Proposed Rouhani foreign policy team sparks concerns over extremism, links to Hezbollah Palestinians ready celebrations after Israeli announcement it will release terror-linked prisoners as goodwill gesture Egyptian military describes massive Hamas infiltration, as anti-jihad campaigns in the Sinai Peninsula continue In Lebanon, tensions spike between Palestinian supporters and opponents of Syrian regime
What we’re watching today:
- The Iranian parliament began debate today on the proposed cabinet of newly inaugurated president Hassan Rouhani, after which a formal vote of confidence is expected to follow. Western analysts have described the group as stacked with regime insiders drawn from Iran's security services, and have in particular raised concerns over Rouhani's proposed foreign policy team. Video published last week showed proposed foreign Mohammad Javad Zarif minimizing the Holocaust, sparking fears that a Rouhani administration will extend the anti-Semitic incitement that had marked the administration of former Iranian hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Meanwhile the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs published a report exposing the leadership role played by presumed defense minister Hossein Dehghan in Hezbollah's 1983 bombing of the U.S. marine base in Lebanon. Dehghan was at the time overseeing Hezbollah's operations on behalf of Tehran. Ali Hashem, the Al Mayadeen news network's chief correspondent, noted that "there are no signs that it has any members who oppose Iran's support for Hezbollah" and emphasized that "Rouhani himself is regarded as a hard-liner when it comes to Israel and Iran's relationships with resistance groups.
- Jerusalem has published the names of Palestinian prisoners slated for release as part of a series of confidence-building measures aimed at coaxing Palestinian diplomats to participate in U.S.-backed peace talks. Among the 26 convicts who will be released Tuesday night are the convicted murderers of Isaac Rotenberg, a 69-year-old Holocaust survivor who was axed to death, and Amnon Pomerantz, a 46-year-old who was stoned and burned alive in his car after he took a wrong turn into a Palestinian refugee camp. The National Post quoted the wife of Mohammed Nashabat, who was convicted as an accessory to Pomerantz's murder, declaring that her "house turned into a big dance floor" when his impending release was announced. Palestinian diplomats went further, distributing letters to embassies and ambassadors hailing the convicts as "freedom fighters" and declaring that Israelis were the actual terrorists.
- An Egyptian military source told journalists over the weekend that a mysterious blast in the northern Sinai Peninsula last week was the result of an unannounced security operation to crack down on "terrorists and jihadists," and was not as some had speculated an Israeli drone strike targeting a missile team. Confusion has swirled around the incident, which the source contextualized as part of an ongoing operation. Eyewitness accounts published by Egyptian media outlets described ongoing helicopter raids late into the weekend. The Egyptian army has sought to uproot extensive jihadist infrastructure in the Sinai, and Islamist-driven violence in the territory has spiked since the removal of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood-linked former President Mohammed Morsi. Yesterday UPI conveyed evaluations made by the Egyptian military that, since Morsi's ouster, as many as 600 Hamas fighters have infiltrated Egypt from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. For its part, Hamas again denied interfering in Egypt's internal affairs.
- Spillover from the Syrian conflict is threatening to destabilize the dozen or so Palestinian refugee camps throughout Lebanon, as tensions rise between fighters linked to rebel groups and Palestinian factions that still support the Bashar al-Assad regime. Voice of America reported on the dynamic this morning, quoting a representative from the Palestinian Fatah faction who described difficulties in trying to negotiate between pro- and anti-Assad Palestinians. Reports emerged as early as last year that Palestinian camps in Syria were similarly divided between supporters and opponents of the regime. Meanwhile weekend fighting in Deir Ezzor, the largest city in eastern Syria, reportedly left 60 Syrian soldiers and rebels dead. The death toll for the war is estimated at over 100,000.