Posted by Albert Gersh - November 04, 2013
- Reports: Iran stages "largest anti-U.S. rally in years," amid new reports of military activity in Syria
- Observers: Hamas stockpiling advanced missiles, seeking to renew violence
- On Middle East fence-mending tour, Kerry praises Saudi Arabia and military-backed Egyptian government
- Top pro-Israel groups, including AIPAC, recommit to seeking new sanctions on Iran
What we’re watching today:
- Tens of thousands of anti-American Iranian protesters marched today on the former U.S. embassy in Iran, part of what the Associated Press described as "Tehran’s largest anti-U.S. rally in years." Reports noted pervasive chants of "death to America," and called attention to a speech by Saeed Jalili, a senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which Jalili described fighting the "hostile policies of America" as "the symbol of [Iran's] national solidarity." The protests threaten to deepen skepticism regarding the degree to which Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is willing or able to substantially reform Iran's foreign and domestic policies. They come on the same day as reports emerged that a commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was killed in Syria, where Iran has provided critical logistical and military support to the Bashar al-Assad regime. Last week the BBC aired a video documenting what the outlet described as "the extent of Iran's involvement," in Syria, including active participation by top IRGC figures. Rouhani himself has repeatedly and explicitly pledged to stand by the Assad regime, opposite U.S. calls for the strongman to step aside in order to facilitate a peaceful resolution to Syria's almost three-year-old conflict.
- Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon warned over the weekend that Hamas was arming itself and seeking to conduct what the Israeli official called "a renewal of violence," echoing increasingly pitched analyst concerns that the Palestinian terror group - which has recently suffered a precipitous decline in domestic popularity and regional influence - may be seeking to restore its stature via a spectacular terror attack. The warning came a week after Elior Levy, the Palestinian affairs correspondent for Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth, published analysis describing how Hamas would seek, in its next war against Israel, to saturation-bomb Israeli population centers. The group will likely use indigenously produced M-75 rockets, which can reach Israel's densely packed Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Levy also outlined how Hamas "has hundreds of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles" that it will have the option of deploying.
- Secretary of State John Kerry sought this weekend and today to downplay spiking tensions between Washington and its traditional Arab allies, traveling to Egypt and Saudi Arabia to address sharp and increasingly public differences with those countries on a range of issues including the political situation in Egypt, the U.S's stance on the Syrian conflict, and the West's posture toward Iranian negotiations. Cairo and Riyadh have watched Washington's recent Middle East moves with confusion and increasing frustration, as the Obama administration staked out positions that they argued were in tension with both their and America's interests. Recent months have seen the solidification of three opposing regional blocs: a traditional pro-U.S. camp composed of Israel and the U.S.'s Arab allies, an extremist Shiite bloc anchored by Iran and including its proxies in Lebanon and Syria, and an extremist Sunni bloc involving Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood. Washington's criticism of the Egyptian army's moves against the Brotherhood, its reluctance to support rebels in Syria, and its approach to Iran have, according to critics, shown insufficient sensitivity to fundamental regional dynamics. Over the weekend the Washington Post published an overview of Arab moves designed to circumvent American policies by more aggressively boosting rebel groups in Syria fighting the Iran-aligned Bashar al-Assad regime. In Egypt Kerry sought to mend ties with the military regime - The New York Times evaluated that his rhetoric "reflected the Obama administration’s determination to work with a military leadership" - while in Saudi Arabia he praised Riyadh's diplomacy.
- Controversy swirled this weekend and into Monday regarding the positions of major pro-Israel groups toward efforts by the Obama administration to delay the imposition of new sanctions against Iran, with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) issuing a rare on-the-record statement Saturday night emphasizing that there would be "no pause, delay or moratorium" in its support of new legislation designed to increase pressure against the Islamic republic. The statement was a response to reports, sourced to Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Director Abraham Foxman, describing an October 29th meeting between White House officials and representatives of four top pro-Israel groups. Foxman stated that groups had committed to taking a "time out" in their lobbying efforts. Representatives from other groups who were in the room, notably AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee (AJC), categorically denied making such commitments. Pro-Israel groups not directly involved in the controversy also issued statements calling for new sanctions. The Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a letter stating that "the only hope of stopping the program in the eleventh hour, is the threat of an even more powerful sanctions program," while Christians United for Israel executive director David Brog stated that "there will be a political price to be paid by every leader in Congress that stood by, delayed, or dithered while Iran became a nuclear power." Fallout from the dispute also included a pro-Israel official described as "close to the debate" characterizing the ADL as "collaborating with a far left Israeli newspaper [Haaretz], one that in recent days compared Zionist films to Nazi propaganda, to minimize the deep concern that almost everyone in the Jewish community has" over the administration's Iran policy.
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