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Renewed focus on Hezbollah war preparations, advanced weapons, after reports of Israeli Air Force strike

Posted by Albert Gersh - February 24, 2014

  • Renewed focus on Hezbollah war preparations, advanced weapons, after reports of Israeli Air Force strike
  • Documents: Iran red line against ballistic missile negotiations ignores more than half-decade of IAEA concerns
  • State Dept. scrambles to address evidence that Iraq violating Iran arms trade ban
  • Observers: Egyptian cabinet resignation lays groundwork for Sisi run
    • The Israeli Air Force (IAF) reportedly struck a Hezbollah arms cache along the Syrian-Lebanese border late on Monday, with coverage disagreeing as to which side of the border the Israelis had targeted but converging on suggestions that the IAF was after advanced weapons. A security source told Lebanon's Daily Star that the raid targeted "qualitative" weapons near the Lebanese border area of Janta - a Hezbollah stronghold that also serves as a transit point for arms smuggling - but Lebanese outlet MTV reported that the raid fell outside Lebanese territory. Israel has for years maintained that it will act to enforce its “red line” against the transfer of advanced weapons to the Hezbollah, and reports indicate that Jerusalem has acted repeatedly to interdict such arms. Nonetheless the Iran-backed terror group is thought to have successfully smuggled a range of advanced missiles and rockets in Lebanon, alongside a total of roughly 100,000 additional projectiles. Huge swaths of its arsenal are hidden inside civilian installations, and Israeli officials have emphasized that they will move to degrade Hezbollah's weapons rather than allow them to be used against the Israeli home front. Hezbollah officials have threatened to saturation bomb Israeli cities during any future conflict. Monday's incident came after a Sunday statement by IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz warning that Iran was "provid[ing] torches to pyromaniacs." The statement was considered significant: IDF officials routinely refrain from commenting on Iran.
    • Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi over the weekend catalogued the topics that Iran expects to negotiate over when comprehensive nuclear negotiations renew, pointedly excluding any mention of Iran's ballistic missile program while including uranium enrichment and plutonium production. The position has become a familiar one, with Iranian officials repeatedly emphasizing in recent weeks that issues related to ballistic missiles would be off-limits to negotiators. White House officials, in contrast, have explicitly assured U.S. lawmakers that Iran will be expected to address its ballistic missile program, after those lawmakers expressed concerns that American negotiators had been outmaneuvered in setting the terms for the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA). The agreement increasingly appears to have provided sweeping economic improvements to Tehran - far beyond what the administration publicly predicted - even as Iran was allowed to continue enriching unlimited amounts of uranium to 5% purity, continue bolstering its plutonium producing Arak complex, and continue developing advanced centrifuges and ballistic missiles. Limits on ballistic missiles were entirely absent from the JPA, an omission that the Iranians subsequently tried to leverage to limit the scope of final negotiations. Previous documents outlining Iran's nuclear program, for which the Islamic republic is expected to present a full accounting and to limit, are on the side of the administration. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2008 explicitly called attention [PDF] to Farsi-language documents detailing "various aspects of an unidentified entity’s effort to develop and construct a Shahab-3 re-entry vehicle capable of housing a new payload for the Shahab-3 missile system." In 2011 the IAEA went further [PDF], describing documents on various Iranian programs that established "a link between nuclear material and a new payload development programme."
    • State Department officials found themselves on the defensive Monday, after an expose published by Reuters revealed that Iraq has signed a $195 million arms deal with Iran for the delivery of weapons to Iraq. Baghdad sources told the outlet that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had been moved to seek arms from the Islamic Republic - in violation of a broad range of international measures up to and including an explicit United Nations ban on arms sales by Iran - after he became 'fed up with delays in U.S. arms deliveries.' State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki defended the administration, insisting both that Washington was keeping Iraq adequately armed and that it "would raise serious concerns" if the Reuters report turned out to be correct. The Reuters report cited multiple officials and included an account of documents seen by the outlet's journalists describing the deal. If confirmed the development is likely to deepen criticism, heard both domestically and from Washington's Gulf allies, that the Obama administration is withdrawing from the Middle East and allowing Iran to fill in. A recent Politico article, headlined "Who Lost Iraq?" and authored by former Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) fellow Ned Parker, opened with an Iraqi official blaming the U.S. for creating a security vacuum in the country. A New York Times article published around the same time by Michael Doran and Max Boot - respectively a Brookings Institute fellow and a CFR fellow blasted the administration for not sufficiently "countering Iranian machinations" in among other countries Iraq.
    • Egypt's interim cabinet resigned on Monday amid widespread popular dissatisfaction over the country's ongoing economic woes, with analysts widely reading the development as preparation for Egyptian army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to formally announce a Presidential run. The broadly popular military official is expected to declare his candidacy shortly, and the optics of doing so against the backdrop of public unrest would - per the Washington Post - "not have looked good." Sisi is expected to overwhelmingly win the upcoming election. The Post noted that he has been "increasingly acting in a presidential fashion," specifically citing a recent trip to Moscow to boost defense ties between Cairo and the Kremlin. The visit was read as evidence of an Egyptian pivot toward Russia, in the aftermath of repeated diplomatic and financial snubs by the Obama administration toward Egypt's army-led government. Sisi himself had warned, in a Washington Post interview published last August, that Washington's moves to distance itself from Cairo risked doing lasting harm to bilateral ties, and telling Americans "you turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won’t forget that" and worrying "now you want to continue turning your backs on Egyptians."

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