engender "flames of outrage" toward the Jewish state. His comments echo those made earlier in the week by Hossein Sheikholeslam, the director of Parliament's International Affairs Committee, threatening that that Israel would be the "first victim" of such a strike. They also align with rhetoric being issued from Damascus, including declarations that Israel will "burn with the fire of war." In April, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of Iran’s Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, threatened the Jewish state with annihilation if Syria was attacked. The eliminationist rhetoric - to say nothing of the explicit, repeated, and consistent threats against a close American ally - is unlikely to boost the cases of analysts who suggest that moderates in Iran may prevail in shifting the Islamic republic's foreign policy posture.
- Deepening instability in the Sinai Peninsula is straining peacekeeping forces in the territory, generating fears that the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) may soon find itself endangered by the same dynamics that have imperiled peacekeeping forces across the Middle East. The MFO, which serves as the guarantor of the 1979 peace treaty between Cario and Jerusalem, has recently had to up security around its northern base in response to an uptick in violence across the Peninsula. Last week at least 25 Egyptian police officers were killed in "execution-style" slayings by suspected jihadists. The MFO is not the only international peacekeeping force in the Middle East being buffeted by regional uncertainty and violence. The United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been pointedly threatened by Hezbollah, and Turkey is in the process of withdrawing parts of its contribution from the mission. The peacekeeping force patrolling the Israeli-Syrian border (UNDOF), meanwhile, has seen several countries withdraw their contributions in recent months.
- The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a 57-member state bloc described as "the collective voice of the Muslim world," on Wednesday called for "decisive action" against Syria in response to what is widely suspected to be the use of chemical weapons by the regime against rebel-controlled suburbs of Damascus. An OIC statement described the assault as "a blatant affront to all religious and moral values and a deliberate disregard of international laws and norms," and called on the United Nations Security Council to take "a unified position against this monstrous crime and its perpetrators." The stance echoes even more definitive declarations from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a consortium of Gulf states regionally aligned against Iran and Iranian-backed elements - including the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon - which earlier condemned the attack and called on the international community to take action. Divisions along sectarian lines, driven by the Syrian conflict, have been generating steadily increasing tensions. Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal last June accused Damascus of conducting "genocide" against largely Sunni rebel forces.
- Syria and Iran threaten to attack Israel as Kerry describes chemical weapons use as "undeniable"
- Reuters: U.N. report will describe Iranian advances toward uranium and plutonium nuclear weapons
- State Dept. denies that Palestinians have suspended peace talks, after three Palestinians killed in clashes with IDF
- Egypt security source: Army battling jihadists from dozens of countries in Sinai Peninsula
What we’re watching today:
- Secretary of State John Kerry this afternoon labeled Syria's use of chemical weapons "undeniable," declaring that U.S. officials will soon release "additional information" about what is widely believed to be a nerve gas attack conducted by the Bashar al-Assad regime against rebel-held suburbs of Damascus last week. Kerry also described the regime's decision to allow a U.N. inspection team to visit the site of the attack - which came after the regime had continued to heavily shell the area - as "too late to be credible." Reuters evaluated the significance of the speech as a signal that "the United States was edging closer to a possible military response." Kerry's statement came on a day in which both Syria and Iran explicitly threatened to attack Israel if the West attempts to intervene in the Syrian conflict. Halef al-Muftah, a member of the Syrian Ba'ath national council, and until recently the Syrian propaganda minister's aide, said Monday that Israel would "come under fire" if Syria was attacked by the United States. The threats from Damascus explicitly echoed ones made by Iran. Hossein Sheikholeslam, the director of the Iranian parliament’s international affairs committee, said on Monday that Israel would be "the first victim of an attack on Syria," and that Damascus would attack Israel "with severity."
- Reuters reports that a soon-to-be-released report from the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog will show that Iran is pushing ahead with the development of nuclear infrastructure capable of providing Tehran with the option of building uranium- and plutonium-based nuclear weapons. Regarding the plutonium track, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected to report that Iran is making progress on activating its reactor at Arak, and Reuters conveys the assessment of Western experts indicating that the reactor "could yield plutonium for bombs once operational." Regarding the uranium track, this week's IAEA report will describe the ongoing installation of advanced IR-2m centrifuges, which are capable of enriching nuclear material at a pace orders of magnitude faster than previous technology. At stake is when Iran will be capable of conducting an undetected breakout, rushing across the nuclear finish line after a political decision is made to do so, but without the West having sufficient time to detect, assess, and intervene to stop the decision. Reuters quotes a report released last month by the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security evaluating that Iran will have the capability by mid-2014.
- The State Department this morning rushed to emphasize that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were ongoing - "sustained and serious" was Foggy Bottom's exact language - after Palestinian negotiators reportedly called off a meeting between Jerusalem and Ramallah in the aftermath of an incident this morning in which three Palestinians were shot and killed in clashes with Israeli troops in the Qalandiya refugee camp. Videos of the incident posted to the Internet showed Palestinian youths stationed on rooftops hurling rocks at an Israeli military jeep that had become trapped in an alley. The soldiers were in the camp seeking to arrest a terror suspect who had been recently released from prison. Posters of the three Palestinians killed in the clashes described them as martyrs, and members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades terror group attended the funerals for the three. An Israeli border police spokesman described the scene as marked by "large violent crowds" totaling some 1,500 people, as well as the use of firebombs against the Israeli forces.
- An Arabic-language Egyptian outlet reports on ongoing efforts by the country's military to quell unrest in the Egyptian-controlled Sinai Peninsula, as the army battles in territory that has been become - according to German intelligence - the world's main jihadist training ground. A security source described the achievements of security forces, describing an array of actions against terrorist infrastructure and terrorists themselves. The source claims that the army has managed to destroy 85 percent of the smuggling tunnels that link the Sinai Peninsula to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and which Cairo blames for facilitating the movement of materials and personnel used to attack Egyptian soldiers and police officers. More pointedly, reports describe jihadists from dozens foreign nationalities as being engaged in battles against Egyptian forces.
There’s no better way to appreciate Israel than to see it from the air. And there’s no better way to understand the country’s security concerns and survival needs for defensible borders as part of a lasting peace with the Palestinians.
Imagine you were on a tour of Israel by helicopter. What would you see? What are the facts on the ground?
The first thing you’d see and understand is how incredibly narrow the country is within its pre-1967 border – only nine miles across at its narrowest point.
You’d also see how the Judean hills command a strategic position that dominates the coastal plain where 70 percent of Israelis live. You would see how vulnerable Israel’s only international airport, Ben Gurion, could be to attack from those hills.
We’d show you much of the security fence that over the past three years has kept Israel safe from suicide bombs and allowed the Palestinian economy to flourish. We’d hover over Jerusalem’s holy sites and see how the city is an intricate tapestry of Jewish and Arab neighborhoods.
Finally we’d fly close to the border with the Gaza Strip and see the Israeli towns and villages constantly subjected to Hamas rocket and mortar fire.
We invite you to take a virtual tour with us. Click on the icons for short videos and on the numbers for photographs. For additional information about Israel’s security, we suggest this short video.
- Twin car bombings target Sunni mosques in Lebanon, triggering fears of Sunni-Shiite terror cycle
- After rocket attack, IAF conducts overnight pinpoint strike in Lebanon against terror group that boasted of erecting "missile batteries to directly attack Israeli targets"
- WaPo: "Dramatic shift in [Egyptian] public opinion" toward army action against Muslim Brotherhood
- Treasury blacklists four top Hezbollah officials, declares group is "significant global terrorist threat" not "resistance" organization
What we’re watching today:
- Twin car bombings targeted Sunni mosques in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Friday, killing at least 42 people and generating fears that Lebanon is slipping into cyclical sectarian violence of the kind that has recently gripped Iraq. The attacks came eight days after a car bomb detonated in Hezbollah's southern Beirut stronghold of Dahiyeh killed at least 22 people and injured hundreds. That bombing itself was the second such attack in Dahiyeh in as many months, and came after Sunni groups threatened to target Hezbollah in Lebanon in retaliation for Lebanon's activities on behalf of the Shiite-backed Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah subsequently vowed to double the group's deployment in Syria, and Hezbollah this week sought to contain future blowback by transforming its southern Beirut areas into what Agence France Presse described as a "fortress."
- Israeli Air Force jets conducted a pin-point strike on a target in southern Lebanon Friday morning, less than a full day after four rockets were fired at Israel out of the Hezbollah-dominated region. A statement by the Israeli Defense Forces described the target as “located between Beirut and Sidon” and reiterated that the Israeli government holds the Lebanese government responsible for attacks emanating from within Beirut’s sovereign borders. Debate in the hours after the strike revolved around the likely target, which social media accounts and news outlets narrowed to the Na'ameh area. The region contains military infrastructure controlled by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization aligned with Iran that earlier this year was activated by Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime and bragged about setting up "missile batteries to directly attack Israeli targets." PFLP-GC officials nonetheless expressed surprise at the overnight IAF action. Very early speculation regarding the raid had also suggested that the IAF may have been targeting Hezbollah or the Al Qaeda-linked group Abdullah Azzam Brigades (AAB). The rocket attack on Israel that preceded the IAF action took place out of Hezbollah territory, and were claimed by the AAB. The sheer range of different groups linked to these incidents will be read against a general deterioration of security in southern Lebanon. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) had begun withdrawing from the region last spring, creating a power vacuum that analysts predicted at the time would be filled in by terror groups. Alongside the LAF’s withdrawal, Hezbollah began pointedly threatening the U.N.’s peacekeeping force along the Israeli-Lebanese border, and E.U. contributors have threatened to withdraw their troops due to the environment.
- Supporters of former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-backed government demonstrated Friday in "Friday of Martyrs" marches, a week after the Brotherhood held "Day of Rage" protests during which over 60 people were killed in violence the Washington Post described as being between "the security forces, protesters and armed civilians on both sides of the nation’s widening political divide." Late reports Friday afternoon had one person dying and over 50 injured in today's marches. Meanwhile Egyptian security forces arrested some 40 people for involvement in what the Daily Beast describes as "the Muslim Brotherhood's war on Coptic Christians." The army, which backs the current interim government, also moved to arrest some Brotherhood officials in anticipation of today's marches. A Washington Post article published this morning described a "dramatic shift in [Egyptian] public opinion" over the last two years, with sentiment turning in favor of direct action against the Muslim Brotherhood by the military. The army's recent arrest of the Brotherhood's Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie was broadly hailed by Egyptian media, with several television network presenters congratulating Egyptians on the development, and one journalist calling the arrest "joyful news."
- The U.S. Treasury department on Thursday designated four top members of Hezbollah as terrorists, describing the Iran-backed group as "a significant global terrorist threat" and noting that the designations are in tension with claims - made both by Hezbollah and by some foreign policy analysts - that the group is an indigenous Lebanese "resistance" organization. The four men conducted activities on behalf of Hezbollah in Iraq, Syria, and throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The U.S. and its allies have increasingly sought financial means to pressure the organization. In June Treasury designated four Lebanese nationals for conducting Hezbollah-linked operations in western Africa. Around the same time, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council unanimously decided to impose sweeping sanctions against Hezbollah and Lebanon, a situation that experts evaluated "could suffocate the country." Hezbollah’s willingness to promote Iranian interests via global terror campaigns, but at the expense of Lebanon's economic and financial stability, has been used by analysts to ridicule the suggestion that Hezbollah is not an Iranian proxy.
- Four rockets launched at Israel from Lebanon, highlighting Hezbollah-driven regional instability
- U.S. think tank: photos show Iran in "final stages" of destroying evidence at suspected nuke warhead development site
- Turkey lashes out at U.S. after White House condemns Turkish PM's anti-Jewish conspiracy theory
- Daily Beast: Muslim Brotherhood's anti-Christian campaign shows "true colors." Grassroots Christian group condemns "modern pogrom"
What we’re watching today:
- The Israeli military (IDF) has confirmed that four rockets were fired this morning from Lebanon into Israel. One rocket was intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system, while the other three fell into open areas. Early coverage revolved around responsibility for the attack, which was launched from territories controlled by Hezbollah and patrolled by personnel from the Iran-backed terror group and their Lebanese allies from the Amal Movement. The IDF preliminarily linked the attack to a "global jihad" group, which in the context of Lebanon would likely mean the Abdullah Azzam Brigades (AAB), a U.S.-designated terrorist group that has launched attacks against both Israel and the Shiite terror group Hezbollah. AAB reportedly issued an early claim of responsibility for today's attacks that, if confirmed, would indicate that Sunni jihad groups are capable of operating in areas controlled by Hezbollah. The dynamic would indicate a general deterioration in Lebanon's security. Some US-based analysts have alternatively suggested that it's unlikely a Sunni extremist group would have been able to gain sufficient access to Hezbollah-controlled territories to launch today's attack, and that Hezbollah launched the rockets. Hezbollah is known to possess tens of thousands of rockets and missiles pointed at Israel, and has in recent days threatened to saturation bomb Israeli population centers. According to Foundation for Defense of Democracies fellow Tony Badran, the Iran-backed group has been seeking to generate pretexts for cracking down on Sunnis in Lebanon. If Hezbollah was involved in today's launch, it would indicate that the group is ramping up for a widespread internal Lebanese conflict, which would risk sustained instability in Lebanon and throughout the region.
- Iran "appears to be in the final stages of modifying" a site where it is suspected the regime conducted tests relevant to the development of nuclear warheads, according to new photos and analysis published by the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS). Iranian scientists are suspected of using the Parchin facility to test explosive triggers. Tehran has rejected efforts by Western diplomats to secure access to Parchin, and has instead engaged in a systematic campaign to asphalt the area and remove soil samples. The effect, according to IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, is that "it may no longer be possible to find anything even if we have access to the site." The Associated Press also quotes Olli Heinonen, the previous head of the IAEA's Iran probe, noting that any inspections now could be inconclusive because of the deliberate modifications. Their evaluations align uneasily with the claims of some proponents of engaging Iran, who suggest that Tehran could make a major concession by opening up Parchin.
- Diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Turkey escalated today, with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu lashing out at Washington after U.S. officials criticized a recent speech by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan as "offensive, unsubstantiated, and wrong." Erdogan had declared, based on a 2011 video of a French-Jewish philosopher that he found online, that Israel had plotted to overthrow former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The White House blasted the conspiracy theory, prompting Davutoglu to declare that Ankara "could not accept [the] condemnation." Meanwhile analysts and journalists continued to unpack the significance of Erdogan's "histrionics" to Turkish foreign policy. Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg bluntly described Erdogan as "a semi-unhinged bigot" and suggested that the prime minister's anti-Semitism was "making him stupid." The Wall Street Journal contextualized his statements as the result of Erdogan being "deeply upset by the ousting of its Islamic ally from power in Egypt," noting that he "has struck an increasingly anti-U.S., anti-Western, anti-Semitic and, since Tuesday, also an anti-Arab tone" and is "increasingly out of touch with reality." The result, the outlet suggests, is that "Turkey is becoming increasingly isolated in the Middle East."
- The Daily Beast describes the "Muslim Brotherhood's war on Coptic Christians," which columnist Kirsten Powers writes "show[s] the world its true colors." In recent days over 40 churches have been looted and burned, on top of another 23 that have been damaged in attacks. Christian officials have been attacked, and Islamists paraded nuns through the streets as captives after burning their school. Powers notes that the widespread anti-Christian campaign - the worst organized violence against Copts in over 700 years - is in tension with the Brotherhood's gestures toward having renounced violence, and that the attacks are being incited by official Brotherhood outlets and platforms. The U.S. grassroots movement Christians United for Israel circulated a statement today condemning the violence, describing it as "a modern pogrom," and calling for the "immediate passage of H.R. 301," legislation which would seek to spotlight and halt such abuses.
Egyptian army moves against top Muslim Brotherhood figures, gets backing from U.S. Gulf allies, domestic media, investors
- Egyptian army moves against top Muslim Brotherhood figures, gets backing from U.S. Gulf allies, domestic media, investors
- Top Iranian adviser: Supreme Leader sets nuclear policy, will ensure that new president follows "same trend strategically as former government"
- Gulf states slam Hezbollah chief after he commits to doubling troops in Syria
- Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees flood into Iraq, reigniting fears of sectarian violence
What we’re watching today:
- The Washington Post describes moves being made by traditional American allies in the Gulf designed to bolster the Egyptian military as it moves to quell unrest in the country. Over 1,000 Egyptians have in recent days been killed in clashes between the army and supporters of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, as well as in attacks by Islamists on Christians and security officials. Riyadh yesterday pledged to replace any aid that Egypt might lose if Western governments restrict assistance to Cairo in the wake of the army's actions against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists. The Daily Beast yesterday passed on statements from the office of Sen. Patrick Leahy to the effect that the Obama administration had already secretly suspended military aid to Egypt, a characterization that the administration today denied. Today Egyptian forces arrested Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Leader Mohamed Badie on charges of inciting murder, after violence on July 8 resulted in the deaths of at least 55 people outside Cairo’s Republican Guard headquarters. Egyptian media hailed the arrest, with several television network presenters congratulating Egyptians on the development, and one calling the arrest “joyful news.” Cairo’s main stock index responded to the arrest by jumping 1.1 percent. Morsi's one-year tenure was marked by systematic economic mismanagement, which brought the country's economy to the brink of collapse and which was so severe that Morsi may face criminal charges over his policies.
- A top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared this week that Iran would never suspend its nuclear activities, but explained to the Associated Press - per Voice Of America - that Tehran would at least 'tone down its rhetoric.' Ali Akbar Velayati, who advises Khamenei on nuclear issues, also emphasized in his interview that Iran's posture on nuclear issues was set by the supreme leader, and that guiding "principles" set by Khamenei would ensure that the administration of newly inaugurated President Hassan Rouhani would follow "the same trend strategically as the former government." Velayati’s comments about Iranian nuclear activity come alongside recent revelations that Iran is making sustained advances in developing ballistic missiles. A recently published Pentagon report assessed that Tehran may develop missiles capable of striking the United States by 2015. Satellite imagery published earlier this month by Jane’s Defense Weekly indicated that Iran has built a new rocket launch site “most likely used for testing ballistic missiles.” The Iranian regime is widely suspected – including by the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog group – of having used its Parchin facility to conduct research into developing nuclear warheads.
- The Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Tuesday slammed Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah for making "irresponsible" and "contradictory" statements, after Nasrallah gave a fiery speech last week promising to double the number of troops that the Iran-backed terror group has fighting in Syria. The GCC earlier this summer committed to imposing financial sanctions against Hezbollah over its regional and global activities. Gulf countries blame Hezbollah for fomenting unrest within their borders, and for playing a critical role in recent advances by the Syrian army against largely Sunni opposition groups. GCC officials have made a point of emphasizing that their targeting of Hezbollah is "more comprehensive" than a recent E.U. decision to designate the group, inasmuch as the Europeans only blacklisted Hezbollah's so-called "military wing" while the Gulf nations' actions apply to all of Hezbollah. Hezbollah officials have repeatedly denied that the E.U.'s distinction is a tenable or accurate description of the organization's structure.
- Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have poured into northern Iraq this week, after the Kurdish Regional Government that controls the area opened up a temporary bridge. A U.N. agency charged with helping to care for the refugees described the flood of refugees as "among the largest we have so far seen during the conflict." In Jordan, where over half a million Syrian refugees are estimated to have fled, the economic and demographic effects of the crisis have strained the government's ability to cope. In Iraq, the risks of instability are compounded by sectarian dynamics. Sunni extremists in Iraq and Syria are known to cooperate with each other. On the Shiite side concerns have been raised that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is turning a blind eye to Iranian weapons shipments, and Iran-backed militias have for several years been described by U.S. military officials as the single gravest threat to Iraqi stability.
"Execution-style" killings of Egyptian police officers raise stakes as U.S. Middle East allies throw support behind army
- "Execution-style" killings of Egyptian police officers raise stakes as U.S. Middle East allies throw support behind army
- Amid sectarian bombings, Hezbollah chief renews commitment to battling for Syrian regime
- Reports: Reconciliation meeting between Hamas and Fatah "failed to make progress"
- U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.: Pro-Hezbollah Swiss official "unfit for continued service" at U.N.
What we’re watching today:
- At least 25 Egyptian police officers were murdered this morning in what the Associated Press describes as "execution-style" killings, with suspected Islamists ambushing two police minibuses traveling near border between Sinai Peninsula and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.The attackers forced the officers to kneel on the ground before shooting them in the backs of their heads, raising to more than 70 the number of security officials killed in recent clashes across Egypt. The Telegraph notes that the killings occurred "after 36 Islamist prisoners were killed in an attempted jailbreak," and comments that the two incidents are likely to "deepen the turmoil roiling the country, where nearly 1,000 people have been killed in clashes between security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi since last Wednesday." Meanwhile regional actors are aligning themselves for and against the Egyptian army and the Muslim Brotherhood. Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur today urged the Egyptian army to "remain firm and strong" in seeking to quell Egyptian unrest, echoing the stance of Saudi King Abdullah, who according to the Wall Street Journal pledged support over the weekend "for what he called Egypt's fight against 'terrorism and extremism.'"
- Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah last Friday literally doubled down on his organization's commitment to battle on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, declaring that "if we have a thousand fighters in Syria, they will become 2,000, and if we have 5,000 fighters in Syria, they will become 10,000." The boasts and threats came a day after a car bomb ripped through Hezbollah's stronghold in the southern Beirut district of Dahiyeh. The attack was claimed by a previously unknown jihadist group, which described the car bombing as retaliation for Hezbollah's critical role in helping the Assad regime erode nearly two years of gains by the largely Sunni rebels. Hezbollah has been under increasingly vocal criticism by Lebanese officials for entangling the country in the Syrian war, and the leader of one of the country’s largest Christian political parties declared that the Iran-backed terror group was "plung[ing] Lebanon into fire." A top Hezbollah commander was reportedly killed last week during a battle in Syria outside of Damascus.
- Palestinian media sources describe a meeting held late Sunday between Hamas and Fatah as having "failed to make progress" in achieving reconciliation between the two Palestinian factions, with Hamas rejecting calls to hold general elections in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and in Fatah-controlled West Bank territories. Efforts to bring the territories under a single Palestinian government have repeatedly failed despite pledges from both sides to make progress. A reconciliation deal inked in 2011 had the two sides agreeing to cease politically motivated arrests, but Fatah officials accused Hamas of targeting the group's members as recently as this weekend. Hamas accused Fatah of arresting six Hamas members in the West Bank, while Fatah slammed Hamas for detaining Fatah affiliates in the Gaza Strip. Establishing a single government capable of overseeing currently divided Palestinian territories is often considered a prerequisite to establishing a viable Palestinian state. A single state whose territories are ruled by competing governments is almost by definition a failed state.
- U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power slammed the Swiss government last week for nominating Jean Ziegler - who has defended Hezbollah, Holocaust deniers, and the Gaddafi regime - for a position on the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Power tweeted that Ziegler was “unfit for continued service” at the UNHRC, a body that has come under repeated and consistent criticism as one that allows illiberal regimes and their supporters to target the Jewish state. Ziegler generated controversy in 2006 by telling an interviewer that he "refuse[d] to describe Hezbollah as a terrorist group." The European Union later unanimously blacklisted Hezbollah's "military wing" as a terrorist group.
Hundreds killed in clashes between Egyptian army and Islamists, as Muslim Brotherhood targets government and Christian buildings
- Hundreds killed in clashes between Egyptian army and Islamists, as Muslim Brotherhood targets government and Christian buildings
- Car bomb rips through Hezbollah stronghold, underlining fears of Syria spillover
- Reports: rebels using Saudi weapons to slow regime offensive
- Moody's reaffirms Israel's A1 rating, cites U.S. ties and "high-tech... and entrepreneurial culture"
What we’re watching today:
- The Egyptian Health Ministry reported this evening that renewed violence in Egypt has left at least 638 dead and nearly 4,000 injured, as the country braced for promised Friday protests by supporters of the country's former Muslim Brotherhood-linked President Mohammed Morsi. The BBC described Egyptian TV footage showing firefighters attempting to rescue employees from a government building near Cairo that had been stormed and set on fire by Brotherhood members, and seven Egyptian soldiers were shot and killed today in the Sinai Peninsula. Arabic media sources characterized ongoing attacks on Christians as "frenzied," stating that "Morsi loyalists orchestrated nationwide assaults on Christian targets, wreaking havoc on churches, homes, and Christian-owned businesses." Egyptian officials yesterday declared a state of emergency, and police officers have been given the authorization to use deadly force. President Barack Obama spoke on the crisis this afternoon. While acknowledging that Morsi's government "was not inclusive and did not respect the views of all Egyptians," the President "strongly condemned" the army-backed interim government for cracking down on pro-Morsi elements and announced the cancellation of a joint military exercise with the Egyptian military.
- A car bomb detonated today in the southern Dahiyeh of Beirut killed at least 18 people and wounded over 200. The area is a Hezbollah stronghold, and was targeted by another car bomb last July that wounded roughly 50 people. A statement issued today by a previously unknown Sunni Islamist group calling itself the Brigades of Aisha claimed responsibility for both blasts.The Daily Star quoted a local Hezbollah supporter declaring that "they promised us more and we're ready," a reference to threats by Sunni jihadists to target Hezbollah infrastructure inside Lebanon in retaliation for Hezbollah's involvement in the Syrian conflict on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime. TIME linked the explosion to the "frequently-voiced fear that the Syrian crisis could engulf the region." Lebanese public figures had become increasingly vocal in recent weeks in their demands that Hezbollah untangle itself from the war, and earlier this week Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces party, accused the Iran-backed terror group of plunging Lebanon "into fire."
- Missiles supplied by Saudi Arabia are playing a key role in efforts by Syrian rebels to halt months of advances by the Bashar al-Assad regime. Russian-designed Konkurs anti-tank weapons were used this week in battles near the Jordanian border and around Damascus. Reuters outlined today the "hands-on" Saudi approach to supplying the largely Sunni opposition with arms, including "rocket launchers and other lethal equipment." Anti-government activists declared this afternoon that rebels had downed a Syrian warplane, a claim that if confirmed would be read alongside analyst conclusions that opposition forces cannot defeat Damascus without a response to the regime's air assets. Meanwhile rebel groups described renewed fighting between anti-government forces and Hezbollah soldiers backing the Syrian regime. Opposition groups also claimed today that they captured an Iranian soldier, uploading video to YouTube as proof of the claim.
- Moody's today affirmed Israel's A1 rating, primarily citing the resilience and growth of the Jewish state's economy but also emphasizing Jerusalem's close ties with the U.S., its diplomatic accords with Egypt and Jordan, and its efforts to secure peace with the Palestinians. The rating agency declared that Israel's "high-tech niche and entrepreneurial culture have continued to underpin its latent dynamism," and noted that official reserves have risen "to record high levels." Israel's start-up culture most recently became global news when the Israeli maps mobile application Waze was purchased by Google for over one billion dollars. A few months ago billionaire investor Warren Buffett declared that Israel is the "most promising investment hub" outside of the United States. A recent innovation summit highlighted how Israeli knowledge and technology could be used to help solve some of Asia's most pressing problems.
Egypt struggles to restore order as Morsi supporters clash with army, launch widespread attacks against Christians
Egypt struggles to restore order as Morsi supporters clash with army, launch widespread attacks against Christians
Kerry: Israel "completely upfront" with U.S. and Palestinians about new West Bank construction. Says activity should not derail talks.
Iranian diplomats: Hamas seeking reconciliation with Tehran, "showed much interest in healing wounds"
Gaza-based Palestinians launch rockets overnight into Israel
What we are watching:
- The Egyptian government has imposed a curfew in major cities, after clashes today between the army and supporters of Egypt's former Muslim Brotherhood-linked president Mohammed Morsi reportedly killed over 230 protesters and 43 police officers. In retaliation to the crackdown, Morsi supporters launched widespread attacks against Christians and Christian buildings across Egypt. Pro-Morsi elements have been steadily escalating violence against Copts for weeks. Today attackers reportedly destroyed a 4th century church, one of the oldest in Egypt, and set fire to a Christian youth center in Fayoum. Multiple other churches and homes were also attacked. Coptic officials responded by calling for national unity in the face of the violence. The Egyptian army seems to have regained control over areas of Cairo where Muslim Brotherhood members been protesting, and Cairo is urging Morsi supporters to "listen to the voice of reason" and cease engaging in violence.
- Secretary of State John Kerry today clarified that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been "completely upfront with me and with [Palestinian Authority] President Abbas" regarding a recent announcement that Israel plans to build new homes beyond the Jewish state's 1948 borders. Kerry conveyed Netanyahu's clarification that the building would be happening "within the so-called blocs" that are widely expected to end up controlled by Israel under any realistic final status agreement, and that they would "not have any impact on the capacity to have a peace agreement." Palestinian diplomats had publicly expressed surprise at the announcement and explicitly suggested that it could derail peace talks. Kerry brushed aside suggestions that the new construction should derail negotiations, and emphasized that "if you resolve the borders of Israel – and you can only do that also resolving the security issues for Israel – you have resolved any questions about settlements, because then you know what is in Israel and what is not."
- Analysts have begun to unpack the implication of reports -published in Arabic and Israeli news outlets last week - to the effect that Hamas has rebuilt ties with Iran and with Tehran's Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah. The reports detailed meetings which took place at Iran's Beirut embassy and which included top Hamas officials. Ali Hashem, the Al-Mayadeen news network's chief correspondent, yesterday published additional context around the rapprochement. Hashem described how "on the day of Hassan Rouhani's inauguration, the president welcomed the old resistance triad, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad." He quoted a Tehran source explaining that "after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt... Hamas showed much interest in healing the wounds, so meetings became very fruitful, and they were mainly in Beirut." As long as Hamas remains on the same page as Tehran regarding the eradication of Israel, another Iranian source emphasized, "we don't mind them having different views on any issue."
- Palestinian fighters in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip fired rockets at Israel on Tuesday night. At least one rocket fell on the Gaza side of the Israeli-Gaza border, while another struck Israel. The Times of Israel notes that while rocket fire was "once a daily occurrence," the Palestinian willingness and capacity to launch barrages at Israel was "has mostly tailed off" since Israel severely eroded Hamas's terror infrastructure during last November's Operation Pillar of Defense. Israel responded to the overnight rocket fire with pin-point attacks against hidden rocket-launching assets in the northern Gaza Strip. The IDF reported accurate hits.
U.S. lawmakers call for "immediate steps" to prevent Iran from going nuclear, urge Senate to pass new sanctions
- U.S. lawmakers call for "immediate steps" to prevent Iran from going nuclear, urge Senate to pass new sanctions
- Analysts: Turkey army reshuffle "underlines full government control" over military procurement
- Gaza-based Salafists claim responsibility for Sinai Peninsula rocket attack on Israel
- BBC: Morsi supporters targeting Egyptian Christians as part of "further backlash"
What we’re watching today:
- Top U.S. lawmakers are calling for "immediate steps" to increase pressure on Iran, urging the Senate to enact new sanctions as "the only way to persuade the Iranian leadership to change course." Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) published the call in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Engel has been a leading figure on Iran in the House, and was a co-sponsor of the recently passed Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, which overwhelmingly passed the House by a vote of 400-20. Parallel legislation sponsored by Kirk is making its way through the Senate. The article penned by the two emphasizes that "Iran did not hold a free and fair [presidential] election earlier this summer" but rather one in which "the Iranian people were forced to choose between a select group of regime insiders who had been carefully vetted and hand-picked by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei." Hassan Rouhani - who won the election and who has been criticized this week for assembling a foreign policy cabinet stacked with figures from Iran's security establishment - is according to Kirk and Engel "no reformer" but instead a Khamenei loyalist. The piece is bluntly titled "Without Stronger Sanctions, Iran Will Go Nuclear."
- Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system yesterday intercepted a rocket fired from the Egypt-controlled Sinai Peninsula and aimed at the southern resort city of Eilat. The incident comes as analysts are expressing pointed concerns that attacks from the increasingly anarchic Sinai may eventually force Israel to take direct action on Egyptian soil against jihadists firing into the Jewish state. The Egyptian army is currently engaged in a wide-ranging campaign to uproot terrorist infrastructure in the territory, and Egyptian military officials claim that as part of the campaign they recently attacked a jihadist missile team. The Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, a Salafist group based out of the Gaza Strip, blamed Israel for the raid on the missile team. The group took responsibility for firing the rocket on Eilat, which the organization declared was part of making "the Jews... pay dearly."
- Turkey's Hurriyet discusses recent promotions and demotions in the country's military, concluding that they highlight the extent to which Ankara's ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party is succeeding in eroding the influence of army figures. The article specifically deals with defense procurement issues. An annual reshuffling, the article states, "underlines full government control over defense procurement decisions in the future." More broadly, the personnel shifts - which involved interventions by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan - have been described as "the latest blow to Turkey’s beleaguered officer corps." Meanwhile Erdogan announced this week that the government will clamp down on future anti-government protests.
- The BBC reports on "a further backlash" against Egypt's Christians, who have found themselves increasingly subject to physical attacks - up to and including several murders - at the hands of Islamists who support former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The outlet notes that while "the Coptic Orthodox Church is one of Christianity's oldest," Islamist extremists have since July launched attacks against Copts, "holding them partly responsible" for the army moves that removed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood-linked government from power. Scores of Christian homes and buildings have been defaced and burned. Last week a 10-year-old girl walking home from Bible class was shot in the chest and killed, making her, according to Amnesty International, the seventh Christian murdered in recent sectarian violence across Egypt. The systematic religiously driven violence is in tension with claims made last year by Brotherhood figures - and by some Western foreign policy analysts -to the effect that Egyptian Islamists were ideologically prepared to form a pluralistic government guaranteeing equal rights and protections to Egypt's religious minorities.