Posted by Albert Gersh - December 16, 2013
- Iran FM signals intent to restart negotiations, after analysis predicts Tehran bluffing over talks suspension
- WSJ: Washington's Gulf allies 'stunned' by Iran diplomacy
- Hamas officials blame catastrophic Gaza Strip flooding on fuel shortage, after months of blaming Egypt and Palestinian Authority for fuel shortage
- Focus turns to growing Hezbollah control over Lebanese army, after deadly cross-border killing of Israeli solider
What we’re watching today:
- Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told CBS News this weekend that Iran is willing to restart implementation talks revolving around the recently announced Geneva interim agreement, a posture accordant with analysis assessing that the Iranians are bluffing when they threaten to forgo the financial relief offered by the so-called Joint Plan of Action (JPA). Iranian negotiators had abruptly halted talks after the Treasury Department last week announced new enforcement measures against entitled in violation of still-existing sanctions against Iran, asserting that the move violated the "spirit" of the JPA.. It is not clear why the Iranians believed that gestures toward the spirit of the JPA would have diplomatic of public purchase, inasmuch as Tehran has in recent weeks committed to enriching uranium, bolstering its plutonium production complex, and testing ballistic missiles - all actions which it insists are permitted under the letter of the JPA. There have been suggestions that the Iranians may be attempting to brush back future Congressional legislation which would impose sanctions after the JPA's six-month interim window should no deal materialize. Such language does not seem to violate the JPA's prohibition on new sanctions taking effect during the interim period, and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said over the weekend that the Senate is "very likely" to approve new financial pressure on Iran that Politico describes as taking effect "in about six months if there are no more breakthroughs in negotiations.'
- Statements from a top Saudi Arabian official published over the weekend have the potential to deepen concerns that the US's traditional Arab allies are preparing to pivot away from Washington - and potentially towards American rivals - as actors throughout the region continue sorting themselves into three solidifying and opposing camps. The Wall Street Journal interviewed Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, who was at the time attending a security conference in Monaco, and described him as 'assailing the Obama administration for working behind Riyadh's back' on a deal with Iran and as 'panning other recent US steps in the Middle East.' The Journal characterized Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors as being 'stunned by the secret American-Iranian diplomacy' that preceded the recently signed Geneva interim agreement between Tehran and the P5+1 global powers, and as 'echo[ing] concerns raised by Israel and members of the US Congress that the... accord with Iran didn't go far enough to ensure Tehran won't develop atomic bombs.' Political and diplomatic developments in the Middle East - most prominently in Egypt, Syria, and Iran - have in recent years generated and hardened three opposing blocs in the region, with an Iran-dominated Shiite camp aligned against the US's traditional Israeli and Arab allies aligned against a Sunni camp composed of Turkey, Qatar, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Israeli radio reported on Sunday that a "historic" meeting had been held at the Monaco security conference between Faisal, former Israeli ambassador to Washington Itamar Rabinovich, and Israeli Knesset member Meir Sheetrit.
- Hamas officials today linked much of the devastation from this weekend's historic storm to a lack of fuel in the Gaza Strip, a scarcity that the Palestinian outlet Ma'an pointedly noted Hamas has for months been blaming on Egypt and the Palestinian Authority (PA). The storm generated flooding that reportedly displaced at least 5,000 residents just in the Hamas-controlled territory. Ma'an quoted Muhammad al-Midna, a spokesman for Gaza's civil defense force, explaining that a lack of electricity had 'limited the ability of civil defense forces to pump water from flooded areas' and that a lack of fuel had more generally 'effectively crippled the ability of civil defense forces to respond for large periods of time.' Hamas has repeatedly blasted both Egypt and the PA, the latter controlled by Hamas's Palestinian rival Fatah, for creating a fuel shortage in Gaza. The terror group blames Egypt for systematically destroying the tunnels linking the Gaza Strip to the Egyptian-controlled Sinai Peninsula, a campaign that has sharply curtailed the once-thriving smuggling industry between the two territories. It also blames Fatah for levying what it insists are unreasonable taxes on fuel deliveries to Gaza, a charge that Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has flatly described as "insane." Meanwhile Palestinian media reported that Chris Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), blamed Israel for the flooding.
- The Associated Press this afternoon reported on efforts to prevent escalation in the aftermath of what it described as "a deadly border skirmish" between Israel and Lebanon, with "the enemy countries holding a face-to-face meeting with U.N. peacekeepers." The Sunday incident - which was similarly described as a "skirmish" by among others the Guardian - involved the unprovoked murder of 31 year old IDF Master Sgt. Shlomi Cohen, who was shot in the neck and chest by a Lebanese sniper as Cohen was driving a civilian vehicle near an Israeli naval base. Roughly four and a half hours after the 8:30pm Sunday shooting, Israeli forces opened fire into a forested area across the Israeli-Lebanese border after spotting "suspicious movement." The Guardian quoted Daniel Nisman, a Tel Aviv-based security analyst, drawing attention to "rogue elements" which have established a presence in the Lebanese army (LAF). American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Michael Rubin had already noted as early as 2010 that it is "an open secret among Lebanese of all political stripes that Hezbollah has infiltrated the Lebanese Armed Forces," an assessment that came in the wake of years in which Israeli military officials had warned over exactly such Hezbollah efforts. Analysts increasingly fear that the Iran-backed terror group is now seeking to provoke Israel into a conflict. Hezbollah's brand as an anti-Israel group has been shattered by its participation in the Syrian conflict on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime, and it may be looking to ignite a confrontation in order to begin rebuilding that image.
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