Posted by Albert Gersh - January 14, 2014
- White House claims regarding "good will" clouded by provocations from Iranian president, foreign minister
- House Democratic whip blasts White House for smear campaign against Iran sanctions supporters
- Fiery speech by Palestinian president kindles fears of broad incitement, deep-seated intransigence
- Reuters: Egyptian army pivots from Muslim Brotherhood to Hamas
What we’re watching today:
- A central White House argument against Senate legislation that would impose future sanctions on Iran should negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program fail - that any bill doing so would drain bilateral good will necessary for diplomacy to succeed - may now face deepening skepticism after top Iranian government officials engaged in what were broadly considered to be anti-American and anti-Western provocations early this week. On Monday Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif generated a firestorm of controversy by laying a wreath at the grave of Imad Mughniyah, a Hezbollah arch-terrorist who was assassinated in 2008 after having spent literally decades killing Americans and others. The Obama administration scrambled to condemn Zarif's pilgrimage. On Tuesday Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took to Twitter to declare that the nuclear deal between Iran and the global P5+1 powers had seen the West surrendering to the "Iranian nation's will." In contrast to the administration's condemnation of Zarif, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that the Obama administration would mostly ignore Rouhani's boasts. Carney described the taunts as "expected" and geared toward a "domestic audience." It is not clear that the White House's position is politically or diplomatically sustainable. Politically, Iranian provocations threaten to heighten criticism that has the Obama administration walking on eggshells while the Iranians indulge in anti-American extremism. Diplomatically, writing off the incitement of foreign leaders as mere domestic maneuvering has historically had uneven success. Nearly identical rationalizations were made in reference to years of statements by former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and the consensus is now that Arafat's rhetoric - at a minimum - conditioned the Palestinian public toward intransigence. An analogous dynamic may take hold in Iran. Boasts of victory now may raise expectations to such an extent that Iranian leaders would be precluded from successfully selling concessions later. In any case, the administration may find it difficult to insist that pressure on Iran should be foreclosed in order to maintain good will.
- House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer blasted the White House on Tuesday for accusing U.S. lawmakers who favor pressuring Iran of seeking to drag America into a war, emphasizing that "nobody believes, as far as I know, that going to war with Iran is anything but a dangerous objective." At stake is a debate over the risks and rewards of signaling to Iran that it should make concessions in the context of comprehensive negotiations over its nuclear program, which is widely believed to include clandestine weaponization components. The White House has insisted that it has sufficient leverage to extract significant concessions in the context of comprehensive negotiations, and that Senate moves to lock in future sanctions should negotiations fail will undermine talks. Regarding the latter claim, analysts have pushed back with calculations suggesting that Iran literally can't afford to walk away from negotiations. Regarding assessments of leverage, administration officials up to and including Secretary of State John Kerry have openly acknowledged that Western negotiators currently lack the means to force Iran to meet its international obligations, codified in half a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions, to fully dismantle its nuclear program. The initial erosion of sanctions promised to Iran by the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), meanwhile, threatens to further erode the international sanctions regime that the White House is leaning on for leverage. The Obama administration's move to brand those outlining such concerns as warmongers - a move that Hoyer described as "absolutely untrue, [an] irresponsible assertion, and [one that] ought to be clarified and retracted" - has in some quarters come off as shrill.
- A recent speech by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas - in which the Palestinian leader declared that "there will be no peace" unless several contentious Palestinian demands were fully met, and several Israeli red lines were definitively crossed - has triggered concerns that the current Palestinian leadership may be either unable or unwilling to make peace. Abbas's speech, delivered last Friday, included declarations that Israel will have to cede the entirety of East Jerusalem and that the Jewish state will have to accept the so-called "right of return," a policy that would have Israel permitting millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to flood into Israel. The result would be an all-but-certain eradication of Israel as a Jewish homeland. Abbas implicitly brushed off exactly that concern, declaring that in any case the Palestinians would not accept Israel as a Jewish state. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly voiced concerns over Abbas's speech, worrying that the Palestinian leader's rhetoric might mean he "wasn't ready to make tough decisions." Abbas's rhetoric is bound to draw comparisons to moves made by former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who for decades claimed that he was ready to make peace until - when presented with functionally maximal Israeli concessions - he declined. The incident is likely to heighten concerns, already engendered by recent Palestinian incitement and expressions of anti-Israel conspiracy theories, that Palestinian civil and political society is not yet sufficiently robust for sustaining an emerging state alongside Israel.
- Reuters today conveyed statements from "senior Egyptian security officials" declaring that the country's military - having largely suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood within Egypt's borders - will now shift to eroding the Brotherhood's Palestinian offshoot Hamas. The Egyptian military has been at odds with the Palestinian terror group for the better part of a year. The Egyptians blame Hamas for facilitating the movement of materials and personnel used by jihadists to launch attacks in the Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip, and have moved to economically and politically suffocate the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in response. Hamas officials for their part have attempted to stem the diplomatic damage, but have acknowledged that Cairo's campaign has been largely successful in degrading the group's capabilities. The Reuters report will also be read against a sharply divided policy discussion in Washington whether Cairo's subsequent army-backed efforts to suppress the Brotherhood, launched after the July 2013 removal of Egypt's Brotherhood-linked government, could successfully decapitate the group. Some academics and analysts argued that the Brotherhood would - per one CNN-published analysis - remain a "force to be reckoned with... [which would] most likely weather" the political turbulence that followed the removal of then-President Mohammed Morsi. Other analysts - and Washington Institute fellow Eric Trager was prominent here - suggested a range of scenarios that would see the Muslim Brotherhood more or less decapitated, in no small part due to the organization's rigid hierarchical structure. That the Egyptian military has shifted its focus from the Brotherhood suggests that empirical evidence may end up favoring the latter analysis.
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