Posted by Albert Gersh - November 08, 2013
- 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.
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