- Analysts: Obama administration undervalued Iran sanctions relief by $5 billion
- Threats of violence against government critics fuel fears of escalation in Turkey political war
- Top prosecutor accuses Iran of coordinating terrorist attacks against Bahrain
- Israeli think tank: foreign Shiites fighting for Assad outnumber foreign rebel fighters
What we’re watching today:
- Analysis published today in the National Post piles on doubts regarding the Obama administration's figures for the immediate sanctions relief that the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) provides to Iran.The administration has insisted that the relief being provided to the Islamic republic will amount to roughly $7 billion, and further that the rest of the sanctions regime - what the White House describes as core sanctions - will be maintained and enforced. Skeptics have emphasized that both claims are likely over-optimistic. Emanuele Ottolenghi and Saeed Ghasseminejad, respectively a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a Ph.D. Candidate in finance at City University of New York, today published analysis suggesting that the administration's $7 billion simply undercounted the value of the sanctions' relief. Instead - based on stated Iranian oil sale figures, the ability to sell oil at market prices, the ability to leverage lower insurance premiums, and so on - Iran seems set to gain a minimum additional $4.5-$5 billion from sanctions relief, above the administrations $7 billion figure. Critics had already pointed out that the Obama administration's calculations would need be revised upward based on fundamental economic considerations, including multiplier effects and the benefits of currency stabilization seemingly not taken into account. Meanwhile, opposite administration claims that the sanctions regime will remain robust, critics have outlined the likelihood that a feeding frenzy will take hold and substantially erode remaining sanctions. Countries and companies, according to this logic, would scramble to ensure that they were not left behind as Iran reopened its markets. Such concerns gained traction as investors from specific sectors began to rush back into Iran, until this week Der Spiegel was ready to declare that "[a]lthough none of the sanctions have been lifted, droves of Western business people are already flocking to Tehran."
- A top adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week posted to Twitter what observers described as thinly-veiled death threats against opponents of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, deepening concerns that the open political warfare which has been rocking the country may escalate further. Judiciary figures linked to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen have been pursuing and widening a corruption probe that has ensnared AKP elites, and AKP figures have retaliated by moving to purge the judiciary of opponents. Referencing elements aligned against the government, Erodgan advisor Hamdi Kilic tweeted this week that "there is still a state tradition in this country" and that [s]ome of the reflexes that our state tradition developed throughout its history are very creepy. A reminder from me." The posts were widely taken as gesturing toward heavy-handed tactics, including violent ones, historically used by the Turkish military to suppress dissent. Turkish-based journalist Michael van der Galien asked rhetorically if the AKP was "now actually threatening people with murder," a reading confirmed as "exactly the right interpretation" by Manhattan Institute Scholar and Turkey expert Claire Berlinski. Meanwhile Sevan Nisanyan, a prominent Turkish-Armenian blogger, was jailed on charges of illegal construction, after having been convicted last December of blasphemy. He was sentenced to two years, and claims that he is in fact being punished for challenging anti-speech restrictions. Agence France-Presse tersely noted in its report on the controversy that "Turkey has long been criticized for a lack of press freedom, and in December the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists named it the world's number one jailer of journalists for the second straight year."
- Bahrain's chief prosecutor has formally accused the Iranian military of training opposition fighters to conduct attacks inside the Gulf kingdom, after Manama announced earlier this week that it had seized a boat trying to smuggle explosives from Iran and Syria into the country. Osama al-Oufi conveyed Bahraini intelligence reports linking terror plots inside the country to figures operating inside Iran, explicitly declaring that they had "planned terrorist bombing operations targeting institutions and places vital to the sovereignty and security of the kingdom." On Monday Bahraini authorities revealed that they had seized a boat, which had aboard Bahraini nationals, containing "fifty hand grenades made in Iran" and "295 fuses connected to switches labelled as made in Syria." Washington Institute Executive Director Robert Satloff compared the incident to the capture of the Karine A, a ship that the Israeli military intercepted in 2002 carrying fifty tons of weapons from Iran and its Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah bound for the Palestinian Authority. Gulf nations have in recent months grown increasingly forceful in emphasizing and condemning Iranian efforts to destabilize Arab governments, and Bahrain specifically has blasted Tehran for fomenting terrorism inside its borders. Those nations have for years demanded action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; an achievement that they fear would insulate the Islamic republic as it pressed its regional territorial claims. United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United States Yousef al-Otaiba argued for military action to degrade Iran's nuclear program as early as 2010, and two years earlier the Saudis had already demanded, per American diplomatic cables, that Washington "cut off the head of the snake"
- A study released this week by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Center in Tel Aviv, which culled open source materials including jihadist web sites, has assessed that Shiite foreign fighters in Syria may outnumber Sunni jihadists battling in that country's nearly three year war. The evaluation, which was conveyed yesterday by the Washington Post, carries with it potentially high political and policy stakes. The Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, which is backed by the Shiite regime in Iran, has consistently characterized itself as waging a counter-insurgency against terrorist groups linked to Al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups. Iranian leaders, including Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif, have decried Sunni groups for fueling a sectarian conflict in the country. The Meir Amit study concludes that the number of foreign Shiite fighters in the country exceeds by as much as 2,000 the amount of foreign Sunnis on the battlefield. The Post notes that "the Israeli figures largely track other recent estimates made by groups such as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the International Center for the Study of Radicalization in Britain."
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