Posted by Albert Gersh - January 23, 2014
- CNN host describes diplomatic "train wreck" as Iran president rules out dismantling nuclear centrifuges
- Growth of Al Qaeda in West Bank seen as reinforcing Israeli security concerns
- Analysts, journalists: "very essence of Turkish democracy" threatened as government launches "biggest purge of the judiciary in the country's history"
- Likely presidential run by Egyptian army chief receives prime minister’s backing
- A CNN interview to be aired on Sunday will have Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declaring to CNN host Fareed Zakaria that Iran "will not accept any limitations" on its "nuclear technology" in the context of a comprehensive agreement between Tehran and the West, and that the Iranians will "not under any circumstances" agree to destroy any uranium enrichment centrifuges. Zakaria described Rouhani's statement as a diplomatic "train wreck," observing that "the Iranian conception of what the deal is going to look like and the American conception now look like they are miles apart." The preview of Rouhani's statements came a day after CNN aired footage of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif asserting in an interview that Iran is not obligated to dismantle centrifuges, and that White House statements to the contrary - and there have been several such statements - were mischaracterizations. A report published this week [PDF] by the U.S.-based Institute of Science and International Security (ISIS) had outlined the minimum requirements that Iran would be obligated to take under any agreement that robustly imposed limits on Tehran's ability to produce nuclear weapons. The Wall Street Journal pointedly observed that the report's prescriptions "aren’t viewed as particularly harsh or hard-line," and ISIS head David Albright emphasized that they had been produced after 'extensive discussions in recent months with Obama administration officials working on the Iran file.' The ISIS reported calculated that any agreement would have to require the Iranians to dismantle 15,000 centrifuges, and that some of the dismantled equipment should actually "be taken out of Iran."
- Counterterrorism officials are continuing to unpack the significance of yesterday's announcement by Israel's Shin Bet security service that Israeli officials had captured three Al Qaeda-linked Palestinians plotting mass-casualty terror attacks in Israel, with Israeli CT expert Aviv Oreg telling USA Today that the plot indicated "that hard-core al-Qaeda elements are involved within Israel" for the first time in years. Fox News read the incident against "growing evidence” from over recent months that “Al Qaeda and other Sunni Jihadists [are] gaining a foothold in the West Bank and Gaza Strip." The Jerusalem Post today cited sources indicating that the Gaza-based operative who recruited the three men had "received his orders directly from the head of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri." Israel's head of military intelligence had already last summer worried that the chaos in Syria would provide a local foothold for jihadist, while the growth of Al Qaeda to Israel's south in the Sinai Peninsula has been extensively documented. Al Qaeda’s expanding strength along Israel's borders and inside the West Bank is likely to have straightforward diplomatic consequences. The Israelis have been insisting that any final peace agreement with the Palestinians must include provisions allowing Israel to maintain a security and counterterror presence along the border with Jordan. The Palestinians have flatly rejected the position. Evidence of fresh Al Qaeda efforts seems set to reinforce Jerusalem's position.
- The Telegraph yesterday described the Turkish government as having launched "the biggest purge of the judiciary in the country's history," with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) "firing and reassigning senior judges and prosecutors," in what has escalated into a near-existential struggle between the AKP and figures embedded in a range of Turkish institutions who are tied to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. At issue are a series of widening anti-corruption and anti-terror probes - launched weeks ago by judiciary figures - that have ensnared AKP elites. The AKP has responded by sacking or transferring literally hundreds of police officers and judges. The purges have intensified since last December - when the Wall Street Journal evaluated that Erdogan was suffering "setbacks in [his] attempt to rein in [the] corruption investigation" - though the AKP had already by then removed dozens of police chiefs. Turkey watchers are now converging on assessments that have Erdogan emerging successful from the political bloodbath. Council on Foreign Relations fellow Steven Cook wrote today that "Erdogan is not going anywhere" and that he "may even be the prime minister again." Turkey expert Michael Koplow echoed Cook. The controversy is nonetheless increasingly seen as having taken its toll on Turkish civil society. Firat Demir, an associate professor in economics at the University of Oklahoma who has published extensively on Turkish civil society, described Turkey observers as being "worried that Erdogan's actions threaten the very essence of Turkish democracy." Demir more bluntly assessed that "Turkey threatens to become just like many others in its neighborhood: a hybrid regime ruled by a strong man who does not even try to give his rule the pretense of a democracy."
- Egypt's interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawy today announced that he would back Egyptian military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for president should the latter run, a day after Egyptian outlet Al-Hayat reported that the army chief would indeed soon quit his post to pursue the presidency. Sisi is considered an overwhelming favorite to win upcoming presidential elections, and has developed a reputation as a Teflon politician immune from attacks. The Christian Science Monitor assessed in July that "adoration of [Sisi] and deep hatred of the Muslim Brotherhood" were dampening outrage over the deaths of Muslim Brotherhood protesters, describing how the army figure had been "elevat[ed] of General Sisi to almost legendary status." Months later the Associated Press conveyed a strange incident in which a tape was leaked of Sisi talking about dreams he had experienced in which he seemed destined to be Egypt's leader. The AP noted that while the tape was "apparently leaked by opponents to embarrass the general," its effect for most Egyptians was to deepen Sisi's image "as a spiritual man, in touch with the nation's traditions." The AP described the political mood of Sisi's supporters as one in which "he seems unable to do wrong."
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