- New Pentagon report: Iran on track to have ballistic missiles capable of striking U.S. by 2015
- Al Qaeda-linked Syrian jihadists murder FSA chief during cooperation meeting
- Week of Sinai Peninsula violence challenges military, increases Egypt-Hamas tensions
- Rival Friday rallies in Cairo as Muslim Brotherhood rejects political compromises
What we’re watching today:
- Iran may develop and test a ballistic missile capable of striking the United States as early as 2015, according to a U.S. Department of Defense report released this week that the Daily Mail describes as “a sobering assessment of the nuclear threat the United States faces.” The Pentagon’s 2013 Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat Assessment describes efforts by China, Iran, and North Korea to develop and share advanced ballistic technology, assessing among other things that North Korea “has exported missiles and missile technology to other countries, including Iran and Pakistan.” Tehran and Pyongyang have extensive military-to-military ties, and there is extensive evidence – including the physical presence of Iranian officials at North Korean tests – that the two are cooperating on work related to nuclear weapons. The new Pentagon report also assesses that “Iran has ambitious ballistic missile and space launch development programs and continues to attempt to increase the range, lethality, and accuracy of its ballistic missile force.” Earlier this month Reuters published an expose outlining how Iran is exploiting loopholes in the existing sanctions regime in order to import ore from Germany and France that could be used for making armor and missiles.
- Top Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander Kamal Hamami was killed Thursday by Al Qaeda-linked militants in northern Syria, where he was meeting with them so that the Sunni factions could coordinate moves against the Shiite-backed regime of Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad. Reuters reports that representatives from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant subsequently phoned an FSA spokesman, acknowledged the killing, and vowed to eradicate the leadership of relatively moderate Syrian opposition groups. The assassination of Hamami, also known as Abu Bassel al-Ladkani, comes a week after the beheading of an FSA fighter by members of the Al Qaeda-affiliated organization. It will deepen concerns both about the political cohesion of the Syrian opposition as a whole, and about the degree to which Western nations that seek to bolster the rebels can ensure that lethal and non-lethal assistance is not seized by extremists. Syrian armed forces backed by Hezbollah troops have recently made significant progress in retaking territory from the opposition, seizing the strategic city of Qusayr and capturing rebel-controlled neighborhoods in Homs.
- Suspected Islamist militants armed with heavy weapons attacked a Sinai Peninsula police checkpoint today, killing one and deepening concerns that the violence could spiral out of control in the increasingly lawless territory. The attack comes at the end of a week of similar strikes. On Tuesday an attack on a northern Sinai checkpoint killed two and injured six, and later that evening and overnight assailants launched attacks on an airport checkpoint and near an army base. On Wednesday gunmen opened fire on the car of a senior military commander. A spokesperson for the Egyptian army described the seeming escalation as designed “to spread chaos and undermine Egyptian national security” following the ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi last week. After Friday’s attack, Cairo announced the immediate, indefinite closure of the Rafah crossing that links the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to the Sinai. The army blames Hamas for allowing jihadists to move materials and personnel between Gaza and Egypt, and dozens of Muslim Brotherhood terrorists have reportedly infiltrated just in recent days. Unconfirmed reports even have an Egyptian helicopter crossing into Israeli-controlled airspace over Gaza in the aftermath of today’s checkpoint attack.
- Opponents of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi plan to stage a demonstration in Cairo Friday evening, after thousands of the Islamist figure’s supporters staged rallies during the day. Tensions in the Egyptian capital have been running high as the army seeks to stabilize unrest that began in late June, when millions of anti-government protesters flooded Egypt’s streets demanding Morsi’s removal. The military subsequently relieved him of power, triggering violent demonstrations in public areas and outside army installations. More than 50 people were killed earlier this week in a protest outside the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo, where it is rumored that Morsi is being kept, after demonstrators tried to storm the compound. Interviews at the time, including from Brotherhood witnesses, indicated that the army did not use live fire against the crowd, and later-released video footage showed Islamist militants mixing with the crowd and attacking army and police personnel. The Brotherhood has thus far rejected reconciliation efforts by Cairo’s interim government and has vowed to continue protests until Morsi is reinstated.
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