- Gearing up for anti-Israel rallies, Hezbollah hoists banner threatening Israel
- Iranian Supreme Leader issues fatwa banning contact with religious minority, calls Baha'i "deviant and misleading"
- Explosion during Syrian battles kills 40 as Assad boasts of coming victory
- By 400-20 vote, House passes "most stringent" Iran sanctions bill
What we’re watching today:
- Hezbollah has hung a banner on the Lebanese side of the Israeli-Lebanese border threatening Israel, as the group prepared events surrounding its annual celebration of Al-Quds Day. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 created the holiday, such as it is, and explained at the time that it was meant to target the "usurper Israel." Reports of Hezbollah's banner - which reads "we're coming" - came as Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah gave a televised speech describing "historic vengeance between [Hezbollah] and Israel." The threats will be read against deepening concerns that Hezbollah is dragging Lebanon into regional conflicts at the behest of Iran. Lebanese President Michel Sleiman today slammed the Iran-backed terror group for having "gone beyond Lebanon's borders," a reference to Hezbollah's activities on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Lebanese officials blame Hezbollah for importing the sectarian conflict into Lebanon and bringing the country to the brink of collapse.
- Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa instructing Iranian citizens to avoid all dealings with the country's Baha'i minority, calling the religion "deviant and misleading." The sect is not recognized by Iran's post-Revolutionary constitution and is considered heretical under Iranian law. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 was explicit that the Baha'i should be denied neither religious nor political liberty under an Islamic government. The regime has been blasted for persecuting and imprisoning even Baha'i infants. The plight of the Baha'i community has triggered human rights pressure on Tehran from U.S. and Canadian politicians. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has criticized Iran over its persecution of religious minorities.
- An explosion at an ammunitions depot in the Syrian city of Homs today killed at least 40 people, as rebels fired rockets at regime positions within the central city. Forces loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime have been assaulting rebels in the city for the better part of a month. The loss of Homs by the opposition would mark another strategic victory for the regime, after forces made up largely of Hezbollah troops backed by Syrian air power seized the city of Qusayr last month. Assad this week boasted openly that Syrian forces would defeat the rebellion, which has been raging in the country since early 2011.
- By 400-20 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday, introduced by Reps. Ed Royce and Eliot Engel, tightening sanctions on the Islamic republic and specifically targeting its oil trade. Rep. Ted Deutch contextualized the legislation at a Tuesday panel hosted by The Israel Project noting that the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act will send a message on the eve of incoming Iranian president Hassan Rouhani's inauguration that the U.S. was committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Bloomberg described the legislation as "the most stringent package of sanctions against Iran," and quoted Royce to the effect that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei "intends to continue" pursing nuclear weapons. Khamenei controls Iran's posture toward nuclear negotiations and during the recent election preemptively banned concessions to the West. Rouhani himself is a revolutionary-era cleric who has been described by analysts as a "consummate regime insider." He has bragged that nuclear negotiations during the early 2000s provided the regime with time to expand and advance its nuclear program.
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