- Top Iranian military figure boasts about destroying Israel, after former presidential adviser says Obama forced to take nuke deal to avoid annihilation of Israel
- Lebanese army fires on Syrian aircraft, risking potential international and domestic escalation
- Rocket volley slams into Israel from Lebanon, deepening worries that blow-back from Syria may destabilize Israeli-Lebanese border
- In effort to boost U.S.-backed peace talks, Israel conducts third release of convicted Palestinian terrorists
What we’re watching today:
- Iranian media on Monday conveyed statements from Iranian Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri - the deputy chief of staff of Iran's armed forces - boasting that the Islamic republic is prepared to "destroy US and Israeli" interests in the Middle East, and adding that "the ominous Zionist regime dreads such capabilities day and night" and that "the entire expanse of the Zionist regime (of Israel)" is within range of Iranian weapons. Top Iranian leaders have regularly threatened to target Israeli population centers for bombardment. Jazayeri's statements come a few weeks after the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) - a nonprofit that monitors Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Pashto, and Turkish media reports - released a translated video in which Iranian political analyst Sadeq Al-Hosseini boasted that U.S. President Barack Obama accepted a diplomatic loss in exchange for Iran agreeing to the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) worked out in Geneva. Al-Hosseini, who was a top advisor to former Mohammad Khatami, insisted that Obama would have otherwise been forced to beg Iranian leaders - the exact phrase was that the President would have had to "kiss the hands of [Hezbollah chief] Hassan Nasrallah and [Iranian Supreme Leader] Imam Khamenei" - to prevent them from annihilating Israel.
- The Lebanese military announced today that it had fired on Syrian aircraft violating Beirut's airspace, a move that analysts speculated was designed in part as a public response to efforts - driven by both sides of the almost three-year Syrian conflict - to expand that war into Lebanese territory. Local officials from areas targeted by Syria pointedly told Lebanese media that they hoped the anti-aircraft fire 'would pave the way for the army to act as the sole defender of Lebanese land and sovereignty against any assaults.' Damascus has on more than one occasion launched attacks against targets inside Lebanon's borders allegedly linked to rebels fighting inside Syria to overthrow the Bashar al-Assad regime. For their part opposition elements inside Syria, reacting to the critical role that Hezbollah has played in enabling the Assad regime to claw its way back to controlling as much as 80% of Syria, have sought to retaliate against the Iran-backed terror group's Lebanese strongholds. Internationally, clashes between Lebanese and Syrian forces have the potential to open another front in the increasingly open proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran: Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman revealed this weeekend that the Saudis have pledged $3 billion in military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces. Domestically, the dynamic has the potential to further corrode Hezbollah's position in the country. The organization had claimed for decades that it was a Lebanese organization fighting for Lebanese sovereignty, rather than - as critics charged - an Iranian proxy promoting Iranian interests, if necessary at Lebanon's expense. Hezbollah had already seen that brand shattered as its participation in the Syrian conflict, widely understood to be done at Tehran's behest, generated blow-back and violence inside Lebanon. Sustained clashes between the LAF and Syrian forces would position Hezbollah on the side of a nation actively in conflict with Lebanese state and military institutions.
- Elements inside Lebanon on Sunday fired a volley of rockets into Israel, drawing Israeli artillery fire reportedly targeting the launch site. The attack comes a few weeks after a cross-border sniper attack in which a Lebanese soldier targeted and killed an Israeli soldier driving to base. That attack caused analysts to focus on elements in the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) sympathetic to Hezbollah, which had days before vowed to strike the Jewish state. Observers are speculating that this weekend's rocket attack, in contrast, was launched not by Hezbollah but by one of the Sunni jihadist groups that have infiltrated recently Lebanon - that infiltration, in turn, being blow-back generated by Hezbollah's critical role in helping Syria's Shiite-backed Bashar al-Assad regime roll back the largely Sunni opposition. Hezbollah has ignored ultimatums from Sunni groups to untangle itself from the conflict, with the result being a wave of blow-back targeting Lebanon. Speaking to reporters on a conference call organized by The Israel Project, veteran Israeli intelligence analyst Aviv Oreg speculated that, based on the location from which the rockets were launched, the attack may have originated with jihadist groups hoping to draw Israel into a confrontation with Hezbollah. Destabilization along Israel's borders - the Jewish state is now facing deteriorating security conditions along its borders with Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza, and within the West Bank - may negatively impact Jerusalem's ability to make diplomatic and territorial concessions to adversaries. Speaking to reporters in part about the rocket attacks from Lebanon, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon emphasized Monday that he would accept a "European boycott" if it was the only alternative to "rockets from Nablus, Ramallah and Jenin [falling] onto Ben-Gurion Airport." The reference is to European threats to degrade relations with Israel if it does not make concessions acceptable the Palestinians.
- Israel overnight Tuesday released 26 Palestinian prisoners convicted of terror-related crimes, the third of four such gestures designed to boost U.S.-backed peace talks. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been explicit with Secretary of State John Kerry last spring that the Palestinians would not sit down for peace talks without a broad prisoner release, with Palestinian media describing the position as one in which Abbas 'insisted that 107 Palestinians detained before the Oslo agreement must be released before the PLO will return to negotiations with Israel.' Subsequent requests to Israeli leaders to meet the demand proved controversial for Kerry, though the releases were eventually agreed to by Israel's cabinet. Domestic controversy inside Israel has escalated with each round of releases. Critics worry that Palestinian leaders are gearing up to pocket the four releases and then incite a wave of violence against Israel, hoping to extract further concessions away from the negotiating table. Continued Palestinian threats to walk away from the talks, coupled with ongoing incitement, have deepened such concerns.
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