- Syria and Iran threaten to attack Israel as Kerry describes chemical weapons use as "undeniable"
- Reuters: U.N. report will describe Iranian advances toward uranium and plutonium nuclear weapons
- State Dept. denies that Palestinians have suspended peace talks, after three Palestinians killed in clashes with IDF
- Egypt security source: Army battling jihadists from dozens of countries in Sinai Peninsula
What we’re watching today:
- Secretary of State John Kerry this afternoon labeled Syria's use of chemical weapons "undeniable," declaring that U.S. officials will soon release "additional information" about what is widely believed to be a nerve gas attack conducted by the Bashar al-Assad regime against rebel-held suburbs of Damascus last week. Kerry also described the regime's decision to allow a U.N. inspection team to visit the site of the attack - which came after the regime had continued to heavily shell the area - as "too late to be credible." Reuters evaluated the significance of the speech as a signal that "the United States was edging closer to a possible military response." Kerry's statement came on a day in which both Syria and Iran explicitly threatened to attack Israel if the West attempts to intervene in the Syrian conflict. Halef al-Muftah, a member of the Syrian Ba'ath national council, and until recently the Syrian propaganda minister's aide, said Monday that Israel would "come under fire" if Syria was attacked by the United States. The threats from Damascus explicitly echoed ones made by Iran. Hossein Sheikholeslam, the director of the Iranian parliament’s international affairs committee, said on Monday that Israel would be "the first victim of an attack on Syria," and that Damascus would attack Israel "with severity."
- Reuters reports that a soon-to-be-released report from the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog will show that Iran is pushing ahead with the development of nuclear infrastructure capable of providing Tehran with the option of building uranium- and plutonium-based nuclear weapons. Regarding the plutonium track, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected to report that Iran is making progress on activating its reactor at Arak, and Reuters conveys the assessment of Western experts indicating that the reactor "could yield plutonium for bombs once operational." Regarding the uranium track, this week's IAEA report will describe the ongoing installation of advanced IR-2m centrifuges, which are capable of enriching nuclear material at a pace orders of magnitude faster than previous technology. At stake is when Iran will be capable of conducting an undetected breakout, rushing across the nuclear finish line after a political decision is made to do so, but without the West having sufficient time to detect, assess, and intervene to stop the decision. Reuters quotes a report released last month by the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security evaluating that Iran will have the capability by mid-2014.
- The State Department this morning rushed to emphasize that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were ongoing - "sustained and serious" was Foggy Bottom's exact language - after Palestinian negotiators reportedly called off a meeting between Jerusalem and Ramallah in the aftermath of an incident this morning in which three Palestinians were shot and killed in clashes with Israeli troops in the Qalandiya refugee camp. Videos of the incident posted to the Internet showed Palestinian youths stationed on rooftops hurling rocks at an Israeli military jeep that had become trapped in an alley. The soldiers were in the camp seeking to arrest a terror suspect who had been recently released from prison. Posters of the three Palestinians killed in the clashes described them as martyrs, and members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades terror group attended the funerals for the three. An Israeli border police spokesman described the scene as marked by "large violent crowds" totaling some 1,500 people, as well as the use of firebombs against the Israeli forces.
- An Arabic-language Egyptian outlet reports on ongoing efforts by the country's military to quell unrest in the Egyptian-controlled Sinai Peninsula, as the army battles in territory that has been become - according to German intelligence - the world's main jihadist training ground. A security source described the achievements of security forces, describing an array of actions against terrorist infrastructure and terrorists themselves. The source claims that the army has managed to destroy 85 percent of the smuggling tunnels that link the Sinai Peninsula to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and which Cairo blames for facilitating the movement of materials and personnel used to attack Egyptian soldiers and police officers. More pointedly, reports describe jihadists from dozens foreign nationalities as being engaged in battles against Egyptian forces.
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