After analyst concerns that Israel may be forced to act against Sinai jihadists, mysterious explosions rock northern Sinai Human rights groups: Iran president's pick for justice minister linked to executions, assassinations, and murders of intellectuals Foreign fighters carving out jihadist "pockets" in Syria Khamenei slams Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, "fierce Zionist wolves"
What we’re watching today:
- Confusion is swirling around reports of explosions in the northern Sinai Peninsula, which killed five and which early reports attributed to an Israeli drone strike against jihadists preparing to launch rockets against Israel. Those early reports also emphasized that Jerusalem had acted in coordination with Cairo. Egyptian officials subsequently denied that the explosions were linked to Israeli activity, while Israeli officials refused to comment. The Egypt-controlled Sinai Peninsula has become a global center for jihad activity and transit, and violence in the increasingly anarchic territory has spiked since the Egyptian army removed from power former President Mohammed Morsi. The National Journal last month published an extensive analysis of the geopolitical stakes involved, concluding that Israel might soon be forced to react to missile launches from the Sinai. On Thursday, Israeli officials closed the country’s southern-most airport in Eilat due to security issues linked to unrest in the Sinai, after last month deploying an Iron Dome anti-missile battery to the area.
- Concerns that began to emerge early this week regarding extremists inside the proposed cabinet of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani deepened today, with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporting that Rouhani's pick for justice minister, Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, has been subject to sustained criticism by human rights groups since the mid-2000s. Human Rights Watch (HRW) had criticized Pour-Mohammadi when the then-prosecutor was appointed to a top position by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005. According to REF/RL, the HRW report “highlighted Purmohammadi's [sic] alleged role in the 1988 executions, the assassination of political figures abroad, and the 1998 killings of intellectuals inside the country while he was a director in the Intelligence Ministry." Analysts have also begun to publish extensive, broader analysis of Rouhani's cabinet. A policy brief published this week by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) describing the proposed cabinet noted an “unprecedented” number of Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (MOIS) veterans. A separate recently published brief, this one by Washington Institute Senior Fellow Mehdi Khalaji, describes Rouhani's efforts to "form a technocratic, security-focused cabinet whose intelligence and political ministers are close to [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei."
- Foreign Sunni fighters continue to pour into Syria, and are carving out when The New York Times described today as "pockets of territory" that are being used as havens by jihadists. Thousands of fighters from around the region - as well as from the West, Africa, and Chechnya - have entered Syria to join the rebellion seeking to overthrow the Bashar al-Assad regime. Analysts have long been concerned that more moderate rebel leaders were losing control to Al Qaeda-linked extremists, some of whom have in addition to fighting the Syrian army sought to impose Islamic law on areas they have seized. The scope and pace of foreign infiltration will be read as deepening the sectarian stakes in the conflict. Shiite Iran and its Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah have been critical in helping the regime erode opposition gains in the two-year conflict, which has now killed over 100,000 people.
- Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday lashed out against renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, slamming what he described as "fierce Zionist wolves and their international supporters." Khamenei declared that peace would force "the Palestinians to relinquish their rights," going on to insist that the U.S. would be a poor mediator in the talks because it supports Israel. Khamenei’s comments, which were made by the Iranian leader on the occasion of Id al-Fitr, came a day after the U.S. State Department confirmed that formal peace talks would resume next week in Jerusalem, marking the first in nearly three years that Palestinians have been willing to return to the negotiating table.