- Iranian FM doubles down on "absolute right" to enrich uranium, walks back diplomatic outreach to U.S. because of Khamenei criticism
- Hamas in political disarray as pro-Iran figure seeks to oust political bureau head
- Israeli Home Front Defense Minister: Hezbollah has "over 200,000 missiles capable of hitting any house in Israel"
- North Korea saber-rattling underscores concerns over Iran diplomatic strategy
What we’re watching today:
- Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday doubled down on what Tehran is calling its "absolute right" to enrich uranium, potentially putting Iran on a collision course with U.S. diplomats as the two sides prepare for next week's multilateral P5+1 nuclear talks in Geneva. National Security Adviser Susan Rice had already said last week that the administration would not accept any deal that permitted Iran to continue enriching uranium, and the State Department subsequently stated multiple times that it considers no deal better than a deal that falls short of U.S. demands. Zarif this week also walked back diplomatic steps that had been taken in New York between Iranian figures and their U.S. counterparts. More specifically, Zarif had met with Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had spoken on the phone with President Barack Obama. The overtures were criticized by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and Zarif declared - explicitly on the basis of those criticisms - that he and Rouhani had exceeded their mandate for diplomacy. The admission is likely to deepen fears that Rouhani may have overstated the case when he told NBC News in a September interview that he had "complete authority" from Khamenei to conduct diplomacy with the West. The Supreme Leader controls Iran's nuclear policy, and has clarified that whatever authority he has given Rouhani to negotiate, it does not include anything that would impede the "advancement and realization of the Islamic Revolution and System."
- Top Hamas officials are expressing deep dissatisfaction with Khaled Meshaal, the head of the terror group's political bureau, for bungling the group's relationship with Iran and for thereby contributing to the worst crisis the organization has faced in decades. Veteran Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar yesterday night published remarkable quotes from Hamas figures blasting Meshaal for living in Qatar rather than in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, a proxy for overall dissatisfaction with his leadership. Recent years had seen the solidification of three regional camps: a Sunni extremist bloc made up of the Muslim Brotherhood/Turkey/Qatar, an Israel-Arab bloc aligned with the United States, and an Iran-led Shiite bloc that included Syria and Hezbollah. Meshaal had sought to align Hamas with the Sunni extremist camp, a gamble that failed to pay off as the Muslim Brotherhood collpased in Egypt and Qatar's regional position weakened. Inside Gaza a rival camp has emerged led by Mahmoud al-Zahar, who is pro-Iran to such a degree that he had already become persona non grata in Egypt before the Muslim Brotherhood was removed from power. It is unclear whether even reconciliation with Iran - which is already underway - can quickly restore Hamas's stature. Analysis published today by Orit Perlov, a research fellow at the Israel-based Institute for National Security Studies, puts the group on the brink of all-out collapse. Perlov's analysis echoes that of Washington Institute Fellow Ehud Yaari, who in July argued that diplomatic missteps and economic dislocation had triggered "one of its most testing crises ever" for Hamas. Officials from the group have themselves been forced to acknowledge that "the situation is not good and of course we are under pressure." Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has called on U.S. policymakers to deliver a deathblow to the now-weakened terror group.
- Hezbollah reportedly has more than "200,000 missiles capable of hitting any house in Israel," according to statements made on Tuesday by the country's Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan. Speaking at a conference at Bar-Ilan University, Erdan sketched out a "worst-case scenario" under which Hezbollah would saturation bomb Israel's densely packed population centers with "thousands of rockets that could last three weeks." Matthew Levitt, the director of the Washington Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, noted that Erdan's 200,000 figure - if confirmed - would constitute "a sharp increase" over assets Hezbollah had previously been thought to possess. Erdan's statements came just days after a Lebanese report suggested that Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime had successfully transferred to Hezbollah long-range weapons capable of carrying chemical warheads. Khaled Zaher, of the anti-Hezbollah movement Future, told a Saudi newspaper that a significant number of such missiles been transferred from Syria to Lebanon with the assistance of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
- North Korea announced today that it was placing its military on high alert, warning the United States of "disastrous consequences" and an "unexpected horrible disaster" after the U.S. moved naval assets, including an aircraft carrier, into a South Korean port. The vessels are in the area for a trilateral search and rescue drill with the South Korea and Japanese navies. Pyongyang's regional posture and its nuclear program have received renewed attention in recent weeks, with analysts highlighting similarities between Iran's current diplomatic strategy and the playbook that North Korea used to stall for time while it dashed across the nuclear finish line. Yesterday Claudia Rosett, a journalist-in-residence at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, extensively documented the parallels, noting that "[n]ot only does North Korea offer terror-sponsoring Iran a model of how to get away with going nuclear, but the two have plenty of direct dealings." Iran has extensively funded North Korea's military program, to the point where the Washington Post suggested last March that Pyongyang may have used Iranian materials for a nuclear bomb it detonated in February. Ties between the two rogue regimes go beyond military cooperation, and a recent meeting of labor ministers from the two countries sought to deepen their alliance across the board.
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