- Analysts widen pushback against rumored White House "power grab" to "unilaterally lift [Iran] sanctions without congressional approval"
- Iran and Hamas issue denials over extensively photographed and videotaped Israeli interception of Iran arms vessel
- Palestinian leaders reject making further concessions to boost U.S.-backed peace talks
- Analysts: Israel launches "sophisticated PR campaign" to highlight Iran missile shipment
- · Controversy continued to build Wednesday and Thursday over reported plans by the Obama administration to circumvent Congressional prerogatives and unilaterally lift sanctions on Iran, amid a converging consensus from pro-Israel and pro-Iran groups that such moves would be either untenable or counterproductive or both. Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), had already in February outlined how the White House was deploying a "battery of lawyers" to "unilaterally lift the sanctions without congressional approval." A Congressional Quarterly article that quoted Dubowitz on the point also cited a Senate Republican aide predicting that Congress might need to move against what the aide described as an "outrageous power grab" by the administration to remove sanctions "by fiat." Bipartisan letters sent from both the House and the Senate in recent days have been read as reasserting Congressional prerogatives against any such gambit. Meanwhile David Rivkin and Lee Casey - Washington lawyers who served in the Justice Department under Republican administrations, with Rivkin also currently serving as a senior fellow at FDD - suggested in the Wall Street Journal that the White House should go so far as to "negotiate a formal treaty (involving the Senate from the start)" in pursuing its Iran diplomacy. The pushbacks come alongside deepening worries that the administration lacks sufficient leverage to pressure Iran into making meaningful concessions on its nuclear program. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday reiterated - after months in which he and other Iranian officials had made the stance a standard talking point - that Iran is "not going to close or dismantle anything," describing the position as a "red line." The Islamic republic is obligated to fully suspend its nuclear program by half a dozen binding United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. A recent analysis from the U.S.-based Institute of Science and International Security (ISIS) assessed that [PDF] putting Iran's nuclear program beyond use for weaponization would require Tehran to minimally have to remove 15,000 centrifuges, shut down its uranium-enriching underground military bunker at Fordow, downgrade the reactor at its plutonium-production facility at Arak, and agree to a 20-year inspection regime.
- Iran and Hamas are scrambling to minimize the damage from Israel's Wednesday interdiction of the Klos-C - a Panamanian-flagged Iranian arms ship carrying advanced missiles bound for the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip - even as new details emerged throughout Thursday about intelligence operations that preceded the vessel's capture. The intercepted cargo included M-302 missiles with ranges of 150 miles, the possession of which would have enabled any Palestinian terror group to blanket Israel with barrages. Hamas on Wednesday belittled the interception as a "silly joke," while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described Israeli claims regarding the operation as "the repetitive and unfounded lies of the Zionist media." The Israelis extensively documented the raid with photos and videos capturing among other things that naval operation that seized the vessel, and the denials are being read against the backdrop of potentially significant consequences that emerge from the capture. Veteran Israeli journalist Dan Margalit was unsparing on Thursday, noting that "the intercepted delivery shows that Tehran is engaging in illicit activity behind Egypt's back, forging new ties with Hamas in the Gaza Strip" and predicting that "eventually people will realize that for the ayatollah regime, lying is just part of its daily life, part of a routine." Gesturing toward Iranian denials, Margalit emphasizes that "Tehran said it had nothing to do with it, but the Israeli intelligence, which has won praise all over, would be well-served if it provided a smoking gun proving that the ayatollahs have lied, again."
- The Palestinian Authority (PA) issued a statement on Wednesday declaring that Palestinian leaders will refuse to make further concessions - the exact language was that "there is nothing left that [they] can make concessions on" - in the interest of promoting U.S.-backed efforts to achieve a framework peace agreement with Israel, after several months in which top Palestinian officials repeatedly rejected efforts by Secretary of State Kerry to achieve such a deal. The PA statement also threatened President Barack Obama against being "partners with Netanyahu in order to put us in a corner, because the choices before us are limited and clear," and asked "is this what you want?" At stake are reported promises made by Obama to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which Obama is said to have told the Israeli leader that he would eventually balance widely criticized anti-Israel broadsides recently published in a Bloomberg interview with pressure on PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama had given the interview - described by veteran observers as a "bombshell battering" - on the eve of his meeting with Netanyahu this week. The President's statements reportedly generated substantial tension [Hebrew] with the State Department in general and with Secretary of State Kerry in particular, with Obama being accused of having sabotaged Kerry's peace efforts. A source told the Israeli outlet Ma'ariv that "Kerry’s big fear is that [Obama's] interview harmed the trust of Netanyahu and that of Israeli public opinion in the U.S. administration’s efforts."
- The Daily Beast on Wednesday described how the Israeli military "launched a sophisticated PR campaign to tell the world why they shouldn't trust Tehran" in the aftermath of Israeli commandos interdicting an Iranian arms ship carrying advanced missiles bound for the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, noting that that apparent "coordinated public relations campaign" stood in contrast to the quiet approach that Jerusalem often takes to intelligence and special operations. The outlet specifically cited a stream of multimedia updates and content - some of which were available for initial coverage of the kind published by The Tower and some of which were published later - that were eventually rounded up and catalogued on the official blog of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The IDF's media blitz was widely covered in Israeli media. Outlets such as the Jerusalem Post did their own roundups of video content made available by the military, while the Times of Israel built entire stories out of the content of individual videos. Though the IDF's use of social media has at times proven controversial - observers worried in 2012 that Jerusalem was moving away from its traditional policy of "keep[ing]... silent about its military activities" - the Israelis have been largely unapologetic about trying to introduce facts and analysis into public discourse without mediation by international media outlets.
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